A Hardtail Hard Not To Love
The Specialized Carve Pro 29
After testing dual-suspended Specialized bikes made of carbon fiber and
costing five times what the Specialized Carve Pro 29 costs, you might think it
would be impossible for the MBA wrecking crew to get too fired up about
logging hours on this aluminum hardtail. Wrong. The Carve is one of our
favorite bikes to snatch from the test fleet. Here’s why.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
Everyone. This is a Versatile trailbike, and we spelled that with a
capital “V” on purpose. It is for the rider who wants to spend more time in the
saddle than messing with his rear suspension. It is for rank beginners and
seasoned experts. It is for the rider who wants to switch to 29-inch wheels and
for the rider who, up to this point, has refused to do so. It can even be
pressed into service for road riding without forcing a rider to spin his brains
out. Yes, Versatile with a capital “V.”
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Remember when a double-butted aluminum tube was trick? It is amazing
what can be done with aluminum manipulation these days. The Carve’s frame is
aluminum, although it sure looks like a carbon fiber front triangle with
Specialized’s smooth welding technique. Take a close look at that bent seat
tube, curved to tuck the rear wheel in close to the main frame. The head tube
is tapered to take advantage of the fork’s tapered steerer tube. The frame will
take two water bottle cages, and the seatstays have mounting eyelets for a
fender or rack. This is the most expensive model. The Expert goes for $1650 and
the Comp for $1350.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The 3x10 Shimano drivetrain is the proper pick for a 29er at this
weight. It is sweet to find a remote Pop-Loc lever on the handlebar for the
fork. The integrated headset with full cartridge bearings gives the front end a
smooth look. Cables are intelligently routed to keep them out of the rider’s
way, adding to the clean lines of the bike’s profile. Finally, how many bikes
get rims named after them? Seriously, it is the way that Specialized pulls all
the design elements together that makes this simple hardtail stunning to look
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ergonomics: The Carve Pro 29’s front end doesn’t have that
high 29er feeling because Specialized used a short stem with a slight 7-degree
rise (which can be flipped for a negative 7-degree angle) mated to a flat
handlebar. It looks racy and feels like a trailbike setup. The rest of the
cockpit is ultra comfortable. The bar width, top-tube length and saddle are all
comfortably positioned for everything from lunch-loop rides to epic journeys.
Pedaling: There is no doubt that you are getting 29-inch wheels up to speed when
moving out of the blocks. The Captain tires assist your effort with a tread
pattern and rubber compound that seem better suited for 29-inch wheels than
26ers. They roll nicely and are not overkill like some 29er tires. The 3x10
drivetrain gives you plenty of options. We found ourselves using the big ring
for hard packed, rolling trails; the middle for more technical stopping and
starting; and the granny for steep climbs.
Hammering: Once up to cruising speed, the Carve is in its element. The frame
reveals no lateral flex as you push big gears, and we dare you to find a
weakness in the Shimano Deore cranks. We caught ourselves shifting less on the
Carve by using one gear for everything from torqueing on the cranks to spinning
Cornering: This bike will make anyone corner faster and with more confidence than, say,
a 26-inch-wheeled hardtail. The bottom bracket feels low. The tires feel way
wider than 2 inches. The frame geometry numbers would equal a twitchy race bike
if it weren’t for those big hoops. Instead, it is a very neutral-steering bike
that is neither quick nor sluggish. It falls in the steering sweet spot.
Descending: The large wheels make descending a blast, because you are not constantly
trying to avoid ruts and rocks. The Carve will have you floating over the top
of them. The tires do great on off-camber sections where they grip way better
than their little knobs look capable of.
Climbing: The 3x10 drivetrain gives you plenty of options for getting the Carve up
the climb. You can muscle the bike up sections in a large gear while out of the
saddle, or you can (more intelligently) spin your way up. Even at the end of a
50-mile epic when we were feeling the effects of a long time in the saddle, the
Carve offered a gear that allowed us to take our time and work up the last
nasty climb of the day. We were very thankful.
Braking: The Carve’s braking performance is dialed for its 29-inch wheels.
Specialized gives you a 7-inch rotor up front and a 6-inch rotor in the rear that
are well balanced and plenty powerful. The Shimano’s Deore’s small master
cylinder and compact calipers make these brakes look far more like their
expensive older brothers, the XT and XTR brakes.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Our test bike was Specialized’s medium size (they offer the Carve in
five frame sizes), but it felt more like a medium-large. Don’t go by what you
are riding now to pick the perfect Carve. Take advantage of all those sizes and
find the one that fits you properly (probably a size smaller than the 26er
hardtail or dual-suspension bike you ride now).
Specialized racing legend Ned Overend won a National Championship last
year on a modified Carve Pro, proving that this bike is worthy of just about
any upgrade you want to throw at it. The most logical upgrade is converting the
tires tubeless and a far more expensive upgrade would be splurging for carbon
fiber rims. The chainstay protector is a thin piece of clear plastic. We’d
throw a wrap-around protector on there in addition to the stocker. The front
brake howled like a lost dog on a cold night. We checked brake alignment, and
sanded the pads, but the noise came back. Replacing the pads with stock
replacement metallic pads eliminated the annoying noise. Our first pair must
have been accidentally contaminated or we may have rushed the break-in period.
There are so many riders who can benefit from this bike. Riders who purchased
dual-suspension bikes and still don’t have a clue how to set sag or rebound
would be better off on the Carve. New riders or riders returning to mountain
biking will get up to speed faster and with less effort aboard a Carve. Roadies
who want to find out what they are missing will find the transition to the
Reprinted from our March 2012 issue. Like us on Facebook