Bike Test: Specialized Crave Expert

Specialized Crave Expert Test

One of the most common questions we get here at Mountain Bike Action is: “Which bike should I buy?” With the number of choices we have now, it’s no wonder this question gets asked so frequently. Of course the answer depends on a number of factors, but for most riders, when it comes to choosing a bike, cross-country hardtails are a great way to go. They can take riders on exciting adventures with maximum efficiency without draining the bank account. No stranger to designing cross-country machines, Specialized is known for providing riders with great bikes that are affordable and rock solid, and the Crave Expert hardtail is no exception. With its high-contrast paint job and 29-inch wheels, the Crave has the looks and specs to impress your riding buddies. The real question is, can the Crave back it up out on the trail? We strapped on our helmets to find out.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Crave is a purpose-built cross-country machine. With its light frame, 29-inch wheels and pedal-friendly geometry, this bike is designed for those who are looking to rip around their local trails, tackling every climb that comes their way. The price of this complete bike also makes it a great choice for people who are just getting into mountain biking and want a bike that will help make the initiation process smoother and won’t cost an arm and a leg.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Crave Expert employs Specialized’s M4 premium aluminum to create a light and efficient frame with cross-country geometry. This material results in a frame that is capable of sharp handling yet is forgiving over trail chatter. The frame is designed around 29-inch wheels and has no rear suspension in order to provide riders with maximum power transfer.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Components play a particularly important role on a cross-country bike, as these bikes strive for efficiency. The main stand out is the RockShox Reba RL 29 fork with its 100 millimeters of travel.  The Reba features a remote lock-out feature that when switched on makes the fork much stiffer for maximum efficiency on the trail. The Specialized tires are also a very impressive part of the build. They roll fast but have enough bite in them to allow the bike to get a little rowdy.
Another appreciated component is the Shimano Deore XT Shadow Plus rear derailleur with its clutch mechanism. Considering the Crave is a hardtail, a clutch derailleur is a must to keep the chain from bouncing and causing erratic shifting.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
The fit: The Crave felt very comfortable, and while we could have upgraded a few components to suit our preferences, there wasn’t a part on the bike that absolutely needed to be changed. The geometry was true to size and placed us in a very relaxed position on the bike. The 70-millimeter stem was the perfect length for putting us forward on the climbs without feeling too long when going back down and carving corners. On long rides, this bike was very comfortable. All points of connection, including the handlebar, grips, and saddle, were spot-on.

Climbing: The Crave did not disappoint on the climbs. With its 29-inch wheels and not-too-stiff frame, the bike moved up the hills with ease. The Crave felt comfortable and planted, whether we were sitting down, spinning up the hills, or standing and really pouring on the power. We rarely ever spun the back tire, and the climbing position on the bike felt very natural. Some hardtails can feel too stiff, which causes the back-end of the bike to feel unsettled on climbs—especially on rocky technical climbs. The Crave, however, seemed to offer a great balance between pedaling efficiency and compliance to the terrain. The rear tire didn’t have a hard time staying planted, scooting us up hills.

Cornering: The Crave surprised us with its ability to be leaned over on downhill corners, as well as track through uphill switchback turns. The bike had a very natural feel when it came to hitting the corners. We just had to look where we wanted to go, and the bike followed with no complaint.

Descending: We couldn’t help but be impressed by the Crave’s ability to float downhill after we reached the peak on our climbs. The bike ripped downhill and had some of our buddies on their full-suspension rigs doing  double-takes to make sure that it was indeed a 29’er hardtail keeping up with them on the descents. We aren’t saying that the Crave is a downhill machine, but the bike sure can keep pace as long as the trail doesn’t get too rowdy or steep. On smoother, flatter descents, the Crave can hang with the best of them.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The components on the Crave are solid; however, we did manage to put a good wallop in the rear wheel early on in the testing period on trails that were relatively smooth. We didn’t notice the small, out-of-true portion of the wheel while out on the trail, but it left us wondering how long the wheel would hold up. The wheelset will be the first upgrade for any Crave rider. Also, the stock ergonomic grips were quite plush and comfortable, but the shape was a little hard to get used to for those coming from normal round grips. Give them a shot. Over time, we got used to them, but we can see why some riders opt for a more standard set of grips.

BUYING ADVICE
The Specialized Crave Expert brings all-around fun to the cross-country bike game. Specialized has managed to create a cross-country bike that isn’t too serious to let its hair down and just be a fun bike to hit the trails with. The bike would be great for someone who is looking to add a fun and fast hardtail to his fleet or  someone who wants to get into mountain biking with a solid bike that won’t break the bank.

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