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by Dave Rome
August 7, 2019
Few cycling disciplines place as much importance on weight quite like cross-country mountain bike racing. With extremely steep gradients, stop-and-start accelerations, and technical features to maneuver the bike around and over, the grams can certainly influence the outcome. For this, Specialized has laid a stake in the ground, claiming its new Epic HT 29er hardtail is the lightest full-production hardtail frame in the world.
Specialized claims a medium 2020 S-Works Epic HT frame weighs just 790g – with paint. That’s about 75g lighter than the previous Epic HT, which was already considered one of the lightest options. And more relevant to the masses, the second-tier Epic HT FACT 11r frame, as used on all non-S-Works complete bikes, is still very light with a quoted weight of 915g.
That 790g figure is impressive, but is bested by the Unno Aora hardtail which weighs 730g in a medium. However, the Unno is only made in relatively small numbers and in just a single frame size. Because of that, Specialized’s claim for having the lightest full-production frame seems to stand true.
Weight is certainly important, but the California bike company has also said it’s achieved this figure while making the bike more capable for increasingly technical courses. The ride is smoother, there is more tyre clearance, and the geometry is longer and slacker for better stability at high speed and on steep descents.
With dropper posts becoming an increasingly common sight in cross-country racing, the new Epic HT moves from a smaller and more flexible 27.2mm seatpost to a larger 30.9mm size. Slim 27.2mm dropper posts do exist, but options are limited, while nearly every dropper on the market is available in 30.9mm. Despite the loss of this comfort feature, Specialized states the new frame is more comfortable than before due to the new curved seat tube design and more compliant seatstays.
Increasingly wider tyres are trending in cross-country, and the new Epic HT offers room for up to 29×2.4in rubber. That may sound like overkill, but given that Nino Schurter has been racing on 2.4in rubber this season, it likely won’t be long before such widths become commonplace. All Epic HT models will come fitted with Specialized Fast Trak 29×2.3in tyres as stock.
Much like that tyre width, the geometry borrows a few tricks from more capable trail bikes, too. From extra-small to extra-large, the head angle has been slackened from 69.8 to 68.5 degrees. Reach figures have increased by 10-18mm across the sizes, while stem lengths are noticeably shorter at 60-75mm. The 430mm chainstay lengths and 74-degree seat tube angles remain unchanged.
All models feature a reduced 42mm fork offset to further extend the trail figure (101mm). The Epic HT sticks with a 100mm of suspension travel up front, while the extra-small frame size gets a reduced 90mm of travel.
While the previous Epic HT could handle a front derailleur, the new model moves to single-ring only. It’s more than a trend with cross-country bikes, and removing the front derailleur helps with rear tyre clearance.
Finally, gone is the press-fit bottom bracket, with Specialized moving back to a standard English threaded sleeve. Specialized even goes as far as to say that the rear derailleur hanger is the only proprietary and bolt-on piece to be found on this frame. Nice one.
Specialized USA will offer the new Epic HT in seven models ranging from US$2,110 to US$9,510, with an S-Works frame-only option (US$2,000 / AU$3,700), too. Specialized Australia will offer a single complete bike model, the Epic HT Comp (AU$3,900). The extra-small size will only be offered in the Epic Expert and S-Works frameset.
For a more detailed look, see Pinkbike’s first ride impressions.