Cross-country bikes have often been slow to benefit from advances in geometry, but Specialized is ahead of the game with the Epic Hardtail. For an XC bike, this is almost as rad as it gets.
While it doesn’t get full enduro-style figures, the reach is long for an XC hardtail, the head angle slack and it’s also got a fork with a shorter offset, for extra stability at higher speeds.
Specialized Epic Hardtail frame
Specialized uses its Fact 11m carbon on the non-S-Works Epic Hardtails. A generation ago, this was its top-end fibre, and it contributes to a claimed frame weight of well below 1kg.
The frame itself has a svelte, classy, simple look. Its forward-thinking shape includes a reach of 455mm on the large size, a 68.5-degree head angle, 74-degree seat angle and long 1,146mm wheelbase.
Specialized Epic Hardtail kit
The Epic Hardtail is keenly priced compared to the hardtails it was up against – Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0, Cube Reaction C:62 SL, Merida Big Nine XT – but even taking that into account, the kit doesn’t leave me excited.
RockShox’ Judy Gold fork isn’t anything to shout about, with a simple Motion Control damper and no remote lockout. It does have a short offset though, showing that Specialized has sweated the details.
While the SRAM SX/NX Eagle drivetrain is functional, it’s a step down in quality from the Shimano XT and GX Eagle found elsewhere, and the cassette has a narrower 11-50t range.
It’s not all bad though. The 2.3in Fast Trak tyres have plenty of volume and I found the stubby-nosed Power Sport saddle comfortable. The rest of the kit comes from the Specialized stable too.
The light weight of the FACT 11m carbon frame is a boon on the climbs, while its modern geometry gives the bike great descending performance. Russell Burton / Immediate Media
Specialized Epic Hardtail ride impressions
Simply put, the Epic Hardtail is capable and comfortable.
These days, XC bikes have to be fast descenders and able to handle things when they get technical. Lessons from trail and enduro bikes show that longer and slacker bikes handle descents better, and it’s the same here.
On the roughest, steepest and trickiest tracks, the Specialized was a step ahead.
Handling through the corners is stable yet sharp, thanks to the short-offset fork and slack head angle, along with the short stem giving it that nippy edge. This gives the bike a calmness as it carves from berm to berm, or while pointed through choppy rock and root gardens, where it resolutely refuses to become unstuck.
The confidence-boosting feel is fortified by the tyres, and their large volume helps to dampen the ride and take the edge off impacts. While more traditional XC bikes require an element of care on steep sections, riding these on the Epic was verging on fun.
Climbing on the Specialized is okay, too. The tyres’ skinny-looking tread digs in reasonably and, with their larger volume allowing slightly lower pressures, they’re impressive when crawling up wet roots and rocks.
A reduced-offset fork, slack head angle and short stem (for an XC bike) give the Epic a stable handling feel. Russell Burton / Immediate Media
There’s a slight loss of zip on fast accelerations, due to the excess weight that the tyres and complete bike are carrying. That said, there’s plenty of stiffness in the frame to prevent your legs’ power from twisting it from side to side, and the front triangle is stout enough that you can haul on the 750mm alloy bar.
Compared back to back, the fork isn’t as smooth or refined as a RockShox SID or Fox 32, and stutters a bit when faced with repeated hits or big impacts. It feels okay in isolation though.
The chassis is good, with a Torque Cap-equipped hub adding stiffness. Elsewhere, the rest of the kit simply does its job.
Shifting up and down the cassette could be better, with a bit of a clunky feel as the chain jumps between sprockets. The SRAM shifter and Shimano brake levers don’t give such a clean-looking cockpit as controls from the same brand and aren’t as easy to set up either because the two clamps don’t sit so well together. But the MT501 brakes themselves work well, with a sharp feel and consistent power.
The frame is undoubtedly good, but a compromised kit list lets down the Epic Hardtail.
Specialized Epic Hardtail geometry
Sizes (* tested): XS, S, M, L*, XL
Seat angle: 74 degrees
Head angle: 68.5 degrees
Chainstay: 43cm / 16.93in
Seat tube: 47cm / 18.5in
Top tube: 63.3cm / 24.92in
Head tube: 11cm / 4.33in
Fork offset: 4.2cm / 1.65in
Trail: 10.1cm / 3.98in
Bottom bracket drop: 6.3cm / 2.48in
Bottom bracket height: 30.9cm / 12.17in
Wheelbase: 1,146mm / 45.12in
Stack: 62.2cm / 24.49in
Reach: 45.5cm / 17.91in
How we tested
The bike was tested as part of a four bike carbon hardtail test with a price-point of £2,000 to 2,500.
Testing took place before the Covid-19 lockdown regulations on local cross-country loops, and included short sprints through the woods on natural and purpose-built trails. Comfort was also tested on longer rides.
Bikes also on test: