Hybrid Racing Bike

Specialized Epic World Cup Review

The Specialized Epic Worldcup at Morgen Hill blurs the line between a full-suspension race rig and a cross-country hardtail. Is this concept rad, or should it be filed under “Frankenstein-bike”?

Specialized Epic World Cup Review
Epic Bikers are among the icons of racing. The "World Cup" suffix explains that part. But how does the hybrid of full-suspension and hardtail operate?

Combining the best of both worlds is often easier than one might imagine. However, it’s not uncommon to also merge the problems of two worlds into one product. A prime example is hybrid cars, where the maintenance-prone internal combustion engine technology meets heavy batteries. And this entire system must be complexly interlinked. It’s a developer’s, mechanic’s, and eventually the owner’s nightmare.

The Specialized Epic World Cup may be an unmotorized vehicle, but here too, efforts are made to merge the best of both worlds. The Epic World Cup seeks to blend the riding characteristics of a full-suspension bike with the responsiveness of a hardtail. To achieve this, a unique frame has been designed, along with a completely independent suspension system.

Quick Facts on the Specialized Epic World Cup

  • Front suspension travel: 110 mm
  • Rear suspension travel: 75 mm
  • Prices: $7200 - $12500
  • Weight: 9.46 kilograms (S-Works model in size L without pedals)
  • Frame weight: 1560 grams
  • Feature: Shock absorbers with adjustable initial resistance blur the line between full-suspension and hardtail concepts.
Specialized Brain Fork
Specialized continues to rely on the Brain system for the fork.
RockShox Brain Fork
The Brain's inertia valve detects the direction of the impact, only opening when there's a bump in the trail.

Epic World Cup Shock Arrives Without Brain System

Merging the benefits of a full-suspension and a hardtail is an ambitious goal that many companies have fallen short of achieving. (By the way, here we have an article that explains the pros and cons in detail.)

To achieve this goal, Specialized is moving away from the Brain technology that has used an inertia valve to automatically lock out the rear suspension of the Specialized Epic full-suspension bikes for decades. Instead, a special shock is used, featuring separately adjustable positive and negative air chambers. The well-known Brain system is now employed solely in the fork.

Specialized Epic World Cup Shock
The custom shock developed with Rock Shox is seamlessly integrated into the top tube.
Air chambers
The positive air chamber of the special shock is inflated via a standard valve. To switch modes, you need to press the golden button while the shock is in a specific position. Admittedly, it's something that requires a bit of explanation.

Rediscovered: Twin Independently Tunable Air Chambers

The fact that suspension elements have two air chambers isn’t new. The positive air chamber is responsible for the spring rate of the shock or fork. The negative air chamber significantly determines the responsiveness of the suspension element.

What’s new, or rather rediscovered, is the fact that the positive and negative air chambers can be tuned separately. This is precisely the key to the new concept of the Epic World Cup.

Specialized Epic World Cup Review
Stiff as a board. In the locked-out setting, the rear end doesn't budge an inch, even when you're hammering on the pedals out of the saddle.

How the Hardcore Setup of the Specialized Epic World Cup Works

Using the counterintuitive setup to select the firm ride mode effectively eliminates the shock’s negative air chamber. The result: the shock simply overlooks small bumps. The first few meters on the trail reveal that the bike’s behavior, in normal riding conditions, closely resembles that of a hardtail indeed.

Only when a truly hard hit is absorbed by the rear wheel does the shock release its 75 mm of travel. And then, the Epic Worldcup behaves like a full-suspension rig. The high breakaway torque in this setup takes some getting used to. Those expecting the comfort of a full-suspension bike will be disappointed in this mode.

Epic World Cup Riding Mode
In the mid-suspension setting, impacts from small roots are enough to overcome the shock's breakaway threshold. Even when pedal mashing, the rear end remains firm.

The Golden Mean

Those not keen on the feeling of a high initial breakaway torque have the option to refill the negative air chamber with a new setup. The mid-stroke damping requires significant, but not extreme, hits to release the travel.

With some pressure in the negative chamber, the breakaway torque is noticeably reduced compared to the hardcore setup. And when riding over a small root, the shock opens, while it remains firm during out-of-the-saddle pedaling. During our test, the golden mean proved to be the best tuning option for us.

Those who don't want to give up the comfort of a full-suspension can also ride the Epic World Cup in the soft suspension mode completely without any breakaway torque.

The Epic World Cup can function like a conventional full-suspension bike as well.

In the soft ride mode, the shock gets a standard fill of the negative air chamber. This results in the rear suspension behaving as one would expect from a full-suspension bike. Thanks to roughly 10% sag, it responds to even the smallest bumps and ensures a comfortable ride even on gravel.

However, when you hit the trail, it becomes evident that with just 75 mm of travel in the rear, you quickly find the bike’s limit. Compared to a Scott Spark or Orbea Oiz, the bike is lacking a significant 45 mm of travel in the back. For big jumps or particularly rough hits, riders will need to use their legs to absorb some of the hit’s energy.

Epic World Cup Blocking Opportunity
The shock on the Epic World Cup isn't lockout-capable from the handlebars.
Clean Cockpit
The Epic presents itself aesthetically like any other race bike, without the need for shift cables, dropper post wires, or shock lockout levers.

Set it and forget it.

The entire system does not offer the option to switch between ride modes while on the trail. The idea behind this system is that riders choose their preferred mode based on the terrain or personal preference and stick with it throughout the ride.

For the fork, Specialized continues to rely on the Brain technology, which automatically unlocks the suspension via an inertia valve. While it does this reliably, it announces its presence with a noticeable initial resistance. Those seeking maximum comfort may not appreciate this. However, racers are willing to accept it.

As a result, the new Epic World Cup does away with the need for any lockout lever on the handlebars, sparing riders the need to think about their suspension setup during rides or training.

Specialized Epic World Cup Review
The promise holds true: The Specialized Epic World Cup climbs sprightly like a hardtail.
Specialized Epic World Cup Review
In downhill, you'll have to compromise with the breakaway torque of the shock and the limited suspension travel compared to a full-suspension bike, yet you'll be faster than riding a hardtail.

Geometry of the Epic World Cup

Specialized offers the World Cup in 5 sizes from XS to XL, nailing the geometry. Sporting a 66.5-degree head angle, it follows the trend. The riding position is sporty without being extreme. With the arrow symbol Directly compare bikes, you can pull individual models from our extensive market overview into comparison with any other bike. This allows you to directly compare geometry data head-to-head.

SIZE XXS XS S M L XL XXL
Sizing of Manufacturer
-
XS
S
M
L
XL
-
Wheelsize
-
29
29
29
29
29
-
Stack
-
603
600
600
614
628
-
Reach
-
380
415
440
465
490
-
Top Tube Length
-
541
581
612
641
670
-
Seat Tube Length
-
392
395
410
450
500
-
Seat Tube Angle
-
74,5
74,5
74,5
74,5
74,5
-
Head Tube Length
-
93
93
95
110
125
-
Head Tube Angle
-
66,5
66,5
66,5
66,5
66,5
-
Bottom Bracket Drop
-
61
58
57
57
57
-
Bottom Bracket Height (absolut)
-
309
313
313
313
313
-
Chainstay Length
-
430
430
430
430
430
-
Wheelbase
-
1089
1124
1150
1181
1212
-
Standover Height
-
738
761
764
774
786
-

Racing Spirit: Rigid Seatpost & 9.46 kg Total Weight

With its rigid seatpost, tires with just a hint of tread, and minimal rear suspension travel, it’s clear that the Epic World Cup is fine-tuned for racing. Off-road, it charges ahead. On the power stroke, the bike, weighing in at just 9.46 kilograms, indeed imparts that divine sensation of peak condition. The super lightweight Roval Carbon wheels do their part to stoke this feeling.

Weight Specialized Epic World Cup
Light as a hardtail, plush as a full-susser. We've put the promise of this hybrid concept to the test, not only on the trail but also on the scales.
Weight Specialized Epic World Cup
At 9.46 kg, the S-Works Epic Worldcup is in the same league as high-end hardtails.
Roval Wheelset Weight
The wheelset, inclusive of rotors, cassette, and tires, tips the scales at 3.41 kilograms. A benchmark weight that no other brand achieves out of the box.

Downhill, the high seat post remains limiting. Even the 110 mm of travel on the fork, which is a bit more generous than traditional designs, doesn’t compensate for this. The Specialized Epic World Cup can be intuitively navigated along the trail, but demands solid skills in more technical sections. In practical testing, the bike comes across more as a comfortable hardtail than a superlight race full-suspension.

Frame Weight and Details

We stripped down the Epic World Cup and weighed the S-Works frame with rubber protectors but without the shock at a frame size L at 1560 grams. That’s a respectable weight, considering that many race full suspension frames break the 2000-gram barrier. Even the weight weenies at Cervelo can’t match this weight with their ZFS 5. However, it’s nearly twice as heavy as a comparable hardtail frame.

For that, you get a steering stop limiter, a threaded BSA bottom bracket, and the option to mount two bottle cages. And the substantial bolt connections of the shock to the seatstays leave no doubt about the frame’s stiffness. No excessive flex in the frame was felt even in field tests.

Frame Weight Specialized Epic World Cup
As always, we completely stripped down the Epic World Cup to determine the frame weight on its own.
Frame Weight Specialized Epic World Cup
At a mere 1560 grams, including rubber chainstay protectors, the weight for a size L is impressively low.

The Rival on the Race Course and in the Bike Shop – the Trek Supercaliber

Trek Supercaliber
Jolanda Neff clinched Olympic gold on the Trek Supercaliber,
Trek Supercaliber vs. Specialized Epic World Cup
The Trek Supercaliber is the rival to the Epic World Cup. Both on the race course and in the bike shop when purchasing a bike.

The striking resemblance inevitably draws one to compare the Trek Supercaliber with the Specialized Epic World Cup. Even though nobody in Morgan Hill would ever admit it, it’s undeniable that the Supercaliber was at least a minor inspiration during the development phase of the new Epic World Cup.

Subtracting the typical three to four-year mountain bike development period from today’s date roughly brings us back to the presentation date of the 2019 Trek Supercaliber. Trek has already unveiled the second generation of the Supercaliber last year.

Nonetheless, the frame of the Specialized is significantly lighter, the whole concept is executed without the need for a lockout lever in comparison to the Trek, and it also features a distinctly more modern geometry. We’ve already drawn up a comparison for you so you can form your own opinion.

Conclusion on the Specialized Epic World Cup

Specialized deftly realizes its vision of a bike that straddles the line between full-suspension and hardtail, leaning more towards a race-oriented hardtail. With its low weight and rigid seatpost, propulsion is clearly prioritized over comfort. We were particularly impressed with the bike’s medium suspension setting, which provides a hardtail-like snap on the pedals while keeping the rear suspension breakaway torque within manageable limits. The Specialized Epic Worldcup is tailored for riders who adore the rawness of hardtails but aren’t willing to completely forgo the benefits of a full-suspension rig.

All Epic World Cup Models and More Buying Advice

The Epic is available in three spec levels ranging from €7200 to €12500. We’ve taken a closer look at all the options. With the arrow icon Compare bikes directly, you can drag each model into the comparison with any other bike from our extensive market overview.

Find out what matters in race bikes and how to correctly gauge the weight of a race bike in our race bike buying guide.

About the author

Ludwig

... has spent more than 100,000 kilometers in the saddle of over 1000 different mountain bikes. The essence of many hours on the trail: Mountain bikes are awesome when they match your personal preferences! With this realization, he founded bike-test.com to assist cyclists in finding their very own dream bike.

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