The scales don’t lie and with all of the bikes here using similar build kits most of the difference in weight is in the design of the frame and how it’s made. Specialized’s Epic is lighter than most because it’s made from a FACT 9m carbon, using an Az1 (‘As One’) construction technique, which is subtly different from a monocoque manufacturing process.
First of all, the frame tubes are formed and cured separately and then inspected for flaws and wrinkles — this is very easy to do because you can actually look down them, whereas you need a special camera to look inside a monocoque. The tubes are then mitred like on an alloy frame and bonded together, which gives the frame around 20-30 per cent of its strength. The joints are then wrapped with additional layers of carbon-fibre before receiving a final cure. Specialized admits this process is time consuming and rather expensive but it results in a lighter frame because, it says, “you don’t need extra safety material” like you do with a monocoque, and they are stiffer because you can take material away from areas where you want to save weight and place it in areas where you need strength.
Our test bike gets an integrated headset, intact front triangle with a very usable bottle mount, M5 aluminium rear triangle with asymmetric chainstays, and a hollow alloy shock link with sealed cartridge bearings. Weight for a complete bike is 25.83lb.
The Epic’s AFR Inertia rear shock is fitted with a new Flow Control Brain. The difference between this and the older Fox Brain is that the inertia valve in the Fox unit opened on a bump and a hydraulic timer kept it open for around 1.5 seconds, which in some situations made the bike bob for a few pedal strokes. In the new Brain, oil flow from the main shock body into the Brain body opens the shock, but once this flow stops a tiny spring pushes the mass back into the original position. So when you hit a bump it opens, but as soon as you hit smooth terrain the suspension is firm again. The transition from firm to fully open is also smoother, plus it has Brain Fade adjustment from firm to almost fully open.
We had a bit of a hiccup after the first few rides on our sample bike — the shock developed a bit of free play in the first part of the stroke. Apparently there was a nicked O-ring in the IP chamber but it is something that can be repaired easily and cheaply under warranty.
Specialized has a lot of clout in the industry and has fitted custom Avid Ultimate 7 hydraulic disc brakes, which are Ultimate calipers with Juicy 7 levers, and colour coordinated Shimano M762 XT crankset, Crank Brothers Smarty pedals and DT Swiss X420 rims.
Negatives first: Specialized’s Fast Trak Control tyres aren’t as sluggish as Kenda Nevegals but they’re not quick. The bars are too narrow, and the 9mm DT-Swiss RWS front skewer is stiff but makes getting the wheel in and out a ball ache. Specialized uses cheap cabling and a HG-50 cassette; the latter felt clunky from day one.
Now the good news — we like the fact that the Epic is roomy. You don’t have to run a long stem if you want a flat back position. It’s also long in the wheelbase, so it’s super stable but it’s not as nippy as the Giant or ’Dale. Rider weight is also centred further back, and although the bike isn’t any easier to lift over a log, it does go light pulling up hard on short ascents.
The Epic was the only bike onto which we could fit a bottle cage and still get a shoulder through the front triangle. It makes a difference being able to run up a climb with the bike resting on your shoulder.
In terms of suspension function the new Flow Control Brain is much smoother but we could still feel it settle. It’s most noticeable with the adjustment knob fully open, so we ended up running the system screwed all the way in.
If you’re planning Euro-style marathons the Epic’s geometry should feel perfect, but if there is more singletrack we think the Giant Anthem is a better handling bike. The Epic is great value and in certain areas very well specced, but the suspension and geometry isn’t for everyone. With this in mind it might be worth looking at Specialized’s 120mm FSR Stumpjumper for marathon/short-travel trail use.
MBR RATING: 8/10