2020 was always going to be a big year for XC. When Olympic Games years arrive, so do many new XC bikes.
Although the Olympics won’t be taking place this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it hosts the most viewed mountain bike races on the calendar, so brands want to show off their new bikes under their global superstars, at the biggest sporting event in the world.
Specialized’s latest XC race bike, the Epic, has had a complete refresh.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
The Epic has to be one of the best known XC bikes on the market, competing with the likes of the Scott Spark, Cannondale Scalpel and Trek Top Fuel.
For nearly 20 years, the Epic has forged its own furrow, employing its Brain suspension technology to tread the line between hardtail efficiency and full-suspension speed.
A skinny rear shock controls the rear end.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
While a little love it/hate it, Specialized’s Brain technology has constantly evolved, and this version of the Epic has a refreshed version of the system plugged into the 100mm travel rear triangle.
2021 Specialized Epic Brain suspension
The system is deceptively simple; a sprung inertia valve controls oil flow through a port, which opens or closes the shock’s compression circuit. Hit a bump and the weight separates from the port, allowing oil to flow and the suspension to move.
On smooth surfaces, the weight sits over the port, blocking flow and locking the suspension. Being sprung, it also resists lower velocity movements, such as those from pedalling forces, and, as such, remains stable under pedalling loads until a bump is hit.
All of this is done without a bar-mounted lockout lever.
The Brain sits just behind the rear axle and has adjustable sensitivity.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
While that’s a very simplified version of how this inertia valve works, the system does work.
It can also be adjusted by the rider to suit different preferences in its sensitivity and now comes with improved adjustability.
On this version of the Epic, the Brain has been relocated behind the rear axle, and also slightly closer to it. This not only is said to improve the Brain’s sensitivity to bumps, but also means the rear brake caliper can be repositioned in between the chainstays and seatstays.
This, Specialized says, means the chainstays can be more vertically flexible than before. It goes further to say that this new position means less turbulence within the Brain’s oil flow on repeated hits, leading to better reliability.
Moving the Brain’s location has allowed for the brake caliper to be mounted on the chainstays.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
The suspension itself features Specialized’s Rx Race tune, which is firmer than you’d find on a regular trail bike, to reflect the needs of the World Cup racers that helped Specialized tune the suspension.
The SID is smart too
It’s not just the rear end that gets the Brain treatment, Specialized (for a few years now) has worked with RockShox to develop its Brain Fade SID fork, too.
This also features inertia valving to offer increased efficiency. As per the rear, the fork is said to remain stable under pedalling loads and on smooth surfaces, before opening up for bumps.
Specialized has worked for years with RockShox on its Brain technology for the forks and shocks.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
This platform is set at 15mm into the fork’s 100mm of travel, which is at the point Specialized’s engineers felt gave the best balance between efficiency and traction.
We can rattle on forever about how and why mountain bikes are getting longer, lower and slacker, so while it’s no surprise that the Epic has had this treatment, the extent to which it has is a surprise.
While not entirely defining a bike, two figures jump out: the reach and the head angle.
With long geometry, a slack head angle and short-offset forks, we’d expect the Epic to corner on rails.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
A Large Epic now comes with a (for XC) huge 470mm reach – longer than the majority of the bikes in this year’s Trail Bike of the Year test.
In XC terms, this is fairly radical, especially from one of the bigger brands. For reference, the outgoing model in a size Large had a 446mm reach. Bikes will be available in XS to XL sizes.
Specialized has also lopped a degree off the head angle, bringing it down to 67.5 degrees. Again, well approaching trail bike angles.
These figures are backed up with a short 44mm offset fork (read about offsets here), a fairly steep (again in an XC context) 75.5-degree seat angle and a bottom bracket (BB) height that’s dropped 9mm from the previous version.
Chainstays are now 5mm shorter, at 433mm, and stack is 14mm lower at 605mm, too.
Yes, that’s a threaded bottom bracket!Felix Smith / Immediate Media
All in, this makes it one of the most aggressive XC bikes on the market.
2021 Specialized Epic geometry (Large)
Chainstay length: 433mm
Seat tube length: 470mm
Head angle: 67.5 degrees
Seat angle: 75.5 degrees
All models apart from the S-Works Epic get a FACT 11-m carbon frameset. Specialized says it weighs the same as the previous S-Works frameset and comes with a new rear triangle that’s 15 per cent stiffer than before, for improved power transfer.
However, the new S-Works frameset drops 100g thanks to the higher grade carbon, a specific layup, and a carbon rather than alloy shock link.
This rubber grommet is a nice touch – flexible and keeps the crud out of the internal cable routing.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
2021 Specialized Epic EVO
The Epic EVO, unsurprisingly, also receives an update.
The EVO gets more travel than the standard Epic, with slightly burlier kit too.Specialized
The EVO is the slightly longer travel, slightly more aggressive version of the Epic. It still has speed as its main goal, but its manner is more suited to back-country exploits than racing between the tapes.
A unique rear triangle and altered suspension kinematic give the back-end 110mm of travel. There’s no Brain shock here, but the design of the suspension is tweaked to make sure it’ll still pedal well, according to Specialized.
The EVO doesn’t get the Brain shock, but does get 110mm rear travel.Specialized
At the front is a 120mm fork, again without Brain technology, but it still gets Specialized’s tuning stamp on there, with a focus on long-distance riding efficiency. We suspect this means it’ll have a fairly firm damping tune.
With a shared front triangle with the Epic, the additional fork travel gives the EVO a slacker head angle, pushing it out to 66.5 degrees.
It also shortens the reach a touch, to 460mm (L), the seat angle slackens to 74.5 degrees and the BB is raised 12mm to 336mm.
This is in the bike’s lower setting, with Specialized giving the EVO a geometry chip that steepens the bike by half a degree to 67 degrees, and a slightly higher BB too.
A 120mm, 35mm chassis SID sits at the front.Specialized
All the EVO models get a dropper post, reflecting the needs of trail riders, and there’s four-pot brakes on higher-level bikes too.
The EVO will take up to a 2.4in front tyre, which is slightly wider than the 2.3in maximum on the regular Epic.
Specialized’s S-Works EVO frameset.Specialized
2021 Specialized Epic EVO geometry (Large in lower setting)
Chainstay length: 438mm
Seat tube length: 470mm
Head angle: 66.5 degrees
Seat angle: 74.5 degrees
2021 Specialized Epic and Epic EVO models
The Epic range has four bikes, priced from £3,999 to £10,499 for the top-spec S-Works version. There will be two EVO models, as well as an S-Works EVO frameset.
Riding since the age of 13, Technical Editor Tom has ridden hundreds of bikes over the past few years, from aero race bikes to EWS-ready enduro rigs, with a fair few others in between. Most likely found in the woods practicing his scandi-flicks.