This article originally published on BikeRadar
Specialized wasn't showing much of anything new at this year's Sea Otter Classic (aside from the elusive Demo Carbon downhill bikes, which were decidedly tough to nail down). However, a pair of retro racers from the mid-90s was arguably more interesting.
Ned Overend's old Specialized S-Works Ultimate was (and still is) a stunning machine back in its day, built with custom carbon fiber tubing bonded into titanium lugs TIG-welded by Merlin Metalworks. Barely two inches of travel came courtesy of the Specialized Futureshok – a variant of RockShox's Mag 21 – and braking power was provided by a set of machined aluminum Avid Tri-Align cantilever brakes. Down below, Shimano's eight-speed XTR derailleurs and cassette were matched to a pair of Grip Shift shifters.
Shaun Palmer's Specialized FSR is perhaps even more a commentary on the style of downhill racing back in 1996 as compared to today. All-out speed was often a deciding factor rather than the ability to navigate insanely treacherous and steep terrain. As compared to contemporary downhill rigs, the gearing is inordinately tall and the spindly stanchions on the dual-crown Manitou fork likely wouldn't even survive a modern World Cup course.
Nevertheless, Palmer won a silver medal at the 1996 World Championships on this machine. There's no telling at this point how much punishment this bike would have survived but no matter – it lasted long enough to get the job done.
Shaun Palmer's 1996 Manitou fork may have dual crowns but the stanchions are still tiny as compared to modern options.