Editor’s note: A full-blown Road Test is in the wings for 2017, so this is based on first impressions gleaned from a few days of riding in North Carolina on a Specialized-sponsored media trip in June.
By Alex Strickland
When it comes to bicycle travel these days, it seems like what’s old is new again. Well, so it is with the Specialized Sequoia, a reborn moniker from one of the industry’s heavyweights. The Sequoia — and accompanying slogan “a thousand decisions properly made” — has been brought back from its 80s touring bike origins as an aggressive take on the travel bike. A steel frame, carbon fork, 1x11 drivetrain, and hydraulic disc brakes offer a sampling of the best in old and new tech, and fairly steep geometry combine to create a singletrack-slaying rig capable of many days worth of multi-surface riding.
First things first — I landed in North Carolina not entirely sure what to expect. Specialized brought some media to the mountains around Brevard for the launch (disclosure: this trip was on Specialized’s dime) but didn’t give many hints as to the bike itself. Their AWOL (Road Tested in the July 2015 issue) series has proven to be a solid and versatile performer in the more traditional touring mold, though I’ve seen them set up in a wide variety of drop- and flat-bar configurations. The Sequoia isn’t entirely a bird of a different color, but it’s probably a little closer to the company’s Diverge road bike than to the AWOL thanks to performance nods like front and rear thru-axles, a carbon fork (on the top two trim models), and a much more road-like geometry, which shifts in nearly all angles and lengths as the bike changes sizes, resulting in what Specialized says is a consistent feel and performance whether you’re on a 52cm or a 62cm.
It rode like, well, like a bit of everything. Over three days in North Carolina we flogged the bikes over flow trails, rooty singletrack, gravel roads, and tarmac, and the only limitation I could find was the withering technical skills of this Western rider. As is often the custom from the big brands, look beyond the frame and fork and you’ll see plenty of other components sporting the big “S.”
A drop bar, the Specialized Adventure Gear Hover, features a small, 15mm rise in the flats before swooping into a subtle flare in the drops that provided a nice elevated position for cruising and plenty of control when it came time to wrestle through a tricky bit of trail. New tires (which the sharp-eyed might’ve noticed floating around the internet for the last few months with the maker unknown) called Sawtooths feature an old-school-seeming zig-zag pattern but provided fantastic, predictable hookup on dirt and a quick roll on tarmac. We rode them in 700c x 42mm configuration, but Specialized will also offer them in a 650b x 47mm size for those looking at the new “Road Plus” standard. Saddle and bar tape were also courtesy of the Specialized Adventure Gear line, in a canvas style finish that felt and looked good despite copious perspiring in the southern heat. The 700c wheels are also from the folks at Morgan Hill, with same-length spokes on both sides of the hub for maximum back-of-beyond repairability (they’ll also offer 650b wheels from the factory and in the aftermarket).
A bit about those folks from Specialized’s “Adventure” brand: Erik Nohlin and Kevin Franks shepherded the AWOL through the bureaucracy of one of the bike world’s biggest brands, and now the “Adventure” universe they’ve created there is undergoing rapid expansion. Though the pair are extremely different — Franks looks like he came out of central casting for a California surf flick and Nohlin is a heavily tattooed Swede — their commitment to the category is infectious. Oh, and they both rip on a bike. (Nohlin rode an AWOL in Europe’s Transcontinental race and is headed to Sweden later this summer for a cross-country ride.)
Along with the Sequoia and some of the associated hard goods, they also debuted a set of bikepacking bags called the Burra Burra line, including seat bag, frame bag, top tube bag, fork-mount bags, stuff cage, and an impressively stiff handlebar harness. Having spent just a bit of time with the new bags (aside from the seatbag, which I’ve seen but not used), it’s certainly a top-class effort that’ll compete with the best from the likes of Revelate and Ortlieb. You’ll see more about the bags later in the year.
Some final details of this rebooted Sequoia include three bottle bosses, fork mounts for additional cages or a low-rider rack, rear rack mounts, fender mounts front and rear, and Specialized’s CG-R carbon seatpost, which did an admirable job soaking up vibrations with its 18mm of vertical compliance.
The 1x11 drivetrain with a 42T cog at the low end in back and 42T ring up front would’ve been a killer had we been more heavily loaded, so an out-of-the-box change for me would be dropping to a 38T chainring for some additional climbing leverage. But SRAM’s Force hydraulic disc brakes were something of a revelation — Id never before experienced such braking performance on drop bars. A slick hose routing through the front fork leg had me fearing for the home mechanic, but after relying heavily on the stoppers through a lot of technical terrain, I might be spoiled for cable-actuated discs going forward.
The Sequoia will be offered in three trim levels, a base model, Elite, and Expert, as well as a frameset-only option ($1,200), with prices ranging from $1,300 through $3,500.
Specialized Sequoia Expert (as tested)
Seat Tube: 500mm
Top Tube: 570mm
Head Tube Angle: 71.5°
Seat Tube Angle: 73.5°
BB Drop: 66.5mm
Standover height: 500mm
Frame: Premium Cr-Mo size-specific tubing, internal light cable routing-ready, Adventure Geometry, flat disc mount, fender/rack mounts
Fork: Specialized FACT carbon, tapered, internal light cable routing-ready, flat disc mount, waterbottle/rack/fender mounts
Stem: Specialized Pro SL, alloy, 4-bolt
Handlebars: Specialized Adventure Gear Hover, Specialized Adventure Gear S-Wrap Canvas Tape
Brakes: SRAM Rival 1, hydraulic disc, 160mm rotor
Rear Derailer: SRAM Force1 Type 2.1, long cage, 11-speed
Levers: SRAM Force Hydraulic Disc
Cassette: Shimano Deore XT, 11-speed, 11-42T
Chain: KMC X11SL-1 DLC, 11-speed w/reusable MissingLink
Crankset: FSA SL-K Light crankset, ABS Compact BB386 EVO, PF30 System Interface, 10-/11-speed, hollow, 147mm Q-factor, 110 BCD
Chainring: Megatooth V2 XX1, 42T
Bottom Bracket: FSA MegaEvo, threaded
Wheels: Specialized Adventure Gear Cruzero
Tires: Specialized Adventure Gear Sawtooth 2Bliss Ready, 700c x 42mm
Saddle: Body Geometry Phenom Comp, hollow Cr-Mo rails, 143mm
Seatpost: Specialized CG-R, FACT carbon, single bolt, 27.2mm
Gear Inch Chart: