2013 Specialized Epic Marathon: First Impressions- by Grannygear

Ok, so now that we had the 2013 Specialized Epic Marathon out of that huge bike box it came in, it was time to get it out on trail.  But first I needed to get the suspension set up.  Autosag is something so simple that you have to wonder why it took so long to invent.  It takes the guesswork out of setting the correct sag in the rear suspension based on the rider’s weight but still allowing a more advanced rider to custom tune to his or her predilections.  So, to get the rear done, I took the rear Brain settings to full open as well as the rebound adjustment, put 300psi into the rear shock, then mounted the bike, leaned forward so as to have my hands on the bars while supporting myself against a post with my shoulder (this is easier to do with a buddy), then reached down with my left hand and pressed the red bleed valve till it stopped going “pppfffttt”.  Done.  Contrary to that you might expect, the shock did not compress, but rather it extended.  This is due to the fact that you are bleeding the negative chamber first.  Then, with the red schraeder valve closed, you cycle the shock a bit…bounce up and down on it…then measure static sag just to be sure.  The suggested sag should be  11mms from the dirt wiper to the o-ring, based on your static body weight.  I did this process several times to see how reliable it was and it was exactly that each time…11mm.  The Brain knob was set to approx the middle setting for now.

The fork, being a Solo Air SID, was just a simple deal, sort of.  I set it to the suggested setting based on my weight per the printed scale on the fork but I was not getting the sag I expected.  I do wonder if the Brain in the fork is messing with that a bit?  I ended up at 90psi for now and that gave me 20% sag.  The Brain on the fork is interesting and I am still playing with it, although I think I have come to a conclusion.  More on that in later posts.  The rebound adjustment is top side stacked above the 5 position Brain knob so things are easy to get to.  I set the Brain fork settings mid way as well and off we went.

It is pretty obvious right away that this bike is intended to be a racy, aggressive scoot in an XC sense.  The narrow carbon bar (680mm), the long stem, even though I shortened it to 105mm from the stocker 110mm,  gives you a forward, low, and tucked in feel to the cockpit.  I had forgotten how the Brain so affects how an Epic pedals.  They just feel fast right away and the light wheels in no way impeded that feeling.  Zoom.  However, on the flip side, I was struck by how much small impacts transfer through to the rider because of the platform approach to suspension control.  Having that Brain effect at both ends made it even more apparent.  Now you can dial that back and open things things to a point, but do you want to?  Final thoughts on that when we wrap this bike test up.  The first ride on the Marathon was a 4 mile dirt road climb with the wife and doggie.  Even at a cruising pace, it felt like I was barely working on the ascent.  Great wheels transform a 29″er, and add in a stiff, carbon chassis, the light weight overall, and the Brain deal and Strava records may fall (well not mine…but yours perhaps.  I say “no” to Strava).

This is the stiffest chassis of any Specialized FS bike I have had on test.  Now I do not have hard numbers to back that up, but I would bet on it.  Combined with those pretty stout but light Control Carbons, you get a bike that changes directions easily and with the narrow bar and long stem, a confident, experienced rider can get down the trail with a purpose.  Purpose is a good word for this bike, or purposeful, perhaps.

The Magura brakes took a bit to bed in and actually begin to stop me, but they have been smooth and quiet and they are very progressive.  They do not seem to be very powerful though, but that may just require more break in time.  We shall see.  The XO Gripshift and XO drivetrain seems very solid and I like the 24/38T chainring combo very much.  I am not sure if I have needed the 24/36 full granny gear combo yet as this bike pedals awfully well.

Actually, brilliantly well if you think that an FS that responds to pedaling inputs like a hard tail is a good thing.  And whether you are seated or standing, that rear Mini Brain shock and FSR linkage barely cycles at all to either pedaling forces or the rise and fall of  your body.  Unique.  But depending on the Brain setting and shock pressure, it will ‘open up’ and move upon a bump force that is above the threshold you have set.  The end result is a firm to harsh feeling when you are just putting along on a smooth-ish trail but as speeds increase or the bumps grow bigger, the Brain opens up and lets the suspension work.  The Brain fork is not quite what I expected.  It does not quite have the same performance as the rear Brain in that, except for the last two most aggressive settings on the control dial, the fork will gently cycle through 10mms or so of travel as you stand and climb but then sag no further.  Then, in any of the settings, when a bump force comes along that exceeds the threshold, it gives you all the travel you need.  I have to say that I am working through this, but, as I have said before, I think I have come to a conclusion here but need more time to be sure.

I am getting the impression that, compared to any Epic model I have been on (never ridden the S Works), this one is the most narrowly focused on going fast as well as having a more aggressive Mini Brain.  There have been times that I have pushed the bike very hard while dueling with ‘da’ boyz’ and it is very impressive how it responds.  I am the limit here, not the bike.  But consequently it may be giving up the broader appeal in the process.  Is that a bad thing?  Not as long as you know that going in and frankly, it may be a very positive thing depending on what you are looking for.

For instance on a recent Tuesday night ride, which tends to be a hard effort, the Epic kept me in the fight on the uphills against another media wag on a brand new, bright green DW linked carbon wunderbike, sucked up the babyhead rocks at speed on the fast descents, and crushed them all when the trail got tight and twisty.  Then, at the end, I won the match sprint battle to the pavement finish line.  Now all that to say, that much of this ride was at race level effort/conditions.  And the faster I pushed the bike, the better it liked it.  The slower I went, the less I liked it.  No cruiser, this one.  “Pedal fast or don’t bother me”.  But when I was pushing hard, it brought out the best in the bike.  And if you are really focused on that kind of performance, then that may be a tradeoff you are more than willing to agree to.

So the Marathon will get ridden a bunch more.  I have been trail riding it too and I have a long semi-epic ride planned soon that will NOT be at a race pace and then we may even let it go real XC racing for a bit.  We shall see.  Meanwhile, I think I have this one pretty well pegged so stay tuned.

Note: Specialized Bikes sent the Epic Marathon for test and review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed, nor paid to do this review. We will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.