Just when I thought 27.5 was dead and mid-travel 29ers were the dog’s bollocks, along comes this ridiculously well priced carbon Spectral 140mm 27.5 (150mm fork) trail bike which just fell into my lap for a long-term test. I’m really struggling to define the perfect trail bike these days, what with lazy head angles and long reaches trying to throw spanners all over the place. And now we have new fork offsets to wrap our brains around. No, you’re not alone, my head has been hurting too.
Well, this bike here has given me a lot of clarity. Why? Because it’s very average. It has none of the super trendy geo figures yet it’s one of the most fun bikes I have ever ridden.
Let’s have a quick look at this large CF 9.0 SL I got to thrash for a couple of months. It has a reach of 460mm, a 66 degree head angle and a seat angle of 74.5. All average. The bottom bracket drop is a lowish 22mm and the chainstays a shortish 430mm; nothing to write home about though.
What sets this bike apart are the trick little features that show a smart design team has been beavering away in the background. Things like the steerer stop with breakaway bolts to protect your cables and top tube in a crash. The integrated seatpost clamp to secure your dropper post with more bite at less torque. Rubber sealed pivot caps to keep water away from the bearings. A full down tube guard that houses all the cables so they look internal but are easily removed if you want to swap a brake out or change the rear mech housing. The quick-release back axle with an internal pull-out lever and even a bolt-in “lunchbox” to stash your stuff (see website for that feature).
And then there is the svelte styling with a very organic look, which means nothing in the real world but has garnered a lot of attention everywhere I go.
The Spectral is a joy to ride. It does what it says on the website. Very little pedal bob and snappy handling under power yet retains a super plush small bump ride that progresses seamlessly through the mid stroke into a sweetly controlled ramp-up with no bottom-out thunk, so you can run a variety of air pressures to suit your style or trail. What this really means it that it dances up and down the trail with a life of its own. Super lively, playful, poppy: all those things your average mountain biker should yearn for. Surely this means it must have some shortcomings somewhere? Maybe. That liveliness comes from some very well-designed frame flex, so if you’re a bruiser or like to race hard and fast you may find you’re dancing in the wrong direction at warp speed.
I was sure this would be the case in my favourite test ground on Mt Vic, but at speed the only vagueness I could find was some flex in the Fox 34 (which performs its damping duties admirably I must add) and the 2.6” Maxxis Rekon on the back wheel. With not a lot of side knob grip, I was losing a bit of sleep at times, but I’m convinced 2.6” rubber is the new standard, and with the Minion up front, the bike felt fast and grippy and had some definite XC “zing” to it.
Any fault with this bike comes not from its handling but from a couple of odd frame design decisions. The seat tube is too long to allow riders to choose a longer frame. At just shy of 6ft, I had to have the 150mm reverb slammed all the way down into the 480mm (19”) tube. Why not make it 450mm, then I could run a 170 dropper or go long reach with an XL? And then there’s the long head tube. To mimic my own bike’s handlebar height, I had to put all the steerer spacers above the stem and tip the stem over for a negative rise, yet I run my bars reasonably high.
If you have shortish legs, run a 170 dropper, or like your bars low, then you’d better get your ruler out, but apart from that, this bike is as close to the perfect trail bike as I’ve ridden to date. And little people, listen up. The small and XS sizes have a shorter shock (same travel though) to drop the bottom bracket a tad and soften up the initial stroke. That’s a huge win for an industry that designs stuff around 5’8”, 75kg riders.
As long as this bike fits you, I doubt you would have any reason to regret owning this latest Spectral. It hasn’t even developed a creak yet and it’s had some very wet and muddy rides.
The good: the price, the ride, the cool features, the tall head tube means no ugly spacers, a fanatastic “one bike only in the shed”
The bad: the tall head tube means no low bar height, available online only (your local bike shop may hate you;take chocolate biscuits with you)
The ugly: the tall seat tube, possibly no 170 droppers or opting for a longer reach (unless you have legs like a spider)