Bike Test: Specialized Epic Comp Carbon 29er

Vernon Felton reviews Specialized's big wheeled race machine.

By Vernon Felton
Specialized Epic Comp Carbon 29er
$4,300
specialized.com

It was no surprise when Specialized issued a 29er version of the Epic last year. If ever there was a bike that cried out for a big-wheel makeover, it was this one. The Epic is a dyed-in-the-wool racer. Big wheels can shave minutes off your race time. Put the two together? Of course. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, beans and rice, clowns and terrified children: some things just belong together.

While no bike is fast, in and of itself, I found myself covering ground at a much quicker clip aboard the Epic; a sensation akin to sprouting a spare lung. What truly surprised me, however, was how much fun the Epic is to ride. The Epic joins the very short list of 29er bikes that play nicely with tight terrain. The bike is ridiculously nimble. There’s none of the sluggish, motor home handling that plagues some 29ers.

Another highlight? Aboard the Epic, switchbacks don’t present you with that dreaded 29er, “holy crap, my bottom bracket is seventy feet tall” tipping sensation. That is because the 13-inch-high bottom bracket is only marginally higher than those of 29ers from the likes of Pivot, Santa Cruz and Trek. In fact, it is low enough to translate into a fair amount of pedal smacking on rocky trails.

This Epic Comp Carbon 29er sports a carbon front triangle mated to an M5 aluminum rear end and is the most affordable of the carbon-framed Epics. Suspension duties are handled by a 100-millimeter RockShox Reba RlT 29 up front and a Fox/Specialized FlowControl Mini Brain rear shock.

For those of you who’ve slept through the past decade of Brain shocks, here’s the basics: an inertia-valve inside the shock stays closed when the terrain is smooth; consequently, pedaling forces alone can’t kick start any unwanted monkey motion. When the rear wheel starts smacking nasties, that inertia valve opens up and lets the rear suspension go appropriately squishy. The Brain Fade adjuster enables you to tweak the inertia valve and run the bike anywhere from silly soft to rock hard. Nearly ten years of fine-tuning the Brain system has resulted in a very competent rear suspension.

The Epic sports a 142×12 through-axle out back, which lends a bit of stiffness to the lightweight aluminum rear end. It’d be nice to see a thru-axle up front as well. Likewise, I’d personally opt for a rear tire with more bite than the pinner 1.95-inch Renegade…but I’m being nitpicky here because the rest of the component spec is spot on. Besides, if you went out and bought an S-Works Epic 29er frame, all by its lonesome, it’d cost you $400 more than this complete bike. In short, the epic Comp Carbon 29er is not only a capable racer and trail bike; it’s also a surprisingly good deal.

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  • Manyac

    “Big wheels can shave minutes off your race time”? Are we accepting that as fact nowadays?

  • Eric Hay

    What gets me is every once in a while a mag admits the “motor home handling” of many 29ers! I test rode the alumiminum comp last week and it is a great bike but I’m not sure if it shaved anything off my time on my favorite loop. And I still have more fun on my 26er for whatever that counts for!

  • Tim Dayney

    “motor home feel”? I have a 29er and it feels as nimble and tossable as my old 26r. Maybe it’s just me but I do think the “motor home feel” is more like a “monster truck feel” as compaired to a “ice skate feel” or “razor scooter feel”of a 26r in a compairable type bike. Once I rode a 29er for a length of time I felt silly on the 26r.

  • Vernon

    Sorry for the late response.

    First, yeah, a 29er (assuming we’re talking about bikes with relatively similar weight and spec) will shave minutes off your race time if the course is XC oriented. No doubt about it. I test these bikes on several loops that are, in truth, considerably more aggressive and technical than what you’ll find on an XC course, and I’m continually amazed by how much time I drop when I compare my ride time on a 29er to that of a 26er. So, yeah, for carrying speed over technical terrain and over distances, 29ers can be pretty amazing.

    To address the second post, some 29ers really do ride like motor homes and this is readily apparent when you test bikes back-to-back on the same trails on the same day. Bikes with 18-plus inch chainstays and odd front-center dimensions do not handle tight and twisty trails with anything resembling nimbleness. It’s a question of wheelbase.

    Now, having said that, manufacturers are making great strides in 29er design: the entire genre is evolving massively right now: geometry is getting sorted and component offerings are improving. The Epic tested here is an amazing bike. Same goes for the 29er Scalpel, Santa Cruz Tallboy and, to be honest, a staggering number of 2012 bikes.

    Bottom line: once all the manufacturers jumped (belatedly) on the niner bandwagon, we all benefitted from more engineer and designer hours being poured into making 29ers more versatile and less awkward.

    There are some styles of riding where 26er wheels still remain king (anything with 150-millimeters or more is still going to be the domain of “traditional” 26er wheel sizing. That said, 650B is coming on huge in 2013 and you’ll see some long travel 650B bikes as well.

  • Rob Draper

    29er is way in front.
    It’s simple mathematics.
    A 26er on a 32×18(just for example) will cover one mile with 1370 revolutions, the 29er covers the same mile in 1264 revolutions.
    Put it another way a 29er on the same gear making 1370 revolutions will travel 1.08 miles, that’s approx 1/10th of a mile further in one mile.
    Measure it out on an 10 mile loop and at the same cadence the 26er will cover the 10 miles and be finishing the first lap whilst the 29er will be almost one mile (8/10ths actually) into the second ……quite a difference just taking into account the wheel size.

  • Rob Draper

    Oops…Slight calculation error in earlier post…I used 27″ wheel….
    Using 26…the difference is even greater of course.
    A 26er on a 32×18(just for example) will cover one mile with 1423 revolutions, the 29er covers the same mile in 1264 revolutions.
    So the 29er on the same gear making 1423 revolutions will travel 1.12 miles.
    On a 10 mile loop and at the same cadence the 26er will cover the 10 miles and be finishing the first lap whilst the 29er will be 1.12 miles into the second.

  • a guy

    Rob, sorry, but your logic is whack. You won’t go faster just because the wheels are bigger. Sheesh. You still have to make the pedals go around, and put the same amount of work in to go the same distances.

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