This is a little long, scroll down to cliff notes if you get bored...
The following is both a long and rambling review of a 2011 Camber Expert and musings on why I sold my 29er and bought a 26Ē wheel bike. It was bought about a week and a half ago and these are my observations and ride feedback as well as some detail on build items Iíve already changed out and what I will do in the immediate future. But first off a little background on my riding and how I came to the Camber.
I started riding mountain bikes last July, Iím not quite 1 year into it. So far I have only ridden hardtail 29ers, my first ride was a 2011 Hardrock disc 29er which I cut my teeth on, literally and figuratively, and replaced every part on it before replacing the frame with a Niner EMD9 this spring. I ride north Texas trails, nothing crazy, flowing single track with creek crossings, some short technical ďburstĒ climbs and descents, and I normally ride about 50-60 miles a week split between a couple of trails near my house. I have been a ďhaterĒ on full suspension bikes since I bought my first ride, I saw them as unnecessary for where I live/ride and enjoyed the simplicity of a lightweight, mildly aggressive, hardtail chassis with a 1x9 drivetrain and larger wheels. I had admired the full squish bikes but thought it was overkill for me and I never considered riding one, even though my brother loves his Pivot Mach 4 and is always commenting on how the wagon wheels and overly wide bars were slowing me down in the twisty tree trails.
This all changed after a ride on a Camber test bike with 26Ē wheels a couple weeks ago that was the fastest and most fun ride Iíve had yet. That 15 mile ride on a trail I ride every week made me rethink everything I had come to love about the riding experience and what fast really was all about. There is a big difference in mountain biking between ďfastĒ and ďtrail-fastĒ, itís one thing to go fast in a straight line or with easy turns and roll outs and another thing entirely to go blowing through technical sections and narrow tree lined single track. After that ride, as my brother and I downloaded what had happened in the parking lot he summed it up in a few words between drinks of water, ďMan, you were flying, like a mad man.Ē. I rode like a man possessed on this Camber, easily several minutes off my best time, my brother normally leads the whole ride but now found himself watching me throw the bike around like a kids dirt bike on sections I would have at least paused on before, it was like a religious experience, crazy.
A week and some negotiating phone calls later and I sold the EMD9 and now owned the super cool gray/red test bike colorway Camber Expert I had test ridden, I then took it out for a ride and started swapping parts out. The stock DT Swiss rims were sold to a guy that really needed new rollers for his Rockhopper and I threw on some Mavic Crosstrails we already had, my brother and I have allot of parts between us. Converting to tubeless was next as well as swapping out the Henge Comp for my new Phenom Expert and plotting my 1x10 conversion of the drivetrain with a 34t chainring. If I had bought the Comp or Elite model I would have been doing allot more but the Expert and Pro models are pretty awesome right out of the box with its higher end drivetrains and components, for the money itís pretty hard to beat them without buying a brand only sold online that youvíe never seen before and canít get a fit on before buying.
The 120mm Reba TK on the Expert is a dual air fork, not the single air as listed on the Specialized site, and is more than adequate for 95% of your trail riders, the ďset it and forget itĒ ease of an air fork is nice for us hack mechanics doing set-up in our garage. The rear canister is a slightly different affair as you still set the sag the same but you have more options on getting the ride you want, I am still playing with the Fox Triad II Pro-Pedal features but it feels great immediately on this frame. Any pedal bob that happens is minimal and really not even noticeable on the 5% of your ride where it would be a bother for me where I ride. Plus, for a larger rider like myself whoís weight can fluctuate 10-20 pounds due to riding allot, or not enough, the ability to adjust sag on the air shocks is key for occasionally fine tuning the bike handling. The fork and rear shock work well with the frame geometry for great handling, and the differing items between the Expert and Pro model are nice, I believe you get a thru-axle on the Pro along with the X0 2x10 drivetrain, next level brakes, and a Fox on the front.
As for the drivetrain I really wasnít expecting to like it as much as I do, I have used varying level of SRAM components on my last 2 bikes, the Niner was running all X9, and I always felt that the 1:1 actuation and direct/mechanical feel of SRAM was perfect for me but I got to admit I REALLY like the Shimano DynaSys set-up. The SLX shifters work great and the XT rear derailleur and cassette package are smoother than what Iím used to with SRAM, I find myself more inclined to shift gears to increase speed on sections of the trail I would have just spun the legs faster before. Shimano was nice enough to make the gear indicators removable so those will be going when I install the 34t ring and remove the front der and shifter for the 1x10 as they are useless to all but the most novice riders, not sure why they are there in the first place honestly. As Iím now happy with the SLX shifters Iím also compelled to throw on an XT rear shifter to see how much more I like it so thatís a possible upgrade down the road. The XT Deore Shadow rear derailleur is easy to adjust and works brilliantly, but again, I would like to try the next model up in the Shimano line with a shorter cage if possible.
The brakes are the same lovable and familiar Elixir 5ís that come stock on almost any big brand bike between $1k-2k, they work competently and paired with the really large 203mm/185mm rotor package on my frame they have tremendous stopping power, but they lack in the modulation and feedback. I had Formula RXís with smaller rotors on the Niner and feel like they were better brakes in all categories. If I get a deal on some new Formula stoppers, or simply start to hate the Elixir 5 SLís on the bike, Iíll sell the stock brakes and replace them with another set of RXís, for the money the RX is a great brake package, and they are easy on the eyes as well
The DT Swiss wheels are nice looking, the front RWS skewer and OS28 endcaps are a nice addition to firm up the front end, BUT, I already had nicer, lighter, tubeless rims so I sold the stockers with skewers for $225 and mounted the Crosstrails. The S-works front tire was so stretched out from running a large tube in it at high pressure that the shop was not able to get it to seal to the rim and mount tubeless so I bought another captain control to match the rear, mounted up tubeless with Stanís and never looked back. I am looking into knocking the endcaps off the front and either fitting a 9mm skewer or drilling out the endcaps for a 9mm semi-axle type set up and putting OS28 type endcaps on it for testing purposes. If I didnít like the fork so much I would forego all this and sell it as a new take off and buy a Maxle version and get a convertible front wheel or hub on there.
So how does all this work? Great for me and the type of trails I ride and my riding style. The bike is very nimble, feels lighter on its feet with the new running gear and tubes removed but, most importantly, it feels lighter than the Niner EMD that is 2-3 pounds lighter than it. Iím still playing with pressures but the tires grip like mad on loose over hard and on short 20í techy climbs I hit on my normal route. I absolutely love this bike and its very fast for me. The closest thing I can do to compare to going from the hardtail 29er to this Camber with 26Ē wheels is its as if I spent 6 months driving a jeep around a race track, getting faster as I go, sure it rolls over everything easily but is a little cumbersome on the fast parts, then I climb into a Porsche. All the skills I learned in bike handling with the previous bike makes me feel 10í tall and bulletproof on the 26Ē full suspension bike. The Camber allows me to focus a little less on the bike and more on the riding, I find myself setting up for turns/sections earlier because I am looking farther down trail and Iím spending less time focusing on exactly where my front tire is in a rock garden and more of controlling my speed as I cruise over it and set up or the next section. Sometimes I donít even feel the bike really, Iím just manipulating the bars and pumping my legs, I never feel like Iím forcing or fighting the bike through anything as I did on my 29er, it just is going with me, along for the ride. Itís easier to get the front end up over stuff, easier to hop over roots, just plain easier to get around a crowded trail on this bike. The only thing I miss from the 29Ē wheels, other than street cred with the cool kids, is it is a little bit more effort going up short technical climbs trying to carry speed. But as long as I get the right gear I donít really lose much speed and its immediately made up on the other side of the hill as I go raining down on rocks, roots, and ruts like a screaming freakiní banshee compared to the more cautious lines of my previous ride.
All this said, I still love the 29er hardtail, and when finances permit I will buy another one, as itís the reason I am so fast on the camber. For a new rider developing skills, getting balance, and having presence of mind on the trail to look ahead there is no better training tool than a 29er hardtail or rigid, period. Having spent a year on those and moving to the full squish 26er is a tremendous amount of fun but the simplicity of the hardtail and the high cornering speed in flowing sections on the 29er are loads of fun as well. I thought about testing a Camber 29er as well before pulling the trigger on the Expert but allot of the speed and fun I was experiencing were solely due to the smaller wheels ability to steer quicker and more easily manipulate myself and the bike at higher speeds, my balance skills are substantially higher now. I was hesitant to go clipless on the 29er but after a couple rides on the Camber and I know I can handle it and will be doing that next, the level of confidence and balance allow me to put more trust in the bike and tires and focus more on my riding. And, if you are still reading this, I know some will say they are faster on a 29er and I believe them, but for me and the type of riding I do on the type of trails I ride Iím just faster on this bike.
Camber is great
If you only ride 29er go for a spin on a 26Ē for kicks
Both wheel platforms are great in their own way
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