Final Review: 2013 Specialized Epic Marathon- by Grannygear
Last night’s ride on the 2013 Specialized Epic Marathon was a fast pace on a flat dirt road for a warm up, then a hammer session to the top of the hill followed by a twisty trail that darts around the chaparral toward the canyon bottom. Just the typical after work ride with a slight nod towards urgency. It had been a while since I had been on the Marathon and as before, I was struck by the way it rolls out when you are trying to make time. I also was thinking about the last ride I had on another Epic and I was trying to come to terms in my mind with why I was getting a bit different feel out of this one compared to that Comp model.
Because this bike, from the beginning, had come across to me as edgier and a bit more racing focused, yet the bikes are not all THAT different in spec. Sure, one is carbon (mostly) and has carbon wheels, etc, but the controls were pretty much the same. Tires were the same. One is lighter for sure…guess which one…and maybe that is part of it. Lighter and stiffer wheels are certainly a game changer. So what is the deal with this model that makes me think ‘Race Bike’ or at least high performance XC more than ‘light to moderate XC/trail bike’? Here are my thoughts about that and other things.
- Stiff chassis, including the wheels, combined with the lighter weight overall. The Marathon is super responsive but less ‘planted’ on rougher trails. That is some of it I think.
- At first the rear Mini Brain seemed to be more aggressive then I had recalled, but I also have noticed it feels smoother as time has gone on. Am I used to it now or is it really smoother? I think a bit of both. Perhaps some break-in time on the rear shock? Not sure. This new shock with the Auto Sag ‘should’ be smoother in feel than the older versions due to internal changes related to the Autosag feature and now I believe that it is.
- The front Brain fork. I think this is a great deal of why it feels more narrowly focused to me. I am surprised how much that changed the dynamic of the bike overall. I have a nit to pick with the Brain fork. Unless I ran it in nearly full ‘on’ it had too much ‘free stroke’…a term I coined just now, actually, and it could be a stupid term. But if I ran the Brain fork in the more counter clockwise settings and I was standing and climbing, the fork would move too much. It would not dive, just cycle through 15mm or so of travel, bobbing along as I climbed. That was especially annoying because the rear end is so stable under the same conditions. So I ran the fork one click from fully ‘on’ and I ran the rear Mini Brain in the middle setting. That gave me a fork that was not very supple on small ripples, but took all the significant trail junk, baby heads, ruts, etc, right on out and did not bob when pedaling out of the saddle. I liked it there, actually. It gave the Marathon a balanced feel that agreed with the nature of the bike. It also reduced brake dive, but every so often, if I had my weight forward, like in a decreasing radius corner on a smooth trail, the fork would be riding high, and then if I hit a bump big enough to activate the fork, it would settle into its travel quickly…felt kinda’ odd. In the end, the Brain Fork and I came to terms, but it required a personal commitment away from ‘trail bike’ status.
- Those new carbon Roval Controls are very good feeling wheels…stiff and fast.
- The drivetrain was solid and the XO Grip Shift is unique spec…I like it, but it may not be your cup of tea and it is costly to swap it out.
- The Magura MT6 brakes were decent stoppers overall, smooth, progressive and quiet but I would have liked more power. Compounding that is the way that the Grip Shift moves the brake levers in-board a bit and one finger braking is easy, but two finger braking…not so much. Compared to the Shimano SLXs I have tried, with equivalent rotor sizes, the SLXs have NEVER needed more than one finger and that is on a 6 pound heavier bike.
- The way that Specialized designs the Epics…low bottom brackets, slacker than you might expect head tube angles (70.5*), proper chain stays @ 448mm/17.6″…it gives the Epic a good all-round balance and it works really well on this side of the Rockies…however, what about back East where the roots and rocks are everywhere and the trees close in…hard to say.
I wanted to get a fresh opinion of the Marathon so I let Navy Mike, a good friend and heavy duty SS rider, grab a ride on the Epic Marathon. Mike is a hammer by nature and is always pushing hard on every ride. So, on a night that should have been a recovery ride for both of us, I let him loose on the Epic with very few suggestions on what I thought about the bike to avoid pre-conceived notions. His normal rides are a Vassago SS and a Rocky Mountain Element FS 26er. His words were:
- This thing’s a beast!
- It rewards your efforts…you get back what you put in.
- Wow! There were a lot of wows.
- It climbs like a hard tail.
There is a slight grade that runs up to ‘The Meadow’ on our local loop. On the Epic, he stayed seated and kept clicking up into taller gears and pushing hard, waiting for the bike to let him know it was done playing. At some point you typically will feel the bike begin to bog and slow as you top out into a cog that is too high to maintain acceleration. That never happened on the Marathon. He just kept going faster until his legs blew. From the Meadow to the top of the last hill climb he set a personal Strava record on the Epic. On the way down he was no slouch either. His kid’s college funds are in danger. I think his response is typical of what one would expect from this bike and he is the type of rider that this Epic Marathon deserves, always pushing hard and looking for a new PBR.
Here are his words:
First of all the size of the XL Epic Marathon was perfect for me and I felt correct and not awkward on it at all, which is not always the case when riding a new bike. Once I started pedaling and doing some moderate climbs, I was really impressed with the way the bike accelerated. From the ‘Oak Tree’ to the ‘Meadow’ (as mentioned above – Editor) I was trying to get to a point where my efforts in pedaling were not being rewarded by an equal amount of forward movement and was not able to find that. Basically the bike just wanted to go fast and there was never a point where I felt the bike was fighting me to move forward at least as far as my fitness level would allow. Once we moved on from the Meadow and started a series of short, punchy climbs toward the top I was riding this bike similar to the way I would ride both my Rocky Mountain FS and my single speed, by alternating sitting and spinning on steep sections and standing and hammering. The suspension felt the same regardless of the riding position and how aggressive I was pedaling, which was really impressive. I really enjoyed the way the suspension kept the bike on the ground, which allowed me to pedal through fast technical sections. It did take me a couple of tries adjusting the front fork to get it to the spot where it functioned to my liking for any riding style, but once set up I was able to leave it alone and just ride. – Navy Mike
The 2013 Epic Marathon blends unique spec and performance into a premium XC FS 29er package that is not JUST an XC only race bike, but your buddies may not know that when you pass them.
Note: Specialized sent over the Epic Marathon for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to give or honest thoughts and opinions throughout.