There was much excitement earlier this week as the global embargo lifted and the new Specialized S-Works Epic model was officially launched. Lighter, faster and redder than any previous edition of ‘the winningest bike in XC history’. But at a price of R190 000, is it worth it? We take a look.

By Sean Badenhorst

Specialized first launched its Epic model in 2002. It was ground-breaking in that it boldly claimed to offer the acceleration benefits and climbing ability of a hardtail, but the descending control and long-ride comfort of a full-sus bike. How? It was the first generation Epic with the Brain shock, unique to Specialized and what would become the foundation of almost two decades of race podiums and personal-records pursuit.

Curiously, the Absa Cape Epic was launched in 2004 and the Specialized Epic was among a range of full-suspension XC bikes from various brands to start making sense for this new long mountain bike stage race, albeit still with 26-inch wheels.

Christoph Sauser and Silvio Bundi won the 2006 edition on Specialized Epics, giving the model the early credibility that’s carried through to today (it’s won more Cape Epic titles than any other bike model). Sauser then changed perceptions in the XCO racing scene too when, in 2008, he became the first rider to win a XCO World Championships on a full-suspension bike – the S-Works Epic.

The original Epic S-Works from 2002

Twenty-nine-inch wheels, simplified drivetrains, Boost width wheels/frames and more efficient versions of the Brain suspension all formed part of the evolution of the 2021 S-Works Epic presented on 23 June 2020. The biggest changes come with a fully redesigned frame that’s lighter, stiffer and with more relaxed geometry to offer a bike that’s faster everywhere. Apparently Specialized’s engineers and product development team spent 1 850 hours testing the new Epic’s various improvements.

The Brain suspension technology, which has also been further refined, has been one of the Epic’s strengths, but also one of its weaknesses in that it can only be serviced at a Specialized service centre (in South Africa, that’s in Stellenbosch), which is costly and leaves you without a bike for a couple of days.

For those unfamiliar with Specialized’s Brain shock, it uses an inertia valve that opens the suspension to absorb bumps from below, but which isn’t affected by pedalling forces from above. It’s smart and its proprietary to Specialized.

Now Specialized offers two years of suspension servicing for the original owner. Service intervals are now also longer and Specialized dealers are now equipped with shocks to loan customers while their own suspension is away being serviced to ensure no disruption to their riding.

And the Roval Control SL wheelset has also been given a full redesign to offer lighter, stronger and wider hoops, all of which translates to more speed.

Here’s a summary of the main changes from the ‘old’ S-Works Epic and the 2021 version:

2020 S-Works Epic – Size M 2021 S-Works Epic – Size M
Frame weight 1969g 1869g
Rear triangle stiffness 15% greater
Headtube angle 69.5 degrees 67.5 degrees
Reach 433mm 445mm
Stem 75mm 70mm
Chainstays 438mm 433mm
BB height 332mm 324mm
Brain suspension Threshold up from 230 Newtons to 400 Newtons which translates to increased stiffness for better acceleration. Repositioned to behind the rear axle for more inertia valve sensitivity. No more Auto Sag function. Increased anti-squat characteristics. More durable.
Roval Control SL wheelset 1320g | 24mm 1240g | 29mm
Tyre width 2.1 rear, 2.3 front 2.3 rear, 2.4 front
Frame sizes S, M, L, XL XS, S, M, L, XL
Fork SID Brain Ultimate with 42mm offset SID SL Ultimate Brain with 44mm offset
Bottles 2 standard inside frame 2 standard inside frame (1 small, 1 standard inside frame on the XS)
Price R175 000 R190 000


Yes, it’s lighter than its predecessor. Yes, it’s stiffer than its predecessor. And as a result, yes, it’s claimed to be faster than its predecessor. It’s also more expensive than its predecessor. The previous S-Works Epic with AXS spec has been selling for R175 000. At R190 000 the 2021 edition is 8.57% more expensive. Not bad when you consider the knock the Rand has taken during the Coronavirus Pandemic, which has affected all recently imported product, with most bikes landing in South Africa 15-20% more costly than before the Lockdown.

Here’s a look at the top-end XC models from a range of leading brands available in South Africa as complete bikes with SRAM Eagle AXS at current prices (June 2020):

  • SCOTT Spark RC900 SL AXS: R199 999
  • Cannondale Scalpel HiMod Ultimate AXS: R199 999
  • Specialized S-Works Epic AXS: R190 000
  • Santa Cruz Blur CC XX1 AXS: R185 000
  • Trek Supercaliber 9.9 AXS: R179 999
  • Trek Top Fuel 9.9 XX1 AXS: R169 999
  • Canyon Lux CF SLX 9.0 Race LTD AXS: R168 168

Looking at it in context with rival brands, the new Specialized S-Works Epic isn’t the most expensive high-performance, top-end XCO race bike. But it is right up there. Is it worth R190 000? It’s like chocolate. You can buy cheaper chocolate, which tastes good and makes you happy. You can also buy expensive chocolate, which tastes good and makes you happy too. Depends who you are and what you like. And of course, how much you are prepared to invest in your mountain biking taste and happiness.

There are four models of the new Epic, S-Works, Pro, Expert and Comp, which will obviously differ in pricing and will be more accessible to more. There’s also the new 2021 Epic Evo, which we’ll take a closer look at in due course and which is likely to be a better seller in South Africa over time.

For many, the 2021 Specialized S-Works Epic will be unattainable and remain a dream bike. For some, it will be a must-have. Either way the next generation of the S-Works Epic is unashamedly designed to go fast and is sure to deliver many more podiums and PRs…

For more indepth detail and specs on the new Specialized S-Works Epic, head over here.