I’ve done the Laramie Enduro endurance mountain bike race several times now and the event never disappoints with a surprisingly entertaining mix of singletrack and dirt roads, fantastic views of the Wyoming high desert, and more than 7,000ft of climbing – all at least 7,500ft above sea level. I’ve historically opted for some sort of trail bike on race day but this time around, I decided to try a slightly different tack: less suspension but more wheel-and-tyre, all centred around a custom-built Specialized S-Works Epic 29 World Cup.
- The course: The Laramie Enduro, a mountain bike endurance race near Laramie, Wyoming. 111km/69mi in length with more than 7,000ft of climbing, held over a mix of dirt roads and modestly technical singletrack
- The equipment goal: A hyper-efficient XC full-suspension 29er with high-volume tyres, a lightweight dropper post, and enough storage capacity that I could leave my jersey pockets empty
- The horse: A custom-built Specialized S-Works Epic 29 World Cup
My bike choices for Laramie have always been quite similar: something fast, light, and efficient but still reasonably comfortable and capable of some rowdiness. But whereas I went into last year’s event as a bleary-eyed new father short on saddle time and heavy on the scale, this time around I was actively training for the six-day Breck Epic mountain bike stage race (which would follow just a week later). I didn’t just want to make it to the finish line; I wanted to get there quickly.
When it comes to getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible on a cross-country trail, there are few better choices than an S-Works Epic
As such, efficiency took on a higher priority but I still wasn’t willing to go with a hardtail (I am old, after all). Instead, I opted for the next best thing: a Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup, custom outfitted through the company’s recently introduced ‘S-Build’ program.
The SRAM XX1 1x11 drivetrain and Guide RSC brakes, Specialized carbon fibre flat bar and S-Works Phenom saddle, and my trusty Shimano XTR Race pedals were fairly straightforward choices but I went distinctly off-script for the wheels and tyres.
Instead of using rims with a more typical 21-24mm internal width, I went straight to the Roval Traverse SL 29 Fattie with 30mm-wide (internal width) carbon fibre, all wrapped up in big-but-speedy 2.2in-wide Specialized Fast Trak low-knob tyres. The thinking here was that the minimal tread and voluminous casing would yield a very low rolling resistance while still allowing for a lower-than-usual tyre pressure and plenty of cushioning for the rougher sections of the course.
Two large bottles and a tyre repair kit inside the front triangle on a medium-sized full-suspension frame? Oh hell yeah
A few other bits were also a bit unorthodox. I traded the stock S-Works carbon crankset for a Rotor InPower power meter, for example, gaining valuable power data but also an extra 212g (0.47lb). While I was at it, I also took the liberty of ditching the cheap plastic PF30 bottom bracket cups for an Enduro TorqTite threaded bottom bracket with XD-15 angular contact hybrid ceramic bearings.
Adding another couple hundred grams was Specialized’s new Command Post XCP, an XC-oriented dropper post made with a carbon fibre body and offering a minimal 35mm of travel. Finally, I bolted up a set of Spirgrips, which mount inboard of the grips and provide a supplemental hand position – something I deemed essential for the long stretches of wind-blown dirt roads I knew lay before me.
Fully outfitted, the bike still ended up light but not ridiculously so at 11.69kg (25.77lb).
The Rotor INpower power meter added a lot of weight over the S-Works carbon crank it replaced but I was happy to have the data during the race
Time to go racing!
Just as I’d hoped, the Epic was an absolute rocket under power with its ultra-efficient suspension design (and no lockout levers or dials to fiddle with during the race) and awesome overall frame rigidity – particularly out back with this World Cup variant’s hugely oversized chainstays.
Likewise, the wheelset oozed speed despite being heavier than a usual cross-country race setup. The large casing volume, low-knob tread design, supple casing materials, and low pressure (just 19psi front and 21psi rear) absolutely devoured the long stretches of dirt road while still offering fantastic grip on the numerous sections of fast, rocky, and rooty singletrack scattered in between.
Fat rims, big tyres, and a low-knob tread design make for a fast yet grippy combo
It was there that I also grew to appreciate those Spirgrip handlebar extensions. Not only did they give me somewhere else to put my hands, they also let me adopt a flat-back, pseudo-aero position that helped me save energy and go faster. I still wish they were made of a lighter material (they’re quite chunky at 115g per pair) but these are undoubtedly going to find their way on to whatever bike I decide to use at next year’s race.
While I was pleasantly surprised with how well the rolling stock worked out, there were no surprises at all with the drivetrain or braking components. SRAM has rightfully been the target of much ire over the past year for its woeful Elixir brake reliability but the new Guides couldn’t be more of a turnaround, handily beating Shimano in terms of outright power and (more importantly) control and as far as I’ve been able to tell, equaling the Japanese giant for reliability.
SRAM is back in the brake game in a big way thanks to the stellar Guides
Likewise, the XX1 1x11 transmission was as flawless as ever, reliably rattling off shifts even after being blasted with moon dust-like silt, doused in dung-infested irrigation ditches, and coated in a patina of mud (a liberal helping of Squirt chain lube before the start may have helped).
As it turned out, I was also awfully happy to have power data on hand. I have a nasty tendency of going out too hard and blowing up early (spare me the jokes, people) but with a Garmin Edge 510 computer constantly feeding me information from the Rotor InPower crankset, I was always able to stay within my limits, going as hard as I knew I was capable when needed but consciously staying belong certain outputs when I knew I needed to recover.
While I was really happy with the auto-locking rear suspension, I wasn't quite as thrilled with it up front
That all said, there were still a few things I would change were I able to do it all over again.
The terrain-sensing Brain rear shock did a great job of switching between locked-out and active modes (mostly) seamlessly but I can’t say I was nearly as fond of the similarly equipped fork. Despite plenty of fiddling in the weeks leading up to the race, it remained clunky off the top and always felt like there was less travel available than there was. To be fair, I’ve never been a huge fan of auto-locking forks and had high hopes for Specialized’s latest but it looks like it’s back to standard damper setups for me.
I was also a little disappointed in the Command Post XCP dropper. Although I love the idea of a lightweight dropper post for cross-country applications – and can barely get by on my trail and enduro bikes without one now – the minuscule amount of movement just wasn’t enough to justify the added weight. That said, there is also a 50mm-travel version provided your leg length can handle a 400mm-long post.
35mm of travel just wasn't enough to justify the weight
Best ride ever
Overall, I crossed the finish line happy with the majority of my equipment choices and only a handful of things I would do differently. More importantly, though, I also finished with my best placing to date at the Laramie Enduro: 47th overall out of 421 starters, and with nearly the same time earned five years prior by a much younger and fitter me.
My overall time wasn't fast by real racer standards but it was fast enough for me
How much of that was due to the bike, and how much was due to me? Well, as always, it’s still the rider putting out the power and by all accounts, 2015 was my best season in years. That said, the bike certainly didn’t hurt and very likely helped at least a little.
Mission accomplished? I’d say so.
For more information, visit www.specialized.com.
- Frame: Specialized S-Works Epic 29 World Cup, 95mm travel
- Rear shock: Fox/Specialized remote Mini-Brain
- Fork: RockShox SID World Cup Brain 29, 100mm travel
- Headset: 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in tapered, integrated
- Stem: Ritchey WCS 4-Axis, 70mm
- Handlebar: Specialized FACT Carbon flat with SpirGrips
- Grips: Specialized XC Race XL (glued on)
- Front brake: SRAM Guide RSC hydraulic disc with 160mm Centerline rotor
- Rear brake: SRAM Guide RSC hydraulic disc with 160mm Centerline rotor
- Brake levers: SRAM Guide RSC
- Front derailleur: n/a
- Rear derailleur: SRAM XX1
- Shift levers: SRAM XX1 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM XX1, 10-42T
- Chain: SRAM PC-XX1
- Crankset: Rotor InPower power meter, 175mm, 30T Q-Ring
- Bottom bracket: Enduro TorqTite XD-15 PF30
- Pedals: Shimano XTR Race PD-M9000
- Wheelset: Roval Traverse SL Fattie 29
- Front tyre: Specialized Fast Trak Control, 29x2.2in
- Rear tyre: Specialized Fast Trak Control, 29x2.2in
- Saddle: Specialized S-Works Phenom
- Seatpost: Specialized Command Post XCP
- Accessories: Specialized SWAT top cap chain tool, Specialied integrated mini-tool, Specialized SWAT storage box, Specialized Zee Cage II (2), Bar Fly 3.0 Garmin computer mount, Incredibell
- Total weight: 11.69kg (25.77lb, complete, as raced)