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Review: Specialized Epic 8 S-Works & EVO XC bikes

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works over rocks
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The all-new Specialized Epic 8 debuted with two distinct iterations sharing the same frame. Both are more capable than their predecessors despite being lighter and more fully featured, and the suspension is beyond impressive.

I’ve put miles on both the top-of-the-line S-Works “race” version ($14,500) with the updated Rockshox Flight Attendant and the EVO Pro model ($8,500) with extra travel. Having gotten bonus miles on local trails with the EVO, and riding both at the same trails in Chile at the launch, here are my impressions and notes on their performance.

Epic 8 S-Works w/ Flight Attendant review

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike in a field

First up were hot laps on the Epic 8 S-Works, on a course purpose built for XC training for local riders. It had long climbs with plenty of turns, punchy inclines, and techy bits. It also had flowing bermed descents with jumps and drops. In between were several chunky, freshly cut sections to mash through, burning the legs as we helped break in new tracks for the locals.

tyler climbing a hill on the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike

The Epic 8 handled all of it exceptionally well. With a few sponsored pros ripping around to show us what it was really capable of, my own efforts were dwarfed, but the bike made the most of my comparatively low VO2 Max.

Riding the Flight Attendant-equipped bike left plenty to for the EVO model to reveal about the new suspension, but it left nothing on the table in terms of performance.

Stand up to climb and it just launches forward. Sit and hammer and it motors along, with the little electrical whir of the damping motors working their magic to make you faster. Those noises make it clear as day why the system is better at controlling your suspension than you or I ever will be. It happens so often, and so quickly. There’s simply no way any of us would use a remote switch that often, let alone be able to independently control fork and shock modes.

That said, Flight Attendant is no crutch. It’s not a Band-Aid covering any weakness. The Epic’s suspension works just fine on its own. For racers who can afford it, Flight Attendant is wildly effective and efficient, like the sprinkles on the cake’s already delicious icing.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike

With XCO courses getting more aggressive, featuring jumps and big drops, it made sense to increase the Epic’s travel to 120mm all around. The extra squish in the back is welcome, smoothing the landings and helping it through rock gardens (shown further down).

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike

The bike’s geo makes it easy to get over the front to weight the tire. Which is good because the lighter XC tires on the non-EVO models benefited from being pushed a little harder into the ground.

If you’re coming from a trail bike, the Epic 8 will feel almost too light. Rest assured, it’s ready for anything an XC race will throw at it, but there’s an adjustment period where you learn to trust the bike and tires.

One ride is enough to know it’s fast as hell, but not enough to become one with it, so I skipped a few of the larger drops on this test circuit that I easily (and confidently) cleared the next day on the EVO. Plenty of other riders hit everything, though, showing the bike was more than up to it.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike
tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works over rocks

This rock garden seemed purpose built for challenging both bike and suspension. So I made it my mission to see how quickly I could smash through it.

The entry is just past that wooden berm shown in the pic above this one, and it’s easy to maintain speed and pedal straight into it. That effort would keep the Flight Attendant firm until it hit the first rock, and then it would open up faster than I could tell, immediately offering full travel all the way through the section.

So, the suspension worked, and the bike did a decent job of holding its line through it, too. It also showed that the frame is plenty tough:

wipe out on the 2024 specialized epic 8 s-works
Fortunately, the photographer was right there to catch it all.

One one run, a big bump was enough to unclip my foot from the pedal, which caused me to veer off my line, directly into big, square-edged rock. I went tumbling, and the bike tumbled onto the rocks right behind me. There was a scratch in the rock, and I might’ve had a couple scratches on me, but there wasn’t a single scratch on the bike.

If you’re a racer, but in the market for something without Flight Attendant, keep reading, because my thoughts on the EVO will answer more questions about how good this suspension is…

2024 Specialized Epic 8 EVO review

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike
This seaside cliff had a truly steep, sketchy trail that rewarded riders with a gorgeous view.

Without a doubt, the Epic 8 EVO was more fun. The meatier tires and 10mm extra travel on the front end had an outsized influence on my confidence. We hit bigger, steeper, funner descents on it, but also had to climb more, longer, and steeper hills to earn those turns.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike

Despite having the same frame, the changes in component spec gave the Epic EVO a very different feel. It’s worth noting that the EVO switches to Fox suspension with a two-position rear shock rather than the three-position Rockshox SIDluxe on the race models.

Those SIDluxe shocks get a custom tune called “Magic Middle”, where the middle “Pedal” mode uses wide open high-speed compression damping, same as the “Open” mode, but with firmer low-speed compression damping to create a bit of a platform. Combined with larger air volume inside the shock, this gives it efficiency while also being able to handle big hits.

tyler climbing with the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike

Even without that Magic Middle setting, I was able to leave the Fox shock in “open” all the time. It’s still custom tuned for this bike, and Epic 8’s kinematics are very good. Never once while spinning (or grinding, or standing) up climbs did I feel anything lost to pedal bob. The bike just climbs really, really well.

My assumption is that you’d also spend most if not all of your time in “open” mode because there’s little reason not to, barring paved transfers between trails.

With the non-Flight Attendant-equipped “race” Epic models, I’d guess that Magic Middle setting is also where I’d spend all of my time. Maybe put it into full “open” for long descents, but with barely any penalty for forgetting to do so before dropping in. Even Rockshox and Specialized both say the Magic Middle is where most riders will spend most of their time.

Which is a long way of saying, don’t sweat it if you can’t afford Flight Attendant. It’s cool, but in no way does this bike rely on that technology to deliver incredibly good suspension.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike

I had a few extra rides on the EVO on local trails in Greensboro (XC) and Roanoke (big trails at Carvens Cove). On my local XC stuff, the extra tire tread made its weight known, but these are also the trails where I’d have preferred the race model.

At Carvens Cove, the EVO was perfect. I usually ride 160/150 bikes here with even bigger tires, yet I still logged my second fastest time on a popular descent on the EVO. Yes, it felt a bit rougher than a bigger trail bike, but it proved the bike is up for some very fast, chunky trails, too. If you ride big stuff and like underbiking, here ya go.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike

I like that Specialized kept the same frame between the two models. It essentially gives me two bikes in one, assuming I’m willing to swap forks and tires as conditions warrant.

mud buildup on the chainstay yoke of the 2024 specialized epic 8

The only issue I noticed was a little build-up on the chainstay yoke. It never clogged up the tire, but I wasn’t riding through excessive mud. You can’t see it in this photo because it’s covered with crust, but there’s a small rubber flap that keeps sticks and things from being thrown into the space between the front and rear triangles.

The downside is that a small gap forms when the suspension compresses, which allows small things like grass or pine needs get pinched in there. They never caused a problem, but it’s something to keep an eye on and clear out between rides.

actual weight for 2024 specialized epic evo pro

The non S-Works frames are a little heavier, but adding burlier spec for the EVO models quickly gets the bike above “race weight”. My size XL EVO Pro with SRAM XO Transmission (w/ non-series cassette), Code brakes, Fox 34 Factory fork, Float shock & Transfer dropper, Roval carbon wheels with I9 hubs, Purgatory/Ground Control tires, the SWAT pouch inside the downtube, and two bottle cages came in at 28lb 3oz (12.69kg).

Claimed weight for a medium size w/o bottle cages is 26lb 11.5oz (12.12kg), likely also weighed w/o the SWAT pouch installed.

tyler riding the 2024 specialized epic 8 evo light trail mountain bike

Overall, the new Epic 8 is a heckuva good bike. It’s a clear and definite improvement over the prior model, which was also quite good. The deletion of the BRAIN shock is a good thing. The addition of a SWAT compartment is a great thing.

That you can get the same general suspension performance across the entire price range is also a huge benefit. Get the model you can afford now, upgrade later knowing that you’re not burning cash on something that’ll never measure up.

If you’re a racer, or a trail rider that likes to go fast and get rowdy, the new Epic 8 is absolutely worth a look. Check out the full line at Specialized.com.

A note on Specialized’s advocacy

specialized epic 8 s-works xc mountain bike at the alpaco trailhead in chile

This isn’t the first time we’ve ridden fresh trails at a Specialized Launch. As part of their Soil Searching initiative, they frequently improve local trails to showcase new models. Or, in this case, build completely new trails to help create riding opportunities in areas that need them.

That was the case here, as they built and expanded singletrack in Matanzas, Chile. Just a few feet from the ocean, these trails offer an intense loop that’s easy to lap then retreat to the beach. Or head inland a bit to Maitén Bike Park (where we tested the EVO) for bigger trails and lots of jump lines.

The area is also hugely popular for windsurfing and kiteboarding, with rentals and lessons available. Food and wine are great, as are the Pisco Sours, which use a regional version of Pisco that’s delicious.

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Helpful Jeff
Helpful Jeff
24 days ago

Wow, looks like a great time!

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