The Epic platform has seen a lot of evolutionary design tweaks over the years, but 2014 marks a new era for the famed XC race bike. The World Cup models goes 1x11, the geometry gets tighter, along with SWAT integration, making this the perfect cross-country race whip.
I've managed to put in some good miles on the new Epic Expert World Cup, having raced it all season. From gravel grinds, long trail epics, short and punchy technical terrain this bike does it all. While it's not my first time on an Epic, having owned one in 2012, it does have some considerable difference you can feel right off the bat. In short, this bike is rad.
For starters the geometry is a bit more aggressive, and the Brain(s) front and rear have been revamped for greater trail sensitivity. Overall it's a ton of fun, whether you're racing or shredding local hero dirt. It has a very playful nature about it without being taken too seriously, yet it's a serious machine. I like the new geometry. The stays are shorter making it a more flickable bike. It handles with a lot of precision.
The head tube angle is slightly steeper, and after riding the super steep angle of my former Open O-1.0 frame it strikes a nice in between spot that I instantly felt comfortable with. I've been playing around with stem angles and have naturally found myself in a more upright riding position than my previous Epic. My weight is more balanced over the front and rear so everything feels very planted and squared to the ground.
The new Fox Futureshock comes equipped with the fancy new AutoSag feature, which works as advertised. Just pump it up to 300 psi, get on the bike and press the button until all the air stop coming out of the valve. The shock size and attached Brain are noticeably smaller, resulting in weight savings. The suspension was nice and supple, with a bottomless kind of feel to it. With the Brain turned on all the way it was really stiff and reacted to trail noise really well. The Brain now has four detents which makes adjustment that much easier.
The RockShox SID fork up front felt great, too. The Brain is a step up from previous years. Somehow the 2014 model felt way smoother than my 2013 Solo Air Sid. It has a new coating on the leg, but I guess it's purely aesthetic. I'm glad they did away with the oversized end caps and went with a 15 mm thru-axle. The engineers claim the end caps were just as stiff, but I beg to differ, having ridden both. Maybe it's just in my head, but I could feel the stiffness difference.
The X01 drivetrain is sweet. It's my first time on a 1x system, and I'll never go back. I've got a 32 teeth chainring up front, and found myself searching for one extra low gear on a couple of steep climbs, but I think I definitely have the fitness to push the harder gear. I may complete the set of rings with a 30 and 34 just in case I need to switch it up. While I'm a big fan of Grip Shift, the trigger shifters are pretty nice and hassle free. What I love the most with this setup is how quiet everything runs, even on bouncy slap-happy trails. I just hear my tires scratching away at the dirt.
Brakes are handled by Magura, which I'm liking a lot so far. Very positive feeling at the lever, however I had to switch out with a 180 mm rotor in the front to get a bit more power and modulation. Noise hasn't been an issue at all either, something I found to plague both Formula and Avid brakes. Time will tell, but so far so good. The design of the lever and caliper is very clean and minimal. We'll have to see how easy bleeding will be later in the year, but I suspect it to be very straightforward.
In short, this bike is rad.
The wheels are light and stiff. They're not the super light set, but to start out with carbon rims and DT Swiss hubs is a major plus. They feature the new zero bead hook rim profile which drives the cost of production down without sacrificing performance. Setup with Roval wheels and Specialized tires was quick and easy, unlike my previous setup of ENVE's and Schwalbe tires which were always hard to mount. I also appreciate the ability to true the wheels without having to remove rim tape or use an internal spoke wrench.
I changed up the stock setup, going with a wide 2.3 Ground Control tire in the front, moving my Fast Trak to the rear. I love the new Ground Control in that it hooks up and rolls really well. The large volume is confidence inspiring. The side knobs aren't as aggressive as the Racing Ralph I've come to know and love, but these won't wear out as fast. I'll continue to play around with tire pressure to get the ultimate setup. Right now I'm still running 23 psi in the front and 24 psi in the rear, but I might drop a psi or two.
Now I could have waited and pulled the trigger on an S-Works level bike, but to be quite honest I'm not a fan of the loud graphics. Too much contrast. I love the subtle matte black and red graphics on the Expert. Performance wise we're probably talking at least a few pounds difference, but most of it is static weight.
I could replace my seat post, handlebar and saddle with carbon goodness, but I like the idea of a bike you basically take out of the box and ride, and that's what I plan to do. Plus the price of the Expert is very reasonable compared to the almost twice as much S-Works Epic.
Sure, I notice the weight penalty, but that's coming off of a 19 lb hardtail. Once you're rolling on the Epic there's nothing to stop you. I could feel the extra weight on extended climbs, but made up time on descents and rolling terrain. My body was more fresh, and I had a substantial amount more fun riding it than my hardtail. I just floated over everything.
SWAT which stands for storage, water, air, tools is a new design feature from Specialized that integrates a lot things you'd otherwise carry in a CamelBak or your jersey pockets. I love the new multi-tool which tucks/snaps neatly under the top tube, just over the pivot of the shock. I'm also rocking the new stem cap chain tool, which holds extra links. Very clever and thoughtful.
The SWAT box packs a spare tube, a C02 cartridge and tire lever, but is only compatible with certain Specialized bikes. Combined, these features make the new Epic a great bike for ultra-endurance events like the Leadville Trail 100.
The Epic Expert World Cup is a stunner. It's everything I need for XC racing and long trail rides. The redesign is considerably better both from an engineering as well as aesthetic perspective. It just looks and feels near perfect. I wish they went full carbon with the frame, the seat stays being alloy, which saves on production cost but adds a bit of weight.