Editor’s Note: Yes, this is a long story, but it’s awesome. Even the Specialized folks liked it. *wipes nervous sweat from brow* But if you want just the tech facts (plus claimed weights and more), we have a Cliff’s Notes version here with additional info.
The first words out of anyone and everyone’s mouth when they got wind that I was at a Specialized product launch called “Adventure Camp” (aside from “Wait…wtf?!”) were, with few exceptions, “You drink the kool-aid yet?”
And the answer is: “Is that what the kids are calling moonshine these days? Because in that case, yes… yes I did.” In fact…I drank so much of it the first night that I literally punched myself unconscious. Fist to head… head to pillow… Woke up with a throbbing temple and no clue where I was. Look, I’m not saying I have issues. I’m just saying… that… there’s like… this friend of mine, right? And he… like… sometimes, like… punches himself? In the face? To, like… stop… feeling so much? And he’s like… totally not me. Totally.
And sure, maybe there was a little kool-aid passed around during the initial presentation of the bikes and products the next morning; a story about how Specialized was born and bred on adventure and how the direction of the company had been hijacked by popular cycling… ostensibly pulled in a direction it had never intended to go by the uncontrollable tides of public opinion. But that was a mercifully brief offering. We’d heard these stories before, in their various iterations. What we really wanted to know was “When are we going to get to go ride bikes and shit?”
Also… this was “Adventure Camp” and as everyone knows, at camp you drink “bug juice,” not kool-aid. Fucking duh-ee.
I pulled up to the compound that first evening early enough to hide from the sun, but late enough to watch the shadows grow and the clouds do their thing. An amazing piece of property that I’d ridden past hundreds of times when I used to live in the region. So why was I there? Certainly not because I have any kind of skill or experience (or interest in) objectively reviewing product. Tyler was traveling. Zach was at PressCamp. So they asked me.
“Can I write about it the way I want?”
“Sure. You might not get invited back to any product launches though.”
“Pffft. You mean YOU might not get invited back.”
I made my introductions and pretended that (sometimes) maintaining a blog about being a drunk, emotional wreck of a human (on a bike!), and writing a monthly column for another magazine even remotely qualified me to be there as a “journalist.” And anyway… I wasn’t there to journalize. I was there to ride bikes in Pisgah for a few days with friends and strangers. I was just going to have to write about it later. (Wire the money into my Cayman’s account, as per usual, Tyler.) As we sat around the fire that night and I asked for everyone’s name (for the third time) the introductions somehow morphed from “name” into, “name and something interesting about yourself” and then on to “name, something interesting about yourself, and a dad-joke.”
Fuck. Because not only is there very little interesting about me (that I can and should talk about publicly), but the only jokes I could think of were… unbecoming. So I sat there like a deer in the headlights, wracking my brain to come up with anything half-way appropriate… and still managed to be the only person who told a joke with the word “cock” in it. (Yay for me. (And Bikerumor.))
Sharing aside, sitting around that fire with a bunch of old friends and new friends was a pretty good start to the week. Did they feed me kool-aid? Try to indoctrinate me? Meh.
Leaving CrossVegas one year, I found myself in the car with a few Specialized employees… and I’ll admit… I totally thought that maybe they were part of a cult. Because there was this bizarre gleeful pep to their seemingly non-stop jabber. Like in a “Hey gang, wasn’t that the best day ever?! OMG!! Let’s go get milkshakes and bathe in virgin blood!” way. You know what I mean?
But come on…everyone has their own. And I’ve willingly drank the kool-aid from other companies for years. And not long ago, when two ambassadors for a line came in to show me the product for the coming year, and address the elephant in the room of said company’s recent announcement of their giant dickslap to every local bike shop that’s ever pushed their brand…they seemed all too much like cult members themselves; albeit confounded by Reverend Jerry Wayne’s decision, but still compelled to tow a party line. “The Reverend’s got a plan… you’ll see.” How that plan will affect me remains to be seen, but I can’t help but feel a little like the virgin sacrifice. (Yeah. I forgot to mention to y’all that I’m a virgin. In case you couldn’t already tell.)
Maybe it’s that Specialized’s particular kool-aid is just (over) aggressively trademarked…but regardless of how people feel about the bikes, they typically feel a certain way about the brand. Certainly woe be to anyone who inadvertently comes anywhere close to their recipe… or to maybe even using names of things that they may or may not have used in their recipe….because they’ll sue your ass. (Just kidding.) And unlike the inner workings of Scientology, that isn’t any kind of secret. (No, but seriously, they will.)
Even if you’ve hated on the brand, every single one of you (except Vee) has watched the Specialized Adventure Dispatch videos. And even if you hated on the videos themselves, every single one of you (except Vee) has felt either inspired or jealous when it was over. Inspired to go out and do something similar… or jealous that your life is such a far cry from what you just watched. Admit it…They’re good. Damn good. In fact, insofar as “get outside on a bike” propaganda goes, it’s some of the best out there… from production value to content. And for my own part, I liked seeing friends like Ty Hathaway, and Sarah and Tom Swallow…and icons like Doom and Ultraromance getting props for doing their thing. And yeah, it’s Specialized… and not (insert favorite cult…I mean brand… here). But come on…if Apple decided to make the same video… would we still feel even half as vexed? (Probably)
The only real question is: when’s my video coming out about me doing rad stuff? Because I’ve already written it in my head and acted it out in the mirror and everything. And let me tell you… It… Is… Gold!
That Specialized would get into the adventure market was a no-brainer. Because with the exception of e-bikes (at least according to the manufacturers of e-bikes) the adventure market is the only currently growing segment of bicycle sales. Adventure-Camp was the launch for their reintroduction of the Sequoia; a bike that has been through a few iterations over the past 30 years.
A little unnecessary history: Specialized debuted the Sequoia in the early 80’s. It was, at the time, a true touring bike. A steel road machine with slack angles and long stays, developed in part by Jim Merz; one of those cycling pioneers whose interest in bikes was to ride them stupid long distances with all of the things he needed loaded on in various fashions. Canvas sacks strapped to racks which were strapped however they could be to bikes. Back when road bikes still took the road less traveled. Look through any decent book about the bicycle written anytime before the 80’s and you’ll find more than a few photos of some helmetless individual in short shorts and a wool sweater riding a ten-speed with 27×11/4 tyres up some snow-covered pass. (Wait…where did I see something like that recently?)
But in the early 80’s, many of the riders who sought out that kind of terrain and space found themselves gravitating toward the growing sport of mountain biking. The versatility of this new style of bike made all the sense; wider tires and burly frames that were better poised to take people a little further into those remote places. That left the road market to become…well… what it became; aggressive geometries made almost exclusively for pavement. Stiff frames…very little tire clearance. Less about getting lost and more about winning the group-ride. (Or race…I guess.) Eventually, the Sequoia resurfaced, in the “comfort road” category. Taller head tube, longer wheel base, more tire clearance…a bastardization of the style of riding Grant Petersen was championing… just marketed to a crowd that favored a different aesthetic; polo shirt tucked into high-waisted, relaxed fit jeans held aloft by braided leather belts… Sans irony. (The irony crew came later. I will seriously rip those baggy 90’s jeans off your person and flog you with them. (The safety-word is “zertz.”))
Two nights before I went to the event, I fell asleep thinking of Specialized. Not a thing I’ve ever done, admittedly. I was thinking about their whole Adventure Dispatch thing. About their approach to bikes. About the kind of people who typically gravitate toward the brand. About what they’ve represented in bike culture for the past 30 years. About their attitude toward competitors. About their beginnings. And about their name. How ubiquitous it’s become for so clunky a word. Specialized. I said it aloud enough times that it quickly became nonsense sounds. Specialized. Specialized. Specialized. Specia……zzzzzz.
That first morning, as we sat Indian-style in a circle… (Sorry… cross-legged. It’s camp, remember?)… Erik Nohlin (aka @hellhommus on the Insta-face) gave us a little rundown on the bike’s history…and why they were reviving it. And why now. Erik is the man primarily responsible for the success of the Adventure line. Through his own charisma and connections, he’s forged a path that legitimately put the brand on the map for their efforts, rather than relegating them to a pale and pedestrian coat-tail ride. Outside of making good copy, there’s some truth to Erik’s line about the brand’s direction being hijacked. As the sport of cycling’s popularity grew, this certainly was not the predominate direction. So Specialized followed the currents. And that’s always been their strong suit. Taking what is becoming popular and making it their own. At times in ways that are undeniably bullish. But always in ways that push the industry.
They’d recently dipped their feet into the growing adventure market with the Awol in 2014, but with the addition of a carbon fiber fork and size specific butted tubing, the Seqouia was to be more refined. (And possibly not 30lbs out of the box.) And even if they were late to the adventure party, there was no question as to whether they’d produce a quality bike. (They have the resources to do things right, so they fucking better…right?) No… the question was, when they finally did it, would they pretend like they invented the entire genre. And the answer is… maybe? And also… does it matter? Because if Specialized is on your radar, then they’re on your radar… regardless of what they do or don’t tell you about their approach to bikes. And chances are, if you’re already eyeing them warily, then you’re not who they’re talking to. Because there’s a whole world of wide-eyed neophytes out there ready to pursue this “new style of riding” and who’ve been brand loyalists since their first Rock Hopper. And again… they have the resources to do it right. So chances are… that’s what they’re going to do.
After the morning propaganda session, we spent the next hour getting our bikes ready to ride. We would be riding the Sequoia Expert, the premier offering in the line. While all the models would share the chromoly frame, both the Expert and the Elite would be equipped with Specialized FACT carbon fork, while the base model would sport a chromoly fork. Also featured on the Expert were SRAM Rival hydraulic disc, the Specialized Adventure Gear Cruzero wheel (tubeless ready) with the new Sawtooth tire (700×42) (developed by @hellhommus himself)) and the Specialized FACT carbon CR-G seatpost. Also, the bike…Fuck this… just look at pictures or ask questions in the comment section. I’ll answer as best I can.
We’d be outfitting the bikes with a new series of bags, dubbed the Burra Burra. Weatherproof and with welded seams, they’re pretty in line with most of the bags coming out, with the exception of the seatbag, which includes an alloy stabilizing bracket that mounts directly to the seatpost.
While it’s good to see so many companies making these kinds of bags, I admit to being a little disheartened that the market-share is being pulled from the companies that helped pioneer them. Yes, admittedly some of them would possibly have trouble keeping up with the growing demand and staying true to their own roots… and yes, there will always be those of us who seek out handmade and limited run products… and yes, most of the bags coming out via the larger manufacturers, the Burra Burra series among them, are undoubtedly of high quality. But alas… don’t forget the struggle… don’t forget the streets…
At 6 feet tall on the dot, I grabbed a 56cm. With a slight seat adjustment, it was exactly what I needed. Bags were loaded, food was packed… and we set off to explore.
We did everything on the bikes. Pavement to gravel. Gravel to dirt. Dirt to hero-dirt. Hero-dirt to gnar. (Ugh. “gnar.”)
Maybe… I’m a bit of a moron (probably). In that I like riding bikes enough that rarely do I dislike a bike. So making judgement calls on how a bike rides is often…difficult. Because I’m just always stoked to be on them. But the upshot, and something I am by no means even remotely mandated to say in this situation, is… that I liked riding this bike. A lot. And for the next two days, that’s exactly what I did.
Moi was kind of the best…
Here’s the disclaimer part of the article: (Naturally at the bottom.) I own a bike shop. A bike shop that does not sell Specialized. Yeah. But that’s less about their brand and more about my own. Our niche has always been smaller lines. Some of that is our size. Some of that is our ethos. And some of that is the fact that there are already established dealers for the big brands in my town… and that chances are we don’t quite have what they’re looking for in a dealer anyway (like, say…a modicum of professionalism.) We’ve certainly been told as much by ANOTHER big brand. Would I carry Specialized? Yeah… of course. Fish in a barrel, right? But I’d do it on my terms. And therein lies a part of that problem. Because I don’t know if that’s their game. The one thing I will say about Specialized is that as much grief as people give them for being a bully (often rightly so…), they’ve always been committed to bike shops. And yes, I could say a lot about my distaste for concept stores, and pressure to carry too many bikes, or to squeeze other lines out… but they aren’t in chain stores. And I admit, as a shop owner, whether I carry them or not…I like that. A lot.
I enjoyed getting to talk to Benedict about his own relationship with the brand, a connection that seems incongruous to say the least. But whatever you think about that guy, he’s about as genuine as they come. Sure he has his affectations and quirks (ask him about his Instagram symposium sometime)… but the fact is…we all do. Just some of us are a little more…magnetic….charismatic. And Benedict is almost mythological in his charisma. An archetype. An embodiment. And dare I say that was his intention? When I asked if anyone had ever given him grief for selling out, he kind of shrugged and said that it hadn’t really come up. Which seemed… surprising…until you realized that if it had come up, he wasn’t really paying attention. He was too busy doing his thing.
He’d been approached by Specialized before and declined… deciding to “build his brand” a little more. And you can’t deny that he has. Whatever you think about his signing to a “major label,” his own brand has been built such that if he one day walked away… he’d be unscathed. Because he would just keep doing his own thing. His needs and wants and goals aren’t based on how he fits into Specialized’s vision… but on how they fit into his. How can you not respect that?
Chasing Erik up and down hills on the second day, we had the opportunity to talk a little about the Specialized brand, his own history with it, and the direction he’d like to see it go. He likened the Adventure line to a pirate ship currently docked in Specialized’s harbor. It’s a good image: A band of rogues pursuing their own direction against the grain of the larger fleet. “Man…” I said, just before he dropped my ass like a bad habit down a series of steep swithcbacks, “just as long as y’all aren’t a squad of black-ops mercenaries brought in to help that fleet take down enemies of the state. Because that would suck.”
See below for more on the bikes and bags.
All photo creds go to Beth Welliver and Specialized unless otherwise noted.
If you like what you read, go read more of Watts’ stupid fucking writing here: THE REVOLTING COGS . (He promises to update it soon(ish))
…Or follow him on instagram at @revoltingcogs (…or, you know… don’t.)
…Or write to Specialized and demand that they give him a Dispatch video of his own. (…or, you know… don’t.)
And if you didn’t like it… you know what to do.
Click on the following to enlarge and see what’s on them:
Is that enough things for you, Tyler? Gawd this is tedious.
Editor’s Note: No, Watts, there’s never enough.