For 2020, Specialized have given their World Cup XC race hardtail, the Epic, a makeover. With a frame-only weight of 790 grams (including paint) for a size medium, Specialized claim it's the lightest production hardtail frame in existence. The new Epic is designed to be more capable and comfortable than the previous model, and while the bike was designed with the fastest racers in mind, it has handling that non-superhuman riders will be able to appreciate.
The Epic HT is available in seven different models, as well as a frame-only for the top of the line S-Works option. Prices start at $2,110 USD for the Carbon 29 model and rocket all the way up to $9,510 for the top of the line SRAM AXS equipped S-Works model shown here.
Epic HT Details
• Intended use: XC race
• Wheel size: 29"
• Boost 12x148
• Full carbon frame
• Two water bottle mounts
• Size: S through XL
• Weight: 19.0 lb / 8.6 kg
Frame weight: 790 g / 1.74 lb (size M)
• Complete price: $2,110 - $9,510 USD / S-Works frame only: $2,500
There are two different frames across the line. The standard Epic frame has a slightly different carbon layup and weighs about 140g more. It's still super stiff - rated at Specialized's 11m (the S-Works is 12m) and it is a little more affordable. All models are spec'd with Specialized's in-house components including handlebars and stems, seats, seatposts, tires, and Roval wheels.
Considerations were taken throughout the construction of the carbon frame by the design team at Specialized in order to take what they had with the previous Epic HT and optimize it even more for modern riding. The first and foremost consideration was to make the bike comfortable and compliant in order to deal with the increasingly technical World Cup racecourses. Weight was obviously a consideration, but it wasn't the number one priority.
What they ended up with was a bike that, from their testing, was not only better riding, but also a lot lighter - the S-Works frame weight came in at around 790g (1.74lb) for a size medium. That number is actually higher than what the frames that were on hand for the launch weighed in at - they were around 775 grams - but it's always better for a frame to weigh less than advertised rather than more.Frame Details
There are a number of updates to the frame for the new Epic HT. The dropouts are smaller and the seat stays are more narrow than the previous version. There's an increased amount of tire clearance, and the frame itself has a few more curves in it in order to save weight and meet Specialized's performance goals. It now comes with a 42mm offset fork, compared to the 51mm offset that was spec'd before.
The seat tube sizes up from 27.2mm to 30.9mm. While this goes a bit against conventional thinking, Specialized's team claims that it's more compliant than the 27.2 version thanks to the new shape of the tube and the smaller seat stays. Additionally, it allows much more compatibility with a wide range of dropper seatposts. The frame is now 1x only. This allows for more tire clearance and allowed the design team to remove some carbon in areas it wasn't needed on the frame, further lightening things.
With the frame overall, there was a fresh look at how the carbon was laid up and the bike was optimized to save weight in any way possible while still meeting the strength, stiffness, and compliance goals of the team. The carbon layup is different depending on the frame size in order to match the stiffness to the anticipated rider size - Specialized call this their 'Rider-First' tune. Geometry
Modernizing the Epic HT's geometry was also an important part of the design process. The reach increased across the board, with a size medium measuring 430mm, a large 455mm, and an XL 480mm. Those numbers aren't quite as long as what you'd see on a modern trail or enduro bike, but remember, the Epic HT is designed to be used with a 60-75mm long stem.
The headtube angle is 1.2-degrees slacker than before and now sits at 68.5-degrees. The seat tube angle stays the same at 74-degrees, and the chainstays measure 430mm.
The bottom bracket drops a couple of millimeters to keep the bike at the same level with the larger volume tires it is now spec'd with (there's room for 2.3" - 2.4" tires with room to spare).
Mike Kazimer and I have both spent some time on the new Epic HT. I've ridden it in Western North Carolina around my home in prime summer conditions, and he's spent time on it in California at Northstar Resort. These days, both of us spend most of our time on full-suspension bikes, and for good reason, but there's something to be said about the skills sharpening that occurs after spending time on a hardtail.
The Epic HT is no doubt made to climb. The S-Works frame is noticeably stiff and the transfer of power to the ground is solid, which is especially impressive given its super lightweight. The bike urges you to go faster and drop down a gear or two from what you may normally ride, especially if you're used to pedaling around a full suspension bike.
When pedaling over slightly rough terrain while seated the frame feels comfortable and does an admirable job (for a hardtail) of muting small bumps and trail chatter. It's flex-free while pedaling, but there's enough frame compliance to prevent your fillings from rattling out when you go blazing into a rocky section of trail. After several hours in the saddle, that little bit of give built into the frame and seatpost adds up.
While the RockShox SID Ultimate fork does have Specialized's Brain system in it, I found it unnecessary to use it most of the time, no matter if I was climbing or descending and typically ran it wide open. There are no doubt rides it could prove beneficial for, like the Leadville 100 that I'm going to give a go (on the Epic) this coming weekend, but for most of my riding around home, there's no need for it.
I've been enjoying my time on the Epic HT more than I'd expected. Sure, I'd love to add a dropper post on it, but I've been doing the 'Pisgah high-post' for the last couple weeks with little to no issues on many trails that will choke up full suspension bikes. The Epic is balanced while descending and shockingly quick. The progressive geometry of the bike makes it easy to stay centered and carry speed in smooth as well as rough and technical terrain. Of course, every once in a while I'll get a jarring reminder that there isn't any rear travel, but for a 19-pound, World Cup race machine, the new Epic HT is a surprisingly well-rounded speed demon.
I'll have more thoughts on the Epic HT in the coming weeks. I'll be spending the better part of a day on it racing the Leadville 100 this weekend in Colorado and may even find a dropper post for it after that's wrapped up.