Has the switch to single pivot made the Epic less epic?
Specialized Epic Expert is one seriously fast cross country race bike. For 2018 the Epic range has had a complete overhaul with some interesting changes.
It’s easy to waffle on in intros about the heritage and achievements of a bike or brand; but in the case of the Specialized Epic it’s almost a travesty not to mention something.
For those not familiar with the Epic, this was pretty much the first full suspension bike to start winning XC races at the highest level. Underneath the likes of Jaroslav Kulhavy and the rest of Specialized’s athletes the Epic has won World titles, Olympic golds and countless World Cup races. 2018 sees the biggest revamp to the Epic since its inception almost fifteen years ago.
Specialized Epic review
As part of this radical revamp the big news is the Epic loses its FSR status. Specialized has made the bold leap to change up the Epic from it’s classic four-bar linkage set up to a much simpler single pivot system. This is a drastic but effective step making the rear end not only considerably lighter but also stiffer and more maintenance friendly.
You can’t talk about the Epic’s springy bits without mentioning the Brain. This unique suspension system, synonymous with the Epic platform is what separates it from the rest of the competition. Breaking it down to basics, the Brain shock uses a remotely located inertia valve (now located at the rear axle) to dictate how the suspension behaves. Set it to Firm and the system stands solid in the face of rider input e.g. pedalling and climbing forces, but opens up when presented with a trail obstacle.
For 2018 Specialized has collaborated with Rockshox rather than Fox to produce the Brain shock. This is a partnership that makes sense, seeing as Rockshox has been making Brain equipped forks for several years. For the Expert model Rockshox has provided their high end SID Brain fork to plug into the front of the bike.
The only real fly in the ointment is the positioning of the Brain adjustment, way out of reach at the rear axle and underneath the right hand fork leg.
At this price point it’s almost obligatory to see SRAM’s twelve speed Eagle groupset all over the XC race market. It’s here on the Expert but slightly disappointingly it’s only the entry point GX Eagle version. Whilst this groupset in itself is pretty flawless in function it is a little bit weighty in comparison to the higher specced versions.
Complimenting the racing nature of the Epic is its carbon Roval wheelset. Light and sprightly, the hookless rim makes setting up tubeless a dream. Specialized’s own BOOST hubs feature 28mm torque caps on the front wheel to further increase stiffness when used with the Rockshox SID suspension fork.
The XC racers favourite Fast Trak tyres are fitted. It’s good to see a larger volume 2.3″ version fitted to the front for extra confidence.
As per most of Specialized’s full builds, the rest of the components are in-house. 720mm handlebars are the accepted norm on short travel XC bikes now, but Specialized (like most brands) has stuck with a longer 85mm stem on this large framed machine.
SRAM Level TL disc brakes are also a suitable match for an XC race bike. Thankfully the Epic comes with a larger 180mm rotor up front, to help cope with the speeds this machine tends to encourage.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but this is one of those bikes that just seems to add an extra gear to your ride. Like mechanical EPO, it’s pretty hard not to want to ride everything and everywhere at full speed. But a bit like dating someone twenty years your junior, at times it can feel a little unrelenting.
For a cross country race lasting between one and two hours, the ability to wring the neck of the Epic and ride it full bore makes it, without doubt one of the best race bikes I have ever ridden.
For longer rides and races the biggest sticking point for me is the thing that actually makes it so great; the Brain. In an XC race, most of us will stick the shock in the Firm setting and relish the tight, snappy performance. But for all other times there’s that nagging feeling that you might be riding with the fork and shock in the wrong setting.
The Brain, oh the Brain…
On a recent Welsh epic (excuse the pun), I was constantly feeling like the bike was either smashing my hand and spine to pieces or blowing through the travel with all the ease of a nine year old spending money in a sweet shop. Switching the position of the Brain fade adjusters to make them reachable on the fly would certainly make Epic easier to live with as your main bike.
Rather than having to get off and fiddle, breaking the flow of the ride. I often found sticking the fork and shock around one click from Firm yielded the best compromise for most situations. I would love to ride the Epic with a more active shock and Propedal adjustment to see just how much of a difference there might be.
They’ve fiddled with the handling
Another feather in the cap of the new Epic is its razor sharp handling. Specialized has been tweaking the geometry and playing with different fork offsets to give the Epic the handling characteristics of a bike with more travel and slacker angles.
While this might sound a little like marketing speak, it just works. Somehow, for a bike with a 69.5º head angle it feels way more capable on the techy stuff than it should.
In fact, to test this handling a little further I gave the Epic a dropper and proceeded to take it down some trails and over features that this sort of bike should never be seen near.
And the good news is it handles it superbly. The sweep and with of the bar is spot on and even the grips are comfy!
Okay, it’s never going to win a DH race but it certainly made me giggle more than most serious race bikes. If you can get a handle on the suspension then the Epic is certainly a bike to reward for shorter, faster jaunts.
Without doubt the Specialized Epic Expert is one of the fastest cross country race bikes ever produced. Razor sharp and confidence inspiring handling combine with a brutal efficiency to smash the climbs, speed through the singletrack and fly down the trail. If only you can get to grips with the Brain shocks.