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Specialized cross-country gear grows faster and sharper for 2009

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Pure racers have a new Specialized carbon hardtail

Pure racers have a new Specialized carbon hardtail (Image credit: James Huang)
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Specialized's new 2009 S-Works Epic

Specialized's new 2009 S-Works Epic (Image credit: James Huang)
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The new 'mini Brain' rear shock arrangement

The new 'mini Brain' rear shock arrangement (Image credit: James Huang)
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The new frames sheds approximately 220g

The new frames sheds approximately 220g (Image credit: James Huang)
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A neat riveted-on mount secures the rear Brain unit

A neat riveted-on mount secures the rear Brain unit (Image credit: James Huang)
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The non-driveside dropout is a bonded-on aluminum

The non-driveside dropout is a bonded-on aluminum (Image credit: James Huang)
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Specialized doesn't leave female riders out in the cold, either;

Specialized doesn't leave female riders out in the cold, either; (Image credit: James Huang)
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Specialized's new 2009 S-Works Epic is not only startling light but surprisingly capable as an all-around cross-country machine.

Specialized's new 2009 S-Works Epic is not only startling light but surprisingly capable as an all-around cross-country machine. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new frames sheds approximately 220g from last year's version yet feels noticeably more responsive than before.

The new frames sheds approximately 220g from last year's version yet feels noticeably more responsive than before. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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As expected, the head tube houses a newly tapered and oversized 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" steerer tube.

As expected, the head tube houses a newly tapered and oversized 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" steerer tube. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The integrated cranks once reserved only for team riders now find their way on to the consumer versions for 2009.

The integrated cranks once reserved only for team riders now find their way on to the consumer versions for 2009. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The mountain bike version of Specialized's FACT carbon cranks use a beefier lay-up and slightly revised shape relative to the road-going model.

The mountain bike version of Specialized's FACT carbon cranks use a beefier lay-up and slightly revised shape relative to the road-going model. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The aluminum chainring spiders are easily convertible between four-arm triple and five-arm two-chainring setups.

The aluminum chainring spiders are easily convertible between four-arm triple and five-arm two-chainring setups. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Available adapter cups will allow the use of standard external-type cranksets.

Available adapter cups will allow the use of standard external-type cranksets. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new 'mini Brain' rear shock arrangement completely moves the compression damping functions to the remote unit, shaving 110g in the process.

The new 'mini Brain' rear shock arrangement completely moves the compression damping functions to the remote unit, shaving 110g in the process. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A neat riveted-on mount secures the rear Brain unit and the BrainFade knob is easier to adjust than before. Goodridge hose connections should make for fewer leaks over time.

A neat riveted-on mount secures the rear Brain unit and the BrainFade knob is easier to adjust than before. Goodridge hose connections should make for fewer leaks over time. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Air pressure and rebound adjustments are in their familiar locations. The air valve will be slightly rotated on production versions for less interference with water bottles.

Air pressure and rebound adjustments are in their familiar locations. The air valve will be slightly rotated on production versions for less interference with water bottles. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Mounted up front is the new E100 fork complete with carbon upper assembly and Brain inertia valve for a balanced feel.

Mounted up front is the new E100 fork complete with carbon upper assembly and Brain inertia valve for a balanced feel. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Specialized's 'Buddy System' houses both spring and damper units in one leg to cut down on redundant internal bits.

Specialized's 'Buddy System' houses both spring and damper units in one leg to cut down on redundant internal bits. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Naturally, the new Epic retains Specialized's ubiquitous FSR four-bar suspension layout.

Naturally, the new Epic retains Specialized's ubiquitous FSR four-bar suspension layout. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Last year's asymmetrical aluminum swingarm has been replaced by a new carbon unit.

Last year's asymmetrical aluminum swingarm has been replaced by a new carbon unit. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The driveside dropout is now carbon, too, and fitted with an aluminum shield to protect against serrated quick release skewers.

The driveside dropout is now carbon, too, and fitted with an aluminum shield to protect against serrated quick release skewers. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The non-driveside dropout is a bonded-on aluminum bit for better alignment and heat dissipation of disc brakes.

The non-driveside dropout is a bonded-on aluminum bit for better alignment and heat dissipation of disc brakes. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The dropout pivots are molded directly into the new carbon swingarm.

The dropout pivots are molded directly into the new carbon swingarm. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The minimal upper link is now aluminum instead of carbon but the centralized shock location allows it be made substantially lighter at just 40g.

The minimal upper link is now aluminum instead of carbon but the centralized shock location allows it be made substantially lighter at just 40g. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The front derailleur now mounts directly to the swingarm.

The front derailleur now mounts directly to the swingarm. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The DMD-style mounting is based on Shimano's E-Type system but eliminates the bulky bottom bracket-mounted plate.

The DMD-style mounting is based on Shimano's E-Type system but eliminates the bulky bottom bracket-mounted plate. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The seat tube makes a distinct detour around the front derailleur as it makes its way to the bottom bracket shell.

The seat tube makes a distinct detour around the front derailleur as it makes its way to the bottom bracket shell. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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There's ample clearance out back for mud to pass through, at least up top.

There's ample clearance out back for mud to pass through, at least up top. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Several plates protect the carbon frame from dropped chains and misshifts.

Several plates protect the carbon frame from dropped chains and misshifts. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Full-length housing seals the system from end-to-end and the down tube routing actually helps protect the frame from damage. Protective tape is also applied to the down tube beneath the housing.

Full-length housing seals the system from end-to-end and the down tube routing actually helps protect the frame from damage. Protective tape is also applied to the down tube beneath the housing. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The carbon chain stay is protected by a new molded rubber bit that keeps things quiet, too.

The carbon chain stay is protected by a new molded rubber bit that keeps things quiet, too. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The top tube, head tube and down tube are now all molded as one piece, meaning the head tube area is far cleaner-looking inside.

The top tube, head tube and down tube are now all molded as one piece, meaning the head tube area is far cleaner-looking inside. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The lower-slung frame provides more standover clearance than before.

The lower-slung frame provides more standover clearance than before. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Specialized doesn't leave female riders out in the cold, either; the new carbon S-Works Era is a direct analogue of the top-level Epic but with women's-specific tubing and geometry.

Specialized doesn't leave female riders out in the cold, either; the new carbon S-Works Era is a direct analogue of the top-level Epic but with women's-specific tubing and geometry. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The specially-tuned E100 fork on the Era uses revised spring and damper rates for lighter-weight riders.

The specially-tuned E100 fork on the Era uses revised spring and damper rates for lighter-weight riders. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Of course, the Era also uses women's-specific componentry such as the Jett saddle and narrower handlebars.

Of course, the Era also uses women's-specific componentry such as the Jett saddle and narrower handlebars. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Pure racers have a new Specialized carbon hardtail to look into for 2009 that sheds about 100g from last year.

Pure racers have a new Specialized carbon hardtail to look into for 2009 that sheds about 100g from last year. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The swoopier-looking frame borrows a few design elements from the road-going Tarmac.

The swoopier-looking frame borrows a few design elements from the road-going Tarmac. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Specialized beefed up the bottom bracket area to help maintain last year's snappy drivetrain response but the new frame is supposedly markedly more comfortable.

Specialized beefed up the bottom bracket area to help maintain last year's snappy drivetrain response but the new frame is supposedly markedly more comfortable. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The integrated cranks find their way here, too, and as on the Epic, the down tube is now over 80mm-wide to make maximum use of the extra real estate.

The integrated cranks find their way here, too, and as on the Epic, the down tube is now over 80mm-wide to make maximum use of the extra real estate. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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There's a carbon dropout here, too.

There's a carbon dropout here, too. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new hardtail also gets the taper-end-oversized front end treatment.

The new hardtail also gets the taper-end-oversized front end treatment. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Brain-equipped FutureShock S90 fork uses a carbon upper assembly, magnesium lowers and 90mm travel-specific internals to yield a claimed 1397g weight.

The Brain-equipped FutureShock S90 fork uses a carbon upper assembly, magnesium lowers and 90mm travel-specific internals to yield a claimed 1397g weight. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)

Tech feature: Specialized 2009 MTB introduction, July 7, 2008

The new Epic: an even-faster cross-country race bike but now also so much more

The 2009 Specialized Epic has finally been treated to the full-blown revamp that the company gave its longer-travel Stumpjumper and Enduro brethren over the past couple of years and it's been well worth our wait. As expected, this new version is substantially lighter and faster-feeling than its predecessor but after three days of thrashing this latest iteration around Camp Tamarancho in Marin County, California, it also seems far more capable, too.

Lying at the heart of this newfound ability is an all-new carbon frame and shock that Specialized says is 330g (0.73lb) lighter than the '08 model. The new seat stays and asymmetrical chain stays are now carbon fiber as well and while the upper link has reverted back to forged aluminum construction, its newly minimal dimensions drop its weight to a scant 40g. Claimed weight is now just 2.04kg (4.5lb) for a medium frame and rear shock; other componentry upgrades means a complete medium-sized bike in top-end trim now posts a truly feathery 9.65kg (21.27lb) figure without pedals. Yowsa.

The rear end retains a familiar four-bar layout but the new 'mini Brain' rear shock has been moved to a more centralized location beneath the top tube. According to Specialized, this supposedly eliminates the occasional off-center loading the old 'sidewinder' layout occasionally suffered on harder impacts. The compression damping circuit has been shifted completely to the axle-located remote unit, too, leaving a far smaller bit up front that still leaves enough room for a large-sized water bottle in the main triangle.

As with the Enduro and Stumpjumper, the front derailleur mounts directly to the swingarm via Specialized's DMD (Direct Mount Derailleur) setup.

More integration for 2009

Not surprisingly, Specialized has fitted the new Epic with its own FutureShock E100 fork which comes complete with a tapered-and-oversized 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" steerer tube. As on the Stumpjumper, the one-piece carbon fiber crown and steerer are claimed to be both lighter and more rigid than an equivalent 1 1/8" setup while the thinned-out aluminum stanchions still measure a healthy 32mm in diameter.

As on the Stumpjumper's S120 fork, the E100's cast magnesium lower legs feature oversized dropouts designed to mate with optional 28mm-diameter end caps on Specialized's Roval wheelsets. Interestingly, Specialized insists this setup is both lighter and stiffer than the new 15mm thru-axle setups. Either way, the fork can accommodate wheels with standard-sized end caps, too.

Naturally, Specialized has included another Brain unit in the E100 for a balanced feel front-to-rear. So-called 'Buddy System' packaging stuffs both the damper and air spring chamber into the driveside leg while the other leg is essentially left empty. Claimed weight is just 1.41kg (3.11lb).

Specialized team riders have long been riding the company's integrated carbon crankset but now consumers will definitely have that option for 2009 for themselves. Somewhat surprisingly, the new FACT MTB crankset does not adhere to BB30 standards like the road-going version. Instead, Specialized has opted for a wider 84.5mm shell that provides more real estate for the similarly broad down tube yet still makes for a tidier-than-usual 48.5mm chainline.

The hollow 'D'-shaped carbon arms also use a mountain bike-specific lay-up schedule and the shape has been revised slightly to deal with the extra stresses of trail abuse. Interchangeable spiders will accommodate either a standard four-arm, three-chainring setup or a five-arm, two-ring configuration. Optional press-fit bearing cups will also allow the use of standard external-type cranks although at just 684 complete for the Specialized crank, there might be little reason to do so.

Faster, lighter… and better

We weren't entirely sure what to expect from such a seemingly fragile rig but always returned from our test loop thoroughly impressed with just how solid the new Epic feels underfoot. Indeed, Specialized claims a 14.4 percent increase in front-end rigidity (including the fork) and a 23.4 percent jump in drivetrain rigidity over the old model and while we obviously can't confirm the figures, the end result is noticeably snappier than its forebear in every way.

In fact, the entire chassis feels decidedly cohesive from end-to-end, even in rockier technical sections, with none of the whippiness or handling vagueness that is often associated with bikes of this weight class. The more we rode it, the more we got over the fear of breaking it; in the end, we pushed this new Epic harder than any other one before it and felt more comfortable in the process, too.

Racers obviously have much to gain here as the low weight, surprising level of overall stiffness and Brain inertia valve technology at both ends yield the expected response when you mash on the pedals: lay down the watts and this thing absolutely likes to run whether that means heading up a steep and technical climb or just opening it up on a descent.

Though clearly sharper-edged, the new Epic also has far more appeal for general trail riders than before, too. The moderately aggressive head tube angle yields the usual race bike-like handling reflexes but isn't so steep that it's twitchy. Likewise, the suspension feels more usable than before even though it boasts the same amount of travel on paper. The race-tuned Brain means you can still feel a bit more harshness on first impacts than the trail-tuned Stumpjumper (even at the lightest end of its surprisingly wide adjustment range) but it's far from objectionable and fitter riders might appreciate the extra dose of efficiency.

Save for the sketchy Fast Trak LK tires that come stock (we quickly swapped out the front for a grippier Captain), we wouldn't hesitate much to use this as an all-day rig as long as you shy away from truly hairy terrain.

One of best parts about the new Epic is that women finally get a top-end model of their own as last year's aluminum Era model has been upgraded to the same carbon frame and component spec as the men's version. Specialized includes the usual women's-specific geometry, tube shapes and diameters, carbon lay-up schedules, suspension tuning and componentry but there's no sacrifice in performance whatsoever. Female racers, step right up; your chariot has arrived and there isn't a single swatch of pink to be found.

You can feel free to accuse us of blowing smoke up Specialized's rear end if you like and many will balk at the increased helping of integration. However, Specialized (and Cannondale, for that matter) have clearly demonstrated that this is what it takes to push the weight and performance limits beyond what we previously thought possible. While do-it-yourself weight weenies will undoubtedly be able to build bikes lighter than this with 'standard' componentry, it's unlikely that they will feel as well put-together.

Either way, the new Epic has redefined our expectations of how light a production bike can (or should) be and how much capability we can expect to come with it. Provided Specialized can keep the front and rear suspension reliability where it needs to be (not to mention the frame), the 2009 Epic may be the 100mm-travel race bike to have come next season. We'll get our hands on a proper production tester as soon as possible and see how well it holds up over the long run.

All of the new Epics and Eras will be carbon-only; there are no aluminum models for 2009 although a slightly less expensive Marathon version will use aluminum chain stays. Pricing is yet to be announced but we're guessing 'expensive' would be a good bet. Production models are slated to arrive in limited numbers before the end of the calendar year.

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