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Specialized Epic vs. Epic Evo vs. Epic World Cup vs Epic Hardtail

The Specialized epic is the most successful XC mountain bike ever made and it's available in several versions: Epic, Epic Evo, Epic World Cup, and Epic Hardtail. What's the difference and how do you decide which Epic is best for you?

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:MTB

The Specialized Epic (left) and Epic Evo (right).

There are a lot of fast XC mountain bikes to choose from, but only one has been the king of XC racing for the last two decades: the Specialized Epic. 

Currently, there are four versions of the Specialized Epic you could potentially buy: 

  • Epic
  • Epic Evo
  • Epic World Cup
  • Epic Hardtail

These four bikes are pretty similar since they all share the same race-winning DNA, but each model has some unique features that make it suit different riders. So how do you know which Specialized Epic is right for you? We’ll break down the basic differences, so you can understand which Epic will help you achieve your goals. 

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Specialized Epic vs. Epic Evo vs. Epic World Cup vs. Epic Hardtail

 Specialized Epic vs. Epic Evo vs. Epic World Cup vs. Epic Hardtail

  • Epic - Brain suspension front and rear for efficiency, speed, and comfort
  • Epic Evo - More travel and no Brain to handle rougher terrain
  • Epic World Cup - Combines the best of full-suspension and hardtail performance
  • Epic Hardtail - Most affordable, lightest, and simplest


Epic Evo

Epic WC

Epic HT

Front Travel





Rear Travel





Head Angle





Seat Angle





Stack (M/L)





Reach (M/L)





Frame Weight 



1,765 g

790 g

The table above provides a quick look at how the four Epic models compare. In terms of fit, all four are fairly similar, so if you fit on one, you’ll likely fit on the same size in another. One thing to note is that the listed frame weights here are the claimed weights for medium-sized S-Works frames. Larger and non-S-Works frames will likely weigh more. 

It’s also worth noting that all Epic models are able to fit two bottles inside the main triangle of the frame, which is great for endurance events and long rides. To save weight, Epics don’t come with Specialized’s popular SWAT storage compartment built in the downtube, but it is possible to install an external SWAT Box if desired.  

What Is the Difference Between Each Specialized Epic Model?

Specialized Epic

Specialized Epic[product-block handle="7488433422528-specialized-s-works-epic-mountain-bike-2022-small"/]

The Epic is the XC bike that started it all. It took over as the Specialized’s main XC race bike in 2002 (there was an exotic first generation of the Epic in the early ‘90s that used carbon tubes and titanium lugs, but that bike wasn’t commercially viable) and it has been in service for over 20 years. Since its introduction, the Epic has been ridden to over 100 World Cup wins and podiums, Olympic gold, several Cape Epic victories, and countless other national-level wins around the world. It is likely the most successful XC race bike ever made. 

Specialized Epic BrainThe Brain damper resevoir.

The main thing that makes the Epic so fast is its proprietary Brain suspension system, which is designed to increase efficiency without sacrificing comfort. The Brain relies on a damping reservoir near the rear wheel equipped with an inertia valve. It opens up the shock when it senses bumps so that it can absorb the impact. But if a rider stands out of the saddle or pedals hard, the shock will remain locked out.

This is matched with a Brain fork that has a similar inertia valve system. This means riders never have to waste their energy playing with lockouts and can simply focus on riding or racing. The amount of force needed to open the dampers is adjustable to suit different terrain and preferences. 

Bottom line: The Epic is the benchmark XC racer for riders who want a light and efficient full-suspension bike for everything from smooth to rough terrain. 

Specialized Epic Evo

Specialized Epic Evo[product-block handle="7497992044736-specialized-epic-evo-comp-mountain-bike-2022-x-large"/]

The Epic Evo is an Epic that has been kitted out to cater to XC riders who want a bit of extra downhill performance. There are two main differences when compared to the standard Epic. 

First, the Epic Evo ditches the Brain suspension system entirely. Instead, it comes with a traditional shock and fork. This means riders will have to manually lock out their suspension if they want to firm things up for climbs and sprints. But it also means the Epic Evo’s suspension will feel more plush on rough terrain, and it's also easier to service and upgrade down the road. Removing the Brain damping reservoir also makes the Epic Evo frame lighter than the standard Epic! 

Second, the suspension travel is increased. Instead of the standard 100mm of travel front and rear, the Epic Evo has been boosted to 120mm of travel in the front and 110mm in the rear. This allows the Epic Evo to absorb bigger hits and handle gnarlier trails. The bigger 120mm fork also slacks out the head angle a full degree, which will give riders some extra stability and confidence on steep and fast downhill trails. 

Bottom line: The Epic Evo fits into the “downcountry” category of XC bikes which are perfect for riders who value climbing efficiency but also like shredding gnarly descents. 

Specialized Epic World Cup

Specialized Epic World Cup[product-block handle="XXX"/]

The Epic World Cup is the latest version of the Epic, and it's currently the main bike being ridden by Specialized’s top XC racers. With only 75mm of rear travel paired with a 110mm fork, it’s part of a new breed of XC bikes that attempt to create a full-suspension race bike with stiffness and efficiency of a hardtail. 

To improve efficiency, the rear shock is integrated into the frame to maximize stiffness and reduce weight. XC fans will note that the Epic World Cup is essentially a direct competitor to the Trek Supercaliber, which was the first to use this design. 

While it only has 75mm of travel, the shock is designed to be run with little to no sag, which adds to the hardtail feel but also provides as much shock travel as a 100mm bike at around 25% sag. With this new design, the Epic World Cup doesn’t use Brain suspension in the rear (it's apparently efficient enough), but it still comes with a Brain fork. 

Ostensibly, the Epic World Cup will replace the standard Epic and the Epic Hardtail, as it is designed to encapsulate the best of both worlds, but the Epic and Epic Hardtail are currently still available. They’ll likely be refocused as “budget” alternatives to the more expensive Epic World Cup. 

Bottom line: The Epic World Cup is ideal for racers who want the latest and greatest pro-level race bike — the type of rider that values outright speed and performance above all else. 

Specialized Epic Hardtail 

Specialized Epic Hardtail[product-block handle="7492417585344-specialized-s-works-epic-hardtail-mountain-bike-2020-x-large"/]

As the name implies, the Epic Hardtail is a hardtail version of the Epic. It was introduced in 2018 to replace the Stumpjumper Hardtail and consolidate Specialized’s XC bikes under the same name. At the time, it was also billed as the lightest bike frame that Specialized had ever made. Generally, the Epic Hardtail also comes with a Brain fork. 

Compared to its full-suspension siblings, the Epic Hardtail has much more “classic” and conservative XC geometry, with a steeper head angle and slightly shorter reach. Compared to many competitors, however, it’s still fairly progressive and will be much more stable and capable on downhill than more “old-school” XC hardtails. 

With a rigid rear end and super-light frame, the Epic Hardtail is an all-out race bike that prioritizes efficiency, agility, and weight. Because it has no rear suspension, it’s also the most affordable Epic model of the four. On smoother trails and race courses, it may also be the fastest option. 

Bottom line: Some riders just prefer hardtails, whether that be for weight, efficiency, or cost. The Epic Hardtail provides Epic performance in a hardtail package. 

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Which Specialized Epic is the Best for XC Racing?

Specialized Epic XC racingThe standard epic has been a regular on the World Cup podium.

The fastest race bike will depend on the course or the rider. On rougher trails, a full-suspension is usually faster. On smoother trails, a hardtail is usually fastest.

If you ask Specialized, they’ll likely say that the newest Epic World Cup is the ultimate XC racer. The goal of the Epic World Cup is to create a race bike that splits the difference between a full-suspension and a hardtail so it is fast on any type of XC trail. 

That said, it’s horses for courses. If your local terrain and races are on the super rough and gnarly end of the spectrum, the Epic Evo might actually be the best. If you’re racing on smooth flow trails and fire roads, then the Epic Hardtail might be the right pick. And if you want the one XC race bike that can handle a wide range of trails, well, there’s a reason the standard full-suspension Epic with the Brain has been so successful for so long. 

Which Specialized Epic is the Best for Trail Riding?

Specialized Epic Evo trail ridingThe Epic Evo is a bit more focused on fun than racing. 

Again, it depends on your local terrain, but I’m going to just go ahead and say it’s the Epic Evo. While the Brain system used on the other Epic models is great for racing, it can actually feel harsh when casually riding, especially when your trails are rough. Because the Epic Evo loses the Brain, it will feel the most like a “regular” trail bike. It’s also easier to upgrade with more downhill-capable forks (it can accept up to a 130mm fork) and shocks if you so wish

Because the Epic Evo has more travel and slightly slacker geometry than the standard Epic, it will also feel more stable and confidence inspiring, especially when things get steep or gnarly. Of all the Epic models, the Epic Evo is definitely the most versatile for riders who want to explore a wide range of riding beyond XC racing. 

Which Specialized Epic is the Lightest?

Specialized Epic HardtailObviously, the Epic Hardtail is the lightest of the bunch because it has no rear suspension. But it’s not just light for an Epic, the Epic Hardtail is one of the lightest mountain bikes period. At under 800 grams, the S-Works Epic Hardtail is one of the lightest bike frames Specialized has ever produced. Even the non-S-Works models are under 900 grams, so they are all stunningly light. If you’re a weight weenie, the Epic hardtail is the bike for you. 

Among the full-suspension options, the Epic Evo is actually the lightest of the three. The main reason is because the Epic Evo doesn’t have the extra Brain reservoir damper, which saves about 100 grams. But the weight difference between the three is so small, it’s unlikely that any rider can notice it while riding.  

Which Specialized Epic Should You Choose?

Specialized Epic Evo downcountry buildI chose the Epic Evo to get some extra downhill capability. 

The Best Specialized Epic is the one that fits your riding needs the best. If you’re a rider whose main goal is to perform well in XC races, then an efficient race-focused bike like the Epic or Epic World Cup would be ideal. Between the two, I think the only reason to pick the Epic over the new World Cup version is because it’s going to be more affordable. The Epic World Cup just came out, so there are no budget versions available just yet. 

But if you spend more time riding for fun, pushing it on descents, or exploring tough backcountry terrain, then the Epic Evo is probably the better choice. It’s why I chose an Epic Evo for myself. It is a solid, do-it-all bike that can handle a surprisingly wide range of trails, plus XC races. 

If cost or weight is the biggest factor in your buying decision, then you can’t go wrong with the basic Epic Hardtail. Not only is it usually cheaper to buy, it will also be much cheaper to maintain.  

If you had your pick, which version of the Specialized Epic would you choose? 

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Photos courtesy of Specialized.