The latest Specialized Epic EVO Expert has significant changes since the previous EVO. Shayne Dowling got to spend some time on the new version and was hard pressed to return it.  

BIKE REVIEW: Specialized Epic Evo Expert – RRP R117k

“There are no bad bikes anymore” I have heard this a lot lately. Generally I have to agree – most mountain bikes are good. But what makes a mountain bike exceptional? What gives a bike a price tag that makes you reach for your asthma pump? There is no denying that some bikes are just better than others and bike companies work hard to ensure that not only do they have excellent products but a company like Specialized works damn hard to make sure you are getting excellence right through the range. So why start with price? Well because bikes aren’t cheap and when you are lucky enough to throw your leg over a R117 000 machine you look hard at what you’re riding and if like me you love the ride but it’s outside your price bracket you look at the options below it. This is where companies like Specialized excel - the trickle down from the top of the range ensures that you are getting a brilliant bike no matter what your budget. There will be compromises but hey such is life. Ok so let’s focus on the bike as tested – the all new Epic EVO Expert 2021.

120mm of travel up front and 110mm back  ensure that the bike is in the mountain bike  sweet spot "

I really believe that you have to fall in love with your ride and as with most things in life this begins with what you see - how easy is it on the eye? Like your favourite car that you love the look of.I think that all the latest Spec’s have been gorgeous - the colour options, the trim and finish have all been on point and my Evo Expert was right up there. The official colour is Gloss Redwood and Smoke – it’s a deep burnt Orange that is rich and warm and really pops in the sun. Definitely eye-catching

The obvious difference to the last Evo is that there is no longer a “brain” – the specialized brain set-up has always been unique to the Epic series and the previous EVO was essentially an Epic with longer travel – no more, the new EVO despite keeping the Epic name has undoubtedly been given its own identity. The bike has a slacker head angle by almost 2° which is quite substantial, meaning an increase in wheelbase and of course more stability – despite not sold as a trail bike in my opinion placing the new EVO much closer to the trail bike category. In case you need reminding, Trail bikes straddle the gap between XCO (racing) bikes and the more gravity orientated Enduro category. It is by far the most versatile category and is an all-rounder that is aimed at offering excellent descending capabilities with efficient pedaling on the ups. Of course it is also a more relaxed ride for those stage races too. Frankly it is the bike most people should be on, it also is the category that offers the most variety in bike options, setup and suitability across all riding abilities. The Epic EVO ticks all the boxes – slacker head angle, longer reach with shorter stem – think great response on those fast descents – more travel on the rear and a 150mm dropper post (on the L), the ability to flip the chip to increase BB height and the headtube angle. Oh and 120mm of travel up front and 110mm back (there is a new purpose built link that compliments the new rear shock) ensure that the bike is in the mountain bike sweet spot. This is engineering that has ensured that the EVO which has been dressed up to tackle every conceivable situation, delivers. There are further tech specs that make the bike unique and highly capable – on paper... So how did the bike perform?

Did I mention that my daily ride is a 2019 Epic EVO? This of course gave me a really good perspective to compare old with new. So it was with great excitement (and a little bit of trepidation as no-one wants to know they have upstaged their current bike - right?) I collected and set-up the bike (Probably the most important part of testing or taking home a new bike!), which was really easy – despite longer reach the shorter stem put me in a similar reach position as my bike – fork set-up is as on the lower/slider and then playing around with air and rebound if you want a specific feel, I got used to the SID Select+ response quickly and with minor rebound adjustment the fork was superb. The rear shock was the usual setup based on the sag and has an option for lockout or open – I did use the lockout on some of the longer climbs and it certainly gets you into a “hardtail” type rigidity. I can’t say that the slacker geometry makes a negative difference to us mere mortals on climbing – the bike is very efficient, minimal bob and excellent power transfer – you will get to the top quickly and comfortably – important if you are a diesel climber like me! The EVO is fantastic on those long gravel roads and jeep tracks – just soaks up the corrugations and you sit so comfortably. But it’s on the descents where the beauty of this bike comes to the fore from the confidence you get on the technical stuff to you actually really understanding what “stiffness” on a bike is and how it makes a difference. The carbon hoops, the geometry, the engineering that ensures frame rigidity and then how it transfers into improved handling on the trails. Fast is faster but never out of control, technical terrain is so much more manageable – I took the EVO down the Bridal switchbacks at Tokai and aced it, through the snakes (with their rock gardens) and then the fast Vasbyt – all at Tokai – the ride was insane! Always in control, always quick and always with a smile. I rode the bike everywhere – including a long road ride (forgive me but the Cape Coastal road and Chappies is a magnificent road for a Sunday ride – no matter the bike) and eventually asked Lionel from Freewheel Cycology if I could please have another week with the bike – I just didn’t want to give it back!

It is difficult not to compare my bike against this one – there are differences that stand out of course. The obvious one is the brain. I have never been a fan of the system – that said I hadn’t ridden the newer models for some time and there have of course been improvements over the years. I can categorically state that I am now a huge fan! I love that the brain looks after me and I don’t do anything – it’s an incredible piece of technology that I now rave about. One standout for me is that I don’t understand why on a bike of this value it doesn’t come out with carbon handlebars – the difference on your hands and feel is quite remarkable – and not a big expense in the greater scheme of things. I upgraded to carbon cranks but I don’t think this makes a noticeable difference. The bike takes two water bottles and can incorporate the swat box – do it – makes life so much easier and great having all the little emergency bits with the bike all the time.

The bike as tested – with two cages and Shimano trail pedals came in at 11.98kgs – this is really impressive if you consider the 2.3 tyres, sealant, bottle cages were all on the bike too.