The Chisel is a new model to Specialized’s mountain bike line for 2018, and it fills the gap left by the older Carve/Crave as their lightweight aluminium hardtail.
Fast, light, and stiff, the new Specialized Chisel proves that ‘proper’ XC bikes aren’t dead, and it’s a great choice if you’re after some modern touches without going full ‘trail’.
Geometry-wise, it’s pretty much the same as the carbon Epic hardtail, which is nice to see.
It’s also good to see that the Chisel uses Specialized’s D’Alusio Smartweld technology. There’s a lot going on there, but the outcome is a top-end aluminium frame that looks really cool and allows for really nice smooth shapes around places like the head tube.
I’ve gone for a Chisel Expert 1x. I’ve been a big 1x convert since my days racing cyclocross, and I’ve absolutely no plans to buy an off-road bike with a front mech again.
Out of the box, it looks great. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that ‘fully murdered out black’ was my only colour choice, as the frameset is available in some excellent colour schemes (‘California Fade’ is my favourite), but when the bike arrived I was really pleased regardless.
We really take the leaps and bounds made in aluminium frames for granted these days, but the tube shapes created by Specialized are truly incredible – just think of what an aluminium bike looked like 10 years ago. Now, smooth joins, swoopy lines, and seemingly impossibly thin tubes make up what is, in theory, a ‘cheap’ version of their XC race bike.
There are some other nice touches to notice on the frame, too. A threaded bottom bracket is a great start, and not having one would be a deal breaker for a personal bike for me nowadays. Internal cabling looks really neat, with full-length outers and a little access port at the bottom of the downtube. Finally, the finishing touches, like the headset spacers, top cap, and finishing kit are all of good quality. You’d be surprised how much difference a set of cheap and nasty spacers and a chunky, rusty seat clamp can make to the overall ‘feel’ of a bike.
It’s also worth pointing out that this bike is compatible with Specialized’s SWAT accessories. It’s not quite as slick as their carbon frames, which include things like a door in the down tube to hide your tubes, but you’ll find an extra bottle cage bolt on the downtube and two threaded holes under the saddle to attach their branded accessories. Not a huge concession, but surprisingly helpful if you don’t want to ride with a pack.
The bike comes specced with SRAM 1x gears – a mix of NX and GX, with Level brakes. They work well and otherwise keep themselves to themselves, which is exactly what I want from my gears and brakes. It’s really hard to argue with SRAM’s low-mid end offerings for both road and mountain bikes.
With all that said, and some quick photos while the bike was still pristine, I headed out for a ride.
This is a fast bike. Stiff and light, it’s most rewarding when you can rip past the people pushing their bouncy ‘trail’ bikes uphill. Flipping the supplied long stem lets you pitch yourself into a nice aggressive position and really make the most of less technical trails, and the modern wheels and tyres as well as the slightly slackened geometry help you to not panic on the way down.
One thing I have noticed is that the controls on the bars will contact the top tube if the bars swing round. I’ve had one good over-the-bars moment so far, but the tiniest paint chip was the only result. I’ll come back and tearfully update the review if I dent my top tube.
The wheels and tyres are a really pleasing combo. Not particularly light (what do you expect from a stock wheelset on a mid-range bike!?), but they do have wide rims, 2.3” Specialized Fast Trak tyres, and both wheels and tyres are tubeless ready out of the box – just add valves and goop. This was super easy, and the wheels both seated without sealant using just a track pump.
What do I think so far?
So far, I’m really pleased with the bike. I’m the kind of person who goes to the trails for a workout, and I didn’t want a bouncy ‘trail’ bike that would feel really slow to pedal and climb, even if it meant sacrificing a bit of sure-footedness on more technical terrain. The bike’s light, but doesn’t give you the familiar flexy feeling of resisting your efforts when you stand up out of the saddle.
I’d really recommend the Chisel for riders who like to pedal. It’s not going to be as easy to wheelie as some other offerings, but it’s an excellent and light weight cross country bike at a price that makes the inevitable crashes a bit less painful.