As stated in our first post on this rig, we are doing a review based on the impressions of Grannygear out in Southern California and Guitar Ted who is based in the Mid-West. We hope to bring you a more balanced picture of this black, full suspension wagon wheeler.
spesh3 001We also were fortunate enough to get Specialized Bicycles own Eric Schuda who is in charge of all of Specialized’s 29″er efforts, to chime in. Here is what he had to say when we asked about the goals and design intentions for the Epic Marathon 29:

“For the Epic 29er,the goal of the bike was to take a very successful platform/technology, being the Epic platform and Brain technology, and build off of that (to) make a fast and efficient full suspension 29er. (A) bike that would make an excellent endurance /24 hr race bike, as well as a fun light/nimble trail riding bike. The Epic 29er is built to be a fast climbing and efficient pedalling bike, but we also wanted to make sure that it was stable and confidence inspiring on descents. As fun to ride downhill as it is to stand out of the saddle and hammer uphill. You will notice that our head angle is on the slacker side of things compared to other bikes that would be considered in the same category. This was done on purpose to ensure confident descending. To keep the handling precise we used a low bottom bracket and fairly short chain stays for a full suspension 29er. To sum it up, we were looking for fast, efficient, light, with a good amount of fun factor.”

With that we’ll dive right in with Guitar Ted’s First Impressions of the Epic Marathon 29″er:

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The Epic Marathon 29 gets lots of comments for what is hung on it!

First off, I had to make a change to the tires on this rig to accomodate the current conditions here. Wet, muddy trails demanded tires with some better bite than the skinny Captain 2.0 and Fast Trak LK 2.0. I swapped out to a 2.20 Captain Contro; rear/2.3 Eskar front for the test after the first ride. So, with that change made, I was set to ride this rig and find out what the Epic Marathon had for our trails.

As with any suspension device, proper set up is paramount. I took some time dialing in a couple different settings with the air springs and with the Brain Fade. After settling on air pressures and turning the Brain Fade towards the stiffer side a few clicks, I found an agreeable sweet spot and great balance front to rear. Interestingly, just a little bit off either way seemed to really affect the ride negatively.

Off to the trails! I found that the sensation Grannygear and I felt out at Interbike was still there for climbing. This bike climbs really well out of the saddle. I suspect the Brain is what gives it that hard tail feel and without it, it would feel like my old ’94 S-Works FSR which you didn’t dare get out of the saddle on during climbs. Kudos to Specialized and Fox for making that work so well. Is “having to have” the Brain a bad thing? I don’t think so. I know some folks do not like platform feeling systems, but if not for the vibration at times from the Brain when the platform opens up, which can be felt more than heard, you’d never know it was back there. And this only happens occasionally. Still, the vibration takes getting used to. Small nit for such a great benefit, really.

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The frame felt solid. Not much flex here. It isn’t as stiff as say…..the Tall Boy, or Specialized’s own Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29, which we are also reviewing, but it is pretty dang close. Torsionally it also gives up a little bit to the carbon rigs out there, but not much. The Epic Marathon 29 will probably suffice for all but the biggest, strongest mashers out there. Most folks probably won’t notice a thing is flexing. With the tapered steer tube, carbon steerer and crown on the Rock Shox, and the massive axle contact area of the Roval wheels much of the potential for flex is arrested.

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Let’s get this out of the way right now, lest this becomes a review of SRAM XX instead of the bike. This drivetrain works great, but is sinfully expensive. There, I said it. I like the performance, the jury is still out on longevity, and it is flat out crazy spendy. Shifts under power were no issue at all. How much will it take? Well, I had the chain singing as it snapped over to another gear and the exchange was no slower than had I been soft pedalling. I don’t recommend anyone shift so indiscriminently, but in a pinch XX will pull off that shift. At least it did for me. Gearing-wise the 2X10 ratios were more than adequate for the area I ride.

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In terms of climbing techy stuff the Epic Marathon did great. The suspension did a fine job of keeping the wheel in contact with the ground. Same with descending. The suspension did well here too. Once again, the proper set up is key. A little bit off and things were not as sweet. Although the Epic Marathon has respectable chain stay length for a full suspension rig, it still is a bit long-ish feeling and I attribute this to the slacker head angle. It keeps the Epic very stable in descents, but makes it a bit more of a chore in the tight twisties of the woods here. The set up isn’t bad, and for endurance racing, it might be the meal ticket a big wheeled racer needs to keep the rubber side down at 4:30am. It just isn’t “XC-rocket” kind of handling in tight single track.

So far I find the Epic Marathon a full suspension bike that seems to straddle the line between XC and Trail and has some confusing, blurred areas due to that. Tire clearance is generous if you stay below 2.3″ers, which is fine for XC, but isn’t really good enough for all out trail riding, in my opinion. The handling seems great for trail riding, but a bit too sluggish to be a XC single track carver. Same goes for weight. 26 plus pounds with SRAM XX and pretty light wheels? Some of the competition is building up lighter with far less expensive bits. I don’t know, but that weight, which is fine for a trail rig, is on the heavier end of the scale for XC, especially in light of where the competition is at this price point. That said, the Epic Marathon 29 does nail the endurance peg pretty well. I just have a hard time justifying the drivetrain expense here. Maybe an Epic Comp would be a better recommendation for endurance racing. But hey……if you’ve got the cash, this rig as it is spec’ed would be a fine ride for a 100 miler or 24hr gig.

Now for Grannygear’s First Impressions:


The Roval wheels are very nice looking and come with tape in place and valves in the packing to go tubeless. The front hub has a very large contact area in the hub/fork interface. With no 20mm or 15mm QR, the large flat area is designed to add stiffness and keep things steering straight ahead.
Tire clearance is reasonable for the bikes intended use, but likely not up to 2.3 tires on Flows, etc. This is a 2.0 Fasttrak.===>

I set the front fork and rear shock according to my weight. The rear shock comes with a cool little widget that measures the recommended amount of sag. I cranked the Brain control out past halfway so sag settings were not affected, adjusted the pressure, then turned it back to 4 turns out from full firm. I set the front fork to 110 positive and 100 negative and hit the trail.

It pedals really well as you would expect and with the fork locked out, it feels all the world like a hardtail. Neat. The road turned to dirt and the Brain began to do its thing. With a muted ‘clack’ that you can feel in the grips/pedals and slightly hear, the shock will activate on a bump and then firm back up again till it is needed. You can tune in a bit of harshness or open it up to be nearly trailbike plush as you desire.

Now, I have had a long time ‘vision’, if you will. It came about years ago when full suspension bikes became the norm and hardtails were pretty passe. I missed the solid feeling that a hardtail gives when you rise out of the saddle and pedal hard, like for a rise in the trail, but I was not willing to go backwards in comfort to get it. None of the DW/CVA/VPP bikes gave me the feeling I wanted although the JET-9 came really close. The Epic just nails it dead center. With the Brain doing its thing, the Epic shoots forward with a solid feeling that is even better than ProPedal, especially when a bump comes along and it is able to seamlessly respond and then go back to the firm feeling. That is very, very cool. The negative? The feel of that valve ‘clack’ releasing may bother some.

The rest of the ride was no big deal and the Epic felt a bit quicker than my pretty relaxed riding Leviathan 3.0 and reminded me a lot of the JET-9 I rode in this same area. It is very agile. However, one odd thing came up for the third time that had me puzzled. Every time I have ridden an Epic, I have experienced an odd feeling in the front end. It only happens when I am going downhill, brakes on, weight forward, with the front end compressed and turning at the same time. The first time at Sea Otter I almost crashed. I thought the tire went flat on me. The next time at Demo Days it was not so dramatic, but it was there once during the ride. Here it was again…third bike. Hmmm. I thought maybe the front wheel was flexing around, but grabbing it and twisting sure did not reveal anything odd. Then I noticed I was using nearly all the travel in the front fork just cruising around the streets, jumping off of curbs, etc. Odd because the sag seemed right. Thinking that I was experiencing some fork dive that was blowing through the travel as I shifted weight forward, I increased the pressure to 130/125 pos/neg to see if that helped. Pushing on the fork, it still seemed quite plush, so it perhaps this Reba is not quite like the classic Reba on my Lev.


Back at the barn and facing a longer ride, I swapped the fairly comfortable, but too racy for my butt, saddle for a well seasoned WTB Pure V. I added a snack bag on the top tube and waited for the ride day. The ride was a 5 hour loop with 8 miles of paved climbing, 9 miles of dirt fireroad climbing, some fast rollers up top, and then 7 miles of singletrack downhill. 5000′ of climbing, 30 miles. This is the type of ride that my Leviathan just excels at. I knew that the climb would be good, but would the Epic be up to the narrow, loose and rocky singletrack?

In a word, yes. Yes it was. It is more agile than my Lev, but it handled the rock steps and football sized boulders with no drama. I used all the travel in the rear end but I never was aware of any bottoming out. I am a smooth rider, so I was not just bombing it, but I never felt like I needed more travel. I bet this bike would be killer for stuff like the 24 hours of Moab. Oh, I never felt the odd front end dive thing on the ride, but I did sacrifice some small bump compliance with 130psi in the fork. I was still getting full travel though, and the less than completely plush feeling fork setting was a bit of a compliment to the platform feeling rear end. I did dial the Brain out one more click from firm before I dropped into the singletrack.


Testing will continue, but I think I have a pretty good feel for this bikes niche. This is not the bike that you contemplate, “will a 120mm fork work here?” This is not the bike where you ask, will a 2.4 tire fit the rear triangle?” This is not the bike where you post on your favorite forum, “I like to do 3 foot drops. Is this OK for the Epic?” This is the bike for your next 12 or 24 hour event if the hardtail is beating on you or the FS you are on feels a bit sluggish. It is the bike for covering huge miles and long days across varied terrain. It is squarely aimed at the endurance nut or the weekend warrior that does not require bigger travel and appreciates finesse and efficiency.

Is it a trailbike? It could be if your idea of a trailbike is a 3.0 Leviathan, a Racer X 29er, a JET-9, or anything in that area of performance. Beyond that, look at a Stumpjumper FSR 29er and enjoy the Brain on a longer travel, slacker angled bike.

What about pure XC racing? If your XC racing is rough enough, you could race this, but the Gary Fisher Superfly 100s are building up lighter and will likely grab that slot for a lot of folks. However, the aluminum frame of the Epic is likely more crash worthy if that appeals to you and the Brain makes the Superfly 100 feel squishy in comparison.

I also have some strong impressions of the XX group, 2×10 set-ups, and high budget bikes like this one. The Marathon is not a cheap bike. It is not even a moderately priced bike. The XX bits and the carbon Reba are spendy. It also seems to me that the weight of the bike is a bit high for the price and there are not too many places to shave ounces. 2×10 is interesting and I can see the appeal to racers. It shifts extremely well and the range is pretty good. Depending on your fitness and requirements for low gears, a 26/36 may or may not get it done. I have heard that the rear cassette is $350.00 to replace. Really? I don’t think so. Not this guy. I am an X9 with a smattering of XO sort for fellow. Or, if you prefer, XT with dabs of XTR. The cost of the components on the Marathon are pretty steep and will continue to be steep as they need to be replaced for wear and tear.

I would buy a Comp model for sure and take a weight hit. Or, if my budget allowed, buy the Marathon frame and fork and build it with a more traditional but light weight parts selection. But, if you want the top of the line parts and you are willing to write the check, or if you are sponsored, etc, XX seems to be very functional stuff even if it does dip into the kids college fund.

For now, the Epic looks like a winner, either in the high budget Marathon version or the more moderate Comp. It brings a new level of performance to the 29er world and it could be the bike that finally would replace that Leviathan 3.0 that for me has become a measuring stick for light and efficient FS 29ers.

Note: These products were provided to Twenty Nine Inches at no charge for reviewing. We are not being paid or bribed for this review. We will give our honest opinion or thoughts through out.