specialized bicycles have, to put it mildly, a rather substantial range. in the interests of propriety, i attempted to count the individual models available on their website, but gave up when i lost count. and that was only the mountain bikes. the sequoia elite reviewed here is categorised under their adventure series, from which i’ve already featured the rack-festooned awol. similar to the latter, the frame of the sequoia is cro-mo steel, but this time with the added benefit of a sturdy carbon fork. though i and my partners in crime would be more likely to describe the colour of this as duck egg blue, specialized prefer the less descriptive but more endearing california white sage.
the steeply sloping main triangle is formed with tig-welded steel tubes, featuring an almost anorexic (by today’s standards) bottom bracket and a tapered head tube. the down tube offers three bottle cage bosses to allow more specific placing of the cage to suit your requirements, augmented by a further two on the seat tube and another set under the down tube near the bottom bracket. all cabling for both the shimano hydraulic 160mm discs and the wide-range 105 gearing follow the underside of the downtube and are held in place by sturdy frame clips. this means that the gear wires are completely encased in cable outer from one end to the next.
the almost spindly seat stays bear a couple of bosses at the top for a rear rack, with corresponding threaded bolt holes on the dropouts. intriguingly welcome are bosses on the front carbon fork on which to mount a low-ride rack. the word dropouts has become something of a misnomer of late and not just on bicycles from specialized. both front and rear hubs are held in place by allen-bolt fastened thru-axles. i can only surmise that the absence of ratcheted axles as seen on the crux elite ‘cross bike has to do with their fragility in the face of potential adversity. my friends at yonder journal have made far more rugged use of this bicycle than have i and i can only imagine how long external appendages would last in the bolivian hinterlands.
in contrast to the steel main triangle, the carbon fork offers internal brake hose routing on the left leg, leaving no dangling accidents waiting to happen. the headset is of the semi-integrated type, tapering from 1.125 to 1.25. the relatively short alloy stem grasps a pair of shallow parabolic drop bars, flared outwards slightly in the manner once sported by every touring bar on the market. the lookalike denim bar tape is nicely matched to the denim effect phenom saddle sitting atop a 27.2mm steel seatpost.
though i have no idea if it is indicative of a sea change in californian thinking, the bottom bracket is of the external bearing cup design as opposed to the increasingly common, yet increasingly loathed press-fit variety. this plays home to a cold -forged alloy fsa sub-compact chainset, featuring a 48/32 chainring set. matched to an 11-32 cassette at the rear, this provides the intrepid rider the opportunity to clamber up the side of houses with a 1:1 gear ratio. such a widely spaced set of sprockets is handled by a long-cage shimano 105 gear mech, with the same manufacturer providing the clamp-on front mech.
however, perhaps the most obvious and ultimately impressive aspect of the sequioa is the substantial pair of amber-walled 700 x 42mm wide sawtooth tyres with a less than chunky tread. specialized have positioned the sequoia as a viable alternative to owning a road bike and a touring bike, by combining the best features of both into one bicycle. though not the lightest machine on the planet, the all-up weight pays testament to the fact that steel though no longer cutting edge, still has its place in the modern velocipedinal universe.
as mentioned above, according to specialized, the sequoia is effectively a road bike with a tad more than just wanderlust pretensions. there is an image in yonder journal's dead reckoning photo book of this very bicycle, festooned with framebag, bar pack and other luggage associated with heading into regions of earth devoid of much in the way of population. however, wimp that i am, january and february's weather precluded any investigations into islay's rustic hinterland. sad to say, this particular sequoia was only saddled (pardon the pun) with a seatpack containing tube and tyre lever and, ironically enough, a dead reckoning water bottle. in the face of my less than intrepid personality, i opted to review the bicycle on its less rugged propensities.
the one blatant and apparently obvious detriment to its assuming pelotonic status would undoubtedly be those large 42mm tyres, yet that is a conclusion to which it is distinctly not in our interests to jump. i cannot deny that defying gravity is not one of their better traits, but when it comes to the flat, those forty-two millimetres behave as if they were only 25 or 28. i will readily admit that the sunday morning velo club peloton would scarcely see peter sagan's rear wheel for dust, but they failed to leave me wallowing in the same.
and with reference to the sequoia's climbing ability, that 32 tooth inner ring was welcome on more than just a single occasion. however, the surprise arrow in its quiver was repeatedly revealed on the subsequent downhill, where the extra kilogramme or so, allied to a quite enervating sense of balance, often meant that i was at least first in the queue for the next uphill slog. once again, however, i must raise the subject of a stem that was several millimetres too short for yours truly. this was offset marginally by a welcome length of top tube, but the real reason i make mention has more to do with colour than length.
were this my very own californian sage white sequoia, i would be publicly embarrassed to replace the stock stem with any substitute that did not embrace that selfsame colour and i'm not altogether sure that specialized stock replacement 130mm stems in this particular colour (though i'll admit i didn't ask).
as one brought up with campagnolo coursing through my veins, sheer prejudice has conditioned me to approach shimano with temerity, mostly, it should be admitted, because i formerly found their sti levers less than ergonomic. however, though their newer models obviated that criticism several years ago, those that actuate a set of hydraulic discs have managed to offer brake hood nirvana, only marginally lessened by the shortage of stem.
i have frequently quoted myself as saying the finest compliment that can be paid to any new bicycle is scarcely noticing its newness or, in other words, its often significant difference from one's usual ride. tom ritchey may have been onto something when he noted the realness of steel; in the case of the sequoia, aside from that beefy carbon fork, there's no doubt that a steel frame can be more easily repaired when several hundred miles from home. however, if that aspect were to get in the way of the invisibility of its personality, the elite would have been far less endearing than it transpired.
there is a point on that rear cassette, when reaching for the bigger sprockets, that shimano's legendary precision of shifting experiences a minor hiccup or two. however, such is the plethora of sprocket teeth available, it's unlikely the rider will be at terminal velocity when a determined change becomes necessary. and to be honest, if you've need of grasping for the 32 tooth dinner plate, you're probably already seeing black spots and breathing through your ears in any case. seamless gearshifting at that point is likely of purely academic interest.
the cockpit offers every bit the same level of comfort and balance as offered by the crux cyclocross bike. the width and slope of the bars took a bit of getting used to, but are well matched to the bicycle's personality. however, i fear i have to decry the parabolic curve. the further along the curve, the further your hands are pulled from from the brake levers. any extended downhill period in the drops does eventually bring on soreness of thumb. it's scarcely an onerous problem on relatively flat islay, but it might be less amenable in the upper reaches of khatmandhu. meanwhile i cannot praise specialized's range of saddles highly enough; throughout all the foregoing, the comfort of my posterior never really entered the equation.
the sequoia, despite first impressions when, marcel wust-like, it was rolled from its enormous cardboard box, turned out to be far less landrover-like and perhaps a bit more porsche cayenne like, if you'll forgive the imposition of a vehicular metaphor. yes, despite their dislike of squishy mud (though they laughed in the face of gravel, grass and sand) the tyres produced a superb noise on the road while offering only a fraction of the rolling resistance their size suggested. and despite the width of both tyres and wheels, the handling was, dare i say it, well towards the perky side of ginger peachy.
it would have been nice to have experienced the 'fully loaded' scenario, but i want, i want, doesn't always get. at only £1750, the sequoia offers a great deal for, relatively speaking, not a lot of dosh. though many of us harbour notions of disappearing into the undergrowth of some far flung country, bikepacked to the gunwhales and ready to live off the fat of the land as long as we have our thru-axles, there's a greater than evens chance it'll never happen.
but it would be really nice to think we could if we wanted to. a truly marvellous and adventurous bicycle.
wednesday 22 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................