At first sight
The Women’s Epic comp carbon is nothing short of eye-catching with a gleaming “Gloss satin acid mint fade/ Tarmac black/ Acid pink” colour scheme.
Specialized made the decision to drop gender specific geometry on their new bikes for 2018 after analyzing measurement data from the Retül bike fit system collected over several years. According to this research, the difference between men's and women's anthropomorphic data is not as big as we have always believed. Hence the Women’s Epic features the exact same frame geometry as the men’s model, but with contact points selected for women, and a tweaked suspension tune for lighter riders. As a package, the bike looks lean, mean, and race ready.
What is new?
The Epic has undergone a redesign for 2018. In short, the frame on this model has had over 500 grams shaved off it and the geometry has progressed with the longer, slacker trend to be able to deal with the increasing level of gnar seen on the World Cup XC racing circuit. Interestingly, this has gone hand in hand with a reduced fork offset to keep the handling sharp on technical climbs and slow speed corners. Each frame uses size specific tubes to ensure the required stiffness carries across the size curve: a technique Specialized refer to as Rider First Engineering.
The head tube angle has slackened from 70.5 to 69.5 degrees, the chain stays have shortened by 10 millimetres to 438 millimetres, the reach has been extended 15 millimetres to 433 on the medium frame. In addition, the wheelbase has grown by 11 millimetres to 1123 millimetres on a medium frame. The seat tube diameter has been expanded from 27.2 to 30.9 millimetres which means that a greater range of dropper posts can now be accommodated.
The famous Brain suspension has been relooked and features an updated RockShox damper, a new position closer to the rear axle for improved sensitivity and response time, and the oil hosing has been integrated into the suspension links to create a smoother path for oil flow and to minimise turbulence while keeping the aesthetic clean.
Finally, the rear pivots have been replaced with flex stays in an effort to further shave weight off the frame.
On paper these changes should result in a bike with better stability at high speed and a higher tolerance for technical riding, making it less likely to pitch you over the bars in a moment of crisis, but hopefully retaining the race whip pedigree that has made the Epic legendary.
- FrameSpecialized FACT 11m, full carbon frame, XC Geometry, threaded BB, 12x148mm rear spacing, internal cable routing, 100mm of travel
- ForkRockShox Reba RL 29, Solo Air, compression / rebound adjust, tapered alloy steerer, 42mm offset, 110x15mm Maxle Stealth thru-axle, 100mm of travel, RX Women's Tune
- ShockRockShox Brain, Women's Rx Tune, AUTOSAG, 51x257mm
- StemSpecialized XC, 3D-forged alloy, 4-bolt, 6-degree rise
- HandlebarSpecialized Mini-rise, 6000 alloy, 8-degree backsweep, 6-degree upsweep, 10mm rise, 720mm width, 31.8mm clamp
- GripsSpecialized Sip Grip, half waffle
- SaddleMyth Sport, steel rails, 155mm
- SeatpostSpecialized, alloy, single bolt, 30.9mm
- Front BrakeSRAM Level TL, hydraulic disc, organic pads, 160/180mm rotor
- Rear BrakeSRAM Level TL, hydraulic disc, organic pads, 160 rotor
- ShiftersSRAM GX, trigger, 11-speed
- Rear DerailleurSRAM GX, long cage, 11-speed
- CassetteSRAM XG 1150, 11-speed, 10-42t
- ChainKMC X11, 11-speed w/ Missing Link™
- CranksetRace Face Aeffect, 6000 Series alloy
- ChainringSteel, 28T
- RimsRoval Control 29, hookless alloy, 22mm internal width, tubeless-ready, 32h
- Front HubSpecialized, sealed cartridge bearing, 15x110mm spacing, torque caps, 32h
- Rear HubSpecialized, sealed cartridge bearings, 12x148mm thru-axle, 32h
- SpokesDT Swiss Industry, stainless, 3-cross, 2.0"
- Front TyreFast Trak, GRIPTON compound, 2Bliss Ready, 29 x 2.3"
- Rear TyreFast Trak, GRIPTON compound, 2Bliss Ready, 29 x 2.1"
- Bottom BracketRace Face PF30
- PriceR59 000
On the trail
Pedalling around the car park, it is immediately apparent that this is a thoroughbred race bike, it feels fast and jumps forward under power, lacking none of the friskiness of its predecessor.
The Brain's response to bumps can be adjusted between five settings from soft to firm. I initially set it to medium and tried this on the first climb and descent. Due to the way the brain works there is a noticeable knocking noise and slight feedback through the bike when the inertia valve opens as the rear wheel strikes an obstacle. I find this noise mildly unsettling when descending and switched the Brain to soft, which seemed to improve things, and kept the rear wheel tracking beautifully in the damp Boschendal dirt.
Knowing how much weight had been shaved off the frame, I was expecting it to feel flimsy and flexy: a sad skinny version of its former self. This, however, was not the case at all. The bike struck a fine balance between lightweight manoeuvrability, and confidence inspiring plantedness at high speed. You end up wanting to try and flick the bike around corners and pop off any and every feature on the trail, and it still seemed able to hold a line through chunky debris on the few open descents we tackled.
Uphill the Epic pedals like a race bike should. Our media excursion didn’t come close to plumbing the depths of this bike’s capability to cover distance and punch gravity in the face, but it cruised up the hills with such aplomb that you hardly noticed you were climbing. I’d be very interested to see what would happen under redline conditions.
Aside from pedalling comfortably uphill, the most striking feature of the Epic is how much fun it is. I found myself forgetting I was aboard an XC machine and kept trying to ride lines I would usually reserve for a trail bike with a dropper post. While the Epic is forgiving it is still a race bike, and it didn’t take all that kindly to some of my wild over exuberance. But time and again the Epic encouraged me to go further and faster with a fat grin on my face.
In terms of this specific build, the components seemed well matched. A RockShox Reba fork (sans Brain), SRAM Level TL brakes, SRAM GX 11-speed with a RaceFace Aeffect crank and a reliable Roval Control alloy wheelset. The Fast Trak tyres, 2.3” on the front and 2.1” on the rear, punch well above their weight in terms of grip on offer from what is ostensibly a cross country tyre. For my own riding, I’d swap these out for Fast Trak GRID and the extra sidewall protection they offer.
Personal preference would see a bigger chainring than the 28T specced, and the Myth Sport women’s specific saddle doesn't work for me. Ironically enough I prefer the Phenom that is specced on the men’s model.
Overall it is a functional, balanced build kit, and for R59 000 comes in at a price point that many will find palatable.
In the end
To speak with any real confidence regarding the performance of the components and the ride I would need more time on the bike in a variety of conditions, but first impressions are that it is one heck of a bike. By improving the handling and keeping the Epic lightweight and stiff, Specialized have managed to address the needs of both their pro racers dealing with World Cup level tracks and weekend warriors looking for a fast competent bike with which to cover ground and race their mates.
It is an impressive step towards the unicorn bike: one that will allow you to truly rip the descents, and still smash a cross country race with the best of them.
Time for an upgrade?