S-Works Epic Carbon 29 XTR
Last year, the S-Works Epic 29 was only offered with SRAM’s XX group. For 2012, it is also available with Shimano XTR (including the phenomenal Shadow Plus rear derailleur). The XTR version weighs about half a pound heavier than the XX but both models receive other upgrades, including Kashima-coated rear shocks, a guide for dropper seat posts and a Brain-equipped RockShox SID World Cup 29 fork instead of last year’s Reba.
Specialized moved the Brain’s adjuster from the bottom of the fork to the top, so it may now be adjusted by the rider on the fly. Engineers also further refined the internals of the Fox-built Brain rear shock. This latest version is smooth and seamless, allowing riders to run a firmer Brain setting, yet still benefiting from full performance in the rough stuff. In the past, I’d typically run the Epic’s Brain on full soft, because the shock’s platform always felt a step behind the terrain. But the new design felt firmer on smooth trails and softer in bumpy terrain. It felt quite amazing, actually. Plus, the new Brain unit can be retrofitted onto 2011 bikes.
Our 2011 Editors’ Choice winning all-mountain bike gets even better this year, trading the carbon-crowned Specialized E160TA fork for a Fox 36 TALAS RLC with the velvety Kashima coating on its stanchions. Other updates include a 12×142 thru-axle rear hub (the bike had a QR rear axle in 2011) and a Kashima-coated rear shock. Though the company is still committed to the Enduro—the line consists of five models—Specialized officials say they’ve noticed that a lot of customers who might have bought a 6-inch travel 26-inch bike in the past are now choosing 29ers with five inches of travel instead.
The Demo 8 II now comes with Cane Creek’s impressive Double Barrel coil-over shock. The Double Barrel is initially harder to set up than a Fox DHX RC4, but once dialed in, the shock, in my experience, gives the Demo a more-planted ride. The shock has externally adjustable high- and low-speed compression and rebound settings that offer a huge tuning range—so much that if you’re not careful, you can make the bike ride like poo. Fortunately, Specialized includes a card with the baseline settings, so feel free to tinker; if you mess it up too badly you can always reset the dials to the factory tune.
The Status replaces the Big Hit as Specialized’s lower-cost gravity bike. It looks like a Demo 8, but features a simpler frame design and uses less expensive aluminum—M4 versus the Demo’s M5—and comes with less-expensive parts. The 200mm-travel bike comes in two versions: The Status II ($3,200-ish) has a RockShox Domain 200mm dual-crown fork and Fox Van RC shock; the Status I ($2,600-ish) comes with an X-Fusion Vengeance 170mm single-crown fork and X-Fusion Vector R shock. The Status’ geometry isn’t quite as racy as the Demo’s, either. Its bottom bracket is a bit higher and the head tube a bit steeper, which make it more forgiving for riders who lack Sam Hill’s skill.
According to Specialized, the new Ground Control(far left) was designed with high-tech, computer-aided finite element analysis (FEA), not SDI (some dude’s instinct). In fact, tires are one of the last remaining bicycle components that are still designed on bar napkins. Perhaps the Ground Control will usher in the FEA rubber revolution. The all-around tire is available in five sizes: 26 x 1.9, 2.1 and 2.3, as well as 29 x 1.9, and 2.1. It also is available in several casings: tubeless-ready, UST tubeless, Armadillo Elite (heavy-duty puncture protection) and a basic 60tpi.The Fast Trackis also a product of FEA-aided design. Specialized says it rolls faster and corners better than previous versions (Fast Track SLK and Fast Track LK). It is available for 26- and 29-inch wheels in either 2- or 2.2-inch widths. The tire also has tubeless-ready and UST casing options.
Sliding between the high-end Stumpjumper and lower-cost Rockhopper, the Carve is a new 29er platform. The three models in the line cost between $1,300 and $1,700 and they all use the same M4 aluminum frame with tapered steerers. For a more forgiving ride, Specialized uses bridgeless 27.2mm seat tubes. There’s even a single-speed frame with an eccentric bottom bracket for those of us who like to punish our knees.
While rumors persist that Specialized is working on a full-suspension 29er for women, the only new model this year is the Fate: a carbon 29er hardtail designed for racing and fast singletrack sessions. Like the Carve platform, it uses a 27.2mm seat tube for a more compliant ride. This bike is no puffball, though. The frame weighs just 1,200 grams and comes stacked with features, including a tapered head tube and Press Fit 30 bottom bracket. The top-level Expert comes with an 80mm RockShox SID 29 with Brain inertia-valve damper and a mostly SRAM XO drivetrain; the lower-level Comp uses an 80mm RockShox Reba and a SRAM X9/X7 drivetrain.
Epic Expert Carbon 29
Even though the frame remains the same, the 2012 Epic Expert comes with lighter parts that drop a whopping 1.25 pounds from the current version. Changes include am upgrade to RockShox’s SID29er (2011: RockShox Reba 29); lighter and stiffer Roval Control 29 rims (2011: DT 450SL rims) and lighter Formula R1 S brakes (2011: Avid Elixir CR SL), which will come on most expert-level Specialized models in 2012.