Specialized Epic 2017 and 2018 – What can we expect?

The Specialized Epic is due a relaunch for the 2017 model year. How will the legendary cross country and marathon machine evolve? Will the redesigned Epic follow the trend in trail bikes and become slacker and longer? 

Recently, pictures leaked that are claimed to show the upcoming 2017 model year Specialized Epic. If the information is valid, it seems the frame will remain unchanged for another year. This would come as a surprise, since the Olympics would be an ideal event to introduce a new model – and both Cannondale and Scott have recently presented substantially revamped frames for their cross country models. Whether it will be a mid-summer release this year or maybe an early release in spring next year – a new Specialized Epic is on the way, and it is exciting to speculate about possible changes.

Epic 2017 or 2018

Claimed 2017 Epic

 

I have to say I’m not really a cross country type of rider, and the idea of a head angle steeper than 67°-68° is downright scary to me. With their steep angles and short wheelbases, I find most cross country bikes a twitchy, nervous ride, akin to a skittish horse. If riders race it in marathon and cross country, chances are, the bike is not for me. But I’m curious to see how this segment will evolve – if the current trend continues, maybe we’ll have short-travel machines that are actually able to descend alongside modern trail bikes in the near future. Certainly, recent designs have moved towards increased stability, by becoming slacker and longer. If you compare the 2017 Scott Spark to its predecessor, the RC version is a full degree slacker and sports a longer wheelbase, even though the chain stays have been cut by 13mm. The non-RC Spark version wants to dip its toes into trail bike territory, with a 67.2° head angle and an 1182.8 wheelbase (size L) that dwarfs a few of the shorter bikes in the all mountain category. Trek’s Superfly FS is succeeded by the Top Fuel, which is 1.5° slacker and has the chain stays shortened by almost 20mm, to a hardtail-like 433.

Model Head Angle Wheelbase Rear Center Reach Travel
2015 Trek Superfly FS 70° 1151 452 444 100
2016 Trek Top Fuel 68.5° 1144 433 457 100
2015 Scott Spark 69.5° 1142.5 448 442 100
2017 Scott Spark RC 68.5° 1158.6 435 456.8 100
2017 Scott Spark 67.2° 1182.8 438 460 120
2016 Specialized Epic WC 71° 1131 439 446 95
2016 Specialized Epic 70.5° 1140 448 441 100

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While I appreciate the changes in head angle to improve descending prowess, I am not so sure about the chain stay length – 433 seem really short on a long-reach full suspension 29er. Short chain stay bikes seem to be outselling long chain stay bikes by a mile, so maybe from a marketing point of view, it is a path manufacturers have to follow after the short chain stays have been deeply set in the consumers’ mindset. I am certainly no XC racer, and uphill switchbacks are far from my favorite pastime – but I can tell a well-balanced bike from an unbalanced one (read about my view on rear center length: How do you like your chain stays?). To say a long chain stay bike is a better climber, and short chain stays equal a faster cornering bike is a gross simplification and possibly misleading, in my opinion. You have to really look into the details, and a bike is more than the sum of its parts. You have to consider wheelbase, head angle, bottom bracket height and drop, as well. But I can certainly confirm that rear centers can both be too long and too short on a specific bike. And if they are too short, you lose stability and front-wheel traction in the descents, and your bike will require more body English to keep the front down on challenging climbs. Given the relatively short wheelbase of even the more progressive cross-country bikes, I’d say the issue might be small, and of course more competent riders have thoroughly tested the new bikes – so it may nonexistent.

Frame

For the 2014 model year, Specialized introduced two Epic variants: The more marathon-focused standard Epic and an even more aggressive cross country World Cup model with a steeper head angle and shorter chain stays. The 439mm short stays required Specialized to drop the front derailleur mount, so the World Cup model was one-by drivetrain only (apparently, the Taco blade design used on the Enduro 29 and the 2016 Stumpjumper FSR was not an option). Even though many racers faced the challenge of selecting the right chainring for the course, the one-by world cup model was a success not only with them, but with weekend warriors, as well. With the advent of SRAM Eagle 1×12 drivetrains, the reasons to run a two-by setups have further diminished.

Speaking of the Stumpjumper FSR: Specialized’s all purpose trail bike now shares the frame (“trail chassis”) with the Camber, and both essentially got “Evofied” – their head angles and travel now match the former Stumpy Evo and Camber Evo models. With the Camber sitting at 68.5° and 120mm travel, there is a potential spot for another model or at least a variant to complement the lineup between the pure-XC-bred Epic and the Camber. I’d see two options for Specialized:

(1) Introduce a dedicated marathon and light trail bike with a stand-alone frame design

Let’s face it, Camber and Stumpy FSR are really close, and in my opinion, there is little reason to ride a Camber over a Stumpy. A significant part of the weight difference is in the tires, which I’d change anyway. A progressive marathon bike that could also serve as a light duty trail bike might offer what the previous Camber was to the Stumpy: A valid alternative that significantly shines on the climbs. While this would be interesting for many riders, I’m not sure even a big player like Specialized will want to invest into the carbon molds if they can achieve a similar result in an easier way.

(2) Use the space in the lineup to further differentiate Epic and Epic World Cup

As even world cup XC courses feature ever more demanding descents, there’s no doubt the Epic World Cup’s next iteration will become more progressive. But for the tight and twisty tracks, riders will want to keep the snappy handling. In order to preserve its XC race capabilities, designers may opt to slacken the World Cup version only moderately, while introducing a true all-round marathon machine based on the same frame design. The marathon version would be a little slacker and feature a bit more travel than the XC race bike, which would probably be kept at 100mm.

I think it is more likely that Specialized will pursue the second strategy. It would make sense from a marketing, manufacturing and purchasing perspective. With that in mind, let’s look at the two model variants:

Model Head Angle Wheelbase Rear Center Reach Travel
2016 Epic World Cup 71° 1131 439 446 95
2016 Epic 70.5° 1140 448 441 100
2018 Epic World Cup ~69.5° ~1140 ~437 ~445 100
2018 Epic Marathon ~69° ~1145 ~437 ~440 110

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I think that Specialized will resist the temptation to go significantly slacker in head angle. Even though the Trek Top Fuel and the Scott Spark RC sport 68.5°, this is what Specialized just recently designed the Camber to be. In terms of their overall lineup, it would make sense for the Epic to be slightly less slack than the Camber – so I’m expecting a head angle in the 69° range. Both the Camber and Stumpjumper FSR top models have 437mm carbon chain stays, and it is likely Specialized will want to reuse these across multiple product lines (in fact, the chain stay looks suspiciously similar to the Epic World Cup’s 439mm carbon stays). They’d not have the shortest chain stays in the XC segment, but that would only require a small change in marketing messaging (i.e. “short, but not too short”). Of course, a slacker head angle with nearly unchanged rear centers would result in a slightly longer wheelbase. I doubt Specialized will want to add a lot of wheelbase in addition to that, as cross country race tracks are still a tight and twisty affair. I expect reach numbers to stay roughly the same, maybe increase a little.

Features

Traditionally, Specialized hasn’t been early to the party when it comes to new standards, but I think it is safe to say they’ll include Boost rear ends and a Boost forks in their full 2017 lineup. Several major manufacturers had Boost in their 2016 models, so it would be a surprise if Specialized would lag more than one model year. Even though Boost may be a pain for everybody who has invested in a high end wheel set, I fear it is here to stay – until it is replaced by the next standard.

RockShox and several other suspension manufacturers seem to be committed to going metric on their shocks, and this will obviously impact all frames we’re going to see from 2017 model year onwards. It could be one of the reasons why we’ve been seeing late product launches and are still waiting for the Enduro and Epic. Fox has been a bit silent regarding their plans, but they may just hold their cards and introduce their metric offerings a bit later. It seems standards have a will of their own, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Introducing the SWAT door has been a major development in the carbon frames, and Specialized would also want to use the technology on as many frame designs as possible. But Brandon Sloan said in an interview with Italian website mtbcult.it  “You know how we do it. We develop a technology and we apply it wherever it makes sense. And it does make sense for an Enduro rider or a trail rider for sure.” – note he’s referring to Enduro and trail riders, not XC and marathon racers. While the former mostly welcomed the SWAT door with the occasional stiffness complaint, the latter are a bit more concerned, not to say weenie-ish, about the ~200g added weight. Although Specialized has never tried to produce the lightest XC frame at all cost, 200g seem a lot of excess baggage in an arena where people buy titan screws for their water bottle mounts and post the screws’ weight on an Internet forum – a dilemma. One solution might be to offer the World Cup version with an external, demountable SWAT system, while the marathon machine gets the full SWAT door, which would also help to further differentiate both models.

Parts

The new Fox 32 Step-Cast would be an obvious choice. With its 2.98 lbs, it saves a bit less than the equivalent of the SWAT door compared to RockShox SID World Cup at 3.3 lbs. The Rockshox RS-1 fork currently specced on the S-Works models offers excellent performance, but is comparably heavy at 3.67 lbs.

Specialized’s alliance with Öhlins has been expanded step by step, with the Swedish suspension specialist now producing air forks and shocks for several Specialized models, the Enduro in particular. It is likely that Specialized will want to introduce the premium brand’s products on more models in their lineup. The recently RXF 36 fork and STX air shock would make an ideal complement to the new Enduro, and the RXF 34 could appear on next year’s trail bikes (Stumpy FSR and Camber). With Specialized shifting a part of its purchasing from SRAM and Fox to Öhlins, it is not unreasonable to expect them to pursue a long-term strategy and develop a light 32 stanchion fork for cross-country and marathon applications. Developing a new benchmark cross-country fork and shock is a major project, especially if you add a BRAIN function – and could be a reason for delaying the Epic’s redesign.

Drivetrain-wise, SRAM Eagle XX1 is the gold standard. The new group set’s gear range is enough to make a Shimano front derailleur designer cringe, and even with its slightly larger gear spacing, the range alone will have many XC riders forgo their trusted two-by setup. We’ll certainly see this on the S-Works and probably Expert models.

On a marathon version, it would be hard to eschew the front derailleur though. Until 1×12 technology has trickled down to the lower groups, running 1×12 is still pretty expensive, especially if you run through cassettes quickly. And for for long distance epics with changing terrain, a two-by setup option would be a good solution, also serving to differentiate the models. On a top end marathon offering, an electronic Shimano Di2 with its reliability and precision would be a sensible choice.

Timing

In the past, Specialized has delayed product launches several times when new standards shook the bicycle industry. For instance, when 650B took over, Specialized postponed the Stumpjumper FSR redesign, and initially used the existing frame with a new rear triangle. I think the same may be happening because of Boost and metric shocks. 

Designer Peter Denk has joined Specialized end of 2014. At that time, the current Epic frame had just been introduced, and a revision was expected for the 2017 model year. Considering the time a new frame takes from initial design to production ramp-up, I think the new Epic could be the first bike he is involved in as a designer, especially if Specialized decides to introduce the new model in an early release next year. In that case, this summer would bring only color changes and Boost, but after that, fasten your seat belts, because Denk engineering is known for its rather creative solutions. I’m quite convinced we won’t see any pull shocks on the new Epic, and Specialized already has its share of proprietary parts, but it would still be a major redesign with Peter Denk’s signature.

We’ll know in a few weeks whether the 2017 Epic is a redesign or just a few new colors and Boost. In the latter case, a 2018 launch would probably bring an even more comprehensive redesign. I’ll update this post as more information comes in.

    • brian on June 28, 2016 at 15:19

    Reply

    One thing you didn’t mention is the Fox Live Valve shock which is in development. Think of it as an electronic “Brain” shock. Doesn’t look like it’s coming out this year, my theory is that a new Epic would come out in conjunction with that.

    1. Tim
      • Tim on July 4, 2016 at 06:45
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      Reply

      Good point, Brian. I’ll add that to the article.

    • Roland on June 29, 2016 at 12:11

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    Hope they relax the head angle a little, 69.5ish would be ideal..

    1. Tim
      • Tim on July 4, 2016 at 06:45
      • Author

      Reply

      Thanks, Roland, I agree. And with Scott’s Spark 2017 now at 68.5°, this might even be a little conservative.

    • Marko on July 3, 2016 at 22:11

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    71 head angle is perfect for XC, they will never move under 71 for world cup imo. Handling is perfect and on stable side rather than precision side like stumejumper HT. They may shorten chainstay to max 434 And lower BB height to max 328. And new faster rolling 2.1 tires probably. Geometry is pretty much nailed in. Mybe few mm different reach/stack.. suspension kinematics may change the most especially if they release it with new fox live valve system.. and the stiffnes of rear end and pivots must improve. No boost for epic imo.

    1. Tim
      • Tim on July 4, 2016 at 06:40
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      Reply

      Thanks, Marko. I’m not an XC racer, but I know a few. From what I’ve heard, XC descents get more challenging every year, and riders are looking for a bike that can handle these better. To accomplish this, I expect XC bikes to move a little (just a little) into trail bike territory, with slacker head angles, slightly longer wheelbases and small dropper posts. We see some of this in the XC WC already, and Nino Schurter seems to be really confident on his 2017 Scott Scale, which is good evidence for the trend – then again, Nino could probably make a podium finish on a rigid bike.
      Boost-wise, I think most manufacturers will move to Boost, whether we like it or not – and I’m convinced an Epic redesign will not be the exception.

    • Roland on July 5, 2016 at 19:09

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    Riding a rough local decent with my bike (69.3 HA) compared with a friends 2016 Sworks Epic WC (71 HA) and the Epic doesn`t feel anything like as stable!! Beautiful bike though ….. ;0)

    • Jesse on July 27, 2016 at 06:43

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    I moved to the Epic because of the two water bottles which is a great benefit as a marathon rider. But I also went with the World Cup because of it’s ability to be nimble where I need it most; in singletrack. I’ve also been riding 1x since long before XX1 because I couldn’t stand the front derailer and wanted to dedicate the left side for the dropper trigger.

    It’s been a phenomenal bike and I’ve got 12,000 miles on the ’14 Epic. Currently with a Lauf fork, it’s a versatile gravel grinder, light and efficient enough to work on road rides, and makes for a comfortable and speedy tour bike too! What kills it for me is the 27.2 seatpost. I have a great Thomson 5″ dropper but world cup style racing means gnarly descents and I just want more options; namely the rumored 9point8 200mm dropper.

    There are a other dual-water-bottle-Full-Suss bikes out with larger seat posts; the Scapel for one, and KTM Scarp as another. I’m also worried about spec compatibility and with everything going boost I wonder what Specialized will do?

    1. Tim
      • Tim on July 27, 2016 at 12:22
      • Author

      Reply

      Good points, Jesse, and glad you’re happy on your bike. I think we need longer dropper posts in general, and it took a long time, but they’re finally here. I also agree that water bottle mounts are great. On longer rides, I’m usually with a backpack with bladder / hydropack, but for a short after-work ride, I like to leave the backpack and take a water bottle instead. The down tube water bottle mount is what’s keeping me from a Yeti.

        • Roland on November 20, 2016 at 13:25

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        Had a Scalpel Si Carbon 2 on demo a few weeks back and found its balance between down hill stability and tight switchback maneuverability amazing!! Next on the test will be the Spark RC 900 but have heard its not great on super tight switchback corners, we shall c soon enough.. :0)

        btw, the table above lists the 2016 Trek Top Fuel with a 68.5 HA … Thought it was 70 with the suspension in low position!!

        • Jesse on March 23, 2017 at 21:26

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        Just checking this out again Tim. I’ve now got 17,000 miles on the Epic, and with no bike budget this year I hope it lasts another 17,000! I noticed the current WC has moved to a 100mm fork with 51mm offset, but zero mention of this on the Internets. Because I want a fork for the future I think I might for a Fox Boost stepcast. I wonder your thoughts on the minimal 5mm fork change Specialized made?

        In reference to the waterbottles, I’m a marathon racer and just don’t want the weight on my back, so two bottles are a necessity. I run a Speedfil system with a straw up front, so I have advantages of the camelbac but in a bottle.

        Still dying for a longer dropper and more stable handling. But I’m also taking off more body weight than in the past so hoping my DH confidence increases proportionally!

    • Marko on September 25, 2016 at 13:58

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    Hey. It’s some time now from my predictions in july. As i said the 2017 HA is 70.75 now and they enlarge RAKE and lower TRAIL. Imo that is pre-test for new epic next year. So we should expect HA somewhere from 70.6 to 70.8. And new redesigned 2.1 and 2.3 tires with gripton compund was released to as i said. I have one new prediction. And that is 110mm travel front and back if fox live valve will be ready.

    • mark jones on September 26, 2016 at 11:15

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    the 2017 epic FSR WC pro with SRAM eagle is listing a 70.75 HTA with 100mm fork. was considering a 120mm fork on this bike. if my calculations are correct that should bring the HTA to 69.75 degrees. i think this could make the bike alot closer to trail-bike friendly. the reason for my post… am i missing something with my thought process or does this sound reasonable ?

    • Robert on March 14, 2017 at 04:21

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    Hey Tim, any more info on what/when we might see in a 2018 Epic FSR? It’s on my short list for a summer buy but am not going to wait forever with the solid options available from Scott, Cdale, Pivot and others.

    Agree 100% they need to update the design for the more technical XC racing we’re going to continue seeing, and your insights for the next Epic FSR there were right on the money. Sub-70 HTA, boost, 2 cages, ability to add a dropper and/or a 120 fork option for rowdy rides are pretty much the bare minimum for this category now – obviously light weight and firm pedaling are a given as well.

    Thanks in advance for any updates!

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