specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race

Bike Check: 7.8kg Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail

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While its official launch is set for next week at the Sea Otter event in Laguna Seca, California, there has been something of a ‘soft launch’ of the new Epic hardtail frame from Specialized. The bike has quietly shown up on the Specialized US website, though up until now there haven’t been many (that we’re aware of) spotted in the flesh.

Thanks to Wil’s connections Down Under though, we’ve got some photos of a REAL bike alongside it’s REAL owner: Andy Blair. Andy is an Australian XCO and XCM champion, who’s been sponsored by Specialized since 2013. Andy recently got hooked up with the brand new S-Works Epic Hardtail, (dare we say, the “2018 model”??), which has a claimed frame weight of just 800 grams, making it 12% lighter than the current 2017 frame.

Thanks to Andy, we’ve got some photos of his new race whip, along with some details about how he’s got it set up.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Andy Blair’s new race whip: the 2018 Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail World Cup.

Andy is rocking the new 2018 Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail World Cup model, with a few tweaks (more on that below). The frame itself is very similar to the 2017 model, but subs in a higher-grade FACT 12m carbon fibre (compared to the FACT 10m carbon of the 2017 frame), which is partly where the weight drop comes from. A move to a straight down tube has also helped, and integrated bumpers just behind the head tube help to protect it from the fork crown during over-rotation.

Andy’s race bike is rocking a 12-speed SRAM Eagle groupset, including a Gripshift shifter. He also has the new wider and lighter Roval Control SL carbon wheels, along with some very fast looking Renegade tyres that definitely look more friendly to Aussie trail conditions.

All up, Andy’s tweaked S-Works Epic HT weighs just 7.8kg. Yes, you read that right; 7.8 kilograms, or in old money, 17.16 lbs. HOLY TOLEDO!

specialized epic hardtail carbon andy blair xc race gripshift
This is the Specialized S-Works Epic HT in the Di2 build. The frame will be available in several different build kits.

Call it a healthy disrespect for the status quo, but we were getting bored with hardtail designs. So instead of playing along, we opted to turn the cross country world on its head with a bike that’s not only the lightest mountain frame we’ve ever made. It’s our lightest frame—period. Introducing the S-Works Epic Hardtail World Cup.” – Specialized.

2018 Specialized Epic Hardtail Specifications

  • FACT 12m carbon fibre frame
  • 800gm claimed frame weight
  • 29in wheels
  • Designed for 100mm travel forks & 51mm offset
  • 69.8° head angle
  • 430mm chainstay length
  • Compatible with both 1x and 2x drivetrains
  • Press-fit PF30 bottom bracket shell
  • Boost 12x148mm rear axle
  • Triangulated post-mount 160mm brake
  • Internal split-housing cable routing
  • Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Claimed weight: 8.16kg / 18lbs (for the stock World Cup model)
specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Andy Blair with his brand new Specialized S-Works Epic HT.

But first, a wee bit of background on Mr Blair. Andy has been riding bikes for a looong time. Well, at least since the mountain biking glory days of the nineties. He’s a former National XCM champion (2012 and 2014), National XCO and XCM series winner (2012 and 2015), a frequent Australian representative at World Championships, and he also competed in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. To say he’s one of the most consistent fastmen of the Aussie XC race scene would be an understatement.

ST: Tell us about your sponsorship with Specialized.

AB: I’ve been riding for Specialized since 2013. It has been truly amazing to receive such a high level of support which has allowed me to continue racing so long, I’m now (*ahem*) 37! Obviously sponsored riders are never going to say there equipment is poor, but I am honestly stoked to ride these bikes and I am constantly amazed by their new products. The same goes for SRAM, who I have been with for even longer. Both companies seem to share the same drive to keep doing things better through innovation, which aligns with how I like to think.

specialized epic hardtail carbon andy blair xc race gripshift
Andy is running the S-Works Epic HT with a few tweaks to dial it in to his personal preference.

ST: What are your racing plans for this year?

AB: I do have some big plans for 2017, but at the moment I am just working on rehabilitation of my shoulder. I underwent surgery last November to reconstruct my shoulder that had been causing me some grief for a while. 2016 was a below average year which was heavily affected by 3 shoulder dislocations in quick succession and my shoulder never seemed to get back to a state where I could have confidence in it, so I had no choice but to get it sorted. That had a big impact and required 3 months off the bike. So my immediate goal is to build back strength in my shoulder. I’m going to Lasseter’s Easter in the Alice next week and the XCM national championships this month but it’s looking like they will be just training rides as I’m still quite limited.

ST: You’ve got the choice of the Epic HT and FSR models. Which do you think you’ll ride more?

AB: I used to ride my hardtail and dually about 50-50, but these days I find that I’m on the dually more because courses are getting more technical in XCO and more and there’s more singletrack in marathons. I still love the hardtail though, there is something about the sheer lightweight of it, and this new bike is F-A-S-T!

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Frame size is Large for Andy’s 800mm saddle height.

ST: How tall are you, and what frame size are you running?

AB: 183cm and I’m riding a Large frame size.

ST: What kind of bar width and stem length are you running?

AB: I’m trying out a 680mm wide bar on my bikes this year to see if I like it. If not I’ll go back to the trusty 660mm! As for the stem, I’m rocking a 90mm stem with a 17° drop to get nice and low.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Integrated fork bumper to prevent over rotation of the fork/handlebars.

ST: And what about your saddle choice and saddle height?

AB: The saddle is a Specialized S-works Phenom in a 143mm width. It’s actually stock on the bike but coincidentally is exactly what I like. Saddle height is about 800mm from the crank axle, and that’s all setup by Jim at The Cyclery Canberra in the Body Geometry studio. I’ve been working with him since I first signed with Specialized five years ago, with Jim we set up all my bikes to have identical seat position relative to the pedals.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
12-speed SRAM Eagle all the way, with the huuuuge 10-50t cassette out back.

ST: Crank length and Chainring size?

AB: 175mm crank arms. The bike came stock with a 34t chain ring but I will race on a 38t. That’s the beauty of the huge range of SRAM Eagle, a 38 will give me a smaller gear than using a 32 on XX1 (which was as small as I ever rode) but a taller gear at the other end that can be nice on fireroad sections on marathons, especially if there is a tailwind and you need to put someone under pressure.

ST: Tell us how you’re getting on with the new SID fork?

AB: I’m still playing with the setup on the new SID fork having ridden the RockShox RS-1 for the past 3 years. I’m running 4 bottomless tokens and 85psi at the moment and I thinks that’s getting close. The Specialized Brain cartridge in the SID does that job for me. I’m a big fan of it as you just don’t need to think about anything, you just ride and know that once it is set up the fork does it for you. It also minimises hoses and cables to keep the bike looking clean and simple.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Andy’s bike has a 34t chainring, but he’s planning on swapping in a 38t chainring due to the huge range of the 10-50t Eagle cassette.

ST: Tyre choice?

AB: I use Specialized Renegade and Fastrack tyres in various widths for 95% of races with the other 5% being Storm or Ground Control for the muddy days. I absolutely love the speed of the Renegades and will run them if I think I can get away with the lack of tread. In particular, the big 2.3in wide ones are perfect for sandy races. If I go to a race without knowing the terrain I normally play it safe with Fastracks though as they are a good all-rounder. There is a new Gripton compound for Specialized MTB tyres this year and a protection sidewall version called Grid. I’ve got some 2.1 Fastrack Grids mounted up for Alice Springs next week as it is super rough out there and well known for eating tyres.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Gripshift isn’t hugely popular, but Andy loves it.

ST: We spotted you’re running Gripshift. Is that a personal preference?

AB: Gripshift all the way. I prefer it over triggers because it’s just like the throttle on a moto! Nah, I just think it is better ergonomically and it looks cleaner. There is also less chance of destroying your top tube if you crash, although this Epic HT has a little rubber bumper on the down tube to stop that happening anyway. I’m so stoked that SRAM still make them even though they aren’t super popular, it’s pretty much myself and Rob Eva that ride them but I predict a bit of a resurgence in the future.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
In stock trim, the lightest S-Works Epic HT weighs a claimed 8.1kg (18lbs).

ST: Any other changes to the stock build kit on your S-Works Epic HT?

AB: Gripshift (as above), a Ritchey stem, and the grips are Ozriders foam grips. I have a 50mm dropper post (XCP Command Post) that I will put in when needed. They are super light and neat with internal cable routing. I find that 50mm is enough to give considerable extra confidence, especially nursing a clipped wing.

I also swapped out the 180mm rotor on the front for a 160mm. Within the team we always ride the same configuration so that we can swap parts when we are away or within a race. With Cam Ivory around, I’m more likely to be the donor rather than the recipient these days!

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
Murdered out in black, this is one sharp looking XC race weapon!

AB: I use side mount Specialized Carbon “Zee Cages” because the bidons never fall out.

I’ll also install a SWAT box and chain breaker top cap pretty soon. I really like always having my spares and tools ready to go so there is less to think about when I go training. I carry a tube, gas, mini pump, glue-less patches, spare derailleur hanger, chain link, Nurofen, multi-tool and chain breaker, but for longer and more remote rides, I’ll throw a 2nd tube in my pocket.

ST: What are you most excited about with the new Epic HT?

AB: I think this bike represents the general evolution in hardtails as they are being made to be able to charge harder and harder on technical terrain, yet they are still getting lighter. I can’t wait to log a few hours on this bike on some technical trails and see what is possible to get away with on a bike that is only 8 kilograms. I’m also very keen to see how the new Roval Control SL wheels go. Their predecessors were awesome but the new ones feature boost axle spacing and a super wide rim that should be very stable.

specialized epic hardtail carbon sworks andy blair xc race
7.8kg – that’s lighter than most road bikes!

Andy Blair’s Specialized S-Works Epic HT Specifications

  • Frame // FACT 12m Carbon Fibre
  • Fork // RockShox SID World Cup w/Brain Damper, 100mm Travel, 51mm Offset
  • Hubs // Roval Control SL, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // Roval Control SL Carbon, Hookless, 25mm Internal Width
  • Tyres // Specialized Renegade GRIPTON 2Bliss 29×2.1in Front & Rear
  • Chainset // SRAM XX-1 Eagle Carbon, 34t X-Sync Chainring
  • Front Mech // N/A
  • Rear Mech // SRAM XX-1 Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Shifters // SRAM XX-1 Eagle Gripshift, 12-Speed
  • Cassette // SRAM XG-1299, 10-50t, 12-Speed
  • Brakes // SRAM Level Ultimate, 160mm Front & Rear
  • Stem // Ritchey WCS Alloy, 90mm Length, 17° Drop
  • Bars // Specialized S-Works Carbon, 680mm Wide
  • Grips // Ozriders Foam
  • Seatpost // Specialized S-Works FACT carbon, 0mm setback, 27.2mm Diameter
  • Saddle // Specialized Body Geometry S-Works Phenom, Carbon Rails, 143mm Width
  • Size // Large
  • Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Weight // 7.8kg / 17.16lbs

Comments (5)

    Could lose a few g’s off the glasses 😀

    3 uses of ‘rocking’ on this page.
    2 ‘stoked’
    1 each of ‘swapping in’ / ‘swapped out’
    And why’s that man wearing a scuba mask?

    @vinneyeh – good spotting!

    And those are Oakley Eyeshades – outrageous aren’t they?

    Sadly for me, it is governed that only riders as fast as Andy can get away with wearing those 🙂

    I remember flinging a lot of cash at a Stumpjumper hardtail and being “epically stoked” when I got it down to 24lbs (complete with utterly suicidal Panaracer Speedblaster tyres)

    18lbs is outrageous

    Oakley eyeshades look like a hash of the old factory pilot from the late 80s!

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