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Long Term Review: Specialized Demo 8 – Believe the Hype!

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The Specialized Demo has always been a formidable gravity machine, but it wasn’t until Specialized signed the talents of the Monster Energy team and began turning what was once considered a ‘huck’ bike into what we see here today: a refined and honed bicycle designed to go fast and keep coming back for more. Although it’s fair to say that the marketing machine that follows a certain Australian athlete has always proved a valuable asset for sponsors, it’s also fair to say that the Demo has well and truly established itself as one of the most popular frames amongst amateurs and pros alike, and off the back of far more than just hype.

Words: Olly Forster | Photos: Olly Forster, Iain McConnell and Alex Tyler

The Specialized Demo 8.

After riding the 2010 Demo, a frame vaguely altered from it’s free-ride forefathers (aside some geometry updates), I knew that picking a long term test bike for the following year would be a struggle, especially finding something that made me smile as much as the Demo did. The 2011/12 frame is the culmination of two years of R&D with arguably the most influential athletes and designers in mountain biking. The frame oozes attention to detail, combined with an aesthetic appeal that is hard to fault and identifying the Demo 8’s popularity is plain and simple. You only have to go the races to see just how popular these have become over the last two years and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

I’ve never had a bike that gets the kind of admiring glances and compliments like the Demo 8. Sure everyone loves bright colours and dialed graphics right now, but there’s far more to the Demo than just top marks in the fashion stakes; this bike is all about sleek lines, design minimalism and more importantly about going fast and having fun in the process.

The Numbers Game.

If the numbers add up, then all you need to do is get the suspension right, the build dialed and then the rest is up to you and the trail. The Demo 8 has some of the most positive and rider friendly geometry out there and one that makes most people who spend any time on the bike smile from ear to ear. Some bikes feel great from the off and inspire confidence and the Demo 8 certainly adheres to this philosophy.

I’m not going to name names here, but we all know which bike brands have caused consumer pain in the numbers department. Going for a Large or a Small, when you’ve always had a Medium and all the mess of having shocks shortened and the addition of offset bushes and angleset headsets to bring what should be a modern bike, up to speed. The Demo rolls out of the factory and onto the trail, ready to go.

I’m just over 5’9″ and went for the Medium option, which without a doubt was the right size to go for. With some Downhill frames having some pretty confusing numbers these days, getting the right size has proved tricky for quite a few of us having to go up or down a size when choosing a new frame. Specialized are well known for their positive and modern geometry, especially their good head angles and bottom bracket heights. While some other bike brands that I won’t mention, languish in DH geometry similar to other brands trail bikes, Specialized have really listened to their riders and ultimately the consumer to get these numbers dialed from the off.

There will always be some hesitation towards radical geometry, but the Demo just feels right – right by today’s standards anyway. I ran the frame almost exclusively in the slackest/lowest setting with the crown up nice and high around the 4.5″ head-tube giving a head angle just below 64 degrees and a BB height of under 13.5″.

Set Up and Features.

The build changed only marginally over the seven months of riding and racing as we tested various products for the site, but keeping the bike under 40Lbs was never an issue. With light tyres and dropping the heavy Hope anchors, the bike came down to just under 38Lbs, but the addition of some lighter wheels, air forks and Ti parts, would easily have made the bike a lot lighter. Although this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination light, the Demo’s FSR linkage gives the bike an almost flyweight feel and one that loves to fly and float over obstacles on the trail.

When the designers at Specialized took the original Demo back to the drawing board for its overhaul, they looked at how you can make a frame as light as possible without compromising strength. This philosophy is not unique to Specialized, but what they did that was so different, was to realise just how much weight a frame gains through riding in wet weather, collecting mud and trail debris. To combat this the frame was designed to offer no collection points for mud to accumulate and in doing so created one of the best looking frames available.

Attention to detail is apparent where ever you look on the Demo; from the integrated seatstay and chainstay protectors all the way to the bearings integrated into the rear shock yolk, the cable routing, even the bolts which hold everything together have been carefully chosen with the end user in mind. This is bicycle design at its finest.

The Head Tube is incredibly small at 112mm and combined with the internal head set makes for one compact front end. This is great for those who like to get things as low as possible, but it also works with the frames hydro-formed tubes to maximise surface contact on the welds keeping things stiff and in one piece. One issue that I fortunately didn’t have was the frames compatibility with Fox 40s, or lack of and the issues associated with clearance on this frame. The frame does come with adapters for 40’s, but they do look like an after thought, but still, it is better than nothing and a good addition all the same.

I don’t care where frames are made to be honest, as long as they do their job and tick all the right box’s. The Demo, like all Specialized frames was made in a state of art facility in Taiwan. Because of this, it is as straight as an arrow and comes with a lifetime guarantee on the frame, 5 years on the swingarm and 2 years on the parts. The only downside is everyone’s got one:(

Check those welds – confidence inspiring indeed and considering that Specialized offer some of the best warranty and customer support in the industry, you really can shred to your hearts content knowing they’ve got your back.

The seatstays are really short and incredibly stiff to say the least and really add to the way this bike likes to play with the trail and encourage the rider to get a little wild. Notice the yoke between the two sections of chainstay – lots of metal in all the right places and conveniently also acting as a mud guard deflecting roost from the shock – the design of the rear end really does put the shock first in more ways than one! The sub-seatstay also allows the shock to be driven off the chainstays, as opposed to the seatstay, which effectively lowers the centre of gravity and keeps this thing planted to the ground and spitting you out of corners all day long.

And yet another cool little feature; this rear mech saver is something Specialized have done in the past and definitely a worthy addition to the Demo’s ensemble of trick features.

One side of the axle assembly and pretty simple it is too; just a big bolt with a thread at one end and a pinch bolt at the other. There were rumblings on a Pinkbike forum about rear wheel compatibility and issues with some rear hubs not fitting into the swingarm. Not here and I tried a few wheels too – all good, all be it a bit snug.

The other side of the axle assembly – the bolt just threads into the L/H stay and bobs your uncle. Notice the detail on the welds too, its’ no wonder people thought this was carbon when they rolled it out in Maribor at the start of the ’10 season.

Push Fit.

Specialized claim that the addition of a push fit bottom bracket shell to the frame adds a degree of future proofing. What do they know that we don’t and what the hell’s wrong with a standard threaded shell? This is what I thought looking at the two pieces of moulded plastic which make up the supplied adapter. The push fit design is a justified evolution of the bottom bracket, and the concept is pretty good, but I can’t help but think that Specialized jumped the gun on this one. Who makes a PF30 83mm BB right now? Not many is the answer, but this will change from 2012 onwards. The problems associated with using the adapter has caused nothing but problems for many Demo owners across the world and the plastic adapters are quite simply dressing, but with the right cranks and BB, you’ll have no worries.

As far as being right here and right now, I do believe that Specialized should have waited on implementing this design and it really seems like a case of getting maximum value for money out of the tooling costs at the factory. We are certainly going to see this design standard popping up more frequently over the coming years and the Push Fit BB will at some point become the standard in the near future. This doesn’t help anyone in a pickle right now and if you ask me, I’d say push off rather than push fit.

I was very fortunate to have support from e*thirteen and Silverfish-UK, who came to my rescue with this beauty, a PF30 BB and what a difference! The main issue with the supplied plastic adapters are that they moves under load and eventually eek out of the BB shell and pretty much always from the drive side, opening up the space within your chain guide leading to slippage and loss of movement. The e*thirteens design coupled with the PF30BB is the way to go folks.

Suspension.

Some days I’m a Fox fan and others a Sram fan, but it’s fair to say that some bikes thrive with either one or the other and the Demo unfortunately loves the latter. The specced Fox RC4 is a work of art, perhaps even fine art and deciphering how all the dials and nobs interact with one another can be a head ache, even for the most discerning tech head. I ran the RC4 for a few months and truth be told, I became pretty frustrated trying to match it up to the Demo’s ride characteristics. It just didn’t want to play the same game I was playing and when days on the bike are precious, I’d rather not waste them turning dials and pretending I know what I’m doing. After a chat with the team at K9 Industries, a Rock Shox Vivid was recommended and quickly installed and trackside – what a difference!

I really have nothing against Fox or the RC4, I’m actually riding a fully Foxed up DH bike right now and beyond loving it, but it just didn’t work to its full potential on the Demo. The Vivid is certainly the simpletons DH shock and I don’t mean that detrimentally, it’s just really simple and simply works really well. With the RC4, I turned the High Speed compression all the way off to get the most out of the FSR’s fun loving personality. The Vivid R2C doesn’t even have High Speed compression, so no worries there.

Undo this bolt, take it out, support the weight of the swingarm against the main frame, stick a little allen key in, spin the off-set bush the way you want it, re-install the bolt and your off. This is a great little addition to the Demo frame, which alters the Head Angle by almost a degree and the BB height by 10mmv – a simple solution for those who like to adjust their bikes to suit where they ride. The magnesium link is also worth mentioning as it’s a work of art and being colour co-ordinated with the frame only adds to the overall aesthetic.

This is pretty neat. An off-set bush as standard here and no need for complicated headsets and expensive tools to adjust your angles. This is just part of why Specialized are well known for their attention to detail and it really is a piece of cake to adjust – just don’t loose it in the dirt!

The Fox RC4 has High and Low Speed Compression, the same again with Rebound, plus Bottom Out a whole load more adjustment to boot, but to be honest, all I want to do is ride. I spent days fettling with the Fox to make it feel just right and the Vivid just felt great from the off, no questions asked. With the Vivid, I’ve added a few turns on the Low Speed Compression, the ending stroke rebound somewhere in the middle and the rebound just so it follows my hand back from pushing on the saddle and left it like that. The main reason the Vivid works so well, is that it loves the FSR’s playful nature, this may be down to shim stacks, tunes and what ever, but that’s another article.

Obviously we all know the 2012 frame is exactly the same as the flo-yellow monster reviewed here, but with the addition of a Cane Creek shock, an addition that has certainly got people talking. Once again like the Fox, the Cane Creek is one hell of a piece of kit, but horses for course and all that, I just don’t think the Demo warrants all those confusing dials – it just wants to go to the woods and smash jumps and race your mates. It really is as simple as that. The FSR linkage is beyond tried and tested and it just needs something uncomplicated to help it move up and down in a controlled manner.

Shock swapping on the Demo requires a different ‘Yoke’ to enable the shock to sit firmly into the frame. These retail for around £30GBP and are reasonably easy to install, but you do need to remove the bushes from the stock shock and the bearings from one yoke and transfer them to the new set up. Thanks to Pasquale Caggianiello at the Specialized Concept Store in Birmingham for sourcing the Rock Shox yoke for this review.

The Rebound adjuster on the Vivid shock doesn’t work with the intended yoke due to clearance issues and has to be adjusted with an allen key instead, which I found a little puzzling, but it does work and work very well all the same.

Riding and Racing the Specialized Demo 8.

The Demo 8 rewards the rider with a creative flair for interpreting the trail as they see it. Roots and rocks become jumps to clear sections of trail, every corner wants to be flicked this way and that way and every jump wants to be popped out of and if you have the minerals and the skills, the Demo likes to dance between take offs and landings. This is the main reason I went for another year on the Demo, it just puts a massive smile on your face and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.

The low centre of gravity and slack head angle keeps the bike in the corners and picking up speed on technical descents is a joy to behold. The suspension isn’t as much of a ploughing machine as say a VPP design or even a modern DW Link, but it can more than handle the fatigue of a long run down a rough track. Coming into unfamiliar sections of track at speed can often get the adrenalin pumping, but the Demo is more than encouraging when it comes to letting off the brakes and picking your lines on the move.

Getting the power down on the Demo is positive and direct and although some other frames produce less pedal feedback through the suspension, the Demo does accelerate like shit of a shovel thanks to the short stays and getting the bike on it’s back wheel is no bother at all. Talking of getting the front up, the Demo likes to manual through dips and over obstacles and almost moulds over the terrain you don’t want jump it over.

I might have had a few shitty races this year, but it sure as hell wasn’t the bike. When it comes to riding or racing, having your bike dialed and ready to go only leaves the excuses with you and you alone. The Demo is everywhere right now and for good reason; it’s fast, fun, well priced and looks the business. I’m certain 2012 will be no different, both at home in the AM ranks and at the World Cups with Sam and Troy.

Like I’ve said previously, the Demo will reward you if you let go of the brakes and use the trail’s features as a means of control and speed management and if anything, the faster it goes the better it gets. Spotting new lines and reacting to them quickly, especially if you’ve made a mistake, can really make or break a race run. The Demo is extremely adaptive due to it’s playful nature and excels where other bikes wollow into the line most ridden and struggle to break free of.

The frame design utilises an excellent stand-over height and when it comes to making some shapes on the bike, both intentional and unintentional, the bike is there and there to help. When I look at the Demo, it really is hard to identify any traits that detract from the bikes performance on the trail and any issues I’ve come across were remedied with changing the set up and ride characteristics through a single component or suspension setting.

Jumping is a lot of fun on the Demo and it certainly encourages you to launch of just about anything and with the solid performance of the FSR linkage out back, there’s no issue when it comes to messing your landings up. Over jumping obstacles and missing landings due to the frames ‘poppy’ nature can be something you’ll have to be aware of when hitting things at speed, but learning the Demo’s riding characteristics is pretty straight forward. Just have fun with it and don’t go overboard on the rebound.

Riding a mixture of differing downhill tracks, the Demo performs well in all areas and where some DH frames feel too much on lesser tracks, the Demo just lets you get on with it. This is something that should really be important to many of who aren’t always riding down steep and rough World Cup style tracks which many of us only really ride on holiday or at the races. It is because of this split personality and perhaps something lurking in the Demo’s shadows as freerider, that make this bike extremely versatile.

2012 Specialized Demo Video.

We’ve all seen Brendan and his iconic riding style and after spending a great deal of time on the same frame, I can really see how this style has been accentuated through the Demo; it’s all about the pop!

Conclusion.

I’ve become very fond of the Demo 8 and it’s a product that I feel resonates well through both its design and application. As a downhill product it certainly ticks all the boxes; it’s light, strong and performs to a high standard in the environment to which it was designed to operate in: mountains, forests and anything steep, wild, off camber and generally fun.

But that’s why this bike is something you can become rather fond of; it makes you smile and it does this by taking you where you want to go and allows you to do what you want along the way. This is not the bike for the passengers out there, this is a pilots bike and it needs someone to point it and shoot it, but the beauty is that if you take control, you’ll be rewarded with one of the nicest and most pleasing bikes you’ll have ever ridden.

Moving on to my next test bike, the Demo 8 will be missed greatly and it will be interesting to see where Specialized go with the new S-Works model they’ll be releasing next year. The price, which lets be fair is an important factor in today’s financial climate, is amicable, but not what it was in 2010 or 2011. The addition of the Cane Creek may be partially to blame, but it’s addition to the frame will certainly open doors for some and close some for others. The versatility to use this bike and take it where you want is so evidently clear when you ride it, so much so that you’ll struggle to remember why you didn’t jump on the bandwagon earlier.

Talking of bandwagons, there’s no walking away from the Sam Hill effect that follows him around like a bad smell, although its the smell of fresh Troy Lee kit and Monster Energy and his admiring fans, who follow his sponsors trends more than they do his career path. This association will put some people off from owning this bike and will no doubt turn many more on to it, but the Demo is far more than a fashion trend and a brightly coloured accessory for your weekend on a hillside.

Retail price in the UK for 2012 is £2500 for the frame with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock and £5000 for the top spec Demo II with full X0 and Boxxer World Cups. Unfortunately the more affordable Demo I isn’t coming into the UK, but a little birdie has told me this may change next year. This option is available pretty much everywhere else in the world and would certainly be my choice if I had it due to its price and race ready spec.

So there you go, one highly recommended piece of kit and if you have any questions please feel free to comment or get in touch and I’ll try and answer them for you. Happy trails!

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