SPECIALIZED CHISEL EXPERT 1X
£1,700 Spesh’s new alloy race bike puts the whip into whippet
Specialized take their XC racing very seriously, and while their new Epic full-suspension bike has grabbed the headlines, the Chisel is a crazy-quick addition to the quiver. Interestingly, that speed comes from using cutting-edge construction techniques to produce a really old-school, whip-fast ride.
It’s striking just how skinny and minimal the frame is. The top tube tapers back and goes from square to rounded in a shallow curve, while the round down tube heads straight down to the threaded BB (which should last longer than a press-fit unit) from a braced and hooked top end. Unbraced chainstays curve out from the base of the seat tube, then kink to reach the Boost dropouts. The seatstays take a broad path up past the tyre before curving into the seat tube without a brace. Tiny bullet hole ports on the down tube swallow the gear cable and brake hose (with two more left open). Bolted axles secure the wheels for minimal weight.
As it’s the most expensive bike here, Spesh can afford to outfit the Chisel Expert with 1x11 SRAM GX. Weight watchers will likely want to swap the PG-1130 cassette for a lighter Shimano or SunRace one, but the bike is otherwise stripped out. The 2018 Reba fork gets a leg-top lockout rather than a heavier remote, the Race Face crankset uses a directmount chainring and there are only 24 spokes in the front wheel.
We’re glad Spesh haven’t saved weight by fitting narrow rims, because the healthy 25mm internal width of the own-brand hoops gives noticeable tyre float. The extra money also buys you SRAM Level TL brakes, which are in a different class to the other anchors here, in terms of modulation and control, and light too. There’s an old-school feel to the flat bar, 100mm stem and long, skinny 27.2mm seatpost. With Spesh’s new ‘GRIPTON’ rubber compound and a super-supple carcass, the Fast Trak tyres are much grippier than you might expect from a look at their low-profile tread.
Supple is a word that characterises the whole Chisel character too. Not in a soft and ductile way, but with the kind of whip-spring feel we’d normally associate with old-school super-slim steel and titanium. That means you can feel the whole bike distort underneath you as soon as you push the power down through the pedals. And not just through the BB and rear end – the whole front end twists around like a kid using
chopsticks if you really get your shoulders involved.
At this point, many power-meterobsessed racers will be wondering why on earth you’d want a race bike to be so flexy you can see it twist out of shape when following from behind. Let alone feel it turn almost liquid through the bar and notice the equally flexy wheels take different lines as you dump your sprint through it. With the lightest weight on test, though, the Chisel accelerates with shocking speed as each power phase coils it up and then releases whatever energy you feed into it. The compliance of the chassis, tyres and wheels also means fantastic levels of traction as the bike keys into tiny surface irregularities in a way stiffer machines just can’t replicate.
That applies through corners too, and, in a similar way to the KTM, the frame and wheel flex and long stem/ narrow bar cockpit mean you’re less likely to overload the tyres. If you’re into the whole whip vibe, then the fact you can start the next corner on flat-out fast singletrack before you’ve even finished the last one adds a whole new level of thrill and involvement.
The way the Chisel soaks up ground shock, from tiny rattles to serious rock swipes, means it flows across rough terrain with an almost e-bike/plus-tyred level of speed sustain. That makes it blissfully comfortable on longer rides too, so the longer we rode it, the more we fell in love with it.