Editor’s Note: Here is the second of the three ride impressions on the three full suspension 29″ers being thrashed by c_g and M1 in Europe.

Specialized Epic Carbon Comp 29 – Ride Impressions by c_g

Specialized has a long history with 29er and their commitment to the genre is admirable. Just read Grannygear’s and Guitar Ted’s reports on what innovations have com from the big S over the years. I have had very little contact to them or their products – being plenty busy in covering what there is new for 29″er folks from this side of the big pond. But being given the opportunity to ride and review this trio of 29″er full suspension bikes was simply too good to pass. Each of the three bikes had always been high on my list of “Bikes I want to ride”. Last you have heard my experiences on the ROCKY MOUNTAIN Altitude 29″er SE (here) – now it is the Specialized Epic´s turn.

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The key features that I was curious about with the SPECIALIZED was the famed geometry and the 2011 Brain suspension technology. So let´s step into how they made an impression on me.

The Bike: The SPECIALIZED Epic Comp Carbon 29″er isn´t the most blingy 29″er in their line by far. It also is not the base level but a very worthy and decent weight bike from their mid-range. For me it falls well within the price and component range of bikes that I might choose as a one for all rig. Functional and light enough to be raced or ridden for an epic alpine adventure – at least that is what I had expected from the bike. Did the Carbon Comp 29″er fulfill my expectations? … Read on.

For a full listing of what features and components adorn this bike – I´d like to refer you to the detailed tech intro here.

11 SpeciSeating position/ handling: One thing I can mention right away – Specialized has pretty much nailed the seating position and geometry to a point where it is super universal and pleasing to a lot of rider types. It sure fit me and I immediately felt at home on the bike. To optimize the fit I changed the stem´s negative 12° rise to a more moderate -8° by turning the shim, that came with the stem by 180° – I really like that system.

Once dialed I felt that the seating position was on the propulsion oriented side but not stretched or uncomfortable. If it feels too stretched for you, it is easily modified by a non-offset post and/or a shorter stem. The cockpit falls on the wider side, which may not meet every racer´s choice (but those can trim if they like) but gives additional control and leverage when needed.

The frame feels very stiff overall, the steering precision in front as well as the bottom bracket stiffness for power transfer are all top notch. There was absolutely no detectable power loss under pedaling input. By my subjective impression I´d place it higher than the TREK´s and the ROCKY MOUNTAIN in that regard. This extends to the alloy rear triangle as well.

– By handling I give the SPECIALZED Epic carbon 29″er very high marks and to me it is a bike perfectly capable of steep climbing as well as technical riding or XC-style riding. This excellently neutral handling and balanced feel (that balanced SPECIALIZED feel I have heard much about but never had a longer ride period to really get it).

Riding / Suspension

13 SpeciHere is where the SPECIALIZED Epic sets itself apart from any other bike I know, after all the BRAIN shock technology is proprietary to SPECIALIZED :). I found the shock to be super adjustable via the Brain Fade. It would allow for a setting from very firm to pretty soft. Note though that even when fully closed there was some remaining suspension – much like a firm soft tail, but not a complete hard tail sensation. Within the range I found my preferred position somewhere between 4-6 clicks from open (12 click complete range). The opening action by the inertia valve is super smooth and almost transition-less within the biggest part of the adjustment range. Only at fully open could I hear a slight click by inertial valve and when fully locked the opening of valve happens too abruptly under harder impacts, so the extremes felt imbalanced and awkward.

While the earlier generations of the Brain shock always had me which for some improvement, the 2011 generation has done it for me – well done SPECIALIZED :).

Overall I found the Brain shock to be eliminating any pedaling induced bobbing very effectively. I found the feel a bit strange at the beginning but very soon learned to love it.

One thing need to be said though. The “brain” does create a specific suspension feel that differs from others. So the Rock Shox Reba ended up feeling overly active when set up like I usually ride it. Setting the compression damping to 1/3 closed and a medium floodgate I found the front to match the rear nicely.

-Overall the suspension was one that is the closest to “Set and Forget” that I have ever met. I am a suspension user that often reaches for the lockout or turns the platform damping ON and OFF depending on the trail conditions and riding style. In this light the only downside to the brain is that it can only be set or altered when dismounting.

With the SPECIALIZED Epic it felt like I was robbed off all my possibilities to alter the ride when pedaling – a thing that felt awkward initially but soon grew on me. Indeed I kind of learned to love the sensation and ride characteristics of the Epic in terms of suspension action.

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In terms of the components all worked pretty fine in action – no real problems whatsoever. Shifting was not super crisp like the Trek´s XO but precise and perfectly working throughout my testing period. I am starting to like double ring cranks. It sure helps keeping the front shifting precise when hammering and the 24/36 chain rings were fine for all but the longest climbs – it sure was more universal than the TREK`s 26t granny. Braking was adequate and nice, despite the 160 mm front and rear, no issue for the type of riding I did on the bike. Did I already mention that I loved the SPECIALIZED´s versatile stem with plenty of rise options without looking strange :).

But there are some smaller issues as well. While 142+ rear hub usually is designed to be self centering the rear triangle was too wide and so the mounting the 142+ rear hub was pretty fiddly. Once mounted it worked like a charm. I found the Renegade 2.00 rear tire to be nicely matching the more aggressive THE CAPTAIN up front giving good speed and traction while providing plenty of control and tracking on the front. The quick release front fork combined to the wide flanged front hub tracked nicely also, only in direct comparison could I detect the difference to the ROCKY MOUNTAIN´s through axle.

As a race bike the SPECIALIZED Epic Carbon Comp 29″er suffers a bit from the slightly high weight of 12,1 kg, but the really good specs and frame for the asking price are absolutely justified. And if you are looking to reduce the weight, do a bit of tuning or go for the next higher spec’ed frame.

– Once again I found very little reasons to complain, The double ring configuration up might not be the most adaptable for general riding or epic adventures but then again running the XT triple on the ROCKKY didn’t give me a lower gearing either. For fast riding the 36t big ring gave me plenty of speed for 98% of the time.

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As you have read in detail above, I ended up liking the Epic very much. To me it felt best when set up like a soft tail – with some give for trail chatter and small things, very stable and efficient on smoother grounds, yet capable of really rough riding as well. The Epic made use of all its travel on rough rides without ever bottoming out. The BRAIN shock produced the best of two worlds – hard tail efficiency under smooth sailing and plush suspension when needed. If I were to put it into one phrase it would sound like: “The Epic is a soft tail with full suspension capacities”. By handling and steering it is apparent that Specialized have a well refined geometry that suits a really wide range of riders and riding styles.

Before the test I had been more skeptical on how much I´d like the bike but now I got to admit – I am loving it. :).

Stay tuned for the third (and most prestigious) bike in the trio, the TREK Superfly 100 Elite.



* “The bikes had been submitted to twentynineinches.com from the national distributors of each brand at no charge and we want to thank them for that.”
* “All pictures of the bikes are from the early testing phase, meanwhile my camera broke and has not been returned to me until the end of the test”