Specialized Epic first ride review

World Cup proven XC racer gets faster, lighter — and smarter

29er Cross Country
The Epic has been a mainstay in the Specialized lineup for fifteen years.

The Epic has been a mainstay in the Specialized lineup for 15 years.

The Specialized Epic is one of the most successful XC race bikes in history. It has 96 major victories, three overall World Cup titles, and two Olympic gold medals. So how do you improve on that kind of legacy? It starts with geometry. World Cup XC tracks used to resemble groomed fire roads, but in recent years they’ve evolved. Some courses are so technical, we’d be hesitant sending them on a 5” trail bike with a dropper post. To keep up with the times, a shift in frame geometry was required.

The Specialized Epic is available in four frame sizes: S, M, L, and XL.

Specialized addressed these changing needs by increasing reach by 10mm, shortening the stem by 10mm, and slacking the head tube angle by 1.5 degrees to 69.5. To help retain the Epic’s notoriously sharp handling, Specialized also went with a 42mm fork offset. The goal was to keep the wheel underneath the rider and enable them to better weight the front end.

Specialized Epic

Two bottle cages, no front derailleur.

In addition to geometry, the Epic team focused on weight reduction. For model year 2018, Specialized managed to cut 345g from the S-Work frame. In case you’re not fluent in the metric system, there are 453g in a pound. That means Specialized shaved nearly ¾ of a pound off an Olympic winning race bike.

On the Comp and Expert level trims (the models that retail for reasonable prices), Specialized shaved more than a pound (525g to be exact) from the complete frame. That’s largely because these models now ship with a carbon rear end, but let’s not split hairs. However you dice it, the weight reductions are still impressive.

Specialized didn’t make all that weight magically disappear with a clever acronym. To get there, they ditched FSR. By moving to a suspension platform that relies on frame flex rather than bearings, they were able to save 240g in the rear end. That’s a 39% reduction in weight over the old model.

Specialized Epic

With the new Brain 2.0, Specialized has moved the reservoir location.

The Brain Game

Many brand have successfully used flex stays on full suspension frames in the XC category. These designs tend to be lighter, stiffer, and require less maintenance than their bearing laden counterparts. One thing those other brands don’t offer is the Brain Shock. At its core, the Brain is an on the fly lockout — except you don’t have to think about it.

For its newest iteration, Brain 2.0, Specialized partnered with RockShox. It incorporates technologies like Auto Sag and Spike Valve that are used throughout the product line, but is a ground up redesign. For example, this Brain no longer uses an IFP. Instead, it relies on a bladder. This system is popular in the motocross world because it reduces stiction and creates less heat.

Specialized Epic

Ned Overend was instrumental in the R&D phases of the new Epic.

The other big changes are the reservoir location and hose fitting. The Brain now sits behind the axle, which puts it closer to the moment of inertia. That allows it to be more responsive. Specialized also re-engineered the system with oil flow in mind, to help reduce turbulence and improve damping.

Other features worth noting are that the new Epic is 1x only. If it’s any consolation, the frame still accommodates two water bottles inside the front triangle. It’s also dropper post compatible. Specialized actually shifted from a 27.2 to 30.9 post just to make this happen.

Specialized Epic

All carbon versions of the new Epic will ship with carbon rear triangles. In the past, the Comp and Pro models had alloy rear ends.

Ride Impressions

The new Epic is a different breed. It’s still very much a race bike, but if you swapped in big bars, meaty tires, and a dropper post, it might catapult the longer travel Camber into a full blown identity crisis. This little bike is seriously capable. Over three days, Mtbr had the opportunity to sample everything from snot laden East Coast tech to black diamond trails at a bike park. Against our better judgement, we even let Ned Overend tow me into a jump line. Don’t let his age fool you, that man has skills.

Specialized Epic

Where’s the pivot?

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Brain. It has been radically redesigned, but that odd sensation when the suspension decouples is still noticeable. Well, it’s noticeable uphill. Which made me wonder, why not go the electronic route?

Well, Specialized had a long winded explanation for that question. It had to do with how fast electronic systems react, the added weight, etc. Honestly, none of that jargon was necessary once the bike was pointed downhill. When you’re riding down a trail, the Brain does its thing. It’s not until you’re fighting up a techy climb or blasting through a flat section then suddenly transition into a rough descent that you truly appreciate how seamlessly it reacts.

Specialized Epic

While proprietary systems aren’t fun to work on, you have to admit this looks sleek.

In the firmest setting, the knock from the inertia valve is a little unsettling at first, but that slowly fades as you rack up miles. If you’re not a hardcore racer, you do have the option of tuning the threshold down.

To learn more, visit www.specialized.com.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

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  • tyrebyter says:

    I think I know what you meant, but “sits behind the axle, which puts it closer to the moment of inertia” does not mean anything. Maybe you mean being further from the pivot amplifies the acceleration sensed by the brain?

  • I'mRight says:

    How can you talk about weight reduction and not tell us what the bike weighs?

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