Specialized Epic EVO, TransAlp Tested


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Jul 13, 2023

Specialized Epic EVO, TransAlp Tested

When I decided to take another stab at the BikeTransAlp Race in 2023 for the event’s 25th Anniversary, I knew I’d need a light, competent mount. I’d done the race seven years before on a 2015

When I decided to take another stab at the BikeTransAlp Race in 2023 for the event’s 25th Anniversary, I knew I’d need a light, competent mount. I’d done the race seven years before on a 2015 Specialized Epic and it had been exactly the right tool for the job. Would it be again? The Specialized Epic EVO, first introduced in 2018, boasts just a tad more suspension than the straight-up Epic, and also lost its Brain. I was delighted for an opportunity to test the EVO Pro under some really tough conditions during training leading up to the race, and certainly during the race itself.

Reviewer profile height 170cm (5’7″) weight: 61kg (135lb) testing zone: Colorado Rockies, the Alps

While the TransAlp, at 308 miles and 57,000 feet of climbing over seven days, certainly feels like it is all uphill, both ways, all the time, what goes up actually does (occasionally) go down. And when it does, it is often on old Roman roads with chunky, brittle, bone-adjusting descents. Thus the Specialized Epic EVO Pro was the perfect choice for this race. A light, nimble, 29er that’s a great climber but with still enough suspension (120 mm in front and 110 mm in the rear) to make those much-deserved downhills enjoyable.

The whole EVO lineup from Comp to Pro sports a FACT 11m Full Carbon frame, Progressive XC Geometry, threaded bottom bracket , 12x148mm rear spacing, and internal cable routing.

The cable routing on the Specialized Epic EVO, like most modern, high-end bikes these days, is internal and beautifully executed. This bike is really easy on the eyes and that is certainly one reason why. Is it weird to want to flirt with a bike?

My 2015 Epic came with a Swat Box which I removed because I thought it made it look like an e-bike. I’m over that with this version. It’s obviously not an e-bike and I wanted the most minimal amount of weight possible on my back so I happily used the pre-installed Swat Box for a Tublito, some tire levers, spare AXS battery and a tire plug kit. My size came equipped with two bottle cages that I appreciated on long TransAlp stages—the bottles loaded with various electrolyte mixes and water in my pack. The SWAT CC steerer tube integrated tool with chain tool and link is brilliant and so far does not rattle even on the rattliest descents. My 2015 Epic sadly had to lose the steerer tube tool due to excessive rattling which I Will Not Tolerate.

On the suspension front, the Epic EVO Pro sports a FOX FLOAT 34 Factory with a Fit4 damper and 120mm of travel which paired nicely with the FOX FLOAT DPS Factory shock with Rx XC Tune. Both feature Kashima coating, which along with the dropper post, adds to the overall aesthetic of this beauty. Over the long (long) days of the race, I often forgot to lock out the suspension on paved or smooth gravel climbs and felt nary any penalty for not doing so. Of course I also forgot to unlock for several chunky descents and for that I most certainly did pay.

As I mentioned, I raced a 2015 Epic in the 2016 TransAlp race. There was no EVO version at the time, so that rig was light, nimble and perfect, but it was a little rough on the downhills. I never loved the Brain. Maybe it really was doing all it said it would, but it wasn’t quite enough and it always felt it was up to something nefarious back there. Like maybe just having a nice long snooze. I dunno, I just could never wrap my…brain around it. So I was glad they ditched it for the more traditional setup. A purpose-built link yields a 2.8:1 leverage ratio, and Specialized tells us that “the heart of the EVO chassis is the same wicked-light and super-stiff front triangle as the Epic. Next, for stability, we designed a purpose-built rear end. Finally, we boosted control and trail performance by unifying the front and rear end with a stiff shock link optimized for the plush metric damper used on the EVO.”

The Epic EVO frame is slacker than the standard Epic, with a 66.5-degree head angle that’s a full degree more relaxed than the race bike, and If you want sharper handling and a bit more clearance, just rotate the FlipChip and the angles get half a degree steeper and the bottom bracket comes up 6mm. Additionally, the seat angle is three-quarters of a degree steeper than the previous version, increasing pedaling efficiency. And yes, this bike has good “pedaling efficiency,” but that is a bit dry and technical for how that actually makes it feel. On my very first shakedown ride I involuntarily emitted the same giggle that comes out of every rider’s mouth the first time they try an e-bike (you know it’s true, even if you are an e-curmudgeon). I love my current (acoustic) bike. It’s an awesome, high-end boutique affair, about two years old. But the difference between it and the EVO, particularly climbing, was almost alarming.

“The X01 Eagle AXS groupset utilizes the proven backbone of SRAM 1x, 520-percent gear range, a more secure and longer-wearing X-Sync 2 chainring, and the resilience of an aluminum cage paired with the connected components of Eagle AXS” says the Specialized website.

Being a bit of a Luddite, I have long poo-pooed electronic shifting on a mountain bike. “A solution looking for a problem” I’d loudly and boldly declare, with an imperious and dismissive wave. Is it really that dang hard to push the shifter sans assistance? Are we not Mountain Bikers?? One more damned thing to plug in, one more thing to forget to plug in. Also, one time I saw a guy in Moab in the middle of nowhere stuck in one gear ’cause his battery died. This left a lasting impression.

But…then I rode it. You sort of think about shifting and it is done. And with 308 miles of riding over seven days, that’s a lot of shifting. The drivetrain was spot-on every time even after the inevitable encasing in mud and Swiss cow shit. Those tawny-brown cows with the big, soft cartoony eyes are beautiful and their handcrafted bells inspired just the tiniest uptick in my pedal power—’more cowbell’ and all. But their prolific poop is just as crappy as any other style of bovine and it makes lots of flies. It sucks. It did not, however, interfere with my shifting even when combined with mud, weeds, water, cow shit, mud, weeds etc. and so on—infinity.

The inability to do much in the way of repositioning of the shifter paddles was a minor annoyance from an ergonomic perspective as a weird up-and-over/around motion was needed to shift down, but since I didn’t end up with a sore thumb after 4,098,743 shifts (give or take) over six gazillion (more or less) Austrian, Swiss and Italian Alp passes, it was clearly not a big issue.

Over the course of my approximately two-month review of the EVO, I needed to charge the shifter battery twice-and that includes lots of training days/miles and then the race itself. To alleviate range anxiety, I purchased a spare battery for $30, charged it, and threw it in the Swat Box. The battery is easy to change on the fly and charges in about an hour. SRAM says the battery should last 25 hours when used to power a mountain bike derailleur, and I found this to be consistent with my experience.

The drivetrain is full SRAM X01 Eagle with a 32T chainring. Cranks on the size medium through XL are 175 mm, and 170 for the small.

How did we ride mountain bikes before seat droppers? In a semi-permanent state of ass-over-teakettle, that’s how. Thank heavens they are now a standard feature of most any mid-to-high-end bike. The Fox Transfer Factory dropper was as flawless as the shifting, and while my first sit in the saddle (Body Geometry Power Expert) had me casting sidelong glances at my derriere, sure that it would soon be screaming profanity-laced diatribes to anyone who would listen, it was actually fine. And “fine” is a high compliment. I mean, it’s a bicycle saddle. Seven straight days of six to nine hours in it and your ass is gonna hurt. But it didn’t hurt any more than my back, legs, arms, lungs, heart and sometimes soul.

This bike came set up tubeless (what else is there??) with Specialized Ground Control tires that were perfect for the varied (but mostly up) terrain of the Alps, but also perfect for my homebase riding in Colorado. Light, fast, great cornering, enough grip for 92% of anything I am going to ride. Roval Control Carbon wheels are clearly a big part of what keeps this rig light and frisky, with 29-millimeter internal-width hookless rims and straight-pull DT Swiss 350 hubs to maximize strength, ride quality, and durability.

And thank goodness. Both front and rear feature SRAM G2 RSC 4-piston brakes with 180mm rotors. Braking power was more than adequate, and while I did experience some howling that turned to downright honking on a few sustained downhills, I suspect that the aforementioned unique recipe of cow shit and Euro-soil may have contributed. It went away after a good hosing.

This bike is a legit beauty. It just looks like it wants to go. My review was of theGloss Birch/Bronze Pearl/Pearl color and the brassy gold of the forks, shock and dropper, combined with the dusty rose of the “S” badge and relatively understated “Specialized” on the top tube make for one classy dame.

While the Specialized Epic EVO Pro is not a featherweight, I’ll take the minimally extra pound or so any day for the added amount of comfort afforded by the EVO’s rear suspension, particularly for long, hard days in the saddle. Climbing on a super light hardtail is the bomb, but with any luck at all, you also get to go down the other side. I climb so I can descend. I am not a masochist. Mountain biking is supposed to be FUN. Descending on the EVO is a hoot. With Shimano XT Race pedals, this size medium whip weighed 25.4 lbs.

Who’s this bike for? Anyone who wants to do long rides on varied terrain—up mountain passes or up your local hill, down swoopy mountain bike specific trails or gnarlier Roman roads, the Epic EVO will get you there with glee. Yeah, you’ll still want your bike park bike for the really big hits, but this downcountry rig might just replace the other three in your garage.

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