Previewed: Specialized 2009 Product Launch

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The new Epic is lighter and stiffer. No big surprise there, right? I mean, aside from having more travel, that’s kind of always been the aim of mountain bike design. The real story, however, is how they got there in the first place. It wasn’t just by bolting on lighter parts...

The company shaved about 570 grams (that’s 1.3 pounds for us `Mericans) off their flagship S-Works model. That means a medium S-Works Epic (minus pedals) now tips the scale at a mere 21.27 pounds. For a bike with four honest-to-goodness inches of travel, that’s freaky light. The bike is also quantifiably stiffer: about 14 percent stiffer at the headtube and 23 percent stiffer at the bottom bracket.

Here’s how they did it.

For starters, the S-Works frame--main triangle, seatstays, chainstays... even one of the rear dropouts--is all carbon fiber. That, right there, is significant. Specialized is committed to the material--and not just for racing. You find carbon fiber used extensively on the five-inch travel Stumpjumper FSR platform and the six-inch travel Enduro platforms as well. Well, at least at the very high end of those two lines. Aluminum models still predominate in most model lines since the majority of us don’t have several thousand to blow on our next bike, but the fact that Specialized deems carbon fiber fit for so many applications is impressive. The top two Epic models (the S-Works and Marathon) will feature carbon frames, though the Marathon version will use a more economical composite material in the main frame, paired to aluminum chainstays.

The other key to shedding weight on the Epic is systems integration. In a nutshell, systems integration is a fancy way of saying “bike parts that are specifically designed to work with one another”. Cannondale forged this notion a decade ago (think HeadShok, Lefty forks, proprietary bottom brackets, etc.), but the big companies like Specialized and Trek are now truly taking the notion to heart.

Consider this: when Specialized upgraded the ’09 Epic’s conventional 1.125 headtube to a tapered (1.5 to 1.125-inch) headtube, they didn’t do it just for the inherent stiffness and weight advantages of a tapered steerer. Nope, Specialized was also looking at adding a larger diameter downtube that would mate to a wider-than-normal bottom bracket, which, taken altogether not only boosts front-end stiffness but also axle-to-axle stiffness.

All this systems integration stuff also means there are a host of proprietary parts on the new, higher-end Specialized bikes. For starters, there’s as an S-Works crankset that the company claims is 100 grams lighter than an external bearing XTR crankset and bottom bracket. The S-Works crankset mates to an extra-wide 84.5-millimeter bottom bracket shell. It’s a press-in bearing system similar to the new BB-30 standard, but it’s wider still.

If you must run Shimano cranks, you can still run them by pressing in Shimano adapter cups. Same holds true for the tapered head tube. The headtube is designed to work with Specailized’s own tapered-steerer forks, but you can run a lower race that will enable you to plunk in any 1.125-steerer fork.