Mountain Bike Reviews
2013 Specialized S-Works Fate
The 29er hardtail is a momentum—and confidence—builder
Fate burning a hole in my garage, I tried to seek out dirt anywhere I could.
On my first ride, I head out Fireline Road, a narrow lane that traverses a nearby ridgeline and rollercoasters through the woods for about half a mile. The pavement is littered with winter detritus—snowmelt cinders, broken branches, craters the size of tractor-trailer wheels.
Piloting Specialized’s high-end, women’s hardtail 29er
here might not be the ultimate test of its trail-shredding prowess, but it doesn’t feel wrong. In fact, the road is a bit like those stretches of double-track you find in so many cross-country courses, which is where this speedy bike was made to excel.
I stand on the pedals, knees soft, elbows out, picking my line around blind corners. The carbon frame is fitted with premium parts like Shimano’s XTR 20-speed, 2x10 drivetrain and the S-Works OS Carbon crankset, which help make the bike feather light at just under 20 pounds. But it feels easy to control as I pick up speed thanks to the short 90mm headtube and 75mm stem—both of which allow me to keep more weight over the front wheel. And the fairly low bottom bracket (304mm, or about 12 inches) helps lower my center of gravity, making the bike feel stable. The chainstays and wheelbase are also more compact (17.1 and 41.8 inches, respectively) than on some other 29ers so the bike responds crisply to even subtle input.
Short chainstays keep this 29er playful, and ready to whip around corners. (Leah Flickinger)
I nudge the Fate right, swooping onto Sunday Road, a steep gravel descent that drops down to the river. I stick to the outside lines and the Fate gains belly-tickling speed in a hurry. The XTR hydraulic disks are powerful, but they also make it easy to control the braking force, so I stop quickly without skidding on the loose gravel at the bottom.
Once my favorite trails dry out, I ride the Fate on them every chance I get. And that’s where its star quality comes into sharp focus. The bike twists and snaps through tight turns
. It rolls playfully over rocks and logs. The frame, made with Specialized’s highest-end carbon layup, is light and stiff and responds energetically to every pedal stroke. The 80mm-travel RockShox SID World Cup 29 Brain fork flattens ruts and rocks.
The Roval Control SL29 carbon wheels roll lightning fast. For me, 29-inch wheels can feel a little unwieldy on tightly stacked bumps, but the bike is so fast and responsive that momentum quickly takes over. And because the bike is so light, I zip up steep rises faster than on any other mountain bike I’ve ridden. That’s a major plus because I don’t have to work as hard to make forward progress. I feel less fatigued and can finesse the bike on tricky technical trails for longer.
Though I’m not a XC racer, I appreciate how the racy geometry lets me feel closer to the trail, rather than hovering precariously above it. It helps boost my confidence and I find myself enjoying the lack of rear suspension instead of cursing it. Another confidence builder on the trail comes from a key female-friendly geometry tweak: The top tube dips slightly as it slopes toward the seatpost, lowering the standover height. Knowing I can hop off easily mid-ride makes gnarly sections less intimidating. In fact, on the Fate I make easy work of trail features that have scared me away in the past.
A short headtube keeps the bars lows, making it easy to control the front wheel. (Leah Flickinger)
Make no mistake, this is not a bike for novice mountain bikers and it wouldn’t be my first choice for the most technical terrain—on one especially wet and sketchy trail, I regretted not having a more forgiving full-suspension model. The Fate is designed to excel in cross-country races, and it’s clearly fast enough to do so. But it’s also a blast to ride. At $7,500, it’s a commitment. But if you race or like to ride fast and you appreciate the advantages of big wheels on frame made for female riders, it might be a commitment you’re ready for.
The lakeside network of flowy singletrack near my house drains poorly and had been mostly off limits for much of the late spring. But with