Specialized S-Works Epic Carbon 29 SRAM – Long Term Review
Someone once said “Good things come to those who wait”. Well it could be argued that I waited a long, long time before committing to getting a Specialized S-Works Epic. This bike is an incredible machine. Six months after first taking delivery of this bike, and having now ridden it on varied terrain, in various weather conditions and in multiple events, a long term test review is due.
Bike – Specialized S-Works Epic Carbon 29 SRAM
Size – Medium
For – XC Racing, eating singletrack, going fast and smiling one big cheesy grin
Against – Nothing I can think of other than the thought of not having it
Thanks to the team at Top Gear Cycles and Specialized Australia, I was generously provided the opportunity to get my hands on a Specialized Epic 29er XC bike. I had for a number of years been on a 26 inch FSR XC, had fiddled with it, lightened the wheelset, changed the rear shock, swapped the bars and stem and basically tried to make it as much of an Epic as I could. I did still love it, performed well in races that I entered, had fun on it and could ride most things I wanted to just fine. I did wonder if this whole 29 inch revolution was worth getting caught up in or if it was just spin. Well, after more than a few test rides at Specialized “Test The Best” days and endless discussions with Pete regarding the pros and cons, sizes, would I snap the lightweight racing machine with my less than perfect technique and the all important colour scheme, the day came whereby I had to bite the bullet and make a decision. Should I stay with old faithful … or move to the new world of big wheels and carbon fiber everything.
29 inch bikes are promoted as rolling more easily over obstacles due to the bigger wheels, being faster rolling once up to speed and providing more traction in climbing and cornering. Some also say however that the bigger wheels result in slower handling and slower acceleration. These points can probably be argued for ever and a day, but I would think that there is some merit in the fact that Specialized no longer sell a 26 inch Epic in Australia. Their firm belief is that the 29 inch format is the way forward and have spent a lot of time and money getting their designs and geometry right to ensure the bikes provide all of the benefits and none of the supposed drawbacks. An article I recently read about bikes that have changed the way we ride essentially said that the 29 inch Specialized Epic essentially has killed its previous competition. You wouldn’t get that declaration without some basis behind it. I think the doubters have been silenced since the 29 inch Epic took out the XC World Cup overall AND the Olympic Gold Medal. Proofs in the pudding as it were.
By all reports and reviews and anything else I could get my hands on, for the type of riding I enjoyed and the types of events I wanted to enter, the Specialized Epic 29er was the bike of choice. “If I could afford to …. would I be silly not to get the S-Works?” Answer : “Yep”. Right then … Bring on the S-Works!!
Specialized make no qualms of saying that this bike is their ultimate race machine, along with the S-Works Stumpjumper (of which you can read a review by fellow Top Gear rider Bryce Young here: http://www.topgearcycles.com/stumpjumper-carbon-hardtail-review-bryce-young/ ), but with my age not being what it used to be and more importantly my back being what it is, the two chances of being able to ride a hard tail for longer distances and actually enjoying the experience are zero and none. The equipment and technology coming with this bike is the best of the best and it is a hallmark of the S-Works models.
Briefly, the bike features the following leading edge technology, for those of you that love the technical side of things … but with my take on them:
– Specialized/FOX remote Mini-Brain inertia-valve rear shock – this is the thing that stops my back hurting and basically makes the bike a hardtail when it’s smooth and lets it be a full suspension bike when it’s rough.
– FACT IS 11m full carbon frame – Essentially the top level carbon frame. The higher the number (This one goes all the way to 11!!) the newer the carbon type and lay-up. The M as in Mountain (You’ll see R as in road on the … well … road bikes)
– Roval Control SL 29 142+ wheels with carbon rims – Yep … more carbon. Seriously light and seriously stiff wheels. 29 as in 29 inches and 142 for the wider hub and axle width designed exclusively by Specialized to make their wheels even stiffer
– Specialized FACT carbon crankset with a custom SRAM spider and ring – Essentially the boffins at Specialized have fused their proprietary crank arm to the spider of the SRAM XX1 front chain ring. Think Frankenstein in creation, but much better looking and actually functional
– Custom RockShox SID World Cup 29 fork with Specialized Brain inertia-valve damping (100mm of air-sprung travel and a carbon steerer tube) – Two Brains really are better than one. This one again locks out the suspension when it’s smooth and makes it squishy when it’s rough. No thinking needed, no switches to flick or buttons to push. The machines haven’t quite taken over, but it surely can’t be far away
– SRAM XX One 11-speed rear derailleur, shifter and cassette – One Grip Shift shifter only … new to me. And 11 speeds on a single front ring and an 11-42 rear cassette … otherwise known as the dinner plate. Until late last year … new to everyone except some guy called Jaroslav Kulhavy who apparently can ride a bike somewhat well.
In pulling the bike out of the box …. Well … OK … lets be honest …. When I walked into the shop and saw the bike fully assembled, sparkling and ready for me to pedal off into the distance … I was very impressed. The matt black carbon and the red and white accents really were arranged well. Sure, you could say the bike lacked some colour, but in my experience, you can never go wrong with a black, red and white colour scheme. Then I put the bike on the scale ….. Wow
The quality of the frame and the various components was obvious immediately. Plus the lack of a front derailleur and having a single grip shifter on the right grip of the handlebar really did set the style of the bike apart. Removing two items really did simplify and free-up the overall look of the bike. Sure, looks aren’t everything in a bike, but I’ll go with a good-looking bike over an ugly one any day. One of the most interesting things is the amount of extra clearance between the rear tyre and the seat tube given the lack of the front derailleur. As XX1 is relatively new, and because wheelbase length is a pretty important factor in the handling of 29’er bikes, it will be interesting to see if future designs will squeeze the rear wheel a little closer to the bottom bracket.
The rest of the frame is quite sculptural with flowing curves, thick frame tube dimensions, suspension and tapered head tube all coming together in a beautiful way. Out on the trail this results in a very balanced, compliant yet stiff ride.
First impressions – Taking it for a quick spin out of the shop while no-one was looking and up a nearby paved road, I actually had to check to see if I was on a mountainbike. Ever heard the expression “Ride like you stole it”? Well this bike climbed like nothing I had felt before from a mountainbike. The lightness and acceleration truly was astounding. No wonder that Jaro bloke rides so bloody fast!! This thing is a weapon!! Cancellara wouldn’t need a motor in his bottom bracket if he had one of these … he should be riding this at Roubaix!!!
I’m still impressed six months on. The bike has been ridden on all the local trails and has in most cases felt like I was cheating. The ability to climb, the traction and the speed of this bike really is remarkable. Trips have been made to Forrest (on numerous occasions), Buller, Wombat, Anglesea, Portland, Foster, You Yangs, Red Hill and the Yarra Flats over the last six months. In all honesty, it probably is not the most appropriate bike for Buller if you are going there to hit all the airs and make the most of the fantastic terrain, but if you treat the bike as it is intended … as an XC machine, then there is nothing this bike cannot handle. Even at Buller it didn’t really hesitate. It was most definitely rider error and not bike that sent me into the dirt and rocks, wrote off my helmet, dislocated my thumb and caused me to shed a tear over the scratches I had put in my baby. But in all other riding locations, the riding has become easier, faster, has resulted in Strava PB’s (Yes Strava … I know, I know), better race results and just overall better riding experiences. And I can tell you that I am not fitter this year than I was last year. Probably the opposite.
We set this bike up with Stans and have run it tubeless since first ride. S-Works Fast Track Controls come standard which are great, but I switched to Renegades in summer for a little more rolling speed for a couple of the Marathon and Stage races that I competed in. Otherwise, the bike has run stock. Brake pads have been replaced once and other than a couple of issues caused by rider error it has had one service only and has run faultlessly. I keep my bikes clean, but by no means am I the best home mechanic. For the bike to just keep on running without much input from me or Zeke over the last 6 months, given the amount of riding it has done, it does say a lot.
With the aim of keeping this review somewhat brief and saving something for future reviews (More in detail review of XX1, Magura Brakes, Roval wheels plus some other tasty products such as the S-Works Prevail helmet and S-Works MTB Shoes) and GoPro video footage taken in the warmer months, I will conclude by saying … and I often do … that every time I ride this bike, besides putting a massive smile on my face, the thing that I marvel at is how much better it is as a bike than I am as a rider. Now some of you may laugh and say .. well Gus you’re actually not a very good rider, but …. this really is a great bike.
If you have the opportunity to try an Epic 29er … you will not be disappointed.
Until next time … and hopefully sooner rather than later.