THIS IS GO­ING TO BE EPIC

THE SPE­CIAL­IZED MEN’S EPIC EX­PERT

Australian Mountain Bike - - Between The Tape - PHO­TOG­RA­PHER: NICK WAYGOOD TESTER: BEN MOR­RI­SON

2018 sees a ma­jor over­haul of one XC’s win­ningest bikes! Gone is the FSR pivot, once the back­bone of Spe­cial­ized’s sus­pen­sion plat­form, which is now re­placed by flex stays (help­ing save 525g on the Ex­pert level, just off the frame). We also see a brand new smoother, faster and more in­ter­est­ing look­ing Brain shock from Rock­Shox. All of this and more makes the Epic one of the fastest bikes around and you can see right away why this ma­chine has taken so many trips to the top of the podium. We are see­ing fewer Spe­cial­ized ath­letes run­ning their hard­tail and in­stead reach­ing for their Epic. It’s easy to un­der­stand why when pre­sented with a 100mm travel XC race bike that climbs so well and de­scends like a cham­pion. The point is that of­fer­ings like the Epic are start­ing to blur the lines about what XC rid­ing is - and what you can do on an XC bike. Us­ing the Rider-First En­gi­neered con­cept, which gives each frame size unique car­bon layups and tube pro­files, along with real world test­ing on World Cup XC tracks that would push some trail bikes to their lim­its, the 2018 Epic gives a much more ag­gres­sive ride. With longer top tubes, shorter rear ends, less frame flex from the rear wheel and shorter stems, it snaps out of ev­ery turn with all the speed you came into it with. Oh and did we say it was fast? Even with the Brain set to full soft the Epic picks up ev­ery lit­tle bit of ef­fort you put through the pedals, help­ing you up climbs or into the first bit of sin­gle­track be­fore ev­ery­one else. No won­der it grabbed a few medals at the re­cent XCO World Cham­pi­onships.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW EPIC

Harder, Bet­ter, Faster, Stronger! Wait, strike that, we’re not here to chant remixes of French duo Daft Punk and Kanye West, we’re here to ex­plore Spe­cial­ized’s all-new Epic Ex­pert – LIGHTER, SMARTER, FASTER! Our first im­pres­sion when look­ing at the bike is that it looks fast; think For­mula One race car. It isn’t weighed down with things you don’t need. Rather, it con­tains what could be con­sid­ered gold – Spe­cial­ized’s Brain 2.0 – but more on that later. Our Epic Ex­pert came in satin hy­per green/black – but an out­stand­ingly cool and un­der­stated satin char­coal/ black/rocket red is also avail­able in Aus­tralia. Be­fore get­ting into the per­for­mance of our Epic Ex­pert, let’s delve into this lyri­cal Lighter, Smarter, Faster… Lighter: Spe­cial­ized have re­duced the weight of the Epic range us­ing their Rider-First En­gi­neered tech­nol­ogy that was orig­i­nally in­tro­duced with the Tar­mac SL5 road bike a few years ago. It pro­vides for en­gi­neer­ing layups and var­i­ous tube shapes to fit per­fectly with ev­ery frame, re­gard­less of size, en­hanc­ing the rider ex­pe­ri­ence. Spe­cial­ized are able to hold an out­stand­ing stiff­ness-toweight ra­tio with­out com­pro­mis­ing on com­fort or han­dling, all while mov­ing to a more ag­gres­sive trail-friendly ge­om­e­try. Fur­ther, in de­liv­er­ing their mis­sion to re­duce weight and be lighter, Spe­cial­ized have re­moved piv­ots from the rear end, not only aid­ing in their weight-loss quest, but also mov­ing the Epic into the sin­gle-pivot bike cat­e­gory. They have suc­cess­fully de­signed and en­gi­neered flex zones (flex stays) in both the chain and seat­stays that will match the per­for­mance of the well-known and loved FSR sys­tems. Now that the bike is lighter, Spe­cial­ized needed to go back and re­think the sus­pen­sion. Smarter: Spe­cial­ized’s Brain tech­nol­ogy has been redesigned in con­junc­tion with in­dus­try heavy-hit­ters Rock­Shox to give us Brain 2.0 - tak­ing ev­ery­thing that was great from the ear­lier ver­sions and build­ing upon it. Spe­cial­ized say that mov­ing the Brain reser­voir closer to the axle (the first point where the sus­pen­sion starts to be af­fected by bump in­er­tia) makes for a more re­spon­sive sys­tem than ever be­fore. Not techno-geek enough? Here it is di­rect from the horse’s mouth: “Oil port­ing and flow paths have been re-en­gi­neered to re­duce oil tur­bu­lence and pro­vide more con­sis­tent damp­ing. The sus­pen­sion team also ad­dressed hose fit­ting, so there are no frame rub is­sues, mak­ing this the most vis­ually sleek Brain pack­age yet. Now, hoses that route oil, flow di­rectly through the

shock ex­ten­sion, tak­ing out un­nec­es­sary curves and fit­tings.” And that brings us to the best and fi­nal part of the de­sign brief. Faster: This is per­haps one of the best rea­sons to con­sider trad­ing in your old Epic for a new one. XC rac­ing and gen­eral rid­ing has sig­nif­i­cantly changed over the years; rid­ers are now us­ing drop­per posts, not just for de­scend­ing, but some­times to aid in the abil­ity to ad­just body posi­tons for nav­i­gat­ing high speed tech­ni­cal sec­tions. Gone are the race cour­ses that re­sem­bled walk­ing paths through your lo­cal park (these are now CX tracks). With World Cup XC cour­ses hav­ing in­creas­ingly tech­ni­cal sec­tions of trail that look like they are right out of a round of the En­duro World Se­ries, Spe­cial­ized knew they had to ad­dress some of the less sta­ble and of­ten con­fi­dence­sap­ping ge­om­e­try of XC bikes in or­der to help rac­ers and rid­ers alike push the bound­aries of the sport. Spe­cial­ized in­creased the reach to make for a longer and more sta­ble front end. They have also short­ened the stem length across all sizes by 10mm, which makes for quick han­dling. The head an­gle was slack­ened by 1.5 de­grees to cre­ate an ag­gres­sive 69.5 de­gree an­gle. Those sim­ple changes com­bine to cre­ate a bike that’s more con­fi­dent at speed and de­scend­ing through steep and rough ter­rains - all of which is per­fectly matched with the new de­sign and the added gold of Brain 2.0. The Epic Ex­pert model we tested had a full car­bon rear end, and with the move away from the FSR pivot to the flex stays there are sav­ings of around 525g. We tested a medium, which is out­stand­ing con­sid­er­ing medium-sized S-Works only achieves around 345g of weight-loss. Spe­cial­ized say this is a first for them! To match this newly ag­gres­sive ge­om­e­try, Spe­cial­ized also made sure that the Epic range is now com­pat­i­ble with drop­per posts; not only the short-travel Com­mand Post XCP Spe­cial­ized make, but full length droppers.

GET IT DIALLED

The Epic will re­ward your time spent on sus­pen­sion setup. The new Brian 2.0 rear shock still comes with Spe­cial­ized’s auto sag but­ton, which will aid in get­ting the ball rolling with your setup. Once you have the sag sorted, it’s time to hit the trails. Be sure to take a shock pump with you as it’s pos­si­ble that your ex­cited bounce around the drive­way dur­ing setup may have given a false sense of the cor­rect sag. New forks and shocks have a break-in pe­riod which might mean that if your first ride is a short

one, ev­ery­thing might get softer as the seals loosen up and your new sus­pen­sion be­comes smoother. With the setup out of the way, it’s time to play with the Brain 2.0 in both the rear shock and Rock­Shox Sid fork to re­ally de­fine the tone. There will be five set­tings or clicks to go be­tween and you will want to start with ev­ery­thing com­pletely open, or soft. Find a small trail loop with a bit of ev­ery­thing in it and start play­ing. Even though you might be tempted to set the Brain 2.0 softer for the harder sec­tions and down­hill, DON’T! Find your best over­all set­ting out of the five and stick with it. The Brain 2.0 is de­signed to open and re­move the big hits no mat­ter what set­ting you have it in. Yes, it will be more ac­tive in the soft­est set­ting and the knock you hear (noth­ing to be con­cerned about) from it will be less no­tice­able, but if that’s not the best over­all set­ting for your style of rid­ing you will not be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all of the pos­i­tive at­tributes from your new pur­chase. When it comes to the Brain 2.0 in the fork – again it’s down to per­sonal rid­ing style. We even­tu­ally left it in the soft­est set­ting to al­low the fron­tend to grip a bit more and al­low the rear to step out on open flat turns, con­tribut­ing more fun and mak­ing use of the new ag­gres­sive han­dling.

FULL GAS!

Ac­cel­er­a­tion is one of the big­gest weapons the Epic has in its back pocket. It is out of this world and per­haps one of the things you will no­tice most, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing this is a full sus­pen­sion bike, not a hard­tail! Know­ing that ev­ery ounce of power gets trans­lated into speed is cer­tainly go­ing to help you push harder off the start line. Spe­cial­ized’s Epic not only climbed like it was a weight­less moun­tain goat, but it de­scended like a bat outta hell! With races fi­nally won or lost as cour­ses head down­hill and get tech­ni­cal, the im­proved ge­om­e­try and added gold, com­bined with the Rider-First En­gi­neered tech­nol­ogy are all in­cred­i­bly smart de­sign de­ci­sions. In fact, the Epic is a good ex­am­ple of where race cour­ses have in­flu­enced how bikes are made, such as its

“WITH A L ONGER WHEEL­BASE AND MORE A GGRESSIVE HEAD AN­GLE THE EPIC MIGHT JUST MAKE THE DE­SCENT Y OUR STRONG POINT; WHERE Y OU WILL START T O G AIN TIME ON RID­ERS WHO LA CK THE CON­FI­DENCE IN THEIR BIKES T O PUSH HARD ON EV­ERY P ART OF THE RACE COURSE, LAP AFTER LAP”

abil­ity to take full size drop­per post, and not just a short-travel XC one ei­ther. With a longer wheel­base and more ag­gres­sive head an­gle the Epic might just make the de­scent your strong point; where you will start to gain time on rid­ers who lack the con­fi­dence in their bikes to push hard on ev­ery part of the race course, lap after lap. We re­ally did push the bound­aries on our Epic Ex­pert when out on the trails, es­pe­cially when they started to head down, straight down - to the point where we might have man­aged to over­power our su­per light brakes at times (oops!). Most peo­ple won’t ever have this is­sue with­out the use of a drop­per post, as the added fea­ture of a drop­per re­ally does change how you ride sec­tions. Of course, if this does hap­pen to you, you can avoid this by switch­ing to a set of metal­lic pads when it comes time to re­place them. On top of the changes in the rider setup there are some neat fea­tures on the Epic. You get a very handy and con­ve­nient S.W.A.T bot­tle cage with a neat mul­ti­tool at­tached to it. Like some pre­vi­ous mod­els in the Epic range you can still put two bot­tles in­side the main frame. You won’t find a S.W.A.T box in the frame like you would with the En­duro and Stumpjumper, but on a bike like this, hav­ing two bot­tles is a lit­tle more im­por­tant. Also, like the En­duro, gone is the press-fit bot­tom bracket in favour of a threaded one – nice move Spe­cial­ized! Spec-wise it could per­haps be a tad bet­ter for the money. Yes, you are get­ting a full car­bon frame, a lovely set of Ro­val car­bon wheels and some great SRAM Level TL brakes, but the big chunky al­loy cranks just look out of place on this race-bred weapon. SRAM’s en­try level GX Ea­gle 12-speed groupset might be heavy for this type of bike, but it still looks the part and serves its pur­pose well. We just thought for a shade un­der $7K that a set of Tru­va­tiv Car­bon De­scen­dant Cranks could have eas­ily been added to the spec list over the al­loy Tru­va­tiv Stylo Cranks.

IS THIS YOUR NEW RACE RIG?

Over­all the Epic Ex­pert is a great XC race bike and is bucket loads of fun out on the trails – per­haps even more fun than a ded­i­cated XC race bike should be. The changes that have been made to an al­ready ex­cel­lent bike are very wel­come and per­haps a sign of ex­cit­ing things to come in the world of XC. With other styles of bikes get­ting longer and slacker, per­haps it was only time be­fore XC bikes fol­lowed suit, and to us it looks to be more driven by where they are be­ing used rather than trendy in­dus­try fads. When look­ing at the Epic range and eval­u­at­ing the spec list, our ad­vice is to take your time and re­ally con­sider what is im­por­tant to you as a rider. Most of the bikes within the Epic range are run­ning full car­bon frames, and there are sig­nif­i­cant price jumps be­tween the mod­els, driven by dif­fer­ent specs. For ex­am­ple, there’s the Epic Comp start­ing at $5,200 all the way up to the Flag­ship S-Works Epic which comes bear­ing an even more premium full car­bon frame (yes, it’s pos­si­ble) and closes out the range at a whop­ping $12,500.

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