WITH MOST PRODUCTION DOWNHILL BIKES WEIGHING IN ON AVERAGE AT AROUND FOUR GRAND, IS THERE ANY PLACE FOR AN ENTRY LEVEL £1700 COMPLETE BUILD? AND DOES SPECIALIZED’S NEW BIG HIT STAND UP TO IT’S ‘TOP DOLLAR RIDE’ BILLING?
There does not appear to be any consistent direct correlation between price and quality with regards to mountainbike products. In fact “stick a big price tag on it and they’ll buy it” is very much the blatant attitude of the odd company owner that we come across. By creating a reality based on hype and marketing, mountainbikes can be sold based on a simple bullshit/cosmetic exercise. Of course people buying products based on a high price tag that don’t always necessarily equate to quality or performance is not new or cutting edge information, it’s just that I often find myself doing it and it worries me.
It’s not that straightforward obviously. Value is a funny one. I can buy a packaged sliced white for 39p in Waitrose but choose the smaller £1.79 unwrapped organic loaf that tastes just like bread I ate as a kid. It hasn’t been inflated with air, has nothing selling itself other than its crusty exterior and organic label. I buy it because I know it does the job that’s expected of it. Is it worth it? Well there’s no choice. It seems to last longer. Three of the sliced might possibly do the job and be cheaper but I have a sneaky feeling there will be a trade off in terms of ingredients. It’s worth it in relative terms to say a pint of beer or a phone call. On a more base level I simply enjoy eating it.
Many people might have been fooled by Specialized’s new Big Hit with its whiter than white make–up and graphic overload. But is this your thick sliced white? Well, the Specialized definitely has a dark side, its black crows taken out of a Hitchcock film, and componentry not befitting a bicycle of this price tag. Alarm bells ringing and believing there have been attempts to fool, it will surely put a huge number of people off and go in search of something with more subtle packaging. Taking a chance we ordered one up, unwrapped it and attempted to squash it into a ball of worthless mucky dough.
How does this blonde measure up? Comparisons will undoubtedly be made to the ‘goth–ginge’, that slightly more curvy Specialized SX Trail. Head to head there is very little to choose between the pair. Roughly the same head angle, at just over 64.5 degrees, and whist the medium SX has a stable wheelbase at just over 46” even the Big Hit doesn’t go past the 47” marker.
Blondie is fractionally longer up front with a slightly longer chainstay, but even so it’s still under 17”. All these figures (hell fire help) add up to a pretty large bike for a medium. It certainly looks good on paper and is comparable to a proven bike in the SX. A large size Trek Session is 48” long with a 63º head angle for example and that’s one of the best geometry bikes available. Oooch I can feel both companies cringing at comparisons. Look, the point is Trek might have caught their Californian sparring partner napping by getting the Session 88 out, but the Morgan Hill boys might certainly have pulled one back by introducing this marvellous seven–inch workhorse right on the money. Well if it works on the hill that is.
As on a large number of Specialized bikes the suspension is an FSR system. What is FSR? (Straight from the website….) FSR “is an active and independent linkage system, free to compress and rebound in an uninhibited manner – whether pedalling coasting or braking….this keeps the tyres on the ground a greater percentage of the time, yielding more traction for increased control over speed and direction; more comfort by remaining compliant; and more efficiency because chain torque goes to moving you forward, not up and down.”
It’s pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, a well known and used design and no surprise their keen to hold on to it. It works and always has done. In terms of damping the Big Hit is nothing special on paper, a 318 RockShox Domain fork gives 180mm of travel and is paired with a Fox DHX4.0 that works just under seven out back. They are simple units. Up front you have compression and rebound and on the back just the rebound adjust. Plus spring rates naturally. Unlike the SX, which has a connecting arm, the rear Fox bolts directly to the upper rocker link. Taking into consideration the big price difference compared to the SX, but striking similarities, we were keen to see just how much variation there was in terms of damping and if this could be the bike’s weak point.
There is star quality about this bike, Specialized’s own 2.3 Chunder tyres, which you will see not only on this bike but on the likes of Hill and Fairclough’s this season, likewise the DT 550’s rims, own brand hubs and Avid Elixir R brakeset. This kind of stuff wouldn’t be out of place at a World Cup event. And it doesn’t stop there. Truvativ cranks and chain guide are reliably workmanlike, the stem, seat and seatpost all up for the job in hand. All told there isn’t anything that stands out as being wildly spec’d and there is nothing that needs replacing…well maybe the bar is a bit narrow and high. Had to find something. It’s a truly awesome build for this cash.
The Big Hit is an energizing bike, in almost every situation it remains up beat and up for it. Anyone owning one of these can surely allow themselves a smile on the uplift wagon or chairlift at the expense of their empty pocketed mates who’ve just blown four G’s on bikes not any faster (some much slower). Some riders have said they’d be very interested to compare speeds on a variety of normal UK terrain with last months seven thousand pound Intense M6.
In terms of feel the Domain doesn’t have the same boundaries as say a shorter Fox 36 or a longer BoXXer, it’s a pretty basic unit, but what it does do, and this is obviously not by chance, is match the geometry of the bike. Because of this it will hold higher speeds over harsher terrain better than the shorter Fox, taking the bigger hits better. It does its job pretty well really. No, it doesn’t have the suppleness of a 36 but then it’s a bit more of a grafter. To be super picky I’m sure a suspension specialist for not that much money could make a very, very good fork out of the Domain, but the reality of riding says that this is a fork that can boot it all day long without the worry of multi–adjust, and that is pretty much what a lot of riders want.
The same holds true for the rear, and with the FSR linkage largely taking care of matters the DHX 4.0, as its adjuster suggests, is a pretty one-dimensional beast relative to other shocks on the market. But yet again, because there are no weaknesses in the geometry of this bike, the only thing you might notice is how ordinary and agricultural the back feels. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The overwhelming feeling being devoid of any adjusters is you don’t have to fret about it. All the force gets channelled into riding.
Nothing more needs to be said really. Having failed miserably to turn it to mush, everyone from around these parts (yes its been loaned out regularly) has got on with the job of enjoying the experience of riding the big Blonde with a dark side from Morgan Hill. If you see one on the lifts just think, flash car expensive holidays – money’s got to go somewhere?
The fact that it doesn’t have super–adjust damping doesn’t hold this bike back, in fact it just makes riders lives easier. Sure you can bolt on a BoXXer and Cane Creek shock to get that increased range of adjustability and performance gain required in competitive life, but then if you’re not one to lose sleep over tenths of seconds or the type of person with image crisis because you haven’t just bought the most expensive bike on the hill for seemingly no reason other than the cost, then this bike has it all. There’s no doubt that in the right hands it could win a downhill race in the UK on the right terrain.
Those telephone wires still worry me though. I’d give this bike ten but then think of the romantic comedy with Bo Derek and Dudley Moore. Back to the complex bread decision again. Oh hell. Err maybe give it a seven? No that’s just plain stupid. But then that Mojave scene in the film with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. That had telegraph wires. Look, I hope the message is clear…awesome bike!
Big Hit 3 comes in at £1761.69
Specialized UK 0208 391 3530