As a member of Sorella Cycling I had the opportunity to demo a very nice mountain bike for three weeks. Meet the women's specific Specialized FATE (size small).
I rode it a lot, and I rode it hard. I was lucky enough to ride it during a time I participated in two different mountain biking clinics. I'm short (5'2") and have always believed too short for 29" mountain bike wheels, but after three weeks I came away thinking I could ride a 29" wheel on a regular basis.
First off, as I suspected, I had more of a bend in my leg than I normally ride, mainly because I need to dab my foot. I'm a dabber which comes from years of riding on more technical trails in Virginia and West Virginia. However, the trails closer to metro-Atlanta probably don't require the ability to dab. Over time I could probably adjust to a higher seat location.
The next thing I noticed was the weight of the bike which has a carbon fiber frame. It weighed in at 22.5 pounds which is about how much my old aluminum frame hard tail weighs. My guy friends with huge full suspension bikes would say this is light, but I think I was hoping for less weight.
After the 29" wheels, the next biggest difference on this bike was the 26.5" long handlebars. My current bike has 22" handle bars, and my first ride out on the FATE resulted in two handlebar whacks, one of which caused serious rib injury. After confirming that this was a design choice on the part of Specialized and then taking a clinic with Gene Hamilton of BetterRide, I decided this is the best direction to head for correct position on the bike. However, the majority of the time demo-ing the FATE was spent cringing (and slowing down) around tight trees.The gearing was also a change for me with a 2x10 set-up. Didn't take long to get used to and think I would prefer this set-up in the future.
So how did it ride? Great! Loved it. Felt light and crisp on curvy trails and rode over just about anything. Even though it weighs the same as my current bike, the FATE felt "lighter" on the trail, which I assume is the carbon composite frame. I especially liked the ease with which I could ride over rocks up steep climbs, in places I currently struggle with my old bike. On one steep hill I followed a group of riders up a trail I had never been on. Halfway through I realized it was more than I had bargained for, but I just leaned forward, pedaled hard, and made it through. When I looked back I realized some riders had chosen to bypass this hill. Yeah me....and thanks Specialized FATE.
My only complaint is that as a person who struggles with tight left-hand switchbacks, this bike did not help and may have been worse. Being tense probably doesn't help, but it felt hard to make the tight turn. And when I fell, which I did a couple times, it was so far down. I had way more bruises than normal after this demo. I'm not sure if that is because I was pushing it further to test it's capabilities, or was it "more tippy" because of the height? Maybe a combo of the two?
I'm sure I read about the FATE's other great features, but didn't really have time to take note on this demo. There were, however, some time slots left in the schedule, so I signed up to demo it again in September.
Bottom line is that I am definitely going to get a 29" hard tail in the future thanks to the opportunity to ride the Specialized FATE for three weeks. I have been swayed away from a full suspension 26" bike and the FATE is definitely in the running for my new bike. Now you might want to take all this with a grain of salt when you realize I currently ride a 13 year old Trek 8000. One might say anything is an improvement of an old hard tail with v brakes.