Specialized Epic FSR Comp Carbon World Cup review£2,900.00

Stripped-back auto-suspension race legend

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Specialized split its Epic line between focused World Cup racers and more general XC bikes a few years back, but with the Camber on point for fast trail/XC riding, the Epics now all use the radical WC chassis. The Comp matches the carbon front half with an alloy rear to save you money, but it’s still a distinctively pure race rig.

With well over a decade of refinement, the Epic chassis is looking properly ripped. Flowing and split-reinforced main tubes triangulate the S-kinked, offset seat tube that carries the main and rocker-link pivots.

The symmetrical, single-ring-specific 142x12mm rear end is equally neat, while the integration of the ‘Brain’ valve, big linking hose and rear shock through the tiny FSR linkage is a work of art. Internal mainframe cable routing is very tidy too, with pre-fitted rub patches and linking clips. There’s the option of fitting external brake hose guides for easier servicing.

The two-tone paint of the Torch edition is a homage to the thermal paint used on Spesh’s Rio Olympics bikes, but there’s a black option too
The two-tone paint of the Torch edition is a homage to the thermal paint used on Spesh’s Rio Olympics bikes, but there’s a black option too

The 2.2in rear tyre is as large as you’ll be able to go in intermediate conditions though and 2.0in would be wise in muddy conditions if you want to fit a grippy tyre through the stays.

As it stands, the 71-degree head angle and 100mm stem are all about drag strip, straight line handling

The key component in the Epic arsenal is the spring-loaded inertia valve in the Brain chamber near the rear wheel. This keeps the compression damping circuit of the conventionally mounted small-volume rear shock closed until vertical wheel force bounces it open, and shuts it as soon as the impact forces stop or drop below the adjustable preset threshold.

The RockShox Reba RL fork uses a standard leg-top compression damping adjuster rather than a remote, plus you get 180mm rotors at both ends to boost the power of the Shimano brakes.

Robustly reliable SRAM GX sorts out the 1x11 shifting, but it has a heavy NX-grade cassette and the Race Face single-ring crankset is mounted in a reducer spacer to fit the PF30 bottom bracket (BB). Skinny own-brand Roval Control 29er wheels are shod in Specialized’s minimal tread, maximum speed Fast Trak Control 2.2 tyres, and it also provides the low-rise 720mm bar, 100mm stem with cutaway top cap, alloy seatpost and comfortable Phenom saddle.

Specialized Epic FSR Comp Carbon World Cup ride

The Brain inertia valve chamber hangs vertically from the seatstay, just ahead of the rear rotor, to sense impacts as efficiently as possible
The Brain inertia valve chamber hangs vertically from the seatstay, just ahead of the rear rotor, to sense impacts as efficiently as possible

The Epic is not a trail bike. We know some people who’ve added a 120mm fork, standard shock, dropper post and chunkier tyres, but they should probably just have bought a Camber (which, with those bits as standard, is only a kilo heavier).

As it stands, the 71-degree head angle and 100mm stem are all about drag strip, straight line handling. Add the super-fast-rolling 29er tyres and it feels like the end of every straight and top of every distant hill is hauling you in at crazy speeds like a tractor beam.

With the compression damper on the fork knocked back to a firm setting to match the stand-up-pedalling-proof Brain, the big chainstays and BB ensure every watt transmitted through the pedals goes into the warp-speed mix. Even with the Brain shut, there’s enough give in the skinny 27.2mm seatpost and frame to mimic the smoothness of a friendly, fatigue-reducing hardtail.

Put a few trees, off-cambers or berms into the mix, though, and you’ll have a whole new respect for how fast the pros can whip their Epics through singletrack. Minimal grip, heavy and lurch-prone steering, and significant front-end flex that fudges what control feedback there is, mean even mildly technical trails aren’t a relaxing experience.

While the 90mm of rear travel will suck up subsequent impacts to sustain speed and keep the tyre connected, the first sizeable wallop is always met with a noticeable ‘loose axle’ style clunk as the Brain wakes up, even in its most sensitive, minimum-preload setting.

Even if you’re used to ’90s-style hardtail handling, and like the way the Epic arrows forwards on simpler trails but still filters out the biggest hits, it’s cruder and less forgiving than the KTM Scarp 29 Elite and Merida Ninety-Six 9.XT, which don’t lose anything in terms of speed.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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