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Long Term Test: S-Works Era

What is it?
The Era is the twin sister of the Epic – Specialized’s flagship XC racing bike. Designed for women, the key differences on the Era include lower stand over height, shorter wheelbase, shorter top-tube and a suspension set-up better suited to females (or smaller, lighter people).

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Why do I ride one?
In the time Before Era (BE), I was more than happy riding my “dirty white” Camber Elite around the place. The perfect all-rounder, this bike had me on XC podiums one weekend and nailing challenging rock gardens the next.

After watching Annika Langvad ride an unknown Specialized bike in the world marathon championships however, my eyes started to wander. It’s not that what I had was bad in any way (quite the opposite in actual fact), but a little obsession had started. I was stalking the new bike on Google Images, refreshing bike review websites for any newly released information and possibly most perverse of all, I was thinking about this new bike while riding my Camber.

My first ride on the Era was at a Specialized “Test the Best” event at Wylde Mountain Bike Park in Sydney’s west. I was sweltering in the 40 degree heat and feeling pretty fragile after a hard fought criterium race earlier that morning. At this point my new rig was already on order through Specialized but that didn’t stop me immediately jumping on the phone to the team at Cyclery Northside and demanding they do all in their power to expedite it’s arrival. After all, I had jumped on the demo and just taken every “Queen of the Mountain” on practically every segment out there.

Some people will tell you that you can’t buy speed. Obviously, these people didn’t go out and buy an S-Works Era. If I had to describe it in one word, that word would have to be FAST.

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Specifications
The S-Works version of the Era spares no small detail. The FACT 11m carbon frame (in a really bad-ass matte black colour-way) brings together Roval SL 29 carbon wheels, a SRAM XX1 drive train, the inverted RockShox RS-1 front fork (100mm travel),  a Fox rear shock, carbon bars, cranks and a seat post holding the women’s specific Myth saddle. The little details are there too, with a SWAT chain tool top cap and a multi-tool tucked away in the frame (which to be honest I didn’t discover until well after, but now use all the time).

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Like the Epic, the Era includes the automatically locking Brain suspension technology. The shocks remain locked out until a bump from below, which opens the valves to soak up the impact. Most people are used to having an open and a closed setting on their shock – it’s kind of like that, except the shock opens/closes like magic based on the terrain you are riding.

Climbing
You cannot get any faster up a hill. The Era absolutely flies up anything gentle, steep, rocky or loose thanks to it’s racing geometry, weight (mine is a shade over 11kg), stiffness and suspension set-up (thanks Mr Brain).

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Descending
Coming from a Camber to the more aggressive Era, I did find descending was a little bit more challenging. That said, Specialized have done a wonderful job in mixing a steep head-tube angle with control, as it was a lot less terrifying on rocky downhill sections than I expected.  The stiffness of the frame and wheels means that the Era handles like it’s on rails – it feels right at home on sweeping berms and long switchback descents including Stromlo (ACT) and Blue Derby (TAS). At the end of the day, the Era is still a XC race bike and may not be as forgiving as some other models for less experienced riders.

Upgrades
Out of the box, you hardly have to do anything. Over time I’ve swapped out the S-Works stock seat-post for a mini Command Post (dropper post) that gives me about 2 inches of extra clearance (helpful for unfamiliar descents at high speed). Foam grips have replaced the standard grips for my precious little hands. I am also running the tougher Maxxis Ikon tyres with greater side-wall protection on sharp rocky trails.

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Recently I upgraded to a C-BEAR bottom bracket to really supercharge the drivechain – it’s completely silent, deals incredibly well with poor conditions and feels as smooth as melted butter.

2,500 km’s on the Clock
Like most of Specialized’s bikes – the Era hasn’t really missed a beat. They are well built and will last forever if you keep them well maintained.  Over time I have had the suspension serviced twice (preventative rather than responsive), replaced a few bearings and bushes, put on a new chain or two and swapped the front chain-ring a few times (to better deal with hilly verses flat courses).

The only issue of significance I have seen is with the Magura M8 brakes – which after working perfectly for the first 2000km, suddenly needed all sorts of work and lots of bleeds. While Magura’s warranty and service department have been great, I swapped them out for Shimano XT’s given some of the issues I occurred were right in the middle of a heavy racing period.

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Why Buy One?
The S-Works Era is an absolute monster. I haven’t been able to think of a name for mine so I just refer to it as “the Crotch Rocket”. It is seriously fast – but also seriously expensive – still around $11k AUD RRP. That said, there are also Expert and Comp models in the line-up, which come in a lot cheaper.

This is one to test ride if you want to get into XC racing. It’s probably not your first bike (it also might not be your only bike), but it will make you faster. It’s lightweight, nimble and rides like an absolute dream.

I still have my Camber. It does get a little bit jealous, but it knows it’s still my number one if I am challenging myself on seriously technical terrain.  

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