Specialized Epic Expert review£4,800.00

XC race whippet with serious trail potential

BikeRadar score4/5

The Epic has notched up a staggering 96 major victories over the years, but Specialized was determined to make it lighter, faster and smarter for 2018.

  • The Specialized Epic Expert is one of our key bikes for 2018. We've collated eleven bikes that we believe you should know about in the coming year. Some are super bikes, while others might display great value for money, but they all have one thing in common -—they're all important bikes that show how incredibly varied road and mountain biking is today.

The Epic Expert boasts Specialized’s ‘Brain’ system, which uses a tunable inertia valve to dictate the level of pedalling efficiency. For 2018, the Brain reservoir has been moved just behind the rear axle and its oil path has been improved, to increase its sensitivity and accuracy, and deliver more grip on the trail.

Specialized has also reduced weight significantly, claiming to have shed a whopping 525g from the Epic Expert’s frame alone. This saving has, in part, come from removing the chainstay pivots and instead relying on flex in the rear triangle to help deliver the Epic’s 100mm (formerly 95mm) of rear wheel travel.

Geometry has been given a working over too, with 10mm added to the reach across all sizes. The head angle is a slacker 69.5-degree and the bike is designed to use a fork with a shorter 42mm offset. Topping things off nicely is internal routing for a dropper seatpost, although Specialized doesn’t include one with any of the Epic models.

The Expert component package helps to create a seriously cohesive ride. Aside from a problem with the Brain unit, which required me to swap the test bike (the replacement has been fine), I had no major issues with kit reliability. The Specialized Fast Trak tyres do struggle in soft mud though and puncture quite easily. I’d recommend making the switch to a tubeless set-up. I also had to crank the saddle clamp up tight to prevent it creaking.

The Epic Expert is a supremely confident race machine that feels accurate in corners and comfortable at pace
The Epic Expert is a supremely confident race machine that feels accurate in corners and comfortable at pace

Specialized Epic Expert ride impression

Push on the pedals and the Epic feels taut under power, accelerating rapidly and climbing with little exertion. The suspension feel has a lot to do with this. Specialized’s Brain system has five settings to choose from, ranging from ‘soft’ to ‘firm’. In the firmest shock setting, the Epic sits up in its travel and, even when you’re out of the saddle pedalling hard, there’s next to no suspension bob. When you do thump the rear wheel into an edge, the suspension comes alive. This is accompanied by a dull knock through the frame, which takes a little getting used to, but is easy to forgive if you’re racing.

In the softest mode, pedalling isn’t as efficient, though the ride is noticeably comfier and quieter. The settings in-between these extremes balance traction with efficiency well, and I found myself toggling the ‘Brain Fade’ lever between the second and third (from softest) positions for most of the test, especially when riding trails blind.

The Epic out in Peille, France

Up front, I found that leaving the Brain-equipped RockShox SID fork in the softest setting provided the best control, especially on technical climbs, where it felt less fidgety when the going got steep. Too firm and the front wheel would lurch and skip from bump to bump rather than track the terrain. Open it back up and the Epic would claw its way confidently up some pretty steep pitches, providing the rear tyre had enough traction.

Once you get comfortable with the suspension settings, you’re rewarded on the trail. Speed into a fast, undulating section and the wide bar, revised geometry and shorter fork offset come together to produce a supremely confident race machine that feels accurate in corners and comfortable at pace. Things don’t feel twitchy or nervous as you navigate natural technical descents or chewed-up, high-speed sections of trail.

While the fast-rolling, higher-volume front tyre helps to provide a little extra cushioning up front and is rapid on hardpack surfaces, its shallow tread means it can feel pretty dicey in soft mud. Adding a tyre with deeper tread would enhance the Epic’s performance without undermining its XC intentions, only increasing its appeal.

BikeRadar would like to thank Brittany Ferries, the Commune of Peille, France, and Kieran Page at La Maison des Activities de Pleine Nature de Peille for their help and support during our Headline Bikes test.

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

Rob Weaver

Technical Editor-in-Chief, UK
Rob started riding mountain bikes seriously in 1993 racing cross-country, though he quickly moved to downhill where he competed all over the world. He now spends most of his time riding trail bikes up and down hills. Occasionally he'll jump into an enduro race.
  • Age: 34
  • Height: 172cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Natural trails where the loam fills my shoes on each and every turn
  • Beer of Choice: Guinness

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