*Before we get into the main body of this review, I feel it apt to confess that this bike is my personal bike for the 2019 race season supplied in conjunction with Specialized UK and Hot Pursuit Cycles. It is my intention however to give an honest and comprehensive review of this bike regardless of sponsorship commitments.*
The Specialized Epic has been a firm favourite on the cross-country scene for nearly two decades now, with the chassis and suspension being overhauled from the ground up for 2018. This included a full new frame including a fully carbon non-FSR rear triangle on all models and a new rear shock from Rockshox with a redesigned Brain unit. This 2019 S-Works Epic has undergone a few very small changes from last years bike, but mostly remains the same. This 2019 model comes in at 9.5kg without pedals.
This particular S-Works model is dressed in Specialized’s striking gloss “Acid Mint” colour scheme, which sits alongside a plain “Gloss Black and Rocket Red” colourway if you prefer. Specialized have really gone to town with paint jobs in recent years on selected models, and I like it. Being the flagship model of the range, there is no surprise that the bike is dripping in expensive bling with pretty much everything that can be being carbon fibre. A full Sram XX1 Eagle groupset, Sram Level Ultimate brakes, Roval Control SL wheelset and a full set of carbon S-Works finishing kit.
I'm a big fan of Sram mountain bike drivetrains and the XX1 Eagle is no exception. It simply performs excellently nicking shifts with its positive trademark clunk, which I personally find a little more confidence inspiring when banging through shifts when racing. The 500% range of Eagle is nice when it’s required, but I would love for other ratio options to become available to help reduce the gaps in ratios available. Likewise, the S-Works Epic comes shipped with a 32t chainring, which I find in most cases far too small. A 36t chainring for the majority of racing situations feels perfectly ample with the 10-50t cassette, although I do keep the 32t tucked away for hilly 24hr races where it’s nice for the rest bite of spinning a bit more. The Sram Level Ultimate brakes have a really nice feel to them providing loads of modulation and power if needed with 180/160mm sized rotor combination as standard. My only real gripe with these is the fact they love a good howl when the going gets a bit soggy.
The finishing kit is as you would expect from S-Works level stuff, lovely. For 2019 Specialized came a little more on trend with a slightly shorter stem, dropping down to 75mm from 90mm last year. They paired this with a 760mm flat carbon bar, upped from 720mm last year. Whilst this still feels nice and comfy, i'm still sat on the fence with this one. I found the slightly narrower bar super comfortable last year, although this is all easily rectified with a chop and bolting on a slightly longer stem. Personal preference. The seat supplied is an S-Works Phenom, which is not my personal choice, so I’ve swapped out to a Fabric Scoop, and also Fabric Ergo grips.
Its apparent when you first chuck a leg over the Epic that this is a bike that wants to go fast. Like really fast. The carbon Control SL hoops from Roval weigh in at a skant 1330g for the pair even for the relatively wide 30mm outer width. Being so light helps to propel the bike forward with very little effort which translates to a super sprightly ride out on the trail.
The automatic Brain technology resides in both the Rockshox Sid WC fork and also the Rockshox rear shock on the Epic, with undoubtedly the heart of the bike being based around the rear unit. One of the changes Specialized made in 2018 was to move the “Brain” inertia valve unit rearwards to get it as close to the rear axle to allow for greatest sensitivity. It clear that this move worked, creating a much more sensitive platform from the older generation Epics giving a lovely supportive, yet supple feel when pointed downhill. The Epic doesn’t tend to wallow into corners when pushed hard, and I really like that. It feels like a race bike from the get go, and not a trail bike platform that has been firmed up with a harder tuned shock and lockout lever.
I run the Brain in the full firm positions and there is still some notable feedback from the brain opening and closing when you first ride it, but mostly noticeable on slower technical climbing sections almost feeling like a “clonk”. This sensation has faded over time though and I hardly notice it now when riding. You can tune the Brain sensitivity from the rear unit and from the top of the fork, but for best results I just leave them full closed. Having the Brain take care of most of the suspension duties allows you to attack climbs and descents in quick succession without thinking about needing to adjust shocks, which is handy when racing. It still gives enough sensitivity however to be able to feel the grip when riding techy climbs. It just simply works. Having ridden two different 24hr races on the Epic I can confirm it’s comfy over a long distance too! My setup is fairly standard, running 20% sag front and rear, saddle nosed slightly downward, and levers in a pretty neutral position. Setting it up to me has been a doddle.
My only main gripe with the bike would be the supplied tyres. The Fast Trak from Specialized has been around for years, and in this newest incarnation of Gripton carcass and a 2.1 and 2.3in varieties, they really is very very good. My issue is for a heavy rider like me with the terrain we have in the South West I’d like to see a GRID casing (heavier duty casing) available in the Fast Trak to help ward off pinch punctures. I’ve swapped to the Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Racing Ray combination with Snakeskin protection to help this.
The bottom line is simple with this bike. If you like to go fast, like really fast and love your bike bling then the S-Works Epic FS could be for you. There is the small issue of the £8750 price tag, but in all fairness this is a superbike and it certainly rides like one.