Last year, Specialized overhauled the Epic,
their XC race bike to boost its technical performance in the wake of modern XC courses. The new version still uses Specialized's Brain suspension technology, although it has been significantly revised to make it more effective.
The crew at Specialized has added the term "EVO" onto several models in the past. Historically, with mountain bikes, it has meant that the bike is going to have a similar frame with a burlier parts spec, and the Epic EVO follows suit. Using the same 100mm travel frame as the standard Epic, the EVO sports a little more suspension up front, wider handlebars, larger volume tires, and a dropper post. This should not only help it navigate technical trails, but it should be more comfortable for long days in the saddle.
Specialized Epic Evo Details
• Intended use: XC/trail
• Wheel size: 29"
• Rear wheel travel: 100mm
• Boost 12x148
• 68.5-degree head angle
• Carbon frame
• Two water bottle mounts
• Sizes: S through XL (medium tested)
• Weight: 27.05 lbs (medium, dirty, with XTR pedals)
• Dropper post
• Available July/August
• Price: $5,800 USD - Expert Carbon (Tested), $3,200 - Comp Alloy
In keeping with other EVO models from Specialized, the Epic Evo is the shored up version of their standard XC racer. Rather than developing an entirely new frame for the Evo, Specialized added a longer travel, 120mm fork, wider 750mm bars, a 125mm X-Fusion dropper post, and 2.3" tires. The longer travel fork helps to slacken out the bike and brings the head angle to 68.5-degrees, one degree slacker than the purebred Epic.Frame Details Small details:
The frame is kept clean with internal cable routing throughout. There's room for two water bottles on the inside of the frame, and the Epic frame's seat tube is short enough to accept a dropper post with a reasonably long stroke. Suspension updates:
Gone is the FSR four-bar suspension as seen on many of Specialized's other bikes. The seatstay/chainstay pivot has been removed and the Epic uses a flex-stay design. The Brain sensor and remote reservoir is now mounted near the rear axle of the bike and connected through a hose to the shock. According to Specialized's suspension expert Mike McAndrews, this was the best way to get the performance they needed in the space they were working with.Fox Stepcast 34 Performance Fork:
Fox's 34mm fork has 120mm of travel on the EVO. It uses Fox's GRIP damper and has 44mm of offset.Brain:
Specialized's Brain shock technology helps control the rear suspension. The shock is designed to isolate feedback from the rider and trail so that the suspension is firm while you're hammering on the pedals, but opens up when the trail becomes rough.
Frame Options / Build Kits
There are two different frames and build options for the Epic EVO. The Epic Expert EVO Carbon sports a Fox Stepcast 34, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, and Roval Control Carbon wheels with a 25mm internal width. The Epic Comp EVO has an M5 aluminum alloy frame. The frame is built using Specialized's D'Aluisio Smartweld Technology. It has a 120mm travel RockShox Reba RL fork, SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, and Specialized Roval Control Alloy wheels, also 25mm internally. Both bikes use the custom RockShox Micro Brain Shock with the Autosag feature.
Specialized aimed to make a bike that was more comfortable for long days in the saddle and capable of handling a wider variety of trails with the Epic EVO. The bike has a 73.8-degree seat tube angle and 68.5-degree head tube angle. Chainstays are 438mm, keeping the bike nimble in the turns
I've been riding the Epic EVO Expert Carbon for almost two months now, so I've had a decent amount of time to develop some impressions of it. The conditions that I've been riding in are standard Western North Carolina summer fare: 85-degrees F and 100% humidity. I usually ride to Pisgah National Forest from my house, so an XC bike with the ability to run two water bottles was a welcome addition to the stable. I also spent a fair amount of time logging miles in the rolling hills of DuPont State Forest down the road.
As harsh as it can be in the summer, I've been enjoying just getting out and riding however long I feel like it whenever time allows. While the trails around here are certainly fun on a longer-travel bike, I've grown to enjoy riding snappier more XC oriented rigs that don't feel like a burden if I end up on a lot of dirt roads, but also can hold their own descending demanding terrain.
Brevard, NC, USAAge:
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: I've spent a generous amount of time on the last few generations of the Epic. The new one is noticeably better in a lot of ways, but it's most noticeable in the extremes of climbing and descending. I know that a lot of people love to hate Specialized's Brain shock system, but let's be honest here. It was at one point in time, really bad. The Brain suffered a lot of failures, shops couldn't service it, it rode awkwardly, and it seemed like It was a crutch to help manage the suspension feedback on the frame.
Try to compartmentalize your memories of the old Brain shock like a bad relationship, because the new one is different. Yes, there's still some "clunking" that can be noticed when it engages and disengages over roots and rough terrain, but what I noticed this time is that the bike sticks to the ground. The Epic likes to go uphill, and fast. While the wider handlebars and dropper post tend to somewhat obscure the feeling of being on an XC race frame, the ability to drop a gear or two deeper into the cassette than I would normally ride when going up whatever climb is a reminder of its racing heritage. I would say that the Epic hurts to ride at times because it begs to be pushed harder, especially when climbing.
The bike is easy to negotiate through just about whatever when going uphill. While you can feel the Brain doing its thing, it is quickly forgotten. I found that I had plenty of traction whenever I needed it and wasn't losing power to the pedals at other times. I ran the Brain both fully engaged and wide open. The bike does have a little bit of bob when it's open, but not as much as expected. The shock works well so I ran it in the firm position almost all of the time. The bike was equally at home cranking out miles while climbing up fire roads and grinding up steep sections of rooted singletrack.Descending
: Riding any shorter travel bike downhill on technical terrain can be exciting. The head angle feels slacker than it actually is and the dropper post allows you to confidently get behind the bike and ride it like a longer travel trail rig. I found myself needing to consciously say, "hey, don't be a dumbass, this is how you're going to get hurt" while riding the bike. I found myself able to descend most trails at the same speed that I would on a longer travel bike, if not faster - until it came to prolonged sections of larger chunder. It gets up to speed quickly and feels comfortable hauling ass when things are smoother and predictable, but launching into more challenging pieces of trail, as fun as it is, can put you over the limits of the bike. You'll remember It is a 100/120mm travel bike.
Riding the Epic EVO is a good experience. Being able to seamlessly transition from climbing to descending and not fiddle with the shock, (no matter how easy it is to do manually on your current bike) is a plus. The bike performs well and I have had no issues with it at this point. It's a great machine to just get on and go wherever. For me, its versatility is what makes it one of my go-to rides at the moment. While it's going to be a little under gunned on some overly rough sections of trail, with a little bit of finesse, it can negotiate its way through without being sketchy in a "hey, this isn't really fun" kind of way, and I still have the efficiency to pedal back to my house. No need to load up the car.Issues
One area that was under-powered was certainly braking. SRAM Level TL's are a good brake and the set on my bike may have had one of the better brake bleeds I've ever felt, but they were not up to the amplitude for what the bike is capable of. For an EVO style bike, I think that a more powerful brake option (or larger rotors) would better serve the Epic EVO. If it were my bike, in keeping with the SRAM spec, a set of Guide RC's would be a good fit. Perhaps I'll incorporate that upgrade for a long-term review.