When the latest iteration of a bike is declared “more capable than ever,” I always want to ask, “capable of what?” (Wheelies? Salsa dancing? Espionage?) In the case of the 2021 Specialized Epic Evo, the answer might be all three. It’s lighter, more durable and less gimmicky than its predecessor, and I had a really difficult time finding its limits. What is it capable of? I’ll do my best to answer without using the word capable again.
The Specialized Epic Evo gets a ground-up treatment for 2021. While the last version was essentially an Epic with more travel and bigger tires, the new Evo takes those features and really makes them its own and drops 300 grams in the process.
The Epic Evo still borrows its front triangle from Specialized’s World-Cup-mainstay (the Epic), but paired it with a longer, more robust rear triangle (including a chain protector borrowed from the Stumpjumper). They also used a leaner version of the Stumpjumper’s flip-chip-enabled linkage—the link and extender are just as stiff, but about half the weight due to refined carbon layups and carefully selected hardware—even the bolt in the flip chip is titanium.
But we’ve buried the lead on this. The new Evo doesn’t commit you to Specialized’s proprietary BRAIN damping platform—even the S-Works level bike is designed around a traditional metric shock (the SIDLuxe) that nets 110 millimeters of rear travel, and the 120-millimeter SID Ultimate fork. The anti-squat kinematics on the 2021 Specialized Epic Evo are actually more robust than the Epic to make up for it—which made for a really supportive pedaling platform on technical climbs. I felt just fine using the lockout levers for every other type of climb. (If you’re a huge fan of the BRAIN you can still find it on the Epic—more on that below.)
To me the true mark of a good adventure bike is whether you’re willing to ride it on both dirt roads and trails you’ve never seen. In other words, it has to be light and efficient enough to take the sting out of climbs, while compensating for any bad decisions on the way down. It’s a space that feels somewhat uncomfortably occupied by hardtails—they’ll go along with your shenanigans, even if they’re not always happy about it.
But the Epic Evo doesn’t just occupy this space, it thrives there. I rode it for 75 miles one day over a smorgasbord of fire roads, gnarly baby-head descents and twisty singletrack, and I had the strange sensation of being neither over nor under-gunned (is it possible to be just “gunned”?) There’s something about knowing your bike is that much lighter that helps you fly up any climb, and it felt both intuitive and forgiving in the technical stuff. The resulting combination is freedom—you can take whatever path beckons and know your bike isn’t going to be the limiting factor.
On bigger stuff, the Evo is a bike you can’t help but push a little more, just to see how it’ll feel. It seems to laser a predictable trajectory through the air, and it has the composure of a much bigger bike when things get chunky. That’s not to say that the ultra-light SID suspension will get you out of every tight spot—It definitely feels more active than plush—but I was pleasantly surprised by the range it offered.
It’s a bike I would have no problem taking on mellower bike park lines, and that’s not something you can say about every XC rig. It would also be an ideal companion in the alpine, especially on those days when you don’t know if you’re going to roll up on a washout or a downed tree at speed.
It’s easy to forget that this bike even has XC DNA when you’re so busy treating it like a trail bike, but true to its roots it’s also just straight-up fast. It accelerates effortlessly (the super light Roval wheels help) and the way it carries momentum is uncanny. I know this feeling from other Specialized bikes, like the wheels are just effortlessly sucking up the path ahead—you just kind of inch in front of your friends without realizing it.
Perhaps the thing with the word “capable” (oops, I said it) is that it implies that other bikes are not—and that’s definitely the impression with race bikes. Sure you’ll be fast, but you’ll eventually get that scary, sketchy, puckered feeling and have to shamefully walk down that rock feature all your buddies just aired. Or sure, you can air that feature, but you’ll be sucking wind on the climbs.
“Down-country” was invented to classify these sort of Trail-lite or XC-plus bikes, but I honestly just think it’s how a bike should be. You should be able to climb a climb, and have it feel like your bike is working with, not against you. You should also be able to take your pick of trails and feel like you stand a fighting chance to enjoy most features on them. Down-country might be a trendy sort of joke right now, but I hope more bikes are like the Epic Evo in the future.
If you’re looking for something a bit racier, the 2021 race-ready Epic drops 100 grams and gets a slacker headtube, shorter chainstays and a longer reach. It also gets some major updates to suspension; while the damping on the custom shock and SID fork is still controlled by the BRAIN inertia valve, they switch from auto-sag back to regular air-spring tuning for your baseline. The linkage is both stiffer and lighter, reducing rotational forces on the shock—and the shock itself features a chrome-plated, narrower shaft to decrease friction and double bushings to mitigate wear. Both fork and shock are 100 millimeters.
The S-Works Epic Evo I rode was kitted out with a SRAM XX1 AXS group, AXS dropper, SID Ultimate 120 Fork and SIDLuxe shock. It sported the ultra-light Roval Control SL wheels, with Specialized’s Ground Control tire in the front and Fast Track in the rear. My scale put it at 22 pounds with pedals, cage and two SWAT tools (one in the headset, one on the bottle cage because, why not?). Being the S-Works model, it retails for $11,525. Yep. The XTR-equipped Pro model goes to a Step-Cast Fox 34 for $8,250, the X01 Expert model goes back to a SID for $5,925 and the SID-sprung Comp goes for $4,125. The standard XC-focused Epic S-Works goes for the same $11,525 with an XX1 AXS group, there’s a Pro model with X01 AXS for $7,925 and a standard mechanical X01 for $5,925, all SID-suspended, and all on Roval carbon wheels. Each Epic has clearance for 2.4 tires in both front and rear and has room for two water bottles on all sizes except for the XS (which still has room for one). You can get all the deets at specialized.com/epic