With Specialized’s new AFR Flow Control shock, the 2007 edition of this cross-country racing full suspension bike has evolved into a 100mm travel fast marathon machine.
Specialized’s Epic has long been a divisive beast: race groomed with 100mm (4in) of travel, it’s always embodied the brand’s ambitious technical nature. But the Fox Brain shock’s clunky and unpredictable on-off action meant that full sus purists hated it, and diehard racers were very much on a compromise.
The Epic has slowly evolved, but does 2007’s Epic Marathon represent the realisation of the Epic concept at long last?
The frame is largely unchanged from last year’s, with FSR M5 tubing sculpted understatedly. There’s a bi-oval down tube, a dropped top tube, a FACT carbon shock link to reduce weight and full sealed cartridge bearings.
The major difference is the addition of Specialized’s own AFR Flow Control shock. The old Fox Brain shock used an inertial valve that was closed until a bump force was applied that opened the valve, allowing oil flow. A hydraulic timer (a spring) then closed the valve after a uniform time, which was the root of the clunky character of previous Epics because the shock could stutter into being locked out – albeit briefly – on the rough stuff.
However, the AFR Flow Control does away with the uniform spring timer and instead relies on the rebound flow of the oil itself to close the compression circuit. So for as long the oil is flowing (which requires bump forces), it stays open. It also features a big range of click adjustments to tune the shock’s ‘closed’ state anywhere from fully locked to ‘Trail Tune’, which is almost, but not quite, fully open to aid pedalling efficiency.
The spec is all sorted kit: a decent 25in wide carbon riser bar, a sorted Shimano XT/SRAM X.0 transmission and Magura’s purposeful Marta hydraulic discs take care of propulsion and stopping, while a Fox F100RLC fork ensures that the front end does its suspension thing as well as we’ve come to expect. We did, however, encounter regular loss of air from the rear tubeless tyre.
With the Epic’s classic handling and sorted geometry present (based around a 70.5 degree head angle, 74 degree seat angle and a 13in BB height), the Marathon displays Specialized’s characteristic planted agility on sinewy singletrack. The huge range of Flow Control adjustment meant we could dial in our preferred setting to suit the terrain and although there’s never quite the same endless rear traction as on a sorted fully fluid suspension system, on steep, technical climbs in more open settings it gets close.
However, the bottom line is that the AFR Flow Control shock has realised the potential of the Epic concept with smooth and instantaneous transitions from its open and closed states, and given birth to a true race bike – yet also a fast trail machine – in one package through the click of a dial. Although it has very stiff competition from today’s super efficient fully active XC/marathon full sus rigs, like Giant’s Anthem XC, marathon/enduro and fast trail riders rejoice, for the Epic has (finally) come of age.