The Specialized Expert Carbon Camber 650b descends well and climbs nimbly. It holds tight in corners, and when it does finally release, it does so in a predictable way. It is simply a joy to ride on demanding and technical single track, and it is guaranteed to, at a minimum, make the downhill more enjoyable and likely substantially faster. On the downside, we wish the fork had Specialized’s Brain technology, and something about the geometry made it highly prone to pedal strikes.
*Editor’s Note:Specialized has decided not to run this model in 2017, but many retailers still have them in stock. Instead they will offer the nearly identical bike in a 29" model.
Ride Quality The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b is a great ride overall, with especially enjoyable descending. The 650b wheels find a sweet spot under the FOX 34 Performance 650b fork, with 130mm of travel and adjustability and lockout on the crown, this fork makes rocky trails smooth with predictable and plush movement. The FOX rear shock also offers 130mm of travel, creating a very balanced bike through the roughest of trails as the front and rear suspension move in unison. The rear shock is controlled by the additional Specialized Brain shock mounted on the alloy rear triangle. The functionality of the Brain on this particular set up was less impressive than on Specialized bikes with less travel where the Brain locks the rear end out more readily for climbs and out of the saddle grunts. We appreciated the weight savings and the rigidity of the carbon front triangle assisted in carving turns and pedaling efficiency.
Stiffness-to-Weight/Power Transfer The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b features a FACT IS carbon front triangle and rear alloy triangle. The complete bike weighs in at 27.5lbs including the tube and accompanying bags within the SWAT door (access into the down tube for storage- comes with tube and two bags). The bike demonstrates no flex and is matched perfectly with the FOX front and rear suspension. As previously noted, the front fork locks out completely whereas the rear suspension is moderated by the Specialized Brain, which unfortunately moved when sprinting out of the saddle, stealing momentum at critical moments.
Climbing/Efficiency Climbing on the Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b while in the saddle is very enjoyable, with a highly comfortable cockpit and alloy handlebar. Whether on a fire road or a technical grade, the Camber can handle it. However when needing to get out of the saddle, the rear suspension sags which steals momentum, which is surprising as the Brain shock worked quite well on other bikes we’ve tested. The FOX front fork, when locked out, remains rigid. The Camber is also prone to pedal striking, even on a slightly rocky dirt road, which can be frustrating and downright maddening on a technical rocky climbs where overthinking pedal placement had us half pedaling where full rotation is more efficient and successful.
Descending/Handling The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b is one of the nicest descending bikes we have ridden. Trails that require hard braking on more XC oriented bikes were ridden without even reaching for the brakes. It is fair to say that this bike could have been called the “Carbon Camera” – you can just point and shoot the downhills. The FOX Performance 34 front fork is plush with 130mm (5+ inches) of travel that eats rocks and roots, yet remains rigid with the 15mm through axle. The rear suspension, with a FOX fork driven by the Specialized Brain matches the front fork’s travel with 130mm and equally accepts the line less taken.
Components: Drivetrain, Shifting and Brakes The Shimano XT levers and brakes with Ice Tech pads, plus 200mm rotor on the front, 180mm on the rear on the Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b offer outstanding stopping power and modulation. We find XT brakes with Ice Tech to be among the best out there. Extended down hills require only subtle single-finger pressure, although the brakes do audibly complain when wet or heated. The shifters and 1×11 drivetrain are a combination of SRAM components and worked flawlessly throughout our testing: Shifters are SRAM X1; custom SRAM-S2200 carbon cranks; SRAM XO1 rear derailleur with a carbon cage. The SRAM XG-1180 (11 speed, 10-42T) cassette is matched with a SRAM chain and a 30 tooth direct mount ring. The gearing spread was ideal for our testing, which included hard climbs and extended downhills.
Wheelset The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b comes with Specialized Roval rims and hubs, as well as Specialized tires (Ground Control rear and Purgatory Control front). These wheels are impressively stiff and light, and remained true through extensive hard testing, and the tires were an ideal match for the bike resisting release in the most severe cornering.
Value The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b is a premium bicycle. It shows. Though we couldn’t say this bike is a deal, it also isn’t overpriced. The Camber is a marvel to ride at any price. It is exceedingly responsive, comfortable and able in nearly all trail conditions. You will never feel “out biked” on this ride.
Seth Portner has been riding and racing mountain bikes since the late 1990s, specializing in XC, marathon and ultra-marathon events. He also enjoys regular multi-day road tours, and is an accomplished ultrarunner and XC skier. Seth, his wife and their daughter all split their time between Lyons and Winter Park.