Pedaling efficiency, high-speed stability, Magura breaks, solid carbon frame and wheels, better bang for the buck than S-Works. So efficient, why even look at a hardtail?
Weaknesses: X0 components: bike shop and I could never get it to work anywhere near as good as XT/XTR. Swapped parts after a couple of months.
Pretty narrow use: uncomfortable for all-mountain riding.
$300 per year for shock maintenance.
Heavy seatpost and seat for the price.
This is a review for the 2013 Epic Marathon.
How did I choose the Epic? After reading very useful reviews on this site and others, I narrowed down to the Anthem, Tall Boy and Epic. I parking-lot rode all of them in local shops here in Boulder. My tests were
1) To pedal as hard as I could out of the saddle and see how efficient they would be
2) Go around tight obstacles to evaluate handling
3) To drop some stairs and curbs
4) My favorite test: ride 20mph straight at a curb, sitting on the saddle
Surprisingly, they all did very good at the efficiency test. No bobbing on any of them. The Giant didn’t even bob when set to the “T” setting of the CTD shock. The Epic felt a little more snappy, I think because of the Brain in the front shock. Note that I test rode base models of all of those, the Epic was a comp, no carbon.
The handling was won hands down by the Epic. The others had reassuring stability but were a slower steering in comparison. They were slower than my 26” ASR. The Epic felt quicker steering than my ASR while it remained very stable. Nice!
Drops were better on the Giant and Santa Cruz. They felt more all-mountainish than the Epic. The Epic still felt stable but it feels like the head tub angle is not as well adapted to steep downhill terrain.
And my favorite test, the head-on curb at 20mph. That was a surprise. Both the Giant and Santa Cruz rear suspension felt very responsive (plush?) on small bumps. When it came to bigger bumps at higher speeds, the Epic was a clear winner. Don’t get me wrong, the Giant and Cruz felt very good and stable but the Epic would completely soak the curb. If I had done that test blind-folded, I would have felt like the curb was just a crack on the road with the Epic. The others felt like a small bump and kicked me up a little. Clear win for the Epic on that test.
After those tests, I knew I wanted carbon, brain in front/rear, 2X10, not Avid breaks (unreliable performance with Elixir CR). I was told by several riders and reading reviews that carbon wheels make a huge difference so that was also part of my criteria. I’ve been riding Shimano components forever so I had a slight bias that way but was open to Sram.
This meant I was going to get at least the Expert Carbon. In 2013, it didn’t come with carbon wheels. I ended up going to the Marathon mainly for that reason. I didn’t know if I’d like the Sram components but I was willing to give them a try.
When I took delivery, I went for a parking-lot test just to make sure it all worked well. That was an Oh-My-Good moment. The acceleration on this bike is phenomenal! Yes, the Comp I test-rode a few weeks prior felt good but this bike is like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Is it the carbon frame? The carbon wheels? The light tires? Brain? I don’t know but since that moment, I’ve been trying to ride it at any opportunity I can get. I was always a mountain biker first but since I got that bike a year ago, I’ve only been on my road bike 3 times.
It makes me faster uphill, downhill and in corners (compared with previous times, relative to friends and year-over-year race results), it’s comfortable for long rides (several 50+ mile races, including Breck Epic) and it’s been mostly reliable. The “mostly” is because I broke the frame, as I usually do on any bike every year. The interesting thing is that I broke the only aluminum part on it, the chain stay, on the right side, just behind the main pivot, at the weld. I was the first one my LBS saw this Spring. Talking to people at races, another guy broke it at exactly the same place too. I’m going to go ahead and suggest that it was a fabrication defect. It was only after 6 months of owning the bike. Specialized replaced it for free. My LBS didn’t charge me labor because it was within the first year of ownership.
Negative things about this bike? Yes, a few. It came with full Sram X0 grip shift. I never got used to grip shift. Upgraded to X0 shifters but that was still slow compared to XT or XTR. I ended up swapping my XTR parts from my Yeti. The 6 months-old XTR worked much better right away and made me feel right at home. Maybe it’s a religious thing, I don’t know, but I feel I gave the X0 drivetrain a chance and it felt sluggish to me. Other negative, you must send front and rear shocks to Specialized to get them rebuild every 150 hours. That’s $150 per shock and you’re out of a bike for 2 weeks. I let mine go for a little too long performance dropped quickly. The rear shock wasn’t holding air anymore, it had play and even got bobby.
Living in Boulder, I got to ride it on various terrain. It excels at trails in Summit County, Buffalo Creek, Laramie. It’s very good for terrain in the Front Range and Fruita. Not so good for super bumpy Moab. In other words, it like fast and smooth terrain. Awesome for almost all endurance races I’ve done. Riding a bumpy 12-mile descent like Porcupine Rim in Moab is literally painful.
Similar Products Used: Yeti AST-Carbon, Sant Cruz Tallboy, Giant Anthem
Bike Setup: Swapped drivetrain to XTR (about the same weight than X0 but feels better to me). Thompson masterpiece seatpost. Two Fast Track S-Works (came with only one). Running tubeless. Weight down to 23.2 pounds with just those changes (why get an S-Works? That's why I'm giving it 5 value chilis).