Specialized gave the Epic and Epic EVO a makeover for 2021, stretching both bikes out and lowering and slackening them.
While they may share some design aspects, Specialized has really gone to town on the EVO and as you’ll soon see, it’s more than just a jacked-up cross-country race machine.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert frame and suspension details
The Epic EVO shares the same FACT 11m front triangle as its XC sibling (only the S-Works model uses the fancier FACT 12m carbon) which allows Specialized to tune the ride feel by tweaking the carbon lay-up in a bid to keep the bike feeling the same across all frame sizes.
But it’s all change at the rear, where the EVO sports a different rear end and shock yoke. Travel is increased from 100mm to 110mm and, unlike the Epic, the EVO forgoes the use of the auto-adjusting Brain shock – which places a remote reservoir containing an inertia valve down by the rear drop out, connected via a hydraulic that runs through the shock yoke and down the seatstay.
In a bid to save weight, flex stays are used instead of a Horst-link chainstay pivot, while a RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ rear shock with Specialized’s Rx XC tune controls the 110mm of rear travel.
There’s room for two bottle cages in the front triangle but no SWAT compartment to stash essentials. Cables are routed internally and just behind the bottom bracket, and where the rear triangle meets the front, Specialized has plugged the gap with a thin rubber grommet to help prevent crud build up.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert geometry
The Epic EVO is available in five different sizes, all of which sport 29in wheels. Sizes range from extra-small to extra-large, so most riders should be able to find a frame size that’ll work for them.
The bike’s geometry doesn’t look that far off what we’d expect to see on a trail bike and at the base of the shock is a flip-chip that allows you to alter the geometry, tweaking bottom bracket height by 7mm and the head angle by 0.5 degrees.
My medium bike has a 436mm reach, which isn’t massive but is still longer than the Cannondale’s Scalpel SE, for a little more room to manoeuvre when out of the saddle.
The 66.4-degree head angle helps to create a 730mm front centre, while an effective top tube of 602mm is similar to the Epic EVO’s closest rivals.
With a bottom bracket height of 335mm (with a drop of 36mm) the Epic EVO feels ground-huggingly low. The 74.7-degree seat angle is reasonable for a bike of this type but isn’t as steep as the race-focused Epic or the likes of the Transition Spur – a bike designed with very similar intentions.
The chainstays measure just under 440mm.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert specifications
The overall build isn’t quite as fancy as you might expect and it’s almost surprising to see no carbon bar here. Instead, Specialized includes its no-frills alloy option. While there’s nothing wrong with this, you’d be hard-pressed to spot anything but carbon on its similarly-priced rivals.
It’s a similar story with the crankset, which is SRAM’s alloy X1 offering. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but considering the asking price and what comes specced on the competition, you’d think the EVO would be dripping with carbon.
And although you get a SRAM X01 Eagle shifter and rear derailleur, both the cassette and chain are from the GX Eagle family. While that’ll not likely change things in terms of performance on the whole, they are both heavier than their X01 equivalents.
The inclusion of SRAM’s four-piston G2 brakes are a subtle nod to the Epic EVO’s potential for rowdiness, but I’d prefer to see a bigger 180mm rotor rather than the 160mm disc specced as standard. And it’s worth noting that these are the RS rather than RSC or Ultimate models found further up the G2 brakes range.
Deep Roval Control Carbon rims with a 25mm internal width, and built onto DT Swiss 350 hubs, are wrapped in own-brand rubber, with a knobbly Ground Control tyre up front and a lower-profile Fast Trak at the rear, both in the GRIPTON compound and Control casing.
A RockShox SID Select+ fork sits up front rather than the Ultimate found on the cheaper Transition Spur X01 that I tested this bike alongside, but it’s no bad thing. While you don’t get the top-end, superlight Charger Race Day damper, the Charger 2 RL is still a smooth operator and does a fine job of controlling the 120mm of travel.
The real plus is that the Select+ uses a regular rebound adjuster rather than the fiddlier 2.5mm Allen key system of the pricier fork. You will still need a 2.5mm Allen key to alter the rebound damping on the SIDLuxe shock, though.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert ride impressions
In a bid to get the measure of the Epic EVO Expert, I rode it on a variety of terrain in different conditions. This included laps of technical, root-riddled singletrack where the climbs were steep and awkward, and descents rough and hard to maintain momentum on.
As these bikes are designed to be good all-rounders, I also ensured I rattled out some trail centre laps on established (read rough and worn) trails as well as longer, high-mileage rides where long stretches of tarmac road interrupt the off-road shenanigans.
It was also important to try to find the limits of the bike, so I ventured onto more technical trails normally reserved for longer travel trail bikes, just to see what the Epic EVO Expert could handle.
I set the fork and shock’s sag and rebound damping to suit my requirements and never felt the need to alter the bike during testing.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert climbing performance
Press on the pedals and the Epic EVO instantly feels fast, efficient and racy. It surges forward like an e-MTB in turbo mode, with every ounce of the energy you put in being spat out the rear tyre.
On the climbs, as your cadence slows and you mash at the pedals, the Epic EVO sits into the initial part of its travel but doesn’t hunker down in quite the same way as the Scalpel, and feels more stable and better supported, especially when you’re standing up.
That means, despite only having a very slightly steeper effective seat angle due to the way in which the rear end remains higher in its travel, the Epic EVO feels like it sits you in a more comfortable, efficient position on the bike from which to tackle the climbs.
Even on steeper pitches, I never struggled with the front end lightening up or wandering. Instead, I was left to sit and spin up the climbs. It was only on particularly technical hills in wet weather that the Epic EVO came unstuck and that was more down to a lack of traction from the rear tyre than anything else.
And, if you do feel the need to get up out of the saddle and sprint, the Epic EVO feels efficient, taut and muscular. Providing you can get enough rear-wheel traction, the power transfer from the pedals to the rear tyre’s contact feels incredibly direct.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert descending performance
While the Epic EVO may tout its cross-country roots on the climbs, its manner when pointed downhill is really quite astounding.
It may not boast the most stretched-out geometry (unlike the Nukeproof Reactor ST and Transition Spur) but it nevertheless still manages to feel reassuringly surefooted and confident as the trail becomes more demanding.
Point it down a mellow flow or jump trail and it’ll swoop and carve its way with far more bravado than the 110mm of rear-wheel travel might suggest.
Generating speed comes easily thanks to the solid feel through the frame, meaning pumping through undulations or down the backsides of jumps really gets the Epic EVO firing forward down the trail. And it’ll hang onto that momentum well too, providing you’re smart with your line choices.
The low-slung bottom bracket boosts confidence further and will have you exploring the limitations of the tyre tread as you bank the bike over from one turn to the next. And while the front Ground Control tyre isn’t bad, I’d prefer something even more aggressive.
At the rear, while the Fast Trak rolls easily, it’s not the best under braking when conditions are damp, so you’ll need to be careful with how much pressure you apply through the G2 brakes. Get too heavy-handed with the rear brake and it doesn’t take much to get the rear tyre snaking across the trail.
Tackling more engaging trails, the Epic EVO feels incredibly capable, but it’s best ridden in a calculated, precise way. While it has a little less travel than some and a more efficient than forgiving feeling through the back end of the bike, it’s seriously impressive just how fast it’ll cover ground.
But there’s no doubt that it has a narrower margin for error when compared to both the Nukeproof Reactor ST and sprightly Transition Spur, both of which are more formidable on the descents.
This means careful line choice is key to really unlock the Epic EVO’s potential. Get too wild or ragged when hitting the really rough stuff and its momentum can quickly get stifled. Pick your route more carefully and you’ll be rewarded with masses of pace and a proper grin-inducing ride.
Overall, if you take a look at the price and the spec sheet, the Epic EVO can fall short in some areas for value compared to its closest rivals, but thankfully none of this detracts from just how capable, fun and fast it is on the trail.
If you’re looking for a bike to cover ground quickly but still be masses of fun on the descents, the Epic EVO is definitely worth considering.
Specialized Epic EVO Expert bottom line
The Epic EVO Expert is far more capable than its rear-wheel travel figure might suggest. It’s sprightly and energetic and feels rapid on the climbs or when trucking along mellower trails.
Pointed downhill, it’s surprisingly surefooted and confident, carrying speed well through tougher terrain than you’d expect to be able to ride on a bike with so much cross-country DNA.
When it comes to value, the Epic EVO Expert may be outshined by its closest competitors, but on the trail, it manages to deliver far beyond your expectations.
How we tested
We put four downcountry bikes through their paces on a range of terrain, which they are designed to handle – including trail centre laps, flowing bike park style descents and jumps, natural singletrack, technical climbs as well as steep, bump-riddled descents – to find out what this burgeoning category of bike is all about.
But what does downcountry mean? Imagine a bike that can tackle all-day epics with speed and efficiency, covering ground with an ease that even a well-put-together trail bike would struggle to muster.
What’s more, not only can it eat up the miles, but it’s designed in such a way and has the right mix of parts to handle rugged natural singletrack or the odd flowing jump trail with more stability than its limited travel might suggest.
Suspension travel generally sits between 110 and 125mm, and they’re fitted with relatively light, fast-rolling tyres on 29in wheels. Dropper posts tend to feature too, for maximum trail flow.
Due to current availability issues, the bikes in our test are top-end builds, or close to it, but if you can’t stretch to these lofty price tags there are cheaper models available in most cases – although you may face a wait for one.