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pecialized is offering an Evo (Evolution) sub-section of its range this year based on the kind of aftermarket changes riders have been making to their own bikes. On the Epic Expert Evo here, this equates to a 120mm fork, a wider bar, shorter stem and a height adjustable Command Post.

Performance

Frame The completely reworked M5 Epic alloy frame offers a tapered head tube, newly revised seatstay profiles, and 100mm of FSR travel via the current ‘Specialized family’ in-line shock layout. Its sculpted frame shape mimics the S-Works carbon model, right down to the hydroformed link mount on the seat tube. Last year’s seat tower bridge is replaced on S and M size frames by a neater, swoopy junction, and overall the frame looks much more refined.

Suspension All 2011 Epics come with a Fox/ Specialized Brain rear shock, with a lightweight mini shock body. This houses the air spring and rebound damping, with the compression damping piped out to an external ‘Brain Fade’ inertia valve on the rear seatstay (closer to the bump force). When upward force from rough terrain passes a rider-defined threshold the ‘Brain’ or inertia valve is displaced, opening the compression circuit and engaging the suspension. Up front, a RockShox SID Dual Air SLT fork has 9mm dropouts, and Motion Control damping, with a lockout/blow-off Floodgate feature. It comes with 120mm travel as standard, which can be stepped down to 100mm with internal spacers. Compared with the F-series Fox fork, it has a slightly lower axle to crown height, and a 100g lighter claimed weight.

usable than on the 5in version we tested in the February 2011 issue.

7D=B;<?D:;H Head angle Seat angle 69.2° 70.8°

BB height 330mm

Chainstay Front centre Wheelbase Down tube 425mm 676mm 1,110mm 655mm

Components Aiding acceleration on the Epic are stiff and lightweight (tubeless ready) Roval Control AL wheels. This latest generation Specialized wheelset has wider rims and hub flanges, and clever oversized 28mm diameter front hub end-caps to improve torsional rigidity at the fork dropouts. The noticeably lightweight (and custom to Specialized in carbon) 2x10 SRAM S-2200 crankset drives SRAM X9/X0 gears, and the whole drivetrain performed slicker here than it’s X7/X9 clad rivals. A pivotal kit choice is the 100mm, three-position Command Post — it adds about 400g, but we loved it. Interestingly, the mid position is more

D;;:JEADEM FRAME: M5 alloy; Fox/ Specialized Mini-Brain, 100mm FORK: RockShox SID RLT, 120mm SIZES: S, M, L, XL WEIGHT: 12.12kg (26.7lb) CONTACT: www.specialized.com

The Epic Expert Evo felt super fast. Pedal input into the SRAM carbon chainset gets transferred immediately through the stiff chassis to the light wheels, rocketing the bike forward. A few of us ride road bikes too, and we noticed straight away the extra efficiency of the narrower Q-factor 2x10 cranks. The FSR suspension on the Epic gives great traction at the rear wheel and combined with the rangy cockpit, the bike can climb rapidly, either seated or standing. The steering is the right side of sharp, and the SID RLT fork offers enough damping stability while stomping the pedals, even if it doesn’t have quite as much control overall as the Fox Fit fork on the Lapierre. Usually the penalty for all this urgency on an XC bike (which is exactly what the Epic rides like) is a tendency to feel a little tense on fast descents. This just isn’t the case here — it’s nimble and lively, but more confident and planted than any other 100mm bike we’ve ridden downhill. This year’s aluminium frame is far stiffer and more direct than the Epic of 2010, and one of the few gripes we can muster is a tendency for the back-end to step out on off-camber roots with the ‘Brain’ wound on. We fixed this by running the threshold close to fully open, to keep the suspension active, and barely noticed any negative effect on the excellent pedalling efficiency.

Verdict

With its shorter stem, wider bar and Command Post the Specialized Epic Expert Evo might be one of the most trail riding focused bikes on paper — out on the trail it’s the fastest bike on test by a large margin. Put the power down and it motors along, exactly as you’d expect from a 100mm travel bike. The stiffness, poise and balance encourage you to go just as hard on the descents too, and with plenty of room to move about and a 120mm fork, at times it’s easy to forget you’re on a short travel rig. A ‘trail centre weapon’ is how one tester accurately described it, but it’s also comfortable and efficient that we’d be happy to ride it all day long, especially with that Command Post.

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Conclusion In the last couple of bike tests we’ve seen a broad spectrum of full-suspension bikes with one thing in common — 120mm forks. Having less rear wheel travel on offer (100/110mm here compared with 120mm last month) implies a reduction in cornering grip, braking capacity and ability to cope with rougher terrain. Less travel has to give us more speed elsewhere then, or else it’s not worth having. For £3,000 we expected a shed load of performance, and with that in mind one bike in this test really stood out — the Specialized Epic Expert Evo. Over the years the Epic has evolved into a real classic, and from the first ride it was clear this was a high scoring bike. Nothing we experienced during testing changed this initial impression. And without losing any edge from the performance, Specialized has delivered what it promised: a bike that offers more capability than its pure cross-country sister models and still rides comfortably all day. We’d even go so far as to say there isn’t a better bike in this ‘trail XC’ category. “For trail inclined speed freaks” is Specialized’s strap line for the Epic Evo, and based on our experience of the bike, we wholeheartedly agree. Considering the higher-end price tags, the rest of the bikes in this test were largely a disappointment in one way or another. The Commençal Super 4 Carbon just didn’t add up — the carbon frame looked good, but it came with some pretty underwhelming parts. It clattered and creaked when riding, which didn’t bode well for future durability, and dropped its

chain a lot. The Contact System suspension felt great at times, but you didn’t feel in the ‘sweet spot’ often enough on the shorter-than-average medium frame size. Lapierre’s X-Control 510 performs like a mountain bike we don’t actually ride much these days. It is great at churning along, and the geometry is decent. But the suspension felt firm and chattery, even more so when coupled with the uncontrollable bite of the Formula rear brake. After chickening out on one of our sketchier test loop chutes, we decided that despite the extra length in the fork, we still weren’t very confident on this bike. That just leaves the Orange ST4 Pro. It’s a solid and decent enough performer and it might even feel slightly hard done by here, but the score reflects the fact that it is an overly expensive bike for what you get, and the bottom line is it doesn’t really give you any of the extra acceleration or zip you’d expect from only having 110mm of travel on the rear. So, while it’s easy to see why riders have always slapped bigger forks on their bikes — it does give you a bit more security and comfort — it’s no guarantee of added performance. When done right this ‘mismatched travel’ set-up, based around 100mm of rear travel, is actually a near perfect compromise for speed and efficiency. After all, mountain bikes with any more travel than this (ie around the 120mm mark) tend to ride pretty much like 140mm trail bikes but without the descending prowess.

RANGE FINDER Our test steeds not right? Try a stablemate

9ECC;Dw7BIKF;H*FHE ˜("'//$// Save yourself over £1,000 by skipping the full carbon frame. You’ll get to keep the Mavic Crossride wheelset, Fox Float RL shock F120 fork combo, and the SRAM X7/X9 gears. On the aluminium bike, cheaper Avid Juicy 3 brakes might actually work better as well.

B7F?;HH;N#9EDJHEB*'& ˜("*//$// Going fully aluminium framed on the X-Control adds a measly 400g, saves you 500 quid and you get better kit to boot. The excellent Fit cartridge fork stays, a Shimano XT 10-speed chainset replaces SLX, and the rest of the kit is near identical.

“The Epic has evolved into a real classic, and from the first ride it was clear this was a high-scoring bike”

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Since you can spec an ST4 however you want it, how about a £55 curveball? An Orange Five Pro with Maxle swingarm and Fox 32 Float RLC Fit fork exactly like we’d pick for ourselves. Lovely stuff. The rest of the kit is identical and you’ll never notice the extra few grams in weight either.

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A hybrid carbon mainframe and seatstays, with M5 alloy chainstays dishes out a more race-like feel. There’s a pressfit BB30, lower 100mm RockShox Reba RLT fork and cheaper SRAM S-1250 alloy cranks together with Specialized Hi-Lo wheels. Fast and light, even if it’s probably less fun to ride than the Evo option. 7fh_b(&''cXh$Ye$ka '('

Specialized Epic Evo Expert  

MBR's review if the Specialized EEE

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