I’m a fan of light, fast, racy bikes. I’m more of an XC oriented guy, and less of a AM or big drops kinda guy. I love my Spearfish with 110/80mm of travel front/rear, if that tells you anything. So when I was at Brown County and had a chance to demo some bikes, I was looking for a few things. I wanted to try the new Trek Fuel EX 29er (details on that in a few days), and I wanted to try some light, fast XC bikes.
I’ve squarely expressed my position that FS bikes are preferable, at least to me.
So when I walked past the Specialized booth, the Epic Expert Carbon caught my eye. 100/100mm travel, carbon rims, full-carbon frame, tapered steerer, carbon seatpost, Shadow Plus XTR Rear derailleur, Magura MTS brakes…pretty nice kit. Here is the bike I rode:
I rode this bike on a bluebird skies day, on clear, dry trails, in perfect conditions.
At the outset, let me say that the 2×10 drivetrain on this bike makes no sense to me. The XTR rear mech functioned perfectly–no complaints–but this is a bike that is SCREAMING for a 1x drivetrain. This bike MSRP’s for $6,300. For an extra $500, you can get a bike with XO1 drivetrain (1×11). I’m a bit surprised that a nearly $7,000 bike features XO1 instead of XX1, but the XO1 does function identically, so the only real difference is in the weight savings.
The component spec was great. I appreciated the autosag feature on the suspension a great deal. Pump up the suspension, hit the autosag, and hit the trails. The wheels were nice and stiff, and quick to spin up, and the bike was very light, lithe and athletic.
When I pushed up the first climb to get on the trail, I was anticipating really liking this bike. And then I got to the first corner.
I don’t often write negative reviews on here…but my feelings on the handling of this bike can be summed up in one word: terrifying. The initial handling (with the BRAIN suspension control set in the stiffest setting, as recommended by the Specialized demo guys) was horrifying. After turning the suspension down quite a bit, the handling calmed down a bit, but the bike was still terrifying.
I felt as if I was riding way out in front of the handlebars. The sizing wasn’t off, but the bike gave the impression that all of my weight was somewhere in front of the front wheel. (Note: this did not change when briefly checking out a size larger bike). It felt like riding with a passenger on my handlebars. In corners, I had no sense for how much traction I had. Applying braking did not generate brake jack, but it did further confuse the suspension and render the question of how much traction was available even murkier. When I lost traction, pushing too hard in a corner, the tires did a good job of hooking back up, but when they did hook back up, the suspension loaded up and did a horrendous catapult action, nearly throwing me off the saddle.
It climbed perfectly, as long as you weren’t trying to surmount large obstacles while climbing. It was mighty fast on the flats, and the light build and light wheels made for high speeds. When the trails turned downhill, it was the squirreliest bike I’ve ever ridden. I’ve ridden XC bikes with quick handling…this wasn’t a “get used to riding XC head tube angle” situation. It felt like the fork was backwards or something. It was scary. It was unpleasurable. It made me want to get off of the bike as soon as possible. I tried adjusting shock/fork pressure, I tried adjusting fork/shock settings, I checked tire pressure, I looked at saddle height and bar height. Nothing helped. I even looked over it to make sure that there wasn’t some mechanical issue (loose stem or something similar). On a positive note, while the bike did not inspire confidence and while I question the choice of a 2x drivetrain on a lightweight XC bike, the Magura brakes functioned wonderfully (and were used extensively, to haul the bike down from race speed to “please don’t kill me in this corner” speed), and the Shimano XTR/XT drivetrain worked perfectly as well.
It was a beautiful bike. I loved the matte black finish. I liked the clever tool storage (both in the headset cap and in the storage box under the front bottle cage); I hope more manufacturers adopt ideas like that. But I really did not enjoy the bike. It was a bike that should have been ideally suited to the Brown County trails, particularly when they were dry…but it was literally scary to ride. It’s not often that you’d hear someone say this, but I wouldn’t want to ride this bike if it was given to me. And all that noted, this bike was a ‘regular’ edition, not a World Cup edition, so it didn’t have the more aggressive geometry of the WC editions.
I’ve read other reviews of this bike that talk about it being fast but predictable and not sketchy. That was not my experience. I really, genuinely wonder if there was some mechanical issue with the bike, or some improper setup issue. To that end, I talked to the Specialized demo guy at the demo event for several minutes afterwards, explaining the issues. He looked over the bike and pronounced it all-good. He also said it wasn’t the first time he’d heard someone have this sort of reaction.
So in the end, it’s a beautiful bike with a nice spec, but if you’re interested in this one, try it before you buy it.