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.
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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.
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.
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.