If ridden in isolation with no regard for the wider bike market, the 2019 Specialized CrossTrail Sport is a fine bike that does everything it sets out to do very dependably. It's safe, reliable, well balanced and can be rather satisfying to ride. But if you are even just slightly interested in comparing bike specs and overall packages, you might come to feel hard done by.
It doesn't normally take long to work out the characteristics of a new bike, and the more benign the machine, the less time it takes to come to a conclusion. So, to say the Specialized CrossTrail Sport felt very familiar from the off gives you some clue about have safe and secure this bike is.
The initial sensation that strikes you is how incredibly stable and assured it feels. Surefootedness is the order of the day, with direction changes inspiring confidence and road bumps and lumps dealt with impressively. Sleeping policemen are left to snooze peacefully as the CrossTrail glides over them, thanks in no small part to the 55mm SR Suntour NEX fork with Specialized's proprietary 'Fitness Brain' technology. This does away with a lockout and instead uses an inertia valve to keep the fork rigid when the going is smooth, and reactive when you negotiate less welcoming surfaces. It works very well.
Brain tech also means you can get out of the saddle and sprint without causing the suspension to fidget, although I doubt CrossTrail riders will put this to the test too often. The reason for my misgivings is that this is not a lively bike under acceleration, although getting up to speed has a solid, consistent feel to it.
Climbing is efficient thanks to sensible gearing setup, and maintaining a good tempo is surprisingly rewarding. But this is not a dynamic, stop/start, sprint-for-the-lights kind of ride experience, and excitement is slightly lacking overall.
Specialized CrossTrails of old had something utilitarian or certainly ultra-rugged about them. They were effectively 29ers before marketing folk dreamt up the term, with a heavily mountain bike-inspired frame running on 700C road bike wheels shod with fat tyres.
Certainly some of those ingredients remain in 2019, but the modern CrossTrail frame has undergone a transformation and now looks pretty sexy rather than tough-as-nails. It arguably looks even more svelte than the more road-orientated Specialized Sirrus. There's smart internal routing through the down tube, 'Plug and Play' mounts for mudguards and a rear rack, and even the seatstay bridge is rather delightful.
Add in the nice blue finish and some 'Integrated Reflectivity' branding, and you've got a very pretty machine.
It's not perfect, though. The bottle cage mounts on the seat tube require spacers (supplied) because the band that holds the front mech in place is in the way.
Also, Specialized has fitted three individual bottle cage bosses rather than two on the down tube, which had me puzzling, so we asked and were told it's because some European lock brands require three points for their lock mounts, "notably Abus with its Bordo models". Learn something every day!
As you'd expect from Specialized, fit and geometry is bang on the money. This large model was a fraction short in reach for me (I'm just a smidge over six foot), but everything felt in perfect proportion with quite a sporty position. It's not exactly aggressive but it encourages a more enthusiastic approach than head's-up daydreaming.
In terms of drivetrain, the MicroSHIFT front derailleur is a bit agricultural but it works reliably enough. While changes of chainring may be clunky, at least they're positive and secure – there's no faffing about waiting for things to happen. The same can be said of the Shimano Alivio rear mech, although that's a little more refined.
Choice of gear ratios is good. This CrossTrail Sport model comes with an FSA Alpha Drive double chainset, the two chainrings featuring 48 and 32 teeth. Combine that with the 11-36t cassette and you have a setup that can easily handle city cycling, and will have a good crack at a lot more besides.
So everything works well enough when it comes to gaining momentum, but things take a bit of a turn when it comes to slowing down. Specialized really should have stopped at 'S' in the bike component catalogue because these Tektro hydraulic discs can't compete with entry-level discs from Shimano or SRAM. It's not just a matter of modulation or feel, all-out power is also found wanting. In fact, the brake levers can be squeezed through about half of their potential travel before you feel the callipers doing anything at all.
Better news can be found at the wheels, which roll nicely but are otherwise pretty unremarkable. The Trigger Sport Reflex tyres are much more interesting, though. Earlier on I said the CrossTrail is surprisingly rewarding to pedal at speed – 'surprisingly' because out in front of you is 38mm of rubber, which would normally suggest plenty of rolling resistance. But the Triggers have a neat trick up their sleeve...
As all good cycling scientists know, all tyres, no matter what their width, have the same area of contact patch with the road as long as they are inflated to the same pressure. Normally, fat tyres have a max inflation significantly below skinnier tyres and so create a larger contact patch, but these 38mm Triggers can be pumped up to 100psi. That means, for all their girth, they should be almost as easy to roll as any other tyre at 100psi. Of course, there are other factors to take into account (I'm keeping things simple here) but essentially they roll impressively, they add to the overall ride comfort, and they find traction on the road well, too.
Finishing kit is traditionally a strong suit for Specialized. Here it's good but tinged with a little disappointment. The CrossTrail Sport comes with the same Body Geometry XCT grips and Specialized Canopy Sport saddle found on the Sirrus Alloy I tested and mentioned earlier. While they were a great find on a £425 bike, I would have hoped for something a little more special on a bike demanding a £325 premium.
As is my wont with any bike that arrives boasting a squidgy fork, I decided to take the CrossTrail Sport for a quick blast off road. Actually, 'blast' is a bit of a misnomer, because its inherent stability means this doesn't really offer a seat-of-the-pants adrenaline-fest, but a fairly relaxing roll through the woods. With a change of tyre, it would be a perfectly decent machine for modest trails, especially if your mountain bike skills are still developing. And while it's not particularly playful, if you're just trying to keep up with the kids off-road, there shouldn't be any nasty surprises to make you look a fool.
In fact, the CrossTrail Sport's all-round ability reminded me of the Saracen Urban Cross 3. The CrossTrail is to my eyes a nicer looking bike and I'd rate its ride quality as better suited to road and commuting duties, while the Saracen is a little more fun, especially off-road, and has a notably better spec.
Actually, it's not just the Saracen that has a notably better spec. Look at similarly priced bikes from GT, Cannondale, Pinnacle, Cube (the list goes on...) and you'll see they all come with superior Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and at least some superior Shimano Deore drivetrain components (or even – in the case of the £749 Cube Nature SL – two XT derailleurs).
Okay, some of those are different kinds of bike brands compared to world renowned Specialized, but if you'd like a particularly close comparison between similar models from very similar global bike makers, there's the Trek Dual Sport 3. This features two Shimano Alivio/Acera derailleurs, a Shimano Acera triple chainset, Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes, and an SR Suntour NEX fork with lockout (but without Fitness Brain technology), yet costs £625. That's £125 less than the Specialized CrossTrail Sport.
The first bike I ever lusted after as a schoolboy was a white Specialized Rockhopper, and over the years I've been only too pleased to praise Specialized's road models, especially the Roubaix. But this is the second Specialized hybrid I've tested in the last six months and both warrant exactly the same criticism.
While the most important basic ingredients – the frame and fork's ride qualities – are as impressive as anything on the market at this price, the overall spec isn't good enough. The MicroSHIFT front mech doesn't let the side down too much in performance terms, but it's not like Specialized has discovered an overlooked gem. And the Tektro hydraulic discs are plainly inferior to Shimano or SRAM offerings. Add in the small matter of component snobbery (or even just recognition), and I'm not sure buyers should be impressed.
'Surefooted' sums up the Specialized CrossTrail Sport's talents, but at this price the spec is a bit underwhelming
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized CrossTrail Sport
Size tested: Large
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Specialized A1 SL Premium Aluminum, Fitness Geometry, fully-manipulated butted tubing, internal cable routing, flat-mount disc, quick-release, Plug + Play rack and mudguard mounts
Fork: SR Suntour NEX w/ Specialized Fitness Brain technology, 1-1/8" steerer, QR, fender mounts, 43mm offset, 55mm of travel
Levers: microSHIFT, 9-speed
Chainset: FSA Alpha Drive double, 48/32T
Cassette: SunRace, 9-Speed, 11-36t
Front derailleur: microSHIFT Marvo LT, 31.8mm clamp
Rear derailleur: Shimano Alivio, Shadow Design, SGS cage, 9-speed
Chain: KMC X9EPT, 9-speed, anti-corrosion coating w/ reusable Missing Link
Bottom bracket: BSA, square-taper, 68mm
Brakeset: Tektro HD-R305/R310, hydraulic disc, resin pads, flat-mount, 160mm
Hubs: Shimano Center Lock disc, loose ball bearings, quick-release, 32h
Rims: 700C disc, 6061 aluminum, double-wall
Spokes: Stainless, 14g
Tyres: Trigger Sport Reflect, 60 TPI, wire bead, 700x38mm
Saddle: Specialized Canopy Sport, steel rails, 155mm
Seatpost: Alloy, 12mm offset, 2-bolt clamp, 27.2mm
Stem: Specialized, 3D-forged alloy, 4-bolt, 7-degree rise
Handlebars: Double-butted alloy, 9-degree backsweep, 31.8mm
Grips: Specialized Body Geometry XCT, lock-on
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The CrossTrail Sport is intended to be a general use leisure/fitness bike.
Specialized says: "Your fitness is important and that's why our CrossTrail Sport focuses on seamlessly blending comfort, versatility, and efficiency.
It comes equipped with a suspension fork with our Fitness Brain technology that can tell the difference between pedaling inputs and trail bumps, so you won't be wasting any energy on your climbs. And to build on this blend of comfort and speed, the frame is built from respectably light and rugged A1 Premium SL Aluminum with a geometry that's made to fit just right from the minute you get on the bike.
Add in a mix of workhorse components from the likes of Shimano and microSHIFT, powerful Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, and rack/fender mounts, and we're sure that you'll be mixing it up quite a bit on your trail to hitting your goals."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The CrossTrail Sport is just in the upper half of the four-bike CrossTrail range. The CrossTrail Mechanical Disc (£475) starts things off. Then there is the CrossTrail Hydraulic Disc (£575). Then comes the Sport. Then, topping out the range, the CrossTrail Elite (£1,000).
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Really nicely built and finished. The SR Suntour NEX fork with 'Fitness Brain' technology works particularly well, but the whole frame and fork package is the CrossTrail's trump card.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Specialized A1 SL Premium aluminium frame with 55mm suspension fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Perfectly proportioned with good stability. Felt like the archetypal hybrid geometry.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, very comfortable, safe and stable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No complaints in terms of rigidity - not too stiff, but stiff enough.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Fairly efficient, although not quite as reactive to power inputs as some of its rivals.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Accurate but not lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Surefooted is the best way to describe things. No cause to worry, but not much to excite either.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Frame, fork, tyres - all combined well for excellent comfort.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
'Brain' suspension fork works well to keep the front end fairly stiff when needed, even without a lockout.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I'd prefer better drivetrain components.
It was efficient enough, but unremarkable.
Not a particularly responsive bike for sprinting.
Handles corners very securely.
Fairly good - quite a nice bike for maintaining steady pace.
Functions fine, but not particularly smooth.
Shimano stuff will last. Don't know about the long-term potential of MicroSHIFT kit.
One of the lowest spec setups I have seen at this price.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It worked fine, but it's clunky and wouldn't win any bragging contests.
Wheels and tyres
They look ready to last. Shimano hubs are a good feature.
I thought the wheel/tyre package was pretty impressive for comfort.
Not exciting but fairly decent wheels.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
I don't think this bike really warrants a wheel upgrade anytime soon.
I was very impressed by the tyres.
OK, but not lightweight.
Very good comfort.
Rather talented tyres.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
I like the relatively high maximum permissible pressure.
Could be lighter at this price.
Grips and saddle are comfy.
Relatively low-spec kit.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
This kit is the same as appears on the Specialized Sirrus Alloy, which cost £325 less, so it's hardly great value.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Overall build and component choices were below what I would expect at this price.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Not at this price.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Possibly
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Very poorly. Other bikes from brands such as GT, Pinnacle, Cube, Cannondale and Trek all offer far better overall packages at this kind of price. The Saracen Urban Cross 3 is a prime example of what buyers can expect at this point in the marketplace.
Use this box to explain your overall score
While the Specialized CrossTrail Sport rides very competently and offers a stable, comfortable and secure experience, the overall package – especially in terms of drivetrain and brakeset componentry – is a disappointment. In fact, had the ride experience not been so good, I could easily have marked this bike down another couple of points.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure