2021 SPECIALIZED DEMO RACE REVIEW
Review by Cole Gregg
Looking back to 2005, I was 13 years old and falling in love with the sport of mountain biking. I was riding a Specialized Rockhopper purchased at my local bike shop and loving every minute of it. I still remember jumping over 12 of my friends off one of those X-Factor plastic ramps jacked up by some bricks. Needless to say, that bike didn’t last long and my dad was pissed. With plenty of begging and yard work I was rewarded with my first DH bike, a 2004 Specialized Big Hit paired with a Marzocchi Jr. T up front. This was a huge step forward for me, and that bike carried me well into high school. This was the OG “mullet” bike, 26” up front and 24” out back. At the time I never thought there could be anything more capable. Fast forward 15 years and a brand new 2021 Specialized Demo Race is sitting in my living room. We’ve come a long way! Let’s take a look at my experience with the new Specialized Demo downhill bike.
Unboxing and Set Up: Upon opening the box, the brilliant, deep red color filled my eyes, with the new bike smell wafting out of the box I tore through all the packaging and got it on the stand. Set up was a breeze. All it took was unbolting the stem, getting the bars set up to my liking and installing the wheels. It really couldn’t have been any easier. Shifting was dialed right out of the box. I did end up putting some mastic tape on the crown of the fork to eliminate any front brake line chatter. The pre-installed chain stay protector worked great and there was no need for any sound damping out back.
The RockShox Boxxer Ultimate 29 with the Charger 2.1 Damper came with one token pre-installed and I decided to run with that until I had some time on the bike. I weigh 174lbs kitted up and used the RockShox Setup Guide to dial in my pressure, compression and rebound. I started at 125psi, 2 clicks high speed and 9 clicks of rebound from open. The RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH Coil came with a 400lb spring. At first this felt spot, on but as I spent more time on the bike, I found I needed a little more support; more on that later. I started with 3 clicks of low speed compression and 9 clicks of rebound from fully open.
Out of the box there really is nothing you need to change to have a great time on the Demo. Specialized did a great job as whole spec’ing this bike out to be a full-blown race bike. The Deity Knuckleduster Grips were fantastic and as a non-glove rider, I really appreciated how well they vented. Once you’re death gripped at full speed the Code RSC 4 Piston brakes really do a great job at bringing you back into your comfort zone. The 220mm front rotor was a great touch, even over long extended runs at Silver Mountain, fade was a non-issue. The coveted SRAM modulation was still there and seemed to be even smoother with the 220mm front rotor. During the 4 weeks of riding I only had one issue with the rear brake. At one point in a run I started to get some fade and lever pressure significantly dropped causing the lever to go to the bar. I checked for any oil leaks and contamination and nothing was to be found. By the next run it seemed to have resolved on its own and I didn’t have the issue again.
The suspension kit was spot on for what a bike like this demands. The Boxxer Ultimate was a breeze to set up and tweak on the trail. Like I mentioned before, the fork came stock with one volume reducer and I found myself getting more feedback from the small chatter than I would have liked at the air pressure I needed to stay in the optimal stroke zone of the fork without bottoming. After two runs at Silver I added a second reducer and dropped my pressure to 120psi. This made a big difference in how compliant the bike felt. I stayed with this pressure for the rest of the time testing. I went back and forth with adding and reducing HSC and LSC. My original set up of 2 HSC and 3 LSC seemed to be pretty spot on.
Out back the Super Deluxe Coil was worry free the entire testing period. I landed on 10 clicks of rebound and 3 clicks of low speed compression for the entirety of the time I had the bike. Small bump was great and the responsiveness on less aggressive trails was spot on. If I had the option, I think I would go up a spring weight to get my sag percentage down a bit. I did find myself bottoming more frequently than desired but don’t feel it held me back at all. Some side by side runs would be great. So, if you are over 170lbs keep this in mind.
The SRAM XO1 DH drivetrain was dialed, the integrated mount on the brake for the shifter really kept the cockpit neat and tidy. Shift was sharp and actually quite silent, derailleur noise under chatter was also very minimal. During the test period I did have to tighten up the derailleur a few times, but this was to be expected putting in tons of laps at a bike park.
The only parts on this build I thought that Specialized could have spec’d a little better is the wheelset and linkage hardware, or thread locker. The 28mm wide Roval Wheels did track well and were stiff enough to not cause any major ride quality issues; but with no tire inserts I found myself having to run higher PSI in the BLCK DMND Butcher tires. Especially on the rear. Maybe I’m just used to the sidewall support of CushCore’s but this was a constant battle for me. I ended up going with 28psi rear and 24psi front. I did not notice too much bead roll from the front, this was predominantly a rear wheel issue. I feel that a bit wider wheel would have gone a long way for this build. The Butcher Tires were fantastic, even in the loose dusty conditions at Silver Mtn and Mt. Bachelor the grip was really not an issue. The sweet spot of traction and no traction was surprisingly forgiving. I feel that with a wider wheel and CushCore these tires would be high on my list of favorites. Well done Specialized!
Another issue that we had was with hardware in rear end continually loosened itself. It got so bad that every run would require a stop to retighten the lower linkage bolts as they’d work themselves loose. Eventually we just added a hefty serving of Loc-Tite to the threads and found that to be enough to keep them tight for now. We’ll report back if they continue to loosen up in the future.
With the Demo Race being offered in 3 sizes S2, S3, and S4 with the ability to adjust the bike to your liking, there’s a sweet spot for every rider. Being 6’ 1” on the S3 at first felt the bike was going to be way too small compared to the other bikes on the market with more progressive reach and wheelbase numbers. The S3 comes in at a reach of 446mm in the short chip position and 443mm in the middle position. While there are some bikes out there that scoff at the idea of a 446mm reach in a “Large” size, Specialized has proven this bike is one of the fastest bikes of our time. With that said, those speeds are reached by riders way better than me, even in my dreams. For the average number cruncher, this bike boasts very conservative numbers. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you want a bit bigger bike, sizing up is a good option and the Sr would have certainly given me more room up front. I have been experimenting with shorter bikes lately to try and get back some snappy handling and tight terrain performance that the big limousines of today are missing out on. I ran the S3 Demo in the short setting for the vast majority of my rides and was mostly happy with it. On all sizes, the chainstay length is 438mm (short) and 443mm (middle). The stack height also does not change between the size range with the short coming in at 632mm and the middle landing at 635mm.
When adjusting the flip chip, you also get a slight change in head tube angle which can be useful when riding in different zones. In the short setting that I spent the most time in, the HTA is 62.8 degrees and the middle setting drops this to 62.5. If the loss of 3mm in reach doesn’t bother you, the slacker setting will really eat up the steeps. While .3mm of a degree doesn’t seem like much, it is enough to feel the riding characteristics change when pushing the bike to your limit. The flip chip also yields a 5mm bottom bracket drop from 350mm (short) to 345mm (middle). As a whole, the geometry is right on the edge of being “outdated”, as some will certainly call it, but is clearly showing there is no performance loss under the fastest racers out there.
My first break in rides were at Duthie Hill, Washington, a place I ride at quite regularly. Duthie is not generally a spot I take DH bikes, but for a first shakedown ride it gives me a starting point for how the bike is going to react. There is one solid rock garden, some smaller tightly packed jumps, a few larger jumps ranging from 15’ – 20’, higher speed flat corners and tight twisty trails. Granted, this is more of a flow park but my goal was to get acquainted with the bike vs push it to its limits, or at least my limits on a first date.
The first thing I noticed was how frickin’ well this thing corners. The combo of short(ish) chain stays with a 29” wheel up front and a 27.5” wheel out back made this bike an absolute treat through tight corners. Maybe the fact that my reach wasn’t 480mm had something to do with that too. Changing direction in chicane style corners was an absolute delight! With Duthie being limited on elevation I was really able to get a good feel for how well the bike pedals under heavy load. It’s no XC bike but when pointed downhill and if you’re pedaling smooth circles, it does pretty well for a downhill bike.
Now for what the bike is really designed for, lift/shuttle access gnarr. During the time of the test, our testers combined put around 100,000 feet of decent on the bike at Silver Mtn, Mt Bachelor and some local shuttle trails. Just like at Duthie I found that the slower tight tech sections of trails is where I really got the most enjoyment out of the bike. The reach and wheelbase in the short position of the flip chip allowed me to make the most of these tight sections. Getting the front wheel into the line I wanted was not an issue at all, the entire time I felt like I was in complete control vs. holding on and letting the bike do its thing.
The trade-off for maneuverability in these tighter trails, and in having a shorter bike in general, is a lack of stability at high speed. The couple testers we had ride this bike noted that compared to full-blown 29er DH race bikes, the Demo wasn’t quite as composed at speeds in the rough. The back end could sometimes feel a bit flighty and swap side to side when absolutely nuking it at high speeds. That being said, the ability to easily place the bike where I wanted out shined the trade-off of a longer bike for my riding style. This took me a while to really understand and get used to but once I understood how the bike reacted across different obstacles it didn’t hold me back one bit. Just be aware if you’re looking for an outright race rocket I would suggest sizing up or possibly even opting for the Demo 29. For park riding and shuttle days however, this is a great fit.
Other than the way this bike rails corners one of the more noticeable things is how little brake jack or rise there was. Silver Mountain had some nasty brake bumps that are essentially the MTB version of moto whoops. Every run I was braking later and later into these and not losing any bit of control. By the end of the day I had completely re-worked my braking points. As a rider who rides flat pedals, this was extra noticeable, I didn’t find my feet searching for the right position due to the shock packing and transferring that energy to my feet vs the frame.
Playful is a term often thrown around when establishing a feeling for a bike. That term fits very well for the Specialized Demo. While this bike can eat up the nastiest of trails, it’s also at home and a joy to ride on less advanced blue trails. I actually had some of the most fun on the blue and green trails finding gaps and pushing the limit of those trails. I even ended up hitting some dirt jumps, while I could really feel the bike eating through the travel on the lips of the steeper jumps, it was consistently predictable and loved to get sideways.
The Wolf’s Last Word
As a whole the 2021 Specialized Demo Race ticks off all the boxes for what a downhill bike should be. Sizing is subjective here, if you like a shorter bike size down, if you like a longer bike size up. If you’re a full-blow racer, consider the Demo 29. It all depends on your local terrain and riding style. I’m no longer afraid to try a shorter bike, in fact for somre trails and conditions I now know I’m faster on a shorter bike. Some companies have really pushed the limits in reach and wheelbase while Specialized has found a happy medium. In my opinion, the re-introduction of mixed wheel sizes is welcomed with open arms. I hope other brands follow suit and allow consumers the customizability that we all deserve when spending top dollar on a new bike.
Frame: M5 alloy, Style-Specific DH Geometry, horst pivot flip chip for 27.5 or 29 rear wheel
Fork: RockShox BoXXer Ultimate 29, Charger 2.1 Damper, 200mm
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH Coil
Brakes: SRAM Code RSC, 220/200mm
Shifter: SRAM X01 DH, trigger, 7-speed
Handlebar: Roval Traverse SL Carbon, 800mm
Stem: Descendant 35mm Direct Mount
Saddle: Body Geometry Henge DH
Seatpost: Thomson, alloy
Hubs: Alloy (f) / DT Swiss 350 (r)
Rims: Roval Alloy DH, 29 front, 27.5 rear
Front tire: Butcher BLCK DMND, 29×2.3″
Rear tire: Butcher BLCK DMND, 27.5×2.3″
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB, 83mm
Cassette: SRAM X01 DH
Cranks: SRAM X1 Eagle Carbon DUB 32t
Derailleur: SRAM X01 DH, 7-speed
Tight, twisty terrain
Out of the box experience
Playful and well-rounded
Lack of sizing options
Linkage hardware kept coming loose
High-speed stability on smoother trails/dirt roads
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