A Seriously Light Bike
In a world where full-suspension rigs have taken over, it’s been easy for companies to overlook the original mountain bike—the hardtail. However, Specialized hasn’t forgotten its roots and has been working hard in the design kitchen to develop a hardtail that is worthy of being raced by some of the world’s finest on modern cross-country courses.
The Epic has a strong history in the cross-country world, with legends like Ned Overend having extensive input into the design. Stemming from the full-suspension XC rig, the Epic Hardtail is the newest evolution of cross-country from the brand based around high-performance riding. We put the Epic Hardtail to the test on our local XC courses and spent long days in the saddle to find out if this bike is a true XC thoroughbred.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Epic HT was designed for riders looking for the most efficient platform to hit the trails. Riders who are willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to ride intervals in order to earn that top podium spot will find their next weapon in the Epic HT. While the Epic HT leans heavily towards XC and endurance riding, it does have a playful side on the singletrack and would be a solid option for riders who want a lightweight trailbike too.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Specialized took its time designing the new Epic HT and borrowed technology from both its road and mountain bikes to create this new platform. The Epic uses FACT 10m carbon fiber with refined tube shapes tuned to each frame size to deliver a ridiculously lightweight frame. On the bottom of the downtube is a bumper that riders can remove that prevents the handlebars from over-rotating into the top tube in the event of a crash. The Epic has complete internal cable routing with a PF30 bottom bracket shell to increase the overall stiffness when pedaling out of the saddle. Specialized designed the Epic with a long and low geometry and a slacker head angle for more stability when descending. To keep up with the times, the frame has Boost 12×148 spacing in the rear.
Retail price on our test bike is $5500, with the entry-level build starting at $2600. Riders can also opt for an S-Works frameset for $3000 and build the bike themselves.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Our mid-price (yet still relatively expensive) test bike came with a SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain that delivered consistent and quality shifting during our testing. Up front is RockShox’s new SID fork to handle the little bit of suspension this bike has.
Specialized included a set of its carbon Roval Control wheels that are very lightweight, stiff and on the narrow side with an internal rim width of 23 millimeters. These wheels complemented the overall ride and design of the Epic HT and helped keep the weight down.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving Out: Swinging a leg over the Epic reveals the updated geometry has taken cues from modern trailbikes, with a long and low fit combined with a slacker head angle. Our test bike came with an 80-millimeter stem and 720-millimeter-wide bars, giving us an aggressive position to charge up and down the racecourse. The stock Phenom saddle fit our test riders well and was comfortable during long days in the saddle.
Suspension Setup: The Brain technology gives riders a vast range of adjustment and the ability to dial in the fork sensitivity to soak up the smallest rocks. We ran 20-percent sag and started our testing with the Brain turned to its softest setting to get a feel for the fork. Depending on where and how we were riding, we would turn up the Brain to give us more support at the top of the travel.
Cornering: We were surprised by just how playful the Epic HT was going into corners. The refined geometry allowed our test riders to shift their weight effectively and lean the bike over confidently. The Brain allowed us to sit up higher in the travel and kept the fork from diving through its travel when we compressed the front end into tight turns.
Climbing: The Epic is a seriously fast bike when pedaling up the mountain. The lightweight frame and wheels, combined with a stiff, responsive design, gave our test riders plenty of personal records on their local climbs. With the Brain setting turned up, the SID fork was stiff and complemented the lightweight chassis. A couple of our test riders would have preferred a remote lockout to have a little more control over the low-speed compression. The low front end allowed us to keep our heads down and our weight shifted forward to power up steep sections of trail.
Ride quality: Rough trails and ruts can beat up a rider, especially on a hardtail. The Epic HT has a thinner seat tube and 27.2-millimeter seatpost to allow for more vertical compliance. This, combined with the thinner seatstays, gave the Epic a very smooth ride quality that muted minor imperfections in the trail but still delivered a stiff frame when pedaling hard out of the saddle.
Descending: Hardtails aren’t known for their ability to descend well, but the Epic HT defies the odds and delivers a balanced and stable ride, especially at high speeds. The SID fork was active and didn’t flex under hard braking efforts or on technical terrain. The geometry gave us a very nimble ride that left us plenty of room to flick the bike over technical bits or find more creative lines than the normal beaten path.
TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?
Our test bike came with a SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain with a 32-tooth front chainring. Serious riders will want to step up to at least a 34 and possibly a 36. Out of the box the weight of the Epic HT is impressively light, but riders will be able to save even more weight and increase the ride quality by upgrading to a carbon fiber seatpost.
The stock Fast Trak tires were fast and offered minimal rolling resistance, but were prone to more flats with their lighter casing. We recommend saving these for race day and putting on something a little heavier and thicker for everyday trail riding and training.
The Epic Hardtail Pro Carbon is a quick and light bike. It’s a great climber, but we expected that going into this test. What we were surprised and impressed with was the confidence-inspiring handling that made this thing a seriously fun trailbike too. Aspiring racers or riders who simply want to move up the local leader board on Strava will have a competitive option with the Epic. The versatile geometry and smooth ride quality make this bike an all-around XC racer and comfortable enough for endurance events and rides.