2009 Specialized Big Hit III
Words and photos by Mark Steinebach.
In the early days of freeride, bikes needed to be able to thrash their way down to earth from nauseating heights. It was at that time that Specialized introduced the Big Hit, its first real long-travel full suspension bike. In the years before Specialized introduced its Demo and SX lines, the Big Hit continued to be true to its original design: heavy, raked out, able to take a thrashing.
Since those days, though, freeride has drifted away from freefall. There is now a greater need for rideability and not just raw durability. Enter the newest manifestation of the Big Hit.
Sometimes your old friend gets reconstructive surgery, and you’re too busy admiring the results to notice the finer points.
The new 6.75” – 7.5” Big Hit line is nestled in the Specialized line-up between the 7” and 8” Demo bikes and the 6.7” SX Trail models, with the 2009 model getting a complete redesign. Gone are the 24” rear hoop, the interrupted seat tube and the dual crown forks. Retained is the cornerstone FSR design with the Horst Link suspension system that has been in service since the mid ‘90s. These changes are intended to improve rideability without compromising the namesake big-hit quality of the predecessor rig.
Modern day touches like a tapered diameter head tube set the new Big Hit line apart from its predecessors – and a good part of the competition.
Specialized’s goal was to produce a stout bike able to take wicked punishment at an entry-level price. The R&D for this machine borrowed generously from the Demo technology. The resulting bike definitely has a family resemblance with a burly-looking frame featuring the same swoopy-swoop tubing and a similar shock placement serving up 6.75” – 7.5” of travel and a fully adjustable seat tube. New school low standover height caters to a larger range of riders.
More standover and updated geometry give a new look to the 2009 Big Hit family.
Geometry has received a complete reworking. While the head tube angle is a DH-worthy 65.5°, the seat tube angle is a positively cross-country-esque 75°. This suggests a bike that can be thrown down heinous chutes while still being able to set you up directly over the cranks to ensure good transfer of power when you need to hammer on the pedals. A healthy mix of top shelf components (Avid Elixir stoppers) and price-sensitive parts (RockShox Domain 318 fork and Fox DHX 4.0 coil rear shock) help keep the price down while retaining the hope for reasonable performance. And like most Specialized rigs, the Big Hit is decked out with SRAM componentry down to pedals, seat, bars, derailleur…..well nearly all of it.
A well thought out combination of components from in-house as well as the likes of SRAM, Avid, Rock SHox, and Fox make the Big Hit III a very good package – the price makes it even better.
The Big Hit line comes in four flavours: the Big Hit I, II, the top-of-the-line III that we are testing and the Big Hit Grom. The bike is certainly bling-worthy with white and blue everything, and while everything looked great straight out of the box, the stark white seat and grips struck me as a questionable choice for anything other than a road bike. In spite of that, I’m itching to get out and put this unit through its paces. Has Specialized hit the target with this bike? How will an all-white bike fare being ridden in the slop that is late winter / early spring riding on the Shore? Stay tuned for the beat-down report.
After having ridden a 2007 TPC Manitou Travis and a 2008 Fox Racing Shox 40 in the past two seasons, I was curious to see how the Hayes Bicycle Group’s purchase of Manitou is reflected in their latest high-end downhill race fork, the Dorado MRD. A definite consideration while writing this review is the MSRP pricing of the Dorado compared to the other “big three” products: the Rockshox Boxxer WC, Fox 40, and Marzocchi 888 WC. The Dorado has a lot to live up to with an MSRP of $3,900 CDN, or $1,000 more than the Fox 40, its closest competitor price-wise.
The 2009 Manitou Dorado. At just under 6.5lbs, it’s lost some weight, but none of its good looks.
I Pulled the Dorado out of its box, and here are first pre-ride installation impressions:
- The Dorado weighs a hair under 6.5lbs with the steerer cut to 7.5” and Postmount Brake adapter installed. Just under a half pound lighter than a Fox 40 with Firm titanium spring installed and a steer tube of the same length.
- Although a good thing to incorporate on an inverted fork, the left leg hard plastic brake line guide is poorly executed and was crushed in transport. A moto-style aluminium guide with a PVC insert is expected from a fork of this price. James Downing of SuspensionWerx came up with a solution on the spot that looks better than stock and will be a lot more durable than its plastic counterpart (see picture below).
- With a 50mm 0 degree stem, and low-rise oversized bar (Chromag Fubar and Ranger stem in this case), bar height had to be increased by over 2/3 of an inch to clear top caps.
James at SuspensionWorx fashioned this brake line guide since the stock one didn’t survive shipping. He normally specializes in making your fork’s internals work like buttah – here he shows a little external ingenuity.
A good starting point for compression settings is approximately 2/3rds out from fully in. Accordingly, here are the settings I used to start with:
- 85psi (30% sag for 185lbs rider)
- 12 clicks out from fully in (21 clicks total) on TPC+ adjustment (low speed)
- 10 clicks out from fully in (18 clicks total) on High speed adjustment
- 6 clicks out from fully in for rebound
Last week’s heat wave (considering North Van’s 2009 winter), left enough lower trails clear to put some good riding hours on the Dorado. The trusty Rocky Flatline was dusted and polished, ready for some early spring riding:
- The Dorado handles well on varied terrain. Filters roots and rocks, yet feels well damped on low to mid speed harder front weighted impacts.
- The higher amount of give designed into the Dorado compared to a Fox 40 for example, allows less of the terrain to be transmitted to the rider. A certain level of deflection was welcome, and allowed an appreciable level of control at slow to medium speed. Hard to simulate Whistler speeds and chunk at this time of year on the local mountains, but “higher Shore speeds” did not hamper the Dorado chassis itself.
Arthur had a few quibbles with the new Dorado but the expectations are very high with an MSRP of $3,900. We’re going to need to get Stephen Wilde to take shots for us more often.
- I was disappointed to notice a top-out on full extension. Not a complete metal on metal clank, but a definite looseness in the top of the stroke accompanied by a clear ‘thud’. The top-out has gotten worse on the last ride. Quality control has been one of Manitou’s biggest downfalls in the past, and should have been a focus of the new management group at Manitou. This is not acceptable from an out-of-the-box $3,900 fork.
- Multiple hits and heavy compressions at higher speeds seem to overwhelm the damping. Need to fine tune air settings and do some more testing with adjustments, to come to a clear conclusion on this preliminary issue.
In its current stage the Dorado clearly out-performs the Manitou Travis that I have had considerable experience with. Yet, with only a few days of riding, it is hard to tell if the Dorado will position Manitou as a legitimate contender to the proven Rock Shox and Fox Racing downhill race fork references. The true question is if the overall Dorado package (quality, performance, reliability, customer service, parts availability) will be worth an extra $1,000 over the competition. I am looking forward to spending more time riding varied downhill terrain on the Manitou Dorado and sharing my findings with all of you.
The author hard at work to bring the Manitou Dorado test results to you in the middle of a nasty winter on the North Shore.
The crew I rode GMG (one of the North Shore’s gnarliest trails) with used to check their tire pressure on a particluar rock the size of a baby head near the trailhead. If they rolled the tire up onto the rock and pushed hard the correct tire pressure would be an almost bottomed out tire on the rock. I preferred the ‘squeeze the tire with my fingers’ method. Either way we thought we had the tire pressure sort of figured until the boys showed up with digital tire gauges fresh from Cambodain Tire’s $9.99 bin. These worked great if you had Schraeder valves, which I didn’t have.
Enter the SKS Airchecker with Duo Head for Both Schraeder and Presta valves.
This light and compact device is easy to use, accurate and equipped with special features: aside from the Duo Head it has an easy to read backlit digital display showing Bar or PSI whatever you click on. My welding-diver/trials bike riding neighbour from England Mark filled me in on the Bar metric reading. It’s of no use to me but I guess a lot of Euros use it. 1 bar = 14.5 psi. Here’s a conversion linky.
Trevor wanted the caption to read “truly child proof” but we already knew that; if Trevor can operate the Airchecker, it’s obvious that his son Dane would be all over it.
The Airchecker’s duo-head makes it easy to get the tool between the spokes. Another advantage is the air reducer button. You can let minimal amounts of air out until the desired pressure is reached.
The SKS Aircheker is very simple and intuitive to use. And it’s German made, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the orange air reducer button will measure tire pressure by either BAR or PSI to one-tenth increments. Precision looks good.
I usually fill my tires with a floor pump, but the measurements on my floor pump gauge vary a fair bit. I use the Airchecker to confirm accurate pressure after I have filled up and I am feeling the need for accuracy. Truth be told, I still count on the ‘feel it with my fingers’ technique a lot; for all other times this little tool from SKS works perfectly.
Got a comment about the Spring’s new batch of fresh goodies? Chat about it here…