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Specialized Camber full suspension MTB review

15 Oct 2018
Verdict:

A well-specced good value machine that would be ideal as a first MTB

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,700

This review first appeared in Issue 45 of BikesEtc magazine

Versatile, durable, and ready to be thrown up and down the trails, Specialized thinks the Camber is a perfect first mountain bike.

Fast-looking in bright red, with a double chainset and sharp angles, it’s more traditional in design than many rival bikes.

However, despite not featuring a dropper post, its wide bars and confidence-inspiring tyres hint at a wilder side. We’ll find out on the trail…

The frame

Fairly long and with a low head tube, the Specialized is both fast and stable.

With 120mm of travel driving the Camber’s X-Fusion shock is a specially designed wishbone that’s attached directly to the shaft.

Straddling either side of the seat tube, this is further secured by a rocker piece. With a chunky down tube that’s welded to a good stretch of the top tube before swooping down to meet the equally oversized base of the seat tube, the result is excellent frame stiffness.

Buy the Specialized Camber bike from Evans Cycles

Sandwiched between the pivots beside the bottom bracket the wonderfully named ‘taco blade’ provides a location on which to bolt the front derailleur.

Neat routing sees the mechanical cables running inside the frame and the hydraulic lines pinned outside.

Also helping to ease servicing, the Camber utilises a conventional external bottom bracket – perfect for muddy UK conditions.

With boost width 142mm bolt-through spacing on the rear, it’s also possible to swap in smaller 27.5” wheels and monster tyres if it takes your fancy.

Groupset

We didn’t really feel the lack of a 10th cog when riding the Camber. With two chainrings up front, there are more than enough gears.

More noticeable for its absence was any form of clutch on the rear derailleur, making the chain more prone to coming off when the bike gets thrown around.

The basic Alivio shifters will also only shift two cogs at a time, which on the close-ratio cassette gives only a small change in the gear.

Stopping the bike, Tektro’s Gemini Comp hydraulic disc brakes work well enough, although aren’t quite up there with Shimano alternatives. 

Finishing kit

Being the cheapest bike on test we’ll forgive the lack of a dropper post, although a quick-release collar would have been welcome.

The Henge saddle features a pressure relief channel and moderate amount of medium density padding, both of which our tester’s bottom approved.

Taking care of steering, the 60mm stem suits the Camber’s more rangy characteristics, while the 750mm wide bars provide plenty of leverage.

Grips are a small thing, but we love the slim yet squishy Sip models fitted to the Camber.

Wheels

It’s a surprise to see a tyre as aggressive as the Purgatory on the front of the Camber. Not that we’re complaining.

Adding tons of grip and making it unlikely you’ll ever wash out the front wheel, it’s paired with a faster-rolling Ground Control at the back. Both are very good.

These sit on broad, if anonymous, rims. Stiff and light they help ensure the Camber accelerates without hindrance.

Unfortunately, they can’t be set up tubeless, which is a shame as in this respect the tyres are ready to go. 

First impressions

Keen to get going, the Camber is less prone to wallow than rival machines. Designed for driving forward, or even racing cross country, it’s a more nippy proposition, something also reflected in its low weight.

However, comparatively stable geometry and a sorted cockpit ensure it’s a world away from the twitchy feeling racers of a few years ago.

With the frame and wheels instantly winning us over the rest of the parts list is a mixed bag with the underpowered brakes robbing the Camber of a little confidence.

On the trail

Very good at accelerating, the Camber’s rear suspension provides an excellent platform for sprinting out of corners or making rapid progress uphill.

In fact, it’s so efficient it almost makes the lock-out lever on the shock redundant. Smooth in its action when it does move the suspension is taut, although never giving away energy needlessly, this is no bad thing.

Buy the Specialized Camber bike from Evans Cycles

The flip side is that the Camber lacks the bottomless feeling of the suspension on the Trek or Marin, and is less happy on the most technical rocky descents.

Building on this racy demeanour, geometry tilts more towards cross-country racing than pure trail riding.

The head angle is fairly steep for fast turning, while short chainstays also help it whizz around the corners.

Still with a front end that’s long enough to provide plenty of space to move about in, its wheelbase is sizable enough to stop it ever feeling squirrely.

Wide bars and surprisingly aggressive tyres allow you to bully it about, ensuring there’s grip available when you do. We loved both.

Handling

With more aggro-style trail bikes having become fashionable it‘s a while since we’ve ridden a machine like the Camber.

With whippet-like geometry and suspension setup to prioritise efficient pedalling, it feels fast. Yet with tough, high-volume tyres and a short and wide cockpit, it still inspires confidence when taking on tricky sections.

It’s a bike that rewards making an effort up, down, and across, whereas others focus their talents more on the gravity-assisted sections.

We were also big fans of the frame, wheels, and finishing kit. Less pleasing were the brakes and gears. Its basic 9-speed cassette and shifters can cause progress to stall slightly when you want to bash through the ratios, while the brakes are underpowered.

Still, it's affordable, and with the money saved you save could buy a dropper post so we won’t score it down for that.

Fitting one would up the Camber’s ability to take on gnarly sections. 

RATINGS

Frame: Fast, racy geometry but stable, and handles well. 8/10 
Components: Slightly let down by the brakes and 9-speed gears. 7/10 
Wheels: Great high-volume tyres on light, stiff wheels. 7/10 
The ride: A bike that's as much fun to ride uphill as down. 8/10 

Verdict: A well-specced good value machine that would be ideal as a first MTB.  

Buy the Specialized Camber bike from Evans Cycles

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 590mm 565mm
Seat Tube (ST) 430mm 435mm
Reach (R) 427mm 427mm
Stack (S) 609mm 609mm
Head Tube (HT) 95mm 95mm
Head Angle (HA) 68.5 68.5
Seat Angle (SA) 75 74.5
Wheelbase (WB) 1,135mm 1,140mm
BB drop (BB) 42mm 43mm

Spec

Specialized Camber
Frame M5 aluminium, internal cabling, Boost thru-axle, RockShox Recon RL fork with 120mm travel, compression and rebound adjust
Rear suspension X-Fusion 120mm travel
Groupset Shimano Alivio/Deore 9-speed
Brakes Tektro Gemini Comp, hydraulic disc
Chainset Sram S-1255, GXP, 36/22
Cassette Sram PG 920, 9-speed, 11-34t
Bars Specialized, 750mm width
Stem Specialized, 60mm, 3D forged alloy
Seatpost Alloy, 2-post clamp, 30.9mm
Wheels Specialized double-wall, 32h, sealed hubs, Specialized Purgatory/Ground Control, tubeless-compatible, 29x2.3
Saddle Body Geometry Henge Sport, 143mm
Weight 14.27kg (M)
Contact specialized.com

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