Long-Term Review: 2017 Specialized Epic Hardtail

2017 Specialized epic HT comp.jpg

It’s been a full year since I took home my Specialized Epic Hard Tail Comp and I wanted to whip up brief review just in case you had nothing better to do on 4th of July week. After riding it, racing it, and keeping up on maintenance, I feel I’m able to weigh in on this entry-level XC race rig and provide some feedback and context on the product from our good friends from the big, red S.

The Backstory

A little context is always helpful when doing a bike review, as the bicycles I rode before this one serve to frame and shape my reaction to it. Think of it like drinking orange juice; before you brush your teeth - it’s great! But after, well, things tend to taste differently. Context, my friends, is everything.

Last spring, I was on the hunt for a hold-me-over bike. I had traded my Kona Big Unit for some more tattoos, as that bike had served as my replacement after selling my 2017 Cannondale F-Si. As anyone who knows me will tell you, that Cannondale is the bike by which all other bikes are judged. It’s like a college girlfriend who moved away and you always wonder what might have been; except this bike weighed less and didn’t have boyfriends in several area codes. At any rate, I sold the Cannondale after having some issues with the fork. I figured I’d ride the Kona for a few months until I could get a 2018 Cannondale with the new Ocho fork in stock at Velo City. However, after a very rough singletrack ride on the Big Unit, I said “screw this” and wandered into a McLain’s Cycle for something plastic (or carbon, as the marketing departments prefer to call it) with a squishy fork.

Enter the Epic Comp.

2017 Specialized Epic Comp HT

First off, what do you think about the looks? I think it looks a bit plain, almost half-assed, but I guess Specialized needs to keep the cool paint finishes for the top of the model range. The white paint is a complete pain in the neck to keep looking clean, and I’ve sort of given up on that front for the most part. The black wheels are cool, and the white paint actually has little sparkles in it, but it’s tough to see them because the paint is immediately soiled by even a modicum of dust.

But looks don’t really matter to me near as much as functionality. And it’s here where the Epic truly shines. The racy geometry leaves ample flexibility for the rider to make set-up changes while retaining the smooth ride. I have a tendency to set my bikes up with tons of body weight over the front end to really edge in that front end grip, and this bike isn’t spoiled by that set-up decision. In fact, the Rock Shox Reba is perhaps the best fork I’ve ever ridden. It was set up with the help of my friend Jaden, and I’ve never had a better front-end suspension set up in all my years of riding.

I don’t usually get too fussed about tires, as they’re all black and rubber and have knobs on them to me, so the FastTracks that came stock on the Epic didn’t set off any alarms or celebratory buzzers. However, after a year of riding in sand, hard-pack, mud, and everything in between, these tires have been absolutely stunning. They’re predictable in every type of terrain, and their wear-life has been simply bonkers. I ride the TART to the VASA and rack up tons of asphalt miles, yet the front tire looks like new and the rear still has another month or so of life, despite this being the only bike I’ve ridden, 4-7 times per week all last summer and this year, as well.

As far as plastic frames go, this one is up there with the best I’ve ridden. While the frame itself is quite light, it feels exceptionally tough and soaks up bumps extremely well. The compliance is particularly helpful on the rough-ish singletrack off the VST, but the rigidity is put on display on the fast ascents on the VASA 25K where putting down power is the only way to maintain momentum and not get dropped at SOL. In short, this bike is perfectly suited to the demands of riding in northern Michigan.

Comparing the Epic to the One That Got Away

I tried to buy my old Cannondale back for a few months, and I’ve kept a keen eye on the feedback from riders who have been living with the new, Lefty Ocho-equipped Cannondale S-Fis for the last year or so. The main appeal of my old S-Fi was how nimble and quick that bike felt. That frame just felt lighter and snappier than anything else I’ve ever ridden, and that includes the Epic. The relatively high front-end geometry of the Cannondale had to be neutralized by an almost comically flipped and slammed stem, but even still, it was an extremely sharp handling bike. Better than the Epic? Probably, but I’m not completely sure. The Epic, with the Reba fork, isn’t as snappy as the Cannondale, but it does seem to maintain momentum through corners marginally better than the Cannondale, while the Cannondale was much easier to accelerate through the exit and even more controllable under braking. Obviously, an endless list of variables like tires, tire pressure, fork pressure and the like easily influence and can change the characteristics of both bikes ad nauseam, but picking between the two would be difficult in any scenario.

The Conclusion

My Kona, and then my Specialized, were meant to just hold me over until the Cannondale S-Fi with the new Ocho fork became easier to get ahold of. While I’ve checked availability of the S-Fi through this summer, I’ve yet to take the plunge on getting one. Why? Well, in short, my Specialized has made quite the impression on me. While not perfect in looks, and perhaps lacking a bit of snappiness in comparison with the Cannondale, it’s been a rock solid bike. The low-end components have held up extremely well and have been cheap to replace. The frame has exceeded expectations, and the fork has been one of the best I’ve ever tried. So, while I’m still fascinated by the new Cannondales and the genius of the Lefty Ocho, I’m hesitant to leave what has been an exceptionally durable, speedy, and rewarding platform.

I’d like to ride the new Cannondale to see how they’ve been improved in 2019, for sure. Hopefully, I can make that happen sometime this summer. But until then, I’ll be quite content on my Epic. At 25.5lbs, a super-light rocket ship it is not, but neither is the rider, to be fair. It’s as predictable as the Cannondale is snappy, and a more durable bicycle would be difficult to find. At any rate, choosing between the two is a moot point - have you seen this sexy rocket ship yet?

Get the full spec sheet on the Specialized Epic here.

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Wes Sovis