By Vernon Felton
Specialized Epic Comp Carbon 29er
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.