Specialized Sequoia: First Impressions

Over the last few years, the bike industry has made a push to offer more capable road bikes with increased tire clearance, improved geometry, and disc brakes. The Specialized Sequoia is a prime example of this new breed of bikes built for adventure.

Specialized now offers adventure-ready bikes that cover full range of surfaces with the Diverge, Sequoia, and AWOL models. The Specialized Sequoia’s build signals a particular affection for pavement, but it’s certainly equipped to handle more. Originally debuted in 1981 as a “sport touring” model, a lot has changed since then – the latest incarnation of the Sequoia is undoubtedly a better, more capable bike.

Testing the Specialized Sequoia Expert

I had the opportunity to trail-test the Specialized Sequoia Expert on a quick late-season overnight bike camping trip into the Colorado front range. Armed with a set of Specialized Burra Burra Bags, the bike saw a mix of ~70% pavement, ~20% dirt, and ~10% hardpack over the course of our 40mi round trip that featured around 3,600ft of elevation.

Specialized Sequoia - The Dropper PostBuild & Ride Quality

The seat tube badge proudly boasts “A Thousand Decisions Properly Made”. It is clear that Specialized put a lot of thought into the Sequoia’s build, and the part spec on the top-shelf Expert model is well thought-out and made for a very enjoyable ride.

The build decision that initially stuck out was the tire size and tread. At 42cc, the Specialized Sawtooth 2Bliss tires width provided adequate compliance to road surface irregularities, but the minimal tread pattern felt like a limiting decision that relegated the bike to only hard-pack dirt roads. When road conditions got a bit loose, the Sawtooth lacked enough traction to corner with confidence or climb steep sections out of the saddle. This did, however, play in the tires’ favor when covering paved road miles en route to dirt. Riders looking for better handling in loose conditions might consider a tire like the WTB Nano or Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n’ Road

dscf2908Perhaps one of the most forward-thinking decisions on the bike, the Sequoia Expert carbon fork features internal routing, thru-axle, and cage mounts on both sides. The fork handled beautifully on smooth road but proved a tad stiff for rougher road. Even with the larger volume tires, my arms and wrists were subject to considerable front-end chatter once the pavement ended.

The SRAM Force brifters and Rival 1 hydraulic brakes provided the stopping power for the Expert model. Performance was confidence inspiring while descending with a fully loaded Sequoia, and was especially appreciated on a particularly challenging two-mile 14% descent. This was my first experience with disc brakes on a road application and I was immediately sold on the benefits over traditional rim brakes, especially while riding loaded in the mountains where an overheated rim could cause tube/tire failure at an inopportune moment.

The Expert model comes with a mixed drivetrain including Force brifters and rear derailleur (1×11), FSA SL-K Light carbon crankset, and Shimano XT cassette. Overall, I found the drivetrain to be a good compromise between durability, shift quality, and price. One negative was the 42-tooth front chainring, which was no match for some of the meatier climbs (15%+) even when paired with the big bailout cog. I found myself hike-a-biking in spots that would have been ride-able with lower gearing. While this would be an issue where I live and ride (Colorado), it’s a good compromise between speed and climbing in areas with more reasonable grades.

Specialized’s Hover flared shallow dirt drops were so comfortable that I found myself riding in the drops around 80% of the time. They were especially comfortable when navigating dirt road descents or during periods of standing climbing. The extra compliance on the end of the drops provided some relief for the harsh chatter generated by the front end.

The Phenom Comp saddle was adequately comfortable. Saddle choice is largely comes down to personal preference/anatomy, but my posterior didn’t seem to mind it much. The saddle is covered in fabric that gives it a look very similar to the Brooks Cambium.

Specialized’s CG-R seatpost has a very unique look with features designed to eliminate road vibration and add to your comfort level during extended rides. I didn’t really notice much vibration reduction from the seatpost, but with the large volume tires and very compliant steel rear end, I likely wouldn’t be able to tell without swapping for a standard seatpost.

dscf2912The Sequoia’s steel frame has clean, classic lines giving it a svelte appearance along with design elements that give it a decidedly modern ride. Compliance of the thin seat stays created a buttery smooth feeling on dirt roads, and I found myself naturally pumping through undulations much like I would on a mountain bike. The vertical height bias in the chain stays helped to provide lateral stiffness that allowed for crisp cornering even with the extra weight of a seat bag on the rear. In fact, smart design elements in the Burra Burra seat pack in combination with the ride characteristics of the frame allowed me to completely forget the bike was loaded. Overall, the geometry choices helped create a dialed in feeling for light dirt road touring. Even on extended descents on dirt roads, the Sequoia never felt twitchy and was great at speed. It also provided for a bike that handles better on steeply pitched rocky terrain than its road bike heritage would suggest.

Those considering the top-tier Sequoia might be using it for more than bike camping, so I’ve taken it for a few subsequent mixed-terrain rides. Even unloaded, the Sequoia is a pleasure to ride. Some touring bikes tend to feel a bit dead when not loaded down with gear (see: Surly Long Haul Trucker). The “Premium Cro-Mo” frame and stiff carbon fork on the Expert model give this dirt touring bike a lively feel while unencumbered with camping gear. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second making this my primary road bike.

Specialized Sequoia Expert: Bottom Line

Equally at home dirt touring, gravel grinding, or even club riding, the Sequoia Expert would be a versatile addition to any quiver when it comes to road-oriented bikes.

  • Considerate build decisions make the Specialized Sequoia a very well-rounded bike with the ability to carry enough gear for a weekend escape
  • With the exception of very steep climbs, the drivetrain worked flawlessly with crisp shifting and responsive braking that quickly stopped even when fully-loaded
  • Loaded or unloaded, the bike handles wonderfully with its forward-thinking geometry, compliant seat stays, and carbon fork
  • The bike excelled on pavement and held its own on dirt, with the exception of very loose and rutted surfaces

The Sequoia is a smartly designed, modern steel bike built for adventure. Whether it’s the right bike for your adventures depends on where you’re going. Component decisions will be limiting for those looking to attack massive climbs or ride the rutted dirt roads, but the bike feels nothing if not at home devouring pavement, exploring winding forest roads, and linking campsites during a weekend getaway.

Disclosure: The Specialized Sequoia Expert was provided for testing and review. We did not receive any monetary compensation in exchange for the content of this review and strive to provide an honest and objective review of the product’s strengths and weaknesses to our readers.

1 Comment

  1. Cheryl Schmidt Reply

    I loved reading your blog on “Specialized Sequoia Expert: First Impressions”! It was thorough and honest with positive and negative points. Your vocabulary and expressive wording are simply amazing! I am SO proud of you the way you go after what you love with gusto and make the most of opportunities that come your way!

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