As if the standard Specialized Epic Expert Carbon wasn't already sufficiently purpose built for cross-country riding and racing, there's the even edgier World Cup version that features slightly reduced and more firmly tuned suspension travel, quicker handling, and beefed-up carbon chain stays that will only work with 1x drivetrains. Riders looking for a do-all XC rig might want to look elsewhere – but if racing is your gig, this could very easily be your tailor-made machine to match.
Highs: Super efficient Brain front and rear lockouts; ultra-agile handling, smart parts pick, slick optional SWAT accessory kit
Lows: Limited versatility, fragile tyres on our review machine, so-so brakes
Ride and handling: efficient – and very fast
Much as we love the do-it-all utility of a good trail bike, there's simply no substitute for a dedicated XC rig when it comes to covering relatively tame ground in as little time as possible – especially when there's a lot of climbing involved. To this end, the Epic Expert Carbon World Cup is exceedingly good at its job.
The firm suspension tunes and highly effective Brain automatic lockouts feel genuinely hardtail-like in terms of pedaling efficiency – stomp down and this thing absolutely shoots forward with absolutely zero unwanted movement. Unlike hardtails, though, there's still 95mm of well-tuned suspension travel at either end to save your bacon when things go pear-shaped, plus it provides a big boost in drive and cornering traction that hardtails simply can't match, especially when conditions are loose and rocky.
The Epic Expert Carbon World Cup might not be our first choice for an everyday trail bike but it's awesome for XC-focused racing and riding
The matched front and rear inertia valve internals also yield a superbly balanced, cohesive, and highly predictable feel on the trail and Specialized's latest revision on the long-standing auto-lockout concept is better than ever at knowing when – and when not to – keep the damper valves open.
Based on Specialized's long-standing FSR four-bar rear end design and SRAM's excellent SID fork, both the rear shock and fork are impressively supple off the top with very good bottom-out control for bigger impacts. The stiff carbon fibre front triangle and chainstays – bolstered by front and rear thru-axles – are more than happy to be pushed hard through bumpy sections of trail, too.
The front and rear Brain-equipped, auto-locking fork and shock yield a balanced and brutally efficient ride
Much as Specialized insists otherwise, though, you're still always aware that its Brain auto-lockout technology is underfoot as you can feel each time the system opens up for that first impact, particularly in the firmer tune of this World Cup edition. It takes some time to get over the feeling that you're repeatedly bottoming out the rim, plus we never found it to quite match the glued-to-the-ground feeling of a well designed suspension platform that's open full-time.
Nevertheless, there's no debating that it just flat-out works – even though it sometimes just doesn't feel all that good.
The World Cup's modified geometry with its shorter rear end, tidy wheelbase, and steep head tube angle also demands constant attention. Compared with the more stable personalities of slacker-angled machines, the World Cup is aggressively point-and-shoot in its demeanour. The nimble handling is exceptionally maneuverable and the bike faithfully goes where you aim it – right now – but it's also less forgiving of mistakes.
The World Cup version of the Epic features a shorter rear end, steeper angles, and slightly reduced travel
Not surprisingly, then, the Epic Expert Carbon World Cup is also admirably light. Actual weight for our medium-sized sample is 10.34kg (22.80lb) without pedals and stripped of the non-included storage accessories, and the short head tube results in an appropriate butt-up, head-down riding position for racing.
Frame: Clever engineering yields a surprising amount of room
That Specialized built the Epic Expert Carbon World Cup around a lightweight carbon fibre main triangle, carbon chainstays, and aluminium seat stays isn't much of a surprise (although the positively enormous 1x-only chain stays are definitely visually striking – and stiff). The mixed materials offer most of the performance benefits of the all-carbon S-Works flagship but at a lower price point and with just a bit more weight.
A carbon main triangle and huge carbon chainstays are matched to welded aluminium seatstays
Stripped bare, our medium-sized frame and proprietary rear shock came in at just 2.41kg (5.31lb) including the rear mech hanger, seatpost collar, and water bottle bolts.
Also coming as no surprise are some of the frame's features, which include a tapered head tube, a PressFit 30 oversized bottom bracket shell, internal cable routing (with options for external rear brake routing and interchangeable ports to accommodate different drivetrains or even the upcoming Command Post XCP stealth-style dropper seatpost), a 142x12mm rear thru-axle, and molded chain stay armouring.
The internal cable routing is very well thought out
A revamped shock layout borrowed from Specialized's Enduro range yields a noticeably cleaner and more streamlined appearance, too.
What was wholly unexpected prior to the bike's introduction last summer, however, are its impressive storage features. Dubbed SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools), the complete system comprises a mini-tool that snaps into a dedicated recess just above the forward shock mount; a small plastic bolt-on box with enough room for a spare inner tube, CO2 cartridge, and inflator head; and even a chain tool (with spare master link!) that resides inside the steerer tube.
The SWAT bits are optional but we highly recommend them
Thanks to some exceptionally clever packaging, there's enough room inside the main triangle to hold two large water bottles – even on our medium frame.
All of the SWAT stuff is unfortunately optional but after using it for several months (all of which were gloriously hydration pack-free), we now can't imagine heading out without them. Bolting all of it on adds an extra 530g (1.17lb) but it's still better than lugging a big pack around.
Equipment: Smart racing-focused gear
The build kit on the Epic Expert Carbon World Cup mimics the frame's focus on racing with highlights that include an X01 1x11 transmission and custom S-2220 carbon cranks from SRAM, Roval Control Carbon 29 142+ tubeless (and hookless) carbon wheels, Magura MTS hydraulic disc brakes, and a smattering of Specialized-branded gear filling out the other line items.
Shift performance was flawless from the SRAM X01 transmission
We have nothing but praise for the X01 transmission, which rattles off shifts just as reliably and quickly as the (slightly) more expensive XX1 version and still provides a sufficiently broad range for strong and fit racer-types, all while running with stealthy quietness thanks to the clutch-equipped rear derailleur. One might argue that the darker finishes relative to XX1 look a little more businesslike, too.
Another winner is the wheelset, which weighs in right around 1,600g for the set but features a generously wide 22mm rim profile – wider, in fact, than some companies' so-called 'trail' offerings. They're reasonably stiff and have a decently quick 10-degree engagement speed, the DT Swiss-made internals should be very reliable, and their hookless, tubeless-compatible rims are impressively forward-thinking.
Roval Control Carbon 29 142+ wheels are wrapped with Specialized-branded tyres
We had no issues repeatedly bashing the Roval Control Carbon 29 142+ wheels into Colorado's endless supply of sharp rocks and it was no problem seating fresh tyres on to the rims with a high-volume floor pump. Interchangeable axle end caps also provide compatibility with just about every axle standard out there, although Specialized's proprietary 142+ flange spacing will sadly limit the frames on which those wheels can go.
The brakes were more of a mixed bag. While the modulation was exceptional, the overall power is somewhat lacking and the lever feel a bit vague, particularly compared with just about anything offered by Shimano these days. We occasionally experienced a bit of fade (and squealing) on particularly long and demanding downhills, too, and the lever ergonomics didn't seem as natural to us as other brakes with lever pivots positioned closer to the bar.
The Magura MTS brakes provide excellent modulation but could use more power
Otherwise, the rest of the Specialized bits performed very well. While some might want a little more room than the stock 700mm-wide aluminium bar provides, there's at least a comfy eight-degree backsweep and no rise to mess with the fit. Meanwhile, the matching aluminium stem and fixed seatpost were both fairly basic but got the job done.
All of those components are prime targets for future upgrades, too, if you eventually wanted to shed some weight. The seatpost's narrow 27.2mm diameter will restrict your options for droppers, though.
The aluminium flat bar is relatively narrow at 700mm across
We found the stock Phenom Comp saddle to be outstanding, however, with durable support coming from the thin and dense padding but comfort for hours thanks to the smart shaping and central cutout.
The final word
Versatile the Specialized Epic Expert Carbon World Cup is not – nor is it remotely cheap – but it's a really well executed example of a purpose-built machine. We'd probably look elsewhere for everyday trail rides but when it comes time for a cross-country race or short track event, this thing is just about perfect.
Complete bike specifications:
- Frame: Specialized Epic Expert Carbon World Cup
- Rear shock: FOX/Specialized remote Mini-Brain w/ AUTOSAG
- Fork: Custom RockShox SID 29 Brain
- Headset: 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in integrated
- Stem: Specialized XC
- Handlebar: Specialized XC
- Grips: Specialized Sip Grip
- Front brake: Magura MTS, 160mm rotor (180mm for L, XL sizes)
- Rear brake: Magura MTS, 160mm rotor
- Brake levers: Magura MTS
- Rear derailleur: SRAM X01
- Shift lever: SRAM X01 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM X01, 10-42T
- Chain: SRAM XX1
- Crankset: SRAM S-2200 BB30, 32T
- Bottom bracket: SRAM PressFit 30
- Pedals: n/a
- Wheelset: Roval Control Carbon 29 142+
- Front tyre: Specialized S-Works Fast Trak, 29 x 2.0in
- Rear tyre: Specialized Renegade Control, 29 x 1.95in
- Saddle: Specialized Body Geometry Phenom Comp
- Seatpost: Specialized 2014 butted alloy