The 2021 Specialized Epic steals its shape from the trail-bike rule book

The Epic EVO also gets refreshed, ripe for hitting the trails, fast

Specialized Epic

There’s a brand-new Specialized Epic, and we think it’s one of the most radical cross-country bikes around from one of the biggest global players.

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The geometry echoes that of modern trail bikes, while the new frame smoothly integrates an updated Brain suspension system. Could this be the most competitive World Cup XC bike out there?

The Epic’s burlier sibling, the Epic EVO, also gets boosted, sharing a front triangle but getting its own back-end for more travel.

Nearly two decades in the making

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.

We’ve already seen new XC bikes from the likes of Cannondale, and know there are more in the pipeline despite the lack of racing.

Specialized Epic
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.

Specialized Epic shock
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.

Specialized Epic
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.
Specialized Epic rear brake caliper
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 Epic fork logo
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.

Shaping up

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.

Specialized Epic cornering
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.

Specialized Epic bottom bracket
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)

  • Reach: 470mm
  • Stack: 605mm
  • Chainstay length: 433mm
  • Wheelbase: 1,179mm
  • Seat tube length: 470mm
  • Head angle: 67.5 degrees
  • Seat angle: 75.5 degrees

Frame finishes

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.

Specialized Epic cable grommet
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.

Specialized Epic EVO
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.

Specialized Epic EVO frame
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.

Changing shapes

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.

Specialized Epic EVO front
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.

Epic EVO frame
Specialized’s S-Works EVO frameset.
Specialized

2021 Specialized Epic EVO geometry (Large in lower setting)

  • Reach: 460mm
  • Stack: 611mm
  • Chainstay length: 438mm
  • Wheelbase: 1,194mm
  • 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.

2021 Specialized Epic Comp

  • FACT 11m frame
  • RockShox Reba RL 100mm fork
  • Shimano SLX drivetrain
  • Shimano SLX brakes
  • Specialized alloy rims on Shimano hubs
  • Specialized Fast Trak tyres
  • Price: £3,999

2021 Specialized Epic Expert

  • FACT 11m frame
  • RockShox SID SL Brain fork
  • SRAM X01/X1/GX drivetrain
  • SRAM Level TL brakes
  • Roval Control Carbon rims on DT Swiss 350 hubs
  • Specialized Fast Trak tyres
  • Price: £6,099

2021 Specialized Epic Pro

  • FACT 11m frame
  • RockShox SID SL Brain fork
  • SRAM AXS X01/X1 Carbon drivetrain
  • SRAM Level TLM brakes
  • Roval Control Carbon rims on DT Swiss 350 hubs
  • Specialized Fast Trak tyres
  • Price: £7,499

2021 Specialized S-Works Epic

  • FACT 12m S-Works frame
  • RockShox SID Ultimate Brain fork
  • SRAM AXS XX1 / XX1 Quark drivetrain
  • SRAM Level Ultimate brakes
  • Roval Control SL wheelset
  • Specialized Fast Trak tyres
  • Price: £10,499

2021 Specialized Epic EVO Comp

  • FACT 11m frame
  • RockShox Deluxe Select+ shock
  • RockShox SID Select+ Charger RL fork
  • Shimano SLX drivetrain
  • Shimano SLX brakes
  • Specialized Alloy rims on Shimano hubs
  • Specialized Ground Control / Fast Trak tyres
  • X-Fusion Manic dropper post
  • Price: £3,999

2021 Specialized Epic EVO Expert

  • FACT 11m frame
  • RockShox SID Luxe Select+ shock
  • RockShox SID Select+ Charger 2 RL fork
  • SRAM X01/X1/GX drivetrain
  • SRAM G2 RS brakes
  • Roval Control Carbon rims on DT Swiss 350 hubs
  • Specialized Ground Control / Fast Trak tyres
  • X-Fusion Manic dropper post
  • Price: £6,099
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2021 Specialized Epic EVO S-Works frameset

  • FACT 12m frame
  • 110mm travel
  • Price: £3,499