First Look: Specialized S-Works Epic 29er

The finest XC and endurance race bike money can buy just keeps getting better. But $12,000? Really?


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After I raced the 2014 Leadville 100 aboard the fully revamped S-Works Epic, I rode away saying that Specialized had finally reached this race bike’s pinnacle of design. A year later, the company is still tinkering—and the bike just keeps improving.

On the face of it, the new S-Works Epic is not a major overhaul from past versions. Last year’s iteration made the most significant development by shrinking down the cam size on the shock and bumping it up to make room for two full size water bottles in the main triangle. No other full suspension bike has that sort of space, and the fact that the company even packed their SWAT box storage solution into the frame kind of seems like they were thumbing their noses at the competition.

However, a closer look reveals a development this year that’s almost as interesting as last year’s frame configuration. For the first time ever, the Epic is equipped with a dropper post. The new Command Post XCP has only 35mm of travel (as compared to 100mm or 125mm on their trail-oriented Blacklite and Command Post IR), which critics will inevitably bellyache isn’t enough. It definitely feels pretty diminutive when you first ride it, but that’s partly because I’m used to more space. Once I got used to it, I started to appreciate the short-travel design. It’s important because Specialized has developed the post just for XC use (as well as their adventure road bike the Diverge), and they’ve done it without increasing weight.

The weight is the other shock about this year’s Epic. Despite the new dropper, this bike is over two pounds lighter than last year’s model. It tipped my scale at a whisker over 21 pounds, and that was with two cages, the SWAT box, tools, spare tube, inflator, and air canister still on the bike. With those things removed, this new bike would surely dip down near—or under—20 pounds.

Yep, the $12,000 price tag is astonishingly high The only rebuttal: this bike is the pinnacle of design and continues to push the boundaries of what's possible. It should be expensive.

Part of the weight savings comes from the RockShox RS-1 fork, which pairs the benefits of the inverted design (added stiffness, lower weight, small bump compliance, and better durability) with Specailized’s proprietary Brain system. The idea of the latter is to keep the platform on to prevent bob, but allow the fork to open fully for big hits. This version of the design is the best I’ve seen as there are five separate settings, accessible from the riding position, for fine-tuning the platform. So far, the RS-1 feels like the perfect complement to the Epic’s hard, fast, racy feel and will hopefully alleviate some of the clogging issues the company had with last year’s SID World Cup design.

The other notable change is the new Shimano XTR, which finally takes the Japanese company to 11 speeds in the rear. Interestingly, Specialized has gone with the two-ring configuration in the front (36/26). I imagine some 1×11 devotees will complain about this, and it’s true that losing a ring and front shifter would have shaved more weight.

It’s worth noting, however, that Shimano is advocating the 2x setup for 95 percent of the population, excluding the strongest racers, as they feel the 1x leaves most riders with too few gears. I tend to agree. I don’t mind the 2×11 for the endurance races I do, as the longer you ride the more you want smaller grannie options to keep your legs fresh. But the good news for anyone who wants a single is that, unlike SRAM, the new crank can easily shift from one to two to three chain rings. In any case, the XTR components work as beautifully as ever.

I can already hear the howls of outrage over the $12,000 price tag. Yep, it’s astonishingly high, and few people are going to pay full price for this bike. The only rebuttal is that this bike is the pinnacle of design and continues to push the boundaries of possibility—it should be expensive. Moreover, Specialized has eight models of the bike all the way down to $3,100. And the more they pour into research on these halo bikes, the more innovations that trickle down to those more affordable rides. You and I might never afford (or even want to afford) a $12,000 mountain bike, but the ones we pay a quarter of the price for benefit from the S-Works design team.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ride this Epic before I have to return it.