Bike Check: Sam Gaze's S-Works Specialized Epic - Vallnord World Cup XC 2019

Jul 8, 2019
by Daniel Sapp  



Sam Gaze is riding Specialized's full-suspension Epic XC bike this weekend in Vallnord. The two-time U23 World Champion and winner of the first World Cup of 2018, in Stellenbosch, is always one to watch for a solid result.

His S-Works Epic is kitted out with Specialized's house brand Roval wheels, Specialized handlebars, and a 130mm long stem with -24 degrees of drop. Magura brakes slow things down while Specialized's S-Works Fast Trak tires put traction to the ground. The drivetrain is a Rotor Crankset with a Q-ring coupled with a SRAM XX1 Eagle derailleur and cassette. Suspension duties are handled by RockShox with a 100mm travel SID up front and then a RockShox/Specialized collaboration shock in the back.


S-Works Epic Details
Frame: Specialized S-Works Epic
Shock: Specialized Brain, 100mm
Fork: RockShox SID with Brain, 100mm
Wheels: Roval Control SL
Tires: Specialized S-Works Fast Trak, 26-27psi
Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 Eagle
Crankset: Rotor
Brakes: Magura MT8
Bar/Stem: Specialized
Seatpost: Specialized
Saddle: Specialized
More info: www.specialized.com




A SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain coupled with Rotor Cranks and a Q Ring

Magura MT8 brakes are lightweight and powerful.

Specialized's BRAIN suspension system is an inertia valve that keeps the suspension firm, minimizing bob from a rider's pedaling forces, until the bike hits rough terrain where it opens up to smooth things out.

The fork is a RockShox SID, also with Specialized's BRAIN platform. Sam runs the fork with the BRAIN at around 50%, leaving it not totally firm at all times.


130mm long with quite a bit of drop and no spacers to be found, Gaze is as low over the front end of the bike as possible.

Specialized seatpost and saddle with Look pedals.


It's hard to miss the yellow Magura calipers.



Regions in Article
Vallnord Bike Park


65 Comments

  • + 23
 i often run my brain at 50% too
  • + 5
 It doesn't say much to look at a bike then speculate how it's being ridden. Instead, watch him ride it. Much can be leaned from how pros make so much power by watching them race. These bikes are not set up primarily for control or comfort; they are set up to get the body in the most powerful position.

If he ran a larger size he'd have a taller head tube, and likely not get the power out of the glutes he'd like. I also find it a challenge to get low enough at the front on contemporary 29ers.
  • - 10
flag wickedfatchance (Jul 8, 2019 at 15:07) (Below Threshold)
 Is it a 29er? No wheel size printed in this article.
  • + 1
 I have a feeling Sam is compelled to use Specialized components. With an FSA SL-K drop stem or a Syntace Flatforce in combination with a larger frame size, he'd be able to run a shorter stem/longer front centre while maintaining the drop he obviously likes, but Specialized doesn't make a stem like that.
  • + 4
 Only guy who seems to be running a proper sized bike is Nino. IMO...

I’m about the same height as Mr Gaze, and I used to have a ‘16 Epic in L, and an ‘18 in XL. Size charts put me firmly in XL land. Both bikes worked fine for me, the small bike felt faster, but it wasn’t faster on the stopwatch. And the XL was so much safer and faster on the downs.

I should probably STFU, but there is also the message this sends to buyers: size down, and just throw all the manufacturers recommendations in the trashbin.
  • + 2
 I hope N1NO's bike is properly sized. It's a bespoke frame just for him.
  • + 4
 I think the pros opt for a smaller bike because the frame is lighter, it's a common practice on the road racing side because bikes get lower stack heights and stiffer too. I imagine with all the road riding these guys do to train they feel more comfortable on a smaller bike.
  • + 5
 The limit of understanding of the DH rollers about xc is quite interesting and amusing . Keep it coming ,love it
  • + 2
 July 8th "Sam Gaze is riding Specialized's full-suspension Epic XC bike **this weekend** in Vallnord"

I guess someone should have told him he was supposed to be racing **last** weekend! Perhaps that explains his 83rd?
  • + 1
 It was discussed above, but here is the summary- bike is one size too small for him, but some pro’s keep sticking to their old fit. Just because they are faster then us mortals, doesn’t always indicate they are fit on a bike properly. There are other pros on the right sized bike with an updated fit. You can see the same stuff on some pro road bike setups; one or two sizes too small. It’s old school. Some pros are old school and some aren’t, just like us.
  • + 1
 Can someone explain why this long negative rise stem is necessary on XC bikes that already have a steep head angle? I know you don't want the front to wander when climbing but that could just as easily be achieved with a far less extreme setup...or is there some other reason I'm missing?
  • + 1
 Riding a tiny frame aside, the long low stems are to keep your center of mass forward and low so when you are climbing you aren't pulling the front wheel off the ground.
  • + 3
 Dsapp, is he not running some sort of angleset? Looking at the angled spacer below his stem, specifically...
  • + 4
 Looks like it's possible but we can't say for sure. Andorra is a black hole of minimal communication so the only info we have on it is what we had sent over currently. Good eye!
  • + 2
 @danielsapp: If it is an angleset, then he is running the bike steeper than stock.... Crazy as Epic's are already steep!
  • + 2
 No, you can't run an Angleset on an 8ntergrated headset.
  • + 12
 Some Specialized stems come with a set of sleeves that allow you to fine tune the angle. It doesn't change the head angle, only the stem angle.
  • + 2
 Ah, that explains the slotted top cap then.
  • - 2
 @clink83: Anything is possible, just takes time and money.
  • - 1
 If he ran a size up he wouldn't have to have the saddle so far back and could run a more normal -17 deg stem like the rest of us XC lycra dorks. I know the Specialized factory riders tend to do this (Gaze, Kulhavy, etc), not sure why. I went up a size from what the manufacturer recommended for my height and rides really nice with a 80mm stem and saddle pushed forward a bit.
  • + 122
 I'm pretty sure Gaze, as most WC guys, have no idea what they're doing. Thank the bike god there's the PB comment section.
  • + 8
 @Muckal: I'm sure he knows what he's doing, shit just looks weird. since he endo'd in Cape Epic and jacked up his whole season, maybe bike fit is up for discussion when you're several standard deviations outside the norm?
  • - 1
 XC geometry is so old school. There are finally a few bikes getting the slightest bit new school (looking at you Norco Revolver). With a steeper seat tube angle, the riders should be able to get more power while seated, I don't get why he would race something that so obviously doesn't fit him properly.

I highly suspect this is the geometry they grew up racing, and haven't bothered to change it. Especially for Kulhavy, Specialized didn't make a bigger bike (and their bikes are on the smaller side), so he just lived with it.
  • + 6
 Traditional XC geo and setup vs progressive. I'm with you @davidccoleman, but he has been successful with this setup and probably doesn't want to take the time/risk on a new setup.

If you really dig into it, a steeper SA would eliminate the need to have the bars so low to keep the front wheel on the ground on steep climbs. This change would also radically reduce the amount of energy spent on keeping the front wheel down and allow more energy towards pedaling. Stretching the front end would fix the TT being too short with the steeper SA. A more balanced position with the longer front center would improve cornering and allow for a slacker front end. Nobody wants to be the first to try it though, again due to risk.

Not too many years ago I refused to purchase a frame that had an HA less than 70*. Now I am on one of the more progressive bikes with a 64* HA and climbing way faster and more comfortably than ever. I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR HA'S THAT SLACK FOR XC. I do believe they will keep falling though probably to the 66* range.
  • + 14
 @salespunk: a steeper STA would put you in a less efficient riding position. It's XC, they aren't trying to make a DH/enduro bike pedal uphill.
  • + 3
 @Muckal: lots of pro racers ride funky setups that make them slower because they "think" it's faster.
  • + 1
 @salespunk: Amen to that! I couldn't have said it better myself!
  • + 1
 @clink83: How is a steeper STA less efficient? He would be more over the front when climbing and have less front end wandering. I'm not saying he needs an 80º STA but at least 76º would be better.
  • + 2
 @clink83: True. He is probably used to this setup and doesn't want to change.
  • + 11
 @SintraFreeride: don't you think there's a reason people have been riding 73ish STA on road bikes and XC bikes for a long time? A steeper HTA puts you farther in front of the pedal spindle, which changes muscle recruitment. XC bike geometry is super capable, they don't need super steep STAs to compensate for long low slack geometry that are designed for descending out of the saddle.
  • + 1
 Sizing down lets them put their butts higher, which makes them more aero. I'm sure it is as uncomfortable af though. www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=195&v=M6rZBNY90Fo
  • + 4
 First thing I noticed too. Someone get this guy a bigger bike!

I get that he might prefer a nimbler handling bike with the shorter wheelbase and all, but then to slap on a 130mm stem to get more reach, negating the handling benefits of the smaller bike—you end up with a twitchy bike with slow steering. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he needs to go up a size or two.

That said I don’t know what the terrain looks like. If it’s a smooth course then it’s probably fine.
  • + 1
 @clink83: No, it wouldn't. A steeper STA would put their weight more over the BB, especially for climbs. This should allow them to put more power into the pedals.
  • + 7
 @aireeek:
What he's saying is you will lose glute activation if you go with a steeper STA. Glutes are more powerful than quads.
  • + 1
 @clink83: Road bikes dont do it because of UCI rules. Watch any TT and see how far forward the riders sit on the saddle to get round the rule as best they can. Triathlon bikes are much steeper than TT bikes because they dont have to conform to the same rules.
  • + 2
 @CM999: You're correct in that there is a rule governing how for forward a seat is allowed to be relative to the BB.

However, triathlon bikes have a very different position from TT bikes (in part) to preserve muscles used on the run, so not quite an apples-to-apples comparison
  • + 5
 @Muckal: If he's happy with 83rd place he should definitely not change anything.
  • + 1
 Because of wheight distribution. Longer goes more to the front and for pedaling mass eficiency you want at the back.
  • + 2
 @CM999: road/XC and TT positions are not the same, and can't really be compared. The geometry of TT bikes is designed around the tradeoffs between aero position vs power loss of being in that position with a closed hip.
  • + 1
 @CM999: plus TT bikes are ridden at much higher speeds where drag is the biggest concern, and at a steady state. They aren't racing head to head on single track.
  • + 2
 @SintraFreeride: I think it's telling that the constantly good riders in XC or road racing all tend to have fairly average bike setups.
  • + 5
 @aireeek: Bike geometry has changed, as have as ideas about how to place your body over a bike, what produces more control, what's better for going down hill fast, etc. But human anatomy has remained the same. A steeper seat tube angle doesn't mean you can produce more power seated, it just means the seat tube angle is steeper. Your hips need to be in a particular place relative to the bb, then your torso needs to be in a certain slant relative to the thigh, to get the big powerful glutes to work. And there is even still a lot more to it. Pros xc riders have figured it out.

Seat tube angles got steeper to clear the rear wheel travel for a 29 wheel; so then the reach has to get longer if you want to maintain the position of the torso, and then you need a shorter stem.
  • - 1
 @clink83: The reason that people have been riding 73* SA's is because that what road riders have been on forever. That SA may make sense for long flat miles grinding it out with a maximum gradient of 6%, (yes I ride a significant amount of road miles too) but not for modern WC XC courses. Those new courses are significantly steeper with more technical climbs.

I have ridden standard SA's back to back with new school SA's on both regular fire road climbs and very technical steep climbs. There is not a single situation where the traditional geo is better and the only place where it is a wash is on the flat sections of trail. Don't confuse tradition with superiority. Two years from now everyone will be asking why we rode the old geometry for so long.
  • + 3
 @trundle: seat tube angles did not get steeper to clear 29 wheels. Take a look at bikes like the Trek Slash and others that use curved seat tubes to put the seat farther back relative to the BB. Please stop spreading fallacies. The changes in geometry simply work better in steeper terrain.

18 months ago everyone thought the guys from Pole and the builders of the Geometron were insane including me. Now Specialized is building bikes with progressive geometry that are very close to what those pioneers were building. Almost every manufacturer has trickled significant geometry changes down to their short travel trail bikes for a reason.
  • + 4
 @salespunk: I just did an XC race last week, 17 miles and 2500 feet of climbing. Not a single time was climbing or descending ever an issue with an "old school" 73* STAs up or downhill.

I'm willing to bet most of the posters in this thread who are obsessed with arbitrary STA and HTAs wouldn't be able to drop me on my Scale. Outside of an enduro or DH course there isn't much difference in speed between a trail bike and an XC bike.
  • + 2
 @salespunk: The kink in the Trek Slash's seat tube is to clear the rear wheel as it goes through its travel. The 29" rear wheel with it's 160mm of travel would hit a straight 73 degree angled seat tube if there were no kink in it. Seat tube angles got steeper also to clear larger wheels in general while keeping the stays as short as possible.
  • + 3
 @salespunk: I ride a 2018 29" 100mm xc bike and it'a the best I've ever ridden in a lifetime of riding and racing bikes. But I use a 30mm layback post with the saddle almost all the way back to get the power and comfort I need out of the system. I can get my hips more forward if I wanted to, sure, resulting in a longer reach, and potentially a longer front centre. And the saddle has to go higher the farther forward it goes, raising the centre of gravity. I've tried all of it, doesn't work for me.

There is a limit to how far forward you can get relative to the bb. My priority is power production, not down-hill handing. And I do almost all my training on a flat surface. I reckon pros are interested in the same type of riding. Just look at their training. 4, 5, 6 hr rides?

Take your 75 or 76 degree steep seat tube bike, and shorten the reach by 10 or 15cm. Leave everything else the same. I reckon you won't be making as much power out of the glutes and hammies. You'll be sitting upright. It's not the seat tube angle that's making you more powerful. Bicycles and their geometry is not where power comes from. It comes from muscles.
  • + 3
 You have to remember that these guys are waaay faster than us. These guys are better than any regional champ or even most national armature champs. The higher speed dictate a different set up. It is a similar story in pro cycling, many riders ride a frame one or even two sizes smaller than what they logically should, the stems are 140mm plus in many cases. But again they are riding way faster than mare mortals - if you get a chance to ride with one of these guys do it, it's like trying to keep up with a motorbike!. Here's a good article on how much faster a pro cyclist is compared to everyone else: cyclingtips.com/2017/06/just-how-good-are-male-pro-road-cyclists
  • - 3
 @clink83: Don't use the roadbike analogy with me as they are limited in what geometry they can use due to the UCI limit. Roadies stick to 73º or else they wouldn't fit on their bikes or would have to run 200mm stems. A long bike with a steep seat angle provides more traction going uphill (with long chainstays). Contrary to what most people believe the pros don't like to mess with their bike setup too much. They are good because or skill and a lot of training. Personally I think they could be better with better geometry but I don't see that happening anytime soon.
  • + 1
 @clink83: just because they couldn't drop you doesn't mean you couldn't be faster. I'm sure you are a very fast XC racer, my point is that the XC group as a whole should be open to the possibility that there could be something to the shift in geometry that we are seeing in the industry.

@trundle the seat tube is kinked at the bottom, not the top. Steepening the actual SA (the Slash has a very slack true SA) would give them even more room if they needed it. My point was that steep SA's are not a result of long travel 29's needing the extra space.

Also the fact that you think moving your seat would result in a longer reach/front center means that you have no understanding of what reach is or how it is measured. Reach is a hard measurement from the center of the BB to the center of the top of the head tube on the horizontal plane. Running a 30 mm setback post on anything steep would require a tremendous amount of energy to keep the front wheel down taking away from your power available to put into the pedals.

It may be the best bike you have ridden to date, but it is obviously way too small for you if you are having to run such an extreme setup. I was guilty of the same thing when I switched from BMX to MTB in 1988. I rode medium frames with 120 mm stems because that was the trend back then. I was big time into XC riding until about 10 years ago when I started to transition to Enduro

One last note is that you cannot keep the same reach when you run a steeper SA. It is like running the same TT when you change from 690 mm bars to 800. Everything is interconnected.
  • + 1
 @salespunk: I'm actually a pretty slow racer, but that's because I'm 6'4 and 215lbs. Modern XC geometry has changed quite a bit though, and they are extremely capable. The geometry everyone on pinkbike trys to claim is the best really is only the best for Gravity riding. It's completely overkill for trail riding, much less XC racing. It reminds me of the people who ski 5 point powder skis on hardback 5 days after the last storm.
  • + 1
 @SintraFreeride: no, road bikes have 73* seat angles because that's the seat angles that put most riders in the optimum BB/seat/pedal spindle range. My road bike, full suspension, and hardtail all have the exact same saddle height and bottom bracket offset despite having wildly different geometry. For someone who actually cares about pedalling efficiency a steep STA is just going to result in having to use an offset seat post or having the saddle slammed backwards all the way.
  • + 1
 @salespunk: @salespunk: It's basic trigonometry. Feet to hand to bum, forms a triangle. Move one point, other points of the triangle will shift. You can't stretch or compress bones.
  • + 2
 Looks like he might be better off just mounting the stem to the fork crown somehow.
  • + 0
 I don't know why they don't make the bike 13cm longer, have the bars dropped like a Cafe Racer.
  • + 1
 Perhaps a frame with a longer reach and maybe a change to 27.5 " (650B) wheels? Why is he trying to make that bike fit?
  • + 1
 More enduro / freeriders should try this stem/bar set up. Would make for really good Friday Fails of PB.
  • + 2
 Nice bike!!! What does it weigh?
  • + 1
 What kind of though axles are those?
  • + 1
 Really there are guys who doesn't know a XC bike is made for climbing?
  • + 1
 My spine hurts just looking at that stem
  • + 1
 lol
  • - 1
 Interesting to see the lower spec X01 cassette on there instead of the XX1.
  • + 4
 They weigh the same.
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