2020 Specialized Epic HT First Ride – lightest XC frame ever

World Cup XC ready bike with 775 gram frame

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Photo by Dylan Dunkerton

So there we were at Northstar Bike Park eagerly anticipating the new Specialized bike and maybe we were expecting something else (given the venue) but they brought out the new Epic that looked svelte and weighed nothing practically.

We got in character, skipped the chairlifts, clipped in and pedaled up to the clouds in the new trails of North Tahoe called Big Chief and beyond. It took a bit to get in the swing of things but I gave myself the opportunity to get used to this kind of bike which I rode for a decade during my racing days. The lack of a dropper post in our setup was the hardest to get used to but the crazy climbing prowess of the bike was a delight. And by the end of the day, we felt like XC superheroes, climbing with authority and taking corners with enthusiasm.

Photo by Harookz

Specialized Epic Highlights

  • Custom RockShox SID Brain Ultimate cuts every possible gram
  • Wireless drivetrain and dropper
  • dropper post ready with 30.9 seatpost
  • 775g claimed frame weight (+/- 15g)
  • FACT 12m carbon fiber
  • Designed around a short (42-44mm) fork offset
  • 68.5° head angle
  • 74° seat tube angle
  • Reach: 405mm (S), 430mm (M), 455mm (L) and 480mm (XL)
  • 430mm chainstay length
  • 63mm BB drop
  • 73mm English threaded bottom bracket shell
  • 2.4in max rear tire clearance
  • Internal cable routing
  • Boost 148x12mm rear hub spacing
  • Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large

Geometry Discussion:

Of course, there is the improved geometry, which sees the head angle slackening out to 68.5° and the reach increasing around 12-14mm per size. Specialized has matched the longer top tube lengths by fitting shorter 60-75mm stems across the size range.

This really is a welcome evolution of geometry, shortening the stems down from 80-90mm and building in that room in the frame to gain control and stability. Thus it’s another feather in their cap as the frames got lighter as they got quite a bit longer.

And while it’s no 35mm stem that you might find in your descend oriented bike, this 60-75 is suitable to the task of all that climbing you’re going to take on.

Specialized Epic Geometry

Instead of the old 51mm offset forks which make steering quicker, these bikes sport 42mm for Rockshox equipped ones and 44mm for Fox. This shortens the wheelbase to help in tight, switchbacks and it helps the stability of the bike in high-speed descents.

Photo by Harookz

A word from Specialized:

The S-Work Epics front suspension is covered by fitting a custom offset RockShox SID fork. Offsetting the fork by 42mm means that in tight switchbacks and technical turns the Epic still behaves even with the slacker head angle. The forks have 100mm of travel, a carbon crown and steerer to keep the weight down and has the addition of the WC Brain with a Brain fade adjuster.

It might look like a simple carbon frame but so many different layers of carbon are used here to produce the weight and riding characteristic desired. The outcome being flex is seriously reduced giving you a frame that is coherent regardless of the power you put through it, or the size of frame you buy.

Photo by Dylan Dunkerton

With all this technology and awesome features weight could be an issue, but trust us when we say almost 350 grams have been shaved off from the previous Epic, that’s like saying we’ve removed a shock linkage and a side of the swing arm!!

SRAM’s new wireless XX!- Eagle AXS drivetrain has been fitted along with their awesome Level Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes. The S-Works Epic also has the addition of Roval’s Featherweight, hand-built Control SL wheelset with our fantastic Fast Track Gripton tires.

Photo by Harookz

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Will this bike win me a World Cup Race?
No, but it will not hold you back

2. How many models of Epic HT are you offering?
We now offer seven complete Epic HT models, as well as an S-Works frame-only option.

3. What’s the price range?
The range starts at $2,110 (the Carbon 29 model) and goes up to $9,510 (the S-Works SRAM version). The S-Works frame-only kit sells for $2,000. These prices are in US dollars. Check with your local PR representative for exact pricing in your market.
On a related note, that $2,110 price point brings cutting-edge carbon technology to riders at a price point where aluminum frames are still prevalent. We’re stoked to have brought that level of performance and technology to a price more riders can afford.

Photo by Harookz

4. Do all of the Epic Hardtails share the same frame? If not, what sets the frames apart (and which models get which frames)?
There are two frames in the lineup. The S-Works models feature our FACT 12M carbon frames, while Pro, Expert, Comp, and Carbon 29 models are built around our FACT 11M carbon frame. The S-Works frame is 140 grams lighter.

5. What was the goal of the redesign?
It’s an XC race bike, so cutting weight was a starting point. That said, XC courses are undeniably more technical than in the past. That fact drove us to make the bike more capable on rougher tracks—necessitating entirely new geometry, clearance for bigger tires, and the ability to run dropper posts. In other words, the goal here was to make the Epic HT lighter, more comfortable, more controlled, and more versatile than before.

6. How much does the new Epic HT weigh?
A size Medium frame, painted, weighs 775 grams. That’s more than 90 grams lighter than the previous Epic HT chassis and a solid 65 grams lighter than the closest competitor. The new Epic HT is the lightest full-production hardtail anywhere.

Hannah Barnes is convinced the new frame is lighter than this North Tahoe pine cone.

7. How did you achieve the weight savings?
We optimized every inch of this frame, from fine-tuning the carbon fiber and resin mix to custom shaping every ply so that there are no unnecessary overwraps that add weight without improving ride quality or strength. We even eliminated the aluminum inserts in the rear dropouts. That said, we weren’t willing to sacrifice durability or strength just to cut those grams.
The new Epic HT is just as strong as before, has more tire clearance, and now accepts longer-travel dropper posts. It’s the lightest mass-produced hardtail on the market, but it’s also worlds more capable and versatile. You’re not the fastest rider on the course if you are on the brakes during the descents or if you feel worked-over every time you power through a technical section on an unforgiving bike.

8. What changes did you make to the geometry?
We wanted to give riders more control. We did that by growing reach and relaxing the head tube angle to 68.5 degrees. The bike still needed to be nimble and easy to thread through tight corners, which meant that we also needed the wheelbase needed to stay tight. The reduced fork offset (42 millimeters) helps us achieve that balance of increased downhill control and deft handling on tighter sections of trail.

9. The previous Epic HT featured a 27.2mm seatpost that was designed to flex and create a comfortable ride. Why did Specialized move to a wider-diameter seat tube and 30.9mm seatpost?
If every second counts (and it always does), then having the option to drop your saddle and ride with more speed and confidence on descents is essential. Going with a 30.9mm seatpost gives riders the option to run a full-length dropper. We did all that without sacrificing comfort thanks to a new seat tube design (note the arc) which is just as compliant as the smaller-diameter (27.2) seat tube on the previous Epic HT.

Photo by Harookz

10. Your press kit mentions that the Epic HT is more comfortable over rough terrain than the version it replaces. How’d you achieve that?
The new Epic HT is noticeably more forgiving when you’re hammering away in the saddle, which might seem surprising since we went to a larger-diameter seat tube. The new shape of the seat tube allows us to maintain the same amount of compliance as before while gaining the ability to run long-travel dropper posts. Finally, we went to slightly smaller seatstays, which also increased vertical compliance.

11. What’s the max tire size that can you fit on the new Epic HT?
The new frame will fit 2.3” to 2.4” tires with plenty of mud clearance to spare. Rim widths are increasing, and even cross-country racers are riding wider tires at lower air pressures than in the past. We took that into account with this frame. Of course, even if you aren’t racing, having the extra clearance to run a larger volume tire simply makes the Epic HT more versatile and more comfortable.

12. What were your stiffness goals with the new frame?
Creating an optimal, overall frame stiffness was key—if the front-end is too flexy, the bike feels like a noodle and steers poorly. If the rear-end is too stiff, the bike won’t track well in rough corners and will sap rider energy over the course of a long or technically-challenging race. Our goal was to hit that sweet spot with a stiff front-end that steers precisely and transfers energy well at the bottom bracket, and a rear-end that tracks well and provides the kind of compliance necessary to finish challenging descents without feeling wiped out. Tube shaping and diameter were absolutely key in achieving those goals.

Photo by Dylan Dunkerton

We also invested a tremendous amount of development into developing Rider-FirstTM tunes—creating unique lay-up schedules for every size of the frame, so that the Epic HT has a consistent ride quality and personality across all frame sizes. Small frames aren’t harsh. X-Large frames aren’t flexy. Every rider experiences the same perfectly-dialed ride quality, no matter their height.

Closing Thoughts:

Well, we’re not running out the door to buy one of these featherweight XC bikes. And riding technical terrain without a dropper post is not for us. But this bike is absolutely dropper post capable and it’s got the geometry and ride quality to excel.

We definitely loved the new Brain fork as it did not call attention to itself in the climbs or descends as it just locked and unlocked itself seamlessly.

And while the pursuit of a 775 gram frame might seem (instead of 800) might seem futile to most, we like the fact that this bike exists and available to those that compete at the highest levels of cross-country racing. Or in my case, this could be my gravel grinder to conquer the big elevation and fun descents.


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