When you are young and in school and someone asks for a loan of your bike it is a daunting predicament to find yourself in. You don’t want to appear mean, but your bike is your pride and joy, more important than your arm or leg. To just give it to someone else to make use of, or even worse, to make bad use of is unthinkable. But you do it anyway. Then you grow up, write a blog and find yourself with friends offering you the use of their bikes for a test ride.
I’ve known the World renowned physio Gerard Hartmann for a good while now through our mutual friend Sean Kelly. One day recently I was with Gerard when he asked if I would like to take a look at his new bike. His eyes were gleaming as he spoke and mine lit up at the suggestion, as he had mentioned previously that he was expecting a new 2015 S-Works Epic to arrive from Specialized. Gerard is part of the Specialised Ambassador programme, a group of people who work with Specialized on various product projects and internal development. A perk of being part of the programme is access to pretty much any bike in the range along with shoes, helmets, equipment and clothing. Nice work if you can get it.
My first impression of the bike was a jaw dropingly beautiful work of art. This was a serious machine. Then Ger nonchalantly asked ‘Do you want to take it away for a few spins’. I thought back to the dilemmas of childhood……. and jumped at the offer.
Specialized EPIC’s have long been known for the brain technology in their rear suspension system. A ‘brain’ senses if you are on a smooth surface and ‘locks out’ the rear but then when you venture on to the rough terrain where you need suspension the brain automatically senses this and allows the suspension to work freely.
This bike takes that technology to another level with the addition of a brain in the front fork too. It’s almost like an autopilot who does all of the thinking for you letting you just enjoy every second of your ride in the perfect set up. The carbon legs of the inverted fork created a sublime sensation when combined with the brain technology. The suspension works as and when it should but there is always this feeling of added ‘plushness’
Then there is the weight. I’m not one for text speak but OMG ! This thing is a dual suspension carbon mountain bike that weighs about the same as a mid range road bike. Does this make much of a difference? Absolutely.
Tickincor with its’ 25% gradient at the bottom is a favourite training destination of mine. On a road bike you look down at the road and keep concentrating on pushing yourself forward. On any other mountain bike that I have ridden up there, it is a real slog. On this thing I was taking ‘selfies’ on the steepest part. The bike felt incredible.
On the road, out of the saddle there was no ‘bobbing’ effect, everything stayed perfectly locked out. Then as soon as I turned into the wood and hit the rough stuff the suspension kicked in to make everything feel smooth again.
There is a section within Tickincor wood that is really steep and really rough. Many a soldier has had to dismount to make it over the crest. This is always a challenge as everytime I ride up here I find myself right on the edge of having to stop and put my foot down. No such worries on the S-Works. The bike just breezed over and my heart rate was 20 beats lower than it has ever been at the crest. ‘Awesome’ as a Californian might say.
The carbon command dropper seatpost allows 35mm of travel. It’s not as much as many others but I never found myself looking for any more no matter how steep and rough the descents got.
Speaking of descending this is another huge strength of the bike. You really feel as one with the bike and it inspires the confidence to take on obstacles that you might think twice about on many other machines.
Part of the whole weight saving is down to the Roval Carbon wheels. With 2bless (tubeless) ready tyres which give the option of either tubed or tubeless they are very light and roll really well. The acceleration of the bike out of corners has to be helped hugely by these bad boys.
LAPD might have a SWAT team but so does the S-Works Epic too. Storage, Water, Air and Tools are all neatly and ingeniously incorporated into the design of the bike. From the spare chain joiner link in the headset cap to the multitool incorporated beneath the top tube at the suspension joint. The solid plastic case that accommodates a spare tube, Co2 canister and tyre levers beneath the bottle cage and the two side entry bottle cages themselves, every necessity seems to be thought of. It actually reminded me of the attention to detail that you would find in a Rolls Royce car.
This was the first time that I have ridden a bike with the new XTR 11 speed groupset and the double chainring combo up front worked out perfectly. Off road I was never left searching for a higher gear and never got close to using the lowest gear. The range within seemed well spaced out whilst not giving too much of a jump when changing between sprockets. On the road, this bike is well capable of holding it’s own in a chain gang at 30kph on the flat or uphill but might find itself spun out on a really fast descent, but that’s not where you would find yourself too often anyway.
Overall I have loved my time aboard the S-Works Epic and feel like a lonely teenager having to say goodbye as I return the bike to Gerard once more. I really want to thank Gerard and Bobby Behan from Specialized for facilitating my test ride and look forward to trying to hold onto Gerards’ 29 inch carbon back wheel on the hills above Kilaloe next time I’m up that way again.