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by Dave Rome
June 24, 2020
Photography by Specialized
Dating all the way back to 2002, the Specialized Epic is a cross country full suspension bike that pedals like a hardtail. The efficient design has topped many a podium, and is by far the most popular bike at marathon events like the famed Cape Epic.
For 2021, the Specialized Epic has been overhauled once again, receiving even more progressive geometry, updated suspension, and a chassis that’s said to be both lighter and stiffer than the previous iteration. And while the Epic is all about racing, the longer travel and more trail-friendly Epic Evo now becomes a more capable lightweight trail bike.
Built with racing in mind, the new Epic retains its 29er wheels and 100 mm of suspension travel at both ends. Likewise, the Brain — the clever, automatically-locked-out-until-it-hits-a-bump suspension — remains.
In the simplest sense, the Brain suspension uses a small weight to keep the damping circuit closed (locked out) until a large enough impact from the wheel overcomes that weight and opens the suspension. With each new generation of the Epic, Specialized claims to make the Brain more reactive to small bumps, more reliable and better controlled. And this latest generation is no different.
Specialized says its latest iteration of the Brain is the most durable and controlled yet.
Those improvements come in the form of improved oil flow control, while a new dual bushing system which slides on a chrome-plated steel shaft is said to provide the increased durability (while reducing friction). And just like with previous generations, the Brain technology is found in both the rear and front (Epic Comp excepted) suspension of the Epic.
There are no surprises on the geometry front, and the new Epic is longer, lower and slacker than the previous generation. However, the extent of those changes may surprise a few. The new Epic now offers a 67.5º head angle and a 106 mm trail figure across all five frame sizes. Likewise, the reach figures have been extended, and are now matched with stems ranging from 60-70 mm in length.
The new Epic builds on the already progressive 2018-generation version.
Specialized is now equipping the entire Epic lineup with 29 x 2.3″ rubber, something that maxes out the claimed tyre clearance of the frame (if you’re willing to do without mud clearance you can likely use a larger tyre). As a result of this larger rubber, the bottom bracket height has been dropped by 9 mm, while, impressively, the chainstay length has been shortened, too.
Currently only available in carbon variants, the frames have been tweaked since their complete overhaul in 2018, something that saw Specialized move the Epic from an FSR (four-bar) to a single pivot suspension layout. Specializeds claim the top-end S-Works (Fact 12m) frame is 100 grams lighter than before, which puts it at an impressive 1,869 g for a painted medium frame with shock and hardware. Meanwhile, the lower Fact 11m frame, as used for the Comp, Expert and Pro models, hits an equally impressive 1,947 g figure.
Frame stiffness is said to have improved with a 15% bump in torsional rigidity in the rear end. Much of that increased stiffness is likely the result of a new carbon link that connects the two triangles and the rear shock.
Unchanged from 2018, the new Epic frames retain 1x-only gearing compatibility, an English threaded bottom bracket, internal cable routing, 30.9 mm seatpost diameter, and Boost wheel spacing. Likewise, the ability to carry two water bottles within the main triangle continues, with the exception of the extra-small frame that can only fit one.
There are four models (plus an S-Works frameset option at US$5,025 / AU$8,000!) of the new Epic, with prices ranging from AU$6,200 for the Epic Comp (not available in the US) all the way up to an it-hurts-to-write US$11,525 / AU$19,000 for the S-Works. In most cases, there are two colour options available for each model. US$25 from every bike sold will be donated to Outride Foundation, Specialized’s foundation focussed on showing the power of the bicycle as an outlet for the positive mental health of youth.
Priced at an eye watering US$11,525 / AU$19,000, the Epic S-Works features an expectedly impressive spec list. It offers a carbon lay-up exclusive to the S-Works level, with a RockShox SID SL Ultimate Brain fork on the front. There’s a full SRAM Eagle XX1 AXS group, while the wheels are the new Roval Control SL with a 29 mm internal rim width. This bike is claimed to weigh 9.29 kg/ 20.5 lb in a large.
One step down and featuring the slightly lower grade Fact 11m carbon frame, the Specialized Epic Pro is priced at a not insignificant US$7,925 / AU$13,000. This model offers a RockShox SID SL Brain fork, SRAM Eagle X01 AXS group and Roval Control Carbon hoops (25 mm internal width).
At US$5,925 / AU$9,500, the Epic Expert is likely to be the model you’ll see the most of. This one offers the same frame, fork and wheels as the Epic Pro, but features mechanical shifting in the form of SRAM Eagle X01.
Fancy an Epic with a Shimano drivetrain? The Epic Comp (US$NA / AU$6,200) is the only racing version that offers this. It features a Shimano SLX M7100 group, RockShox Reba RL fork, and an alloy wheelset built with basic Shimano hubs.
The figures belonging to the new Epic.
Introduced in 2018, the Epic Evo is a longer-travel and more trail-friendly version of the race-focussed Epic. Effectively a lightweight trail bike, it’s a category that our colleagues over at Pinkbike jokingly coined “Downcountry”, a term that is quickly gaining traction. The new Cannondale Scalpel SE or Trek Top Fuel are other recent examples in this versatile category.
The Epic Evo is now more of a lightweight trail bike than a longer-travel race bike.
For 2021, the Epic Evo shares the same front triangle as the Epic but otherwise moves further away from the race-focused model. Proving this, the Evo earns a dedicated rear end with more travel and adjustable geometry, while most notably, the Brain is no longer including. A polarising decision for sure.
Moving from 100 to 110 mm of rear-wheel travel (front travel remains at 120 mm), the Epic Evo is now using a common metric-sized rear shock with more traditional (yet still custom-tuned) damping. It’s a move that should result in improved small-bump compliance and more predicable suspension performance compared to the race-focused Brain platform.
While suspension performance is the reason for the Evo forgoing the Brain, such a move sees a weight reduction, too. A medium painted Epic Evo S-Works frame (with shock and hardware) is claimed to weight just 1,659 g, proving just how incredibly light the frame itself is. The Fact 11m-level frame is quoted at 1,757 g, proving that no matter the price, the new Epic frame is extremely light.
New versus old.
That different rear end also introduces a flip chip which gives some control over the geometry figures. Setup in its lower and slacker position, the Epic Evo offers a 66.5º head angle and a seat angle that’s three-quarters of a degree steeper than the previous version. Flip that chip and the head angle will go to 67º while the bottom bracket will grow 6 mm taller.
Available in five models, the Epic Evos are equipped with dropper posts, slightly shorter stems and burlier forks. Prices start from US$4,150 / AU$6,700.
The range-topping Epic Evo S-Works offers a RockShox Ultimate fork and SID Luxe Ultimate rear shock. There’s a full SRAM Eagle XX1 AXS group, including the matching wireless dropper post. The build is finished with the new Roval SL wheels. Of course, such luxury comes with a price – US$11,525 / AU$19,000. Nope, not a typo.
Using the lower Fact 11m grade carbon frame, the Pro version offers a full Factory-level Fox suspension package, including a 34 Step-Cast fork. There’s a full Shimano M9100 groupset, and it rolls on Roval’s Control Carbon wheels. Expect to pay US$8,250 / AU$13,500 for this one.
At US$5,925 / AU$9,500, the Epic Evo Expert offers a SID Select+ fork, SRAM Eagle X01 mechanic group and Roval Control Carbon wheels.
The Epic Evo Comp (US$4,125 / AU$6,700) offers a RockShock SID Select+ fork and Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain. There is also an Epic Evo Base model priced below the Comp, but we’re currently awaiting details of this one.
A 65.5º head angle puts the new Evo into trail bike territory.