The eighth iteration of Specialized’s Epic has no Brain suspension system. It does offer three suspension setting modes using a twist-grip style shifting system. Is it better? We spent a few weeks riding (and racing) it. Here’s what we think.

The Specialized Epic is an iconic mountain bike model. It has won multiple editions of the Absa Cape Epic, as well as numerous World Cups, World Championships and even and Olympic Gold Medal. For almost two decades, it featured Specialized’s proprietary Brain suspension system, which activates over rough surfaces and firms up when the going is smooth. An automatic, mechanical adjustment with no rider input, but clear rider benefit.

In April 2024, Specialized revealed the new Epic 8 and, conspicuously absent, was the Brain suspension system. In its place, a rider-managed three-mode custom-valved suspension damping system. After two decades, the Brain system has been replaced. Quite a thing really. We have test-ridden several versions of the Epic over the past 20 years. It always took a couple of rides to get used to the soft clunk of the Brain system and realising it needed one bump to activate fully. The bikes were always noticeably fast.

There were those who berated the Brain system and those that embraced it. The fact that the Epic was such a successful racing bike for two decades confirms that it was a clever design. Why did Specialized change it? Could the new system, which isn’t proprietary to Specialized and which is used by other brands, be better?

We have led into this bike test with the suspension design because it’s the main difference between the Epic 8 and its predecessor. Here are the key differences on the new bike as pointed out by Specialized:

  • It’s lighter – The FACT 12M carbon frame is 76g lighter than the previous S-Works Epic frame
  • It’s more efficient – There’s 20% less pedal bob compared to the previous Epic
  • It’s smoother – It’s a smoother ride compared to the previous edition, absorbing 12% more bump and vibration forces than its predecessor
  • It’s more practical – It now includes SWAT in the downtube for spares storage
  • It’s more precise – there is now titanium hardware at all the suspension pivots
  • It’s more protected – an integrated steering stop prevents the bars from scratching the toptube in a fall
  • It’s more versatile – the Epic 8 uses a three-position rear shock to ensure control and efficiency on any surface.
  • It’s adjustable – the Epic 8 has a flip-chip so you can adjust the headtube angle by 0.5 of a degree and the BB height by 5mm


The Specialized Epic 8 Expert is one of four models, which are – in descending order:

S-Works – R295 000: See it here.

Pro – R190 000: See it here.

Expert – R150 000: See it here.

Comp – R105 000: See it here.

The Expert features a FACT 11M carbon frame. The downtube now incorporates a SWAT storage space for spares or tools and the geometry features a rather slack 66.4-degree headtube angle and a somewhat steep 75.5-degree seattube angle. There’s also a threaded BB and internal cable routing. The rear shock and fork are matching RockShox SIDLuxe Select+, with three positions and a TwistLoc remote adjust. Each offers 120mm of travel. The wheelset features Roval Control carbon rims and DT Swiss-made hubs. The drivetrain is SRAM’s GX Eagle 1×12 AXS. For the full specs, click here.


This bike arrived at a time when we had two stage races on our schedule. The iconic KAP Sani2c and the brand new Glacier Waterberg Traverse. The former, well known for long stages and firm, fast, flowy singletrack and the latter incorporating shorter stages with technical, steep singletrack with loose surfaces and rocks. In between, we took it to some of our local trails around Johannesburg. Let’s just say we got a very good sense of how this bike rides.


Since this is the biggest change from its predecessor, we’ll spend more time describing it. There are three modes: Open, Pedal and Lock. This is what you see on your left grip on the TwistLoc dial. Specialized’s marketing material is more expressive and calls the settings Wide Open, Magic Middle and Sprint.

There’s 120mm of travel front and rear on the RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ fork and shock, which is now the norm for most XC/Marathon race bikes. The TwistLoc activates front and rear adjustment simultaneously, similar to what SCOTT has done with TwinLoc™ for some time (SCOTT uses a thumb lever). There is no option to separate the two, but on a XC/Marathon bike you don’t really need to.

Open mode is full travel and is obviously used on descents and very rough surfaces. Pedal mode firms the suspension up to be active enough to absorb small bumps but firm enough to deliver appropriate pedalling efficiency. And Lock mode firms the suspension right up to be pretty much locked with no movement.

For us, Open mode was a joy, offering full travel on fast descents or rocky, rooty sections of trail. To have 120mm of travel on a bike this light is wonderful and we were able to hit some of the gnarly trails at Summerplace Game Reserve (during the Waterberg Traverse event) with similar fervour to what we do on bikes with 20-30mm more travel.

We used Pedal mode the most though. It’s great setting to ride on most surfaces that aren’t smooth with an ideal amount of suspension for technical climbs that’s still able to deliver adequate forward motion. It is the default setting really and as long as you have set your damping and compression, it offers the right amount of comfort and control without sacrificing efficiency.

We used Lock mode more than we expected to. Partly because it works so well in firming up the rear and partly because – especially at Sani2c – we rode on a high volume of smooth, firm surfaces that made it seem sensible. It didn’t’ firm up the front fully though. We’re not sure if this is by design or not, but it does leave a little ‘give’ up front which for us was fine because it’s the rear that you really want to be stiff and fully responsive when accelerating on a smooth climb or winding up a sprint.

Three modes decided by the rider. As opposed to two modes decided by bike on the Brain system. We prefer the new design and we think that experienced riders will too. Getting to choose what you want your bike’s suspension to do means full control.

The actual shifting between modes requires focussed effort. This means that it doesn’t just move from one mode to the other unless you are actually making it do so. We like the small, blue marker on the TwistLoc, making it easy to see at a glance which mode you are in. Sweaty hands makes it a challenge to shift modes. Best to wear gloves for better grip.

Speaking of grip, the grips that come standard on the bike are firm. We found this fine for short rides (up to two hours), but on long rides (our longest was just over five and a half hours), there was definite hand discomfort, even with gloves. We’d upgrade to softer grips if we were to buy this bike.


As with previous editions of the Epic, the Epic 8 is a snappy climber. It’s designed to be light and stiff and it is just that when you are climbing. We like that the PEDAL mode is an option because it feels super planted on rough surface climbs and steep rocky ascents where speed is low and traction is essential.


As mentioned above in the suspension description, the Epic 8 Expert was superb on the descents. The geometry is spot on in terms of giving the rider the confidence to attack rough descents with assurance. Whether it was the hardpack, manicured sections of the Umko Drop descent or the rock-strewn, rugged Enduro line trails at Summerplace, there weren’t any moments that the bike felt out of its depth.


A bike this balanced will always be able to carve corners with clarity. Besides the thousands of corners we encountered in the two stage races in KZN and Limpopo, we were able to compare the Epic 8 Expert to other bikes on our local trails. Correct tyre pressure is essential for assertive cornering. We felt we could run the pressure lower (1.4–1.5 bar) up front than we would normally run (rider weight of 74kg). This offers more tread surface for cornering traction. The bike comes with a Specialized Fasttrak Control Casing T7 compound up front and a Specialized Renegade Control Casing T7 compound at the rear.  It took a couple of rides for the tyres to really settle in, but once they did, they were impressive.


There’s no doubt at the carbon Roval Control rims help the bike feel both light and lively when it comes to handling. It’s not just the wheels though, it’s the full package that needs to be balanced to deliver good handling. The handling on the Epic 8 Expert is very good. And by handling, we are referring to those transitions between turns, attacking short, steep, sketchy ups and choosing lines under immense pressure on unpredictable downs. The bits that aren’t that obvious, but which make you feel really in control when you’ve maybe not scrubbed enough speed or chosen a poor line…


SWAT: The addition of the SWAT storage system in the downtube is a great addition to the Epic. Previously used on bigger travel models, this allows you to carry less in your pockets which always feels good. It works very well. We used it to store a spare tube, tyre levers, and extra plugs.

SRAM AXS GEARING: The Epic 8 Expert comes with SRAM’s GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain with AXS (electronic shifting). As has been our experience with SRAM’s AXS gearing previously, it’s absolutely superb. Still hard to believe this comes standard on mid-to-high-end mountain bikes!

DROPPER POST: While our test riders struggle to ride a bike without a dropper, there are still many South Africans that have them and don’t use them. This bike comes with an X-Fusion Manic dropper, which worked flawlessly and which must be appreciated and used by anyone that purchases this bike. Seriously.

TWO BOTTLE CAGES: Not only are there two bottle cages inside the frame, both cages can hold large bottles. Not all XC/Marathon bikes can accommodate two large bottles. While we tested this bike in late April and early May there was still some hot weather and there’s something very reassuring about being able to carry sufficient liquid nourishment on long rides.

BRAKESET: The Epic 8 Expert comes with SRAM Level Bronze 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes. The fact that we never once thought about them in more than 30 hours of riding confirms they’re more than appropriate for this bike and the South African conditions we rode it in. Most of our rides were in the dry, but two were in wet conditions, so we did get to experience some damp riding.


The new suspension system, which puts the rider in control, is not new to mountain biking, just new to Specialized’s Epic range. Specialized has done a very good job of integrating it in the Epic 8. We like that the rider makes the decision when to adjust and that there are three options. The Epic 8 Expert is agile, light, efficient and most importantly, handles really well. With carbon wheels and electronic shifting, there’s not much more you need in a modern high-end XC/Marathon bike. At R150 000, it’s at the high end of pricing for a bike with this spec. The only downsides were the hard grips and the fork that doesn’t fully firm up in Lock mode. Otherwise, an impressive bike to ride and race.

TREAD Media Rating

Climbing 9/10

Descending 10/10

Handling 9/10

Cornering 10/10

Comfort 8/10

TOTAL 46/50

We like to rate Marathon/XC bikes to give readers a perspective on our opinion.