Tested by Nic “U-turn” Hall | Action Photos by Dusten Ryen
The Specialized Epic is one of the most famous and revered bikes. It has won countless medals, propelled racers to records, and made local XC-pinners into the group’s hero (or dreaded adversary) on the weekly loop. Despite the bike’s pedigree, Specialized didn’t sit back for another year of churning out the same old, same old. Wanting to keep pace with newer, more aggressive XC tracks and the speed and level of average riders on their local terrain, Specialized has just released the new Epic and Epic Evo.
The 2020 Epic is the next step in the evolution of this pure-bred race machine. Meanwhile, the new Epic Evo is Specialized’s interpretation of what a pinner trail rider is looking to ride while crushing his friend’s souls on climbs while still being able to ride with his aggro buddies who stopped shaving their legs ten years ago to embrace long travel and knee pads.
For me, this story really starts back in the early 2000’s when I was first getting into mountain biking. All I could afford at the time were used hard tail cross-country bikes and I ended up riding with that XC crowd. They showed me the long epics all over the PNW and I was hooked. A few years later I got my first taste of riding downhill bikes and I hadn’t really touched an XC bike since. When I heard that Specialized had something new coming to the market, I was excited to see how far cross-country bikes had come, and boy was I surprised.
Specialized designed the Epic Evo to be the fastest trail bike available. It’s for riders who aren’t just chasing checkered flags but are looking to also attempt new features, shred corners faster and climb peaks faster. They took the front half of the race-designed Epic and designed a purpose-built rear end and stiff shock link to work with a non-proprietary Metric shock. The new Rx-Tuned shock sports 110mm of travel and the new link offers a 2.8:1 leverage ratio to compliment the longer 120mm fork’s bump-eating capabilities.
The Epic Evo, not only ditches the proprietary shock, but also adds 10mm of rear travel and a new rear triangle, while still retaining the weight of a competitive World Cup XC bike. The seat tube angle on the Epic Evo is ¾ of an angle steeper than its predecessor while the head tube on the Epic Evo is a bit slacker and sits at 66.5 degrees. The bottom bracket is a little lower than the standard Epic, but a flip chip allows it to be moved up if needed, which we never found ourselves doing. The flip chip not only raises the BB 6mm, but also steepens the bike half a degree and brings the head tube to 67.
The frame and linkage are built of Specialized’s FACT carbon and is reportedly 15% stiffer than previous generations while remaining 100g lighter. In fact, our size large is under 22lbs in the Epic Evo S-Works trim out of the box!
Suspension is handled by the new Rock Shox SID fork and SID Luxe rear shock, which are very impressive in their own right, stay tuned for a full review coming soon. Knowing that a bike is only as good as the wheels it rolls on, Specialized set out to design a brand new wheel that we went over a few weeks back. Be sure to check out these impressive hoops here. The Roval Control SL wheels are 29mm wide and only 1,240g for a complete wheelset with offset spokes and a symmetric profile. The Ground Control and Fast Track tires are fast-rolling, not the grippiest but extremely stylish in their gum wall appearance.
Component wise, the Epic Evo S-Works is kitted in full SRAM AXS with G2 Ultimate brakes. The wireless shifting and dropper create an ultra-minimalist cockpit. The rotors are both 160mm but when coupled with four piston brakes, proved to be sufficient. The bars and stem are Roval carbon with titanium hardware. No detail was overlooked on this bike and it shows in the total package.
THE DIRT Evolving from a purebred XC race bike, you would expect the Epic Evo to climb well. But it is more than impressive on the way up the hill. Every pedal stroke provides direct acceleration. When coupled with the featherweight build, the Epic Evo flies up climbs. I found myself mashing gears two or three rings down the cassette from where I normally ride with similar effort and heart rate compared to other trail bikes. One of the most telling evaluations was when I handed the bike over to a buddy for a small section of the climb; he said, “Why aren’t we all riding these bikes?” It is truly amazing how fast and agile the Epic Evo is on the way up. We had another early sample XC-trail bike in the test stable that was an absolute rocket and I bested my climb time on that and every other bike by 6 minutes on a 60-minute climb.
Tight switchbacks are handled with ease thanks to the steeper head tube and comfortable seat tube angle. We never found the bike wandering on climbs and out of the saddle efforts are rewarded with quick spin up and savage acceleration. We had to thank the fast rolling tires and ultralight wheels that also add up to making us feel like a young Ned Overend. Shoot, even an old Ned Overend would kick our butts uphill, who are we kidding.
Despite the bike’s insane capabilities going up, we have a sordid history with descending on XC machines, with several broken bones, wheels and tires to support our follies. The Epic Evo differs from the race-bred Epic in that it sets the rider up to not have walk the tight rope between speed and carnage. The lower and slacker geometry and 120mm Rock Shox Sid fork provides a stable and confident position which led to more than a few PRs on our descents. The new SID fork and rear shock squeeze every bit of performance out of the bike and impressed our testers with front end rigidity in corners and rough sections of trail that we didn’t think a 22-pound XC could offer.
The quick rolling tires are definitely there to provide for quicker ups than downs and once the trails started to dry out, the front tire was searching for traction and left us feeling a bit nervous about dipping the bike hard into loose corners. The rear broke free at any hint of rear brake or overzealous front-end weighting but tires are a pretty region and rider specific complaint.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you search out the longest backcountry trails or like to get to the top of your local spot at record time, you may want to take the Epic Evo S-Works for a spin. While it can get out of shape on bigger lines, we could just hop it over to a better line if needed. We have definitely come full circle on cross country bikes and will be riding the Epic Evo until they pry it from our fingerless gloved grasp. It is just as fast uphill as it is down and redefines what a XC bike can be.
Specialized has done a really good job of taking one bike and making it equally competitive for two different types of riders. Whether you’re a full-blown lycra-wearing XC racer counting grams on your water bottle cages before racing the Epic Evo S-Works, or a high-level trail rider who wants the tool to get him up the hill with the fastest but has a bit more travel for playing with some chunky lines on the way down, the new Specialized Epic and Epic Evo are worth a look. They are both bikes designed to find every last bit of speed on the trail, they just look for that speed in slightly different places.
Racing Green with Gum Walls
Constantly Setting PRs
S-Works Price Tag
Taking it on Trails Beyond its Intended XC Specification
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