Bike Check: Russell Finsterwald's Specialized Epic

Jul 9, 2020
by Ed Spratt  

After riding Orbea bikes for 12 years, the Clif Pro Team have moved over to Specialized for the 2020 season. Returning as a team rider for 2020, Russell Finsterwald has just received his new bike for the upcoming race season with the 2021 Specialized Epic. The Epic was updated just last week and remains the brand's flagship full suspension bike complete with a super-light frame and the proprietary BRAIN shock.

Russell Finsterwald has been racing professionally for over nine years and during this time he has secured five National Championships, a Pan American Games Championship and over 40 professional podiums. He was also featured in the US Olympic Long Team in 2016 and has ridden for the US at seven World Championships. For 2020, his new Specialized Epic race bike will be used at World Cup XC races and a number of marathon events as well as his main training bike while at home. Check out all the details about Russell's brand new 2021 Specialized Epic race bike below.

Rider Name // Russell Finsterwald
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 148 lbs
Instagram: @finsty

Frame: 2021 Specialized S-Works Epic // Size: Large
Headset: Cane Creek
Fork: Fox Step-Cast 32, 100mm
Shock: Specialized Brain
Handlebar: RaceFace NEXT 720mm w/ 5mm Rise
Stem: RaceFace Turbine, 80mm
Brakes: Shimano M-9100
Rotors: Shimano M-9100 160mm
Crank: Shimano M-9100 // Stages Powermeter
Chainring: Shimano M-9100 36t
Chain: Shimano M-9100
Wheels: Stan’s Podium SRD
Tires: Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35
Cassette: Shimano XTR M-9100 10-51
Pedals: Shimano M-9100
Derailleur: Shimano XTR M-9100
Shifter: Shimano XTR M-9100
Seat/Seatpost: Specialized Phenom Pro Elaston 143mm // Fox Transfer Post 125mm
Bike Weight: 10.3 kg // 22.7 lbs without pedals

What will this bike be used for?

Just about everything! The all new 2021 Specialized Epic will be my go to for nearly every race. It’s light enough to use on just about any XC course and for marathon races, a full suspension is typically the way to go. The Epic will also be my go to training bike at home for anything from intervals to long days in the high country.

Can you run us through your suspension setup?

Once I get my suspension set to my liking, I don’t make a ton of adjustments to it with the exception of a few race courses that are extra rough. For those, I might add a few PSI and play with the rebound a bit. I did make a big change on the newly designed Brain. I used to run the previous design on the “softest” mode but now I run it one click from firm.

Could you give us a few more specifics and numbers on clicks with pressures, rebound, etc...?

Fox 32 Step-Cast
-82 PSI
-2 Volume Spacers
-Rebound 6 clicks from closed

Specialized Brain
-150 PSI
-5 clicks from open
-Brain setting: one click out from “firm”

What does your cockpit setup look like?

I run my lockout lever for the front suspension on the left hand side and the dropper lever on the right hand side. I prefer having them on different sides, because at the crest of most hills, I use both at the same time. Additionally, I’ve come to really love my TOGS and can’t ride without them now. I always train with my Garmin as well for recording ride data (and sometimes finding my way home!)

What about tire setup?

Lately, I have been enjoying training on the Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35. The extra volume is nice on some of the rockier trails and being able to run them at lower pressure is great for the decomposed granite we have here in Colorado Springs. I run the Rekon Race at 19/20 PSI. For racing, however, I tend to use the Maxxis Aspen 2.25 170tpi and run those around 21/22 PSI.

Do you know the weight?

It is 10.3kg without pedals.

Is there anything custom on the bike?

On the Clif Pro Team, we’re fortunate enough to have our bikes built by the legendary Chris Mathis. Component wise, the bike doesn’t have anything custom, but Chris does put a few custom touches on the bike. Little things like heat shrinking some of the cables together create a really clean cockpit!

Do you have any personal setup tricks that are unique to you?

The only real personal setup trick I have, is running by brakes two fingers in from grip to brake mount. I’ve found this puts the levers right where I like them.


  • 31 0
 Never heard of TOGS before. So googled it and posted this for anyone else - gonna try them! TOGS are dinky thumb hooks designed for long distance and XC riders to aid climbing and offer alternative hand positioning. TOGS is an acronym. It stands for Thumb Over Grip System.
  • 6 0
 Been using them for years, love them.. even have them on my Transition Patrol =)
  • 14 0
 Togs are swimming trucks in New Zealand
  • 23 0
 @enduroNZ: Here they are swimming trunks.
  • 5 0
 Check out SQLab Innerbarends too - I race ultra-endurance (100+ miles) and they save my shoulders by giving me another stable hand position.

Same thing as TOGS but bigger and you can put more weight on them.
  • 4 0
 TOGS + barends is the GOAT setup for touring, bikepacking and other endurance riding. Tho even for non-endurance riding, I find they help a lot on steep, techy climbs when you're already in the lowest gear.
  • 4 0
 TOGS are great. They put my arms in a narrower, elbows dropped position. The ability to switch to that position occasionally has eliminated the occasional shoulder irritation I'd get from riding long days with wide bars.
  • 3 0
 I've thought about getting them just for a more comfortable position when I'm climbing. I do that a lot more than I used to.... Not something I'm happy about. I've heard good things about TOGS though a few of the XC nerds in my area use them.
  • 2 1
 I'v got them on all my bikes. They are great. I suffer From bad RA in my hands they help immensely. I use them on all uphill sections.
  • 2 0
 A buddy of mine is one of the founders of the company. Pretty cool idea.
  • 2 0
 Thanks for the comment Prof. I deliberately overlooked that part because I didn't want to spend any more money on bike stuff researching something new but they are so cheap and light I have to now give them a go Big Grin I hope you are on commission Big Grin
  • 2 0
 Ask Rhod Gilbert about togs... I dare you.
  • 2 0
 the shop i work in stocks them. comrie croft bikes, give us a call if u need a set.
  • 3 1
 Will TOGS make you look old? Just asking for a friend.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: he was meant to say twucks, you wasically wabbit
  • 28 6
 Why bikes weights are quoted without pedals baffles me. Cant ride a bike without them so why state the weight that way?

Awesome bike by the way. Love my 2020
  • 4 3
 It's just a standard way to do it.
  • 28 0
 @clink83: well, time for a new standard. wait. . . .nooooooooooooooo. . .
  • 19 1
 @rrolly: agreed.. . If you're going to weigh them without pedals, you might as weigh them without tires.
  • 13 0
 Agree! It isn't a standard way, it is a lazy weightweenie trick to lie to themselves they have a light bike before adding on pedals that actually work at 300g+
  • 9 5
 bc people use different pedals at different weights. I definitely think they should factor in the weight of a generic pedal but I don't see that happening since most bikes do not come with pedals unless they're shitty plastic ones that everyone takes off
  • 14 1
 @stumphumper92: It is a pro bike check not a catalogue weight (don't get me started on how optimistic they are). When asking what is the weight of your bike mister, the answer is xx kg as ridden. It isn't tricky Smile
  • 9 1
 @stumphumper92: People run all sorts of different components, including saddle, bar, etc.... pedals shouldn't be treated any differently... From the manufacturer, sure since they don't supply pedals as you say. But for a bike check, weight "without pedals" is stupid and misleading.
  • 3 1
 @LCW1: Same thought I had. If you want to NOT include the weight of the pedals as "personal preference", might as well take off the saddle, grips, bars, tires, bottle cages (anything else?).

I weigh my bikes ready to race/ride minus water bottles.
  • 1 2
 @BeardlessMarinRider: It makes perfect sense. I could care less about the weight of a bike with pedals that dont match what I ride. Its just a standard that gives you an idea of what the bike will weight as supplied from the factory. I give zero f*cks about what my pedals actually weight, I just care that they are XTR race pedals.
  • 1 0
 @JSTootell: yeah, the togs!
  • 2 1
 Because they ship without pedals.
  • 6 1
 So much this!! I hate it when they post a weight without pedals. Can I ride it without pedals? No! Then that's not a complete bike weight, now is it? I'm just gonna tell people my bike is twenty pounds. *without wheels.
  • 3 2
 @OzarkBike: not sure why peeps down vote this. Bikes get shipped with bars/seats/tires but no pedals, hence why pedals aren't included in weight.eraps are 250-460 grams extra, calculate that into bike weight to get the "ridable weight"
  • 1 0
 @Mkrol: My two last new bikes were shipped with pedals.

Shitty plastic pedals. But, with pedals.
  • 1 0
 @BeardlessMarinRider: People care too much about weight in the first place, as if an extra 1/2 lb would make a difference for your average rider. Most people aren't even racing and ride casually on the weekends, yet still spend thousands on marginal weight savings. I mean that's cool if you have money to throw around but I really don't see the point unless you are competing. Like everything else, people just want to show off their fancy high end stuff. Don't get me started on luxury cars that people shell out 10's of thousands for just to be worthless in a couple years.. Everyone wants the best of the best. Just ride ya damn bike
  • 18 7
 Hey Specialized, how about an XTR or XT build on the non-Evo Epic for us regular folks? Call me old-fashioned—that eTap looks nice and all, but I'd rather not have to update the firmware on my shifter and derailleur.
  • 50 7
 i can update firmware faster than i can replace an internal cable.
  • 9 0
 @5afety3rd: but shimano shifts sooo nice
  • 8 1
 @5afety3rd: I saw two bikes this last weekend with firmware issues...neither could be resolved and their weekend was done. A cable could have been fixed.
  • 2 0
 @downcountry: Shhhh... you're going to spoil all their fun
  • 4 4
 @robbosmans: I have full XTR on my HT. I disagree, it doesn't shift as well as everyone claims.

(downshifts well, upshifts like shit)
  • 6 0
 @JSTootell: you're doing it wrong
  • 2 5
 @thegoodflow: Maybe. But my race results say I am doing okay. And this bike won one of the most prestigious races in America.

My Sram equipped bike is the opposite. Doesn't downshift as well, but upshifts fantastic. I just don't drink any brand Kool-Aid.
  • 6 1
 @JSTootell: I don't drink any kool-aid either. Just sounds like you don't know how to adjust either brands derailleurs, despite your impressive race results and the distinguished pedigree of your bicycle.
  • 4 3
 @thegoodflow: Could also be true.

Or it could be, the professional race mechanic set up the XTR just fine, and it just doesn't upshift as well as people claim.

Curious. If I don't know how to adjust either brand, does that mean I set up my Sram wrong and that's why it upshifts perfect? Very confusing message. Or, does it NOT downshift as well as Shimano because I didn't set it up right? Now I am even more confused.

Or maybe, just maybe, the shift ramps on Shimano are more optimized for getting into a lower gear, and Sram are more optimized for getting into a higher gear? Nah, that can't be it.
  • 7 2
 @JSTootell: Yeah, you're right, that must be it. XTR and XX1 both shift like garbage. Life's rough.
  • 1 0
 @5afety3rd: That's assuming that you knew it was a firmware problem in the first place, which many people didn't. There's a Lennard Zinn article about a bunch of people having to replace their coin batteries every two rides for weeks.

I almost never replace a cable (I think once in the last 5 years on my MTB, but California doesn't have weather). But if my cable breaks, I know what's wrong.
  • 1 0
 @downcountry: Yeah, and the firmware update only works if you know that's the problem. I feel bad for the Force eTap people who were eating coin batteries every two rides for weeks without knowing what was wrong.
  • 4 0
 @thegoodflow: Yeah, this 100% sounds like a case of not knowing how to use a barrel adjuster. Or maybe a bent hanger. Either way, there's zero correlation between people being fast and knowing how to work on bikes. I know a lot of pros who can barely change a flat.
  • 2 0
 @5afety3rd: Plus you're gonna have to charge your bike about 40 times in between my cable swaps.
  • 3 0
 @thegoodflow: can I put a thousand upvotes on this, pleeeeeease
  • 2 0
In the house right now I have XTR, 11-speed Di-2 XTR, 12-speed mechanical SRAM, and SRAM AXS. All of them shift great when set-up correctly but all of them require a different approach.

The 11-speed Di-2 is brilliant and super easy to set-up but it only works well on a 11-42 cassette. Get outside of that and it is tricky to dial in.

All of the 12-speed stuff is super sensitive to chain-length and B-tension adjustment. You have to follow manufactures guide lines on set-up to get it right. (Who would have thought you need to read instructions?) But when you get it right it works just about as well as the 11-speed Di2.

Make sure you have serviced the clutch, servicing them every month or so makes a huge difference.
  • 1 1
 @downcountry: no you didn't, you can still adjust tension. Smh..
  • 2 0
 @Mkrol: Wireless AXS and wireless derailleur issues. Not mechanical.
  • 1 0
 @robbosmans: yea, di2 is awesome
  • 1 1
 @JSTootell: lube clutch and/or reduce clutch tension, and make sure hanger alignment is within 2mm max at the rim. then make sure the b-tension is spot on and cable tension is as loose as you can get it. it definitely has it's quirks to work around but then it's really really good.
  • 1 1
 @nattyd: 5 years? I go through two cables a year on my roadie (last about 8 months before breaking). I replace my MTB annually.

@kclw: Sounds about right. Only reason I don't drop the money on electronic (DI2 or AXS) is I don't want to ruin a ride because I was too stupid to charge my batteries (seen that happen to too many friends). Even the 11 speed can be sensitive to chain length, I ran into that issue with too short of a chain on my old XX1 HT and it wouldn't drop into the 10t. Luckily I didn't need it that much on that race weekend and just spun a little extra, but lesson learned.

@thegoodflow: WHen compared side by side, I find that one shifts better than the other in one direction, or the other. Not that complicated.

I spend WAY too much time riding my bikes to ride shitty systems. I'm in the saddle well over 20 hours a week (that doesn't include running). So yeah, I want XX1 or XTR on my bikes (or, Dura Ace on my road bike).

@5afety3rd: More than good. I'm just comparing one high end to the other. Shimano fanbois get pissed off (and the downvotes show it) that their all perfect system isn't all perfect. Doesn't make it bad, just, not the wonder dream people CLAIM it is. I have no intention of removing either system from either bike (if nothing else, I love the XTR hub).
  • 2 0
 @JSTootell: xtr hubs are garbage
  • 1 0
 @thegoodflow: Well, I guess I better swap out all my stuff for Sram then...

I'll give you an upvote for that though.
  • 1 0
 @JSTootell: sram hubs are even worse though.

Yeah, I mean, who doesn't want xx1 or xtr drivetrains on their bike? But earlier you said that xtr "shifts like garbage", and let's be real here... It's not perfect but if you think it shifts like garbage then the drivetrain isn't the problem.
  • 1 0
 @thegoodflow: Can I still use my Hope hubs? Or do I need to change those out too?
  • 1 0
 @JSTootell: You can do whatever you want. You don't have to ask permission.
  • 1 0
 You're right. I am the problem.
  • 1 0
 @JSTootell: ok whatever
  • 1 0
 @JSTootell: Oh yeah, I totally used to change cables all the time when I lived in Boston. In California, it's basically never necessary. I've done it once on my mountain bike and once on my road bike, but not really because I had to, just because it had been so long.
  • 11 0
 The "brain". For those who enjoy having a woodpecker control their lockout.
  • 11 0
 i keep trying to say specialized brian
  • 6 0
 I am the one who knocks....
  • 1 0
 Good one!!!
  • 3 0
 He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!
  • 2 0
  • 5 0
 Why are they on Stans wheels? Can they finish a whole race before the freehub explodes?
  • 7 1
 Not every company can be Hadley or DT and design something properly the first time. It takes most companies at least 6 revisions to keep their hubs from shitting the bed in under a year. Looking at you I-9 and Formula
  • 2 0
 He is on Stans Podium hoops custom built with XTR hubs
  • 1 2
 @airmacnair: Better than Specialized wheels then.. lol
  • 1 0
 @5poundplumbbob: Hadley 4 life
  • 3 0
 @5poundplumbbob: specialized wheels have DT swiss hubs, so... no
  • 2 3
 I have a former pro XC bike from a Stans/Shimano sponsored rider. The rear was built around the new XTR hub, not the Stans.

For the record, I never had a problem with the Stans hub on my last race bike with Valor's. BUT...this XTR hub is VERY nice to ride. I'm loving it.
  • 1 0
 @5poundplumbbob: Stans hubs got worse. Rode the old ones for years and years with no problems, but the newer "neo" hubs are completely unreliable.
  • 6 0
 36 T Chainring...
  • 6 0
 36:51 is something like 0.71

28:42 is something like 0.67, so bit lighter.

The second gear on a 42T 11sp cassette is 36, and 28:36 is something like 0.78. So 36:51 is somewhere between the 1st and 2nd gear on a 28:42 11sp setup. Doesn't seem unreasonable.
  • 6 0
 You should see the hills he crushes and how fast, I'm local to COS and every time this dude blows by my on the trail my jaw drops.
  • 6 0
 This was done on the Trek article...

Even something bigger like 38/50 (sorry for the SRAM cassette size Wink ) is like 32/42 which is what most people would have used on SRAM XX1 11 speed for example.

Not so crazy
  • 4 0
 @Rodeodave: but then at the same time a lot of these pros only use that easier gearing loooonnnggg after us mere mortals would fall over and die on the climbs they do at their pave Razz
  • 1 1
 @Artikay13: This, plus we start at ~6k feet here in COS, surrounding mtns top out around 10-14k. So serious suffer mode.
  • 1 0
 @BeardlessMarinRider: Not so crazy... Just heavier.
  • 1 0
 Rose Grant runs a 34T. SHe says "Yeah, but you still have a rear 51 to make it easy on the climbs".
  • 2 0
 @BeardlessMarinRider: If I remember correctly, Nino said he uses a custom 40T in the front for some races.
  • 2 1
 @Artikay13: Also, fast people get tired sometimes. I run crazy low gears on my road bike even though I'm pretty good on W/kg. Sure, I can go fast. Sometimes I don't want to.
  • 1 1
 @pbfan08: love me some vacation riding in the Springs Smile
  • 1 0
 @mrkkbb: actually I'm pretty sure that was Anton Cooper at one race two seasons ago. Maybe Mont Saint Anne? It was the same year he and Nino had that epic sprint finish together
  • 1 1
 @nattyd: very true, although I always feel some small pride still running a 10-42 with a 34t ring while other fit people have a 10-50 and a 34 hahaha.
  • 1 0
 Standard shock an improvement over the trek proprietary deal methinks. The real question here is what is your time up and down the barr? We mtb been getting whooped by the marathon guys on foot out there and you look like the most likely guy to actually finish faster because the middle section you can really top out on speed and carry up the headwall cant be too bad with a bike this light...really curious.
  • 2 0
 Great to see a local to me on pinkbike. He is a awesome guy when you run onto him. If you are in el paso county use finsterwald irrigation and landscaping support local busniess and fellow mountain bikers yyeeewwww!
  • 1 0
 22.7 without pedals is significantly more "prosperous" than that bike should be... I race my 2016 Camber at 23lbs *including* pedals and bottle cage...and heavier Roval Traverse SL wheels. Did they make the Epic frame heavier, or is it all the portly Raceface trim that's adding weight?
  • 1 0
 That's pretty damn light. You can't really get much lighter without going to some weight weenie bars and stems. It's also a large.
  • 6 5
 the none brain shock version of this frame is 200g lighter with 10mm more travel. I wonder if the sponsored team riders are forced to use this brain equipped frame versus the lighter more reliable option...
  • 6 0
 When you have a pro mechanic behind your back, reliability is a second thought.
  • 3 1
 The Brain is pretty reliable these days, and when every watt counts, it's a very simple mindless way of firming up the suspension on smooth surfaces and softening it over rough stuff.
  • 9 0
 As a sponsored specialized team rider and former Clif team member I can say we have a choice. Both Katerina Nash and myself have the Epic Evo...
  • 1 0
 @cycling-trivialities: if you could choose between the Epic and the Oiz which would you choose?
  • 5 1
 His bike looks like it fits him, unlike the racers over at Trek.
  • 1 0
 That Phenom Pro Elaston Saddle is actually pretty sharp looking! Interesting to see that as a choice over the Power saddle, which definitely has seen a lot of the spotlight lately.
  • 2 0
 "Check: Russell"... I came here for another Trail Dog Video.
  • 2 0
 Two water bottles, nice... the forward one could be larger tho....
  • 2 0
 CHRIS MATHIS! Legend indeed.
  • 2 0
 Labels... needs more labels
  • 3 1
  • 13 1
 Epic-ki-yay, motherfcker!
  • 2 2
 What the point 90mm stem? Why majority xc still ride long stem’s?

Xc course typically climbs and decents
  • 3 1
 They have to cause the reaches are still all pretty short. But at least they're getting better with that. Check out the Norco Revolvers. Basically cut in paste Enduro geo onto a XC race bike.
  • 6 0
 Because the stem is slammed already and it is one of many options to get the right amount of weight over the front they are looking for. Bigger frame would have bigger stack so adding the shorter stem would put the bars a fair bit higher. The bigger frame would leave many options for getting the same bar height. Plus he may just like the front-back balance of this setup over a longer reach frame and shorter WB for cheeky overtakes and other stuff they come up against when racing. Not everyone wants a plowing machine Smile
  • 2 0
 @BeardlessMarinRider: exactly. you can only make headtubes so short with 29ers and 100+ mm of travel.
  • 4 0
 I'm betting because Russ has the handling skills to set it up long and low for the climbs while still being comfy enough to shred the descents.
  • 2 0
 @5poundplumbbob: Norco Factory teams riders are riding similar length of stems.
  • 2 0
 @kclw: thats news to me
  • 3 0
 Shorter frames are more maneuverable. These guys handle bikes WAY better than you think.
  • 1 1
 I prefer Curtis Keene's Epic build. Check his IG. Way more Pinkbike friendly.
  • 1 0
 New specialized shock??

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