What makes the ultimate XC hardtail? For years it seemed to be the combination of super light weight and razor sharp handling. But now that XC courses and mountain biking overall have evolved, those older hardtails are starting to feel a bit dated. Specialized knew the new Epic HT had to be light, but more importantly it had to be capable.
As the Lead Carbon Engineer for the project, Peter Denk stated that the weight of the frame was just a coincidence. Initially, all of their efforts were focused on the ride quality. The frame ended up benefiting from a massive carbon fiber research project that was started by Specialized for another bike. But that research illustrated that they could make do with fewer overlaps of the carbon plies in order to reduce weight without sacrificing strength.
Actual frame weight
Thanks to advanced software that helped them to figure out the carbon layups and resin placement, Specialized ended up with a more comfortable frame. One that weighs just 790g (medium without thru axle).
In addition to the changes in the carbon fiber layup itself, the frame also has a few changes to the design which shed a few grams. The dropouts have gotten smaller and Specialized removed the aluminum inserts.
A new curved seat tube does a few things. One, it helps to make up for compliance lost by moving to a 30.9 seat post. The 30.9 will allow more dropper posts to be used (and their 30.9 dropper is actually 30g lighter than 27.2), but it’s also less comfortable than a 27.2 post. Specialized says that the new seat tube design makes up for this difference thanks to a reduction of the size of the junction between the BB and the seat post and changing some of the carbon angles from 45 to 70°. It also hugs the rear tire which makes room for more tire clearance – in this case 29 x 2.3 or 2.4″ depending on the tire and wheel combination.
The frame is now 1x only now, and runs a threaded bottom bracket. Denk pointed out that using a PF bottom bracket would have made the frame another 30g lighter, but they wanted to keep it threaded for user serviceability. Cable routing is internal without guided tunnels but also without any extra small parts. Instead, the cables are wrapped in foam tubes with housing run back to front and a plastic sleeve over the BB.
Frames include two bottle cage mounts inside the front triangle with a three pack mount on the down tube.
Along with the changes in frame design there is also a big change in geometry. The new Epic features a longer reach with staggered reach increases across the size run (the bigger the frame, the more the reach has increased). The front center has grown along with the reach increases, but the Epic now runs a 42mm offset fork with a 68.5° head tube angle to keep the handling crisp.
If I only had a (new) Brain
The fork is also noteworthy as it features a new position sensitive Brain valve. The sealed damping cartridge uses a brass mass that sits on top of the cartridge which allows the first 20-25mm of travel to float freely before hitting the platform damping. This allows the fork to absorb small bumps while still remaining efficient. It’s also engineered so that when you’re sprinting, your weight is over the front of the bike which compresses the fork and pushes against the platform to eliminate bob when out of the saddle.
Many of the bikes will include new Fast Trak 2.3″ tires with new CONTROL casings. Specialized claims this will reduce pinch flats by 20% with minimal effect on the rolling resistance. The 29 x 2.3″ tire has a claimed weight of 675g.
There will be seven different complete Epic HT models which will have one of two different frames. The top end S-Works model will feature the FACT 12M carbon frame, while the Pro, Expert, Comp, and Carbon 29 will use the FACT 11M frame which is 140g heavier. Pricing starts at $2,110 for the Carbon 29 and tops out at $9,510 for the S-Works SRAM version. An S-Works frame only kit will sell for $2,500.
The black and gold version above is the Ultralight Edition which is an $9,020 experiment in using standard parts to get the weight down to just 17.37lbs.