Field Test: 2021 Specialized Epic – The Lightest & Slackest

PINKBIKE FIELD TEST

Specialized Epic S-Works


Words by Sarah Moore, photography by Margus Riga
The Specialized Epic been rocketing around racecourses for almost twenty years and has World Cup, World Championship, and even Olympic hardware to its name. We last saw an update to the frame in late 2017 and now, three years later, we’ve seen another overhaul for what was supposed to be an Olympic year.

The new FACT 12m Epic S-Works carbon frame with Specialized’s Brain-controlled suspension is said to be over 100-grams lighter than its predecessor, and according to Specialized the size medium frame now weighs as just 1,869-grams. We can confirm that our complete medium test bike is the lightest here, weighing just 21.2lb with our Schwalbe control tires installed.

Specialized Epic S-Works Details

• Travel: 100mm rear / 100mm fork
• Carbon frame
• Wheel size: 29″
• Head Angle: 67.5°
• Seat Tube Angle: 75.5° (effective)
• Reach: 445mm (size M)
• Chainstay length: 433mm
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 21.2lb / 9.61kg
• Price: $11,525 USD
• www.specialized.com

As for details on that ultralight frame, it employs a carbon link, uses SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger, and has a threaded bottom bracket. You won’t find a SWAT box on the Epic, but you will see a SWAT chain-breaker tool in the headset for emergency repairs. The Epic accommodates two water bottles inside the front triangle on all sizes, with the exception of extra-small frames that can fit one bottle on the downtube. There’s also a Quarq power meter that comes stock on the S-Works model.

The big story with the new Epic is geometry. With a 67.5° headtube angle, a 75.5° effective seat-tube angle, a 445m reach, and a 1,148mm wheelbase on our medium, Specialized says that their geometry borrows from trail bikes while optimizing cross-country responsiveness for today’s technical courses.

Climbing

With a head angle on the new Epic that’s two whole degrees slacker than the previous generation, and slacker than any of the other cross-country bikes I was riding during the Field Test, I was curious as to how the numbers would add up on the trail. The cockpit and position feel modern as well, with a wide handlebar, shorter stem, longer reach, and relatively relaxed steering. At the same time, you’re in the right position to be efficient while pedaling. Riding the Epic, I had to think, ‘why has it taken so long for cross-country bikes to use geometry like this?’ Although at the same time, I can understand why racers might resist change.

One example: The new-school geometry on the Epic results in handling that, while not by any means lazy, does require a bit more anticipation when the tight corners get even tighter.

The pedal-assisting (no, not that kind) Brain system also took a bit of getting used to but it does work really well on climbs, which, let’s be honest, is where cross-country races are usually won. It feels super efficient on the smoother stuff, but when you get to more technical sections, you still have ample traction. When you try to push down on the bike from the top it feels like it’s locked out, which is a bit funny. But true to its marketing materials, when you actually encounter a bump, the Brain opens the suspension and helps you maintain traction up whatever you point it at. In short, there’s ample traction while climbing, but not at the cost of that efficient feeling. The Brain system also means that you don’t have to worry about remembering to lock or unlock your bike, and your handlebar is as clean as it gets with just the brake levers and the shifter on it.

Descending

It’s hard to recover on the descents aboard many cross-country bikes since you’re often struggling to stay upright and not get thrown around. With the Epic, you actually have time to breathe and recover from the climbs since the geometry doesn’t want to pitch you over the handlebar. You can easily keep weight on the front wheel and have more input into where your bike actually goes as opposed to just “riding the slide”. On a technical, wet course, you wouldn’t be worrying about slick rocks and off-camber roots.

That being said, while the Specialized Brain is awesome on climbs, it’s not always as easy to ride on the descents. At speed, and on smoother sections, it was great in the middle setting that made the bike easy to pump into the terrain. But on our rooty test track, I found my that favorite setting was wide open, which basically means that I liked the Brain best when it was backed right off. That made it feel the most natural and there wasn’t the sensation of the valve opening like there was with the firmer settings. Switching back and forth between bikes with “regular” suspension definitely didn’t help though, and I’d like to spend more time with the Brain to see if I can get used to it in a firmer mode.

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