PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Specialized Epic EVO S-Works
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Margus Riga
Specialized’s race-focused Epic platform has been around for something like two decades now, and they’re saying that the latest version
is the lightest, fastest Epic they’ve ever made. Sarah Moore tested that race bike
, but we’re here to talk about the equally all-new EVO version.
Specialized applies those three letters to models that are a bit more capable than their standard fare. In this case, the Epic EVO gets more travel - a 120mm fork and 110mm out back - whereas the race-ready Epic has just 100mm on both ends. On top of that, Specialized also uses traditional suspension on the EVO as opposed to the pedal-assisting Brain system on the normal Epic.
Epic EVO S-Works Details
• Travel: 110mm rear / 120mm fork
• Carbon frame
• Wheel size: 29"
• Head Angle: 66.5°
• Seat Tube Angle: 74.5° (effective)
• Reach: 460mm (size L)
• Chainstay length: 438mm
• Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL
• Weight: 21.88 lb / 9.92 kg
• Price: $11,525 USD
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the EVO is slacker than the standard Epic, with a 66.5-degree head angle that’s a full degree more relaxed than the race bike. The reach on my large-sized tester is 460mm, and all sizes get a 438mm rear-end and a 74.5-degree seat angle.
While the race-focused Epic has the latest version of their Brain shock, the 110mm-travel EVO gets a SIDluxe from RockShox instead. The Brain-equipped shock makes sense if efficiency is the name of your game, but it’s also not as forgiving or predictable as a traditional system. Given that the EVO isn’t solely about watts and winning, Specialized made a good call. Like many cross-country bikes, it employs a flex-pivot near the axle that allows them to skip the bearings and hardware that'd normally be required. That means less weight, of course, and the design can easily handle the few degrees of movement required. The shock is compressed by a carbon fiber clevis, and there's a split flip-chip that lets you alter the head angle by half a degree.
Another thing to note: The standard Epic and Epic EVO do share the same front triangle, but the EVO gets an entirely different rear-end. Why? Well, the Brain shock integrates with the chain and seat stays, but the EVO doesn’t use it. That means that the EVO frame is actually 100-grams lighter than the Brain-equipped race frame, with a hardly believable claimed weight of just 1,659-grams. For some perspective, the Scalpel SE frame is said to weigh 1,900-grams and the Ranger frame 2,900-grams. Climbing
The Epic EVO's character seems a bit more climbing-biased compared to the Revel and Transition that roll with wider bars, shorter stems, and seat posts with more drop. That, along with its 21.88lb weight - no, that's not a typo - and especially the 1,240-gram wheelset, add up to a machine that says "I'm ready to climb for as long and as hard as you want,
'' much more so than the two bikes previously mentioned. It just has that attitude about it, and that's exactly what it delivers.
Much of that climbing was done in wet, slippery conditions, and while the Scalpel SE 1 consistently dominated those traction-limited moments, the green Epic was a close second in my post-ride notes. Sure, it's obvious that the EVO isn't a pure race bike when you're struggling up some boulder field at what feels like 0mph - more attention is required to keep it on-line, of course - but any dabs were my fault, not the bike's. Speaking of dabs, while the Spur had me putting a foot down here and there, the EVO would keep on chugging. If you're the kind of rider who's always counting dabs, you'll probably be more at home on the EVO or Scalpel. On the other hand, if you climb with your kneepads around your ankles and aren't in a huge rush, the other bikes might be more your flavor.
On rolling terrain that requires you to put in work - the stuff where you want to carry good speed up and over that short rise to get the most out of what follows - is where the EVO can be mind-blowingly quick. None of the other bikes were slow on that sort of stuff, but I was always highly motivated when aboard the Epic EVO. I think that's pretty telling.
No Brain, no cares. The EVO might not be as race-y as normal Epic, but it sure as hell never feels slow. Light, fast, and capable, and with thick cross-country DNA, this would be my pick of down-country bikes if I wanted to race some cross-country as well. In other words, the EVO is the quintessential down-country bike. Descending
All five of my test bikes look at the challenge from different angles, with Transition taking the most extreme approach and Cannondale doing the opposite by assembling their's around the standard Scalpel frame that gets a bump in travel. Not a bad way to do it, especially if you aren't aiming to make a bike that's on the bleeding edge of the category; don't assume being the first is always a good thing. Specialized split the difference with this bike by using the standard Epic's front triangle and then attaching an EVO-specific rear-end for better suspension performance.
And on the trail, that's exactly how it feels. While the Spur does a good job of pretending to be a short-travel trail bike, and the Scalpel SE does a good job of being a long-travel cross-country bike, the Epic EVO sits somewhere between them. Let's get the grumbles out of the way first, with one being the combo of a 470mm seat tube (remember, same front triangle as the race-y Epic) with a 150mm dropper post.
It wasn't that long ago that this wouldn't give me anything to moan about, but not so in 2020 when many bikes have shorter seat tubes and longer stroke posts. When the trail got rough and fast, the EVO's seat would use a little love tap to remind me that it was awfully close. That doesn't do it any favors on challenging terrain, and I never felt as comfy as I could have been when the bike was getting knocked around under me on a chunky trail. In those moments, there was no surpassing the Spur's longer footprint that provides a sense of calmness, even if the EVO leaves most of the others wondering which direction it went.
All of the bikes being on matching tires provided the ideal situation to compare performance, especially in the corners. It's here where something about the EVO clicked with me and I consistently pulled brakeless two-wheel drifts through berm after berm, as well as any and every flat corner. You know how a go-kart tells your ass precisely what's happening under you as the kart slides around the track? It's the same thing with the EVO, and there's almost no better feeling in mountain biking than absolutely nailing a corner.
If you're riding a three or four-year-old short-travel bike, you'll be astonished by the EVO's suspension performance. Actually, to be fair, that's true of all of my test bikes; the SID Ultimate offers slipperiness, support, and bottom-out resistance that just wasn't possible with 120mm only a few years ago, and the same goes for the rear-end. That said, the EVO's SID did develop a bit of premature bushing play - RockShox says that they'll look after any issues that arise with customer bikes ASAP.
Listen, I know that Transition Spur has got you all hot and bothered - it should; it's a wildly capable short-travel bike - but it's hard to look past the EVO's well-rounded versatility. Let me put it this way: Yes, the Spur is a more confident bike at the outer limits of what you should be doing with small amounts of travel, but if you're the type of rider that is - or pretends to be - sporty and capable, or you just want to cover all sorts of terrain exceedingly fast, the Epic EVO would be my choice