When we tested last year’s Epic, we kind of liked it but had reservations about the weight and “on-off” suspension feel from the Brain inertial valve. And we weren’t the only ones. For 2004, Specialized has given the Epic a thorough going-over which should broaden the bike’s appeal considerably.
First up, they’ve lightened the frame. A lot. They’re claiming 0.5lb off the frame, with the S-Works version now apparently Specialized’s lightest full suspension frame ever. Which makes it lighter than the old FSR-xc, which certainly wasn’t heavy… Every tube on the bike has been looked at for potential weight savings, with more butting, a slimmed-down top tube and lots of hollowing-out on the forged parts around the shock. The S-Works model also gets a carbon fibre top linkage to shave some more grams.
The other significant change is to the Brain shock itself. The top three models (S-Works, Marathon and Pro) get the new Brain IQ shock with a sensitivity adjuster on the valve. If you’re not familiar with the thinking behind the Brain, here’s how it works. The nearly-vertical canister near the rear axle contains an intertial valve comprising a brass weight and a spring. At rest, the weight closes a port preventing the shock from compressing. Pedal like a gibbon and it doesn’t move. Hit a bump, though, and the impact through the back wheel shifts the weight, opens the valve and allows the suspension to move. We found the 2003 shock a bit reluctant to open, losing possible traction benefits on some climbs. The adjuster, though, ought to sort this out, with a sensitivity range that puts the 2003 setting somewhere in the middle. Making the valve more sensitive also causes it to stay open longer, so the suspension works for more of the time. The two Epics that don’t get an adjuster have had the shock tuned so that they’re more sensitive than before (the threshold is, we’re told, 0.75g instead of 1g), which is a welcome development.
There are five Epics in the range, including the S-Works version at £3,999 with M5-XX frame tubing, the carbon link, extra machining, Fox F100X fork (which contains a similar inertial valve to the rear shock), XTR everywhere and Mavic CrossMax SL wheels. The rest of the Epics have M4 tubing, with the entry-level Epic coming in at £1,599 with Fox Float RL fork, LX/XT transmission and Avid V-brakes. For another three hundred notes you can get the Comp, with similar spec but Shimano M555 disc brakes. If you’re likely to want discs at some point, go for them at point of sale – the non-disc Epics don’t come with disc-compatible hubs, so upgrades need new hubs and wheel builds as well as the brakes themselves.
The Pro and Marathon models have a similar relationship to the Epic and Comp, with the Pro featuring a lightweight RockShox SID Team/XT/XTR/Avid SD Ti build at £2,399 and the Marathon adding a Float 100X fork and XT discs for £2,699. Both these bikes have XT Dual Control levers, but Low Normal objectors will be delighted to see Specialized sticking with conventional XTR derailleurs.
The all-new Stumpy FSR fills a bit of a gap in last year’s Specialized range. There wasn’t an FSR-xc in the UK in 2003, which was a disappointment to many riders who were looking for something for big rides but with nice active suspension without going for the longer-travel and heftier Enduro bikes. The Stumpy FSR has 100mm of four-bar rear travel and new high-volume Fox air shocks for plusher, more linear suspension performance. The two lower models have Float R shocks with ProPedal damping – increased low-speed compression damping to tame some bob at the expense of a bit of small-bump performance, while the top three models have a rather nifty Triad shock. This has a lever to flick between locked out, ProPedal or fully-open modes, vaguely similar to Scott’s Genius shock.
The frame is M4 aluminium, with a monococque-style top “tube” and pierced seat tube for the shock to pass through. It’s got a very clean and efficient look. There’s a frame-only option at £899.
£1,299 gains you admission to the Stumpy FSR range, with Black Elite fork, Avid V-brakes (but disc-ready hubs for easy upgrades) and Deore/LX/XT transmission. If you want discs out of the box, the Elite packs Shimano M525 brakes for an extra two hundred quid, although if you’re going for that you might want to scrape together another ton for the Comp. That gets you the Triad shock, a lighter wheel package and an XTR rear mech.
Moving up the range, the £1,799 Expert gets M555 brakes and a Fox Float RL fork, the Pro is full XT (plus an XTR rear mech) at £2,299 and the Anniversary gets full XTR, CrossMax SL wheels, Float RLC fork, carbon bars, Thomson finishing kit and general dribblesomeness.
Not many changes to the Enduro range for 2004. They’ve all now got ProPedal shocks (still with the travel-adjust ITch switch) and 8in front disc rotors. Prices range from the base Enduro at £1,499 (Marzocchi EXR Supra fork, M525 brakes, Deore/LX/XT transmission) and specs gradually improve through the Comp and Expert up to the £2,399 Pro, which features a Fox TALAS RLC fork and XT/XTR group (with XTR discs).
If you just want a frame, the S-Works Enduro is £999 and features a remote Brain valve at the rear axle, connected to the shock by a hose. The Brain has the IQ adjuster although the range of adjustment is shifted towards greater sensitivity, what Specialized call “Trail Tune”.
The long-travel Bighit chassis sails on into 2004, with complete bikes being the Comp with Manitou Swinger 3-way shock, ‘zocchi DJ2 fork, Hayes discs, Holzfeller cranks and LX/XT whirly bits at £1,699 and the Expert with a Junior T (complete with integrated top crown/stem) and Swinger 4-way at £2,199. Or just get the frame for a very reasonable £749.99.
If the Bighit’s 8.1in of travel just isn’t enough, then the all-new Demo 9 might be just the ticket. This monstrous creation packs the eponymous nine inches of travel into an initially-bewildering rear suspension design – it’s a regular four-bar linkage but with the Manitou Swinger 6-way shock driven from a secondary “sub-seatstay” assembly. That allows it to be tucked away down the bottom of the frame. Amazingly, you can actually get at all the adjusters without having to take the shock out… The £1,999 frame package includes a seatpost and a Sun/Ringlé rear hub to suit the Demo’s 150mm wide, 12mm through-axle hub requirements. And there’s a little rear mech protector doofer too.
The P-series of jumpy hardtails expands to two bikes and a frame. The P1 is £499, has one gear (but with a tensioner and a full-width freehub body so gears are easy to fit) and a paint job that reminds us of the sort of colours you used to spray Airfix Panzer kits, the P2 is £649 with nine gears and blackness and the P3 is just a frame, £249 and blue.
The classic Stumpjumper sees some light frame tweakage, with thinner tube walls and a little strut to beef up the disc mount. Prices range from £1,199 to £1,899 and there’s a shorter top-tubed women’s version too. The mid-range Rockhopper and entry-level Hardrock lines also get tubing tweaks, including snaked stays and disc mount struttage. The two lines have been simplified a little, too. Gone is the bewildering array of models, replaced by a single progression of spec at £100-150 price increments. Again, there are womens’ editions of the Rockhopper and Hardrock, both refreshingly free of pastel colour schemes or flower motifs. Well, the Hardrock’s a sort of metallic baby blue, but that doesn’t really count.
Specialized is pushing “transmission integrity” throughout the range, by which they mean “lots of Shimano”, including in those places where sometimes lesser gear is found – cranks, bottom brackets, rear hubs, cassettes, chains… Can’t argue with that for trouble-free performance, really.
That’s the MTB range – we’ll come back to the other stuff…