I finally went ahead and made a decision on a new mountain bike. I'd been waffling all spring, trying to decide what to do, essentially doing nothing. Not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to spending large sums of cash but the angst, bike lust and firm belief that I was missing out on the 29er bandwagon which has been boarded by almost all of my competition finally got to me. I did a ton of research into the 29er market space and weighed the pros and cons of basically everything out there on the market, within earshot of my price range. What I determined was that of this model year's bikes currently available today, that fit my requirements of a lightweight full suspension XC race 29er, the Specialized Epic Carbon Expert 29er had the best platform, with the best fit for me personally, with the best mix of parts at or near my price range. The Epic was not a far stretch for me given that I am currently on a 2008 Specialized Sworks Epic 26er and have had solid success riding and racing the bike. Thus, however, began the quest to actually find one, which turned out to be no small feat.
As I may have mentioned before, getting a bike these days seems to be somewhat of an obstacle in and of itself. It seems that the manufacturers are limiting production to closely meet demand. Seems reasonable, right? What that translates to, however, is that if you didn't earmark a bike early on, you may likely have a hard time locating one. That was the case here but the good folks at CycleLoft helped me out. They were not only able to locate the only existing bike left on the east coast but were able to get it for me and also help me out with a great deal. This isn't the first time that they have helped me out. My previous Specialized Epic was another excellent score from CycleLoft from which I benefited greatly in my racing endeavors for the next few seasons. I've been fortunate to have had and continue to have many folks offer to help me out in the past. The people at CycleLoft have offered to do so without asking, repeatedly, a gesture for which I am sincerely grateful.
We picked the bike up on Sunday afternoon and I took it out for a quick shakedown first run Monday. My overall impression is, as expected, very nice bike. The rear suspension seems to have improved a bunch over that of my old bike. The Brain compression/hit adjustment seems to work much better and the bike gives good suspension feel without taking a pedaling hit. Overall rigidity seems very good and the bike feels stiffer laterally than my old Epic, which was a little flexy in the BB area when standing and pushing hard. I suspect the combination of the BB30 and oversized BB junction, the 12mm through-axle rear hub and oversized front axle help this. I was super impressed with the handling. It actually seems more precise and quicker than my old Epic, which absolutely surprised me. The wagon wheels maintain momentum really, really well over bumpy and rough terrain. That is, I think, going to be the biggest plus. Couldn't tell how it climbed as my legs were junk from the weekend but it seemed fine. At fist I thought the BB was higher that my current Epic, which had me stoked. Then I smacked my pedals a couple times and realized it was the same, California style BB height.
The only things that I have changed so far are the seat-post from the single bolt clamp to a Thomson layback two bolt clamp model, the saddle to my old Specialized Phenom from the new and slightly different Phenom included on the bike, the stem to a 120mm x zero rise Thomson from the 110mm Specialized adjustable rise and the cassette from the stock 11-36 t a Shimano XT 11-34. The geometry is now just about exactly the same as my old bike. After riding the bike I determined that I like the wide, flat bars and will probably stick with that format. The one other thing that I still need to change though is the rear tire. The bike came stock with a really short tightly compacted tread 1.95" race tire. This would be fine for hard pack dirt but I found that I was spinning out climbing on dry leaves, let alone mud. The front tire is a Specialized The Captain 2.0", designed as an all around tread by Ned Overend. I'm thinking that I will get a mate to the front and throw it on the back and see how that works out. After the ride I also upped the rear shock pressure from 150 to 175 and will see how that runs. I tend to run the rear a little harder for most riding/courses, unless it's really bumpy.
Only other thing is that the SRAM X-9 rear shifter pod has a sticky return spring on the downshift paddle which doesn't return back after the shift. I noticed it on the stand but though maybe it would loosen up on the ride but it didn't seem to. Not sure what the fix is or how serviceable those pods are but the Loft told me to bring it in, which I did, and Brad got right after it and fixed it for me. Excellent service.
I'm anxious to see how the bike moves when I have better legs driving it. Of course, I'm also really interested to see how it and I for that matter, makes out at the races. That story will be forthcoming. For now, I just need to get some time on it and get the last few adjustments made.