I tested the new Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro – its mixture of lightweight speed and middleweight control blew me away

Specialized’s cult favorite rowdy XC winner jumps up a whole weight category to burly downcountry, but does it still have the race speed our expert tester loved before?

The Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro
(Image: © Specialized)

BikePerfect Verdict

Specialized’s Epic Evo Pro has muscled up a weight category, but punchy pedaling, welterweight agility and trail brawler spec make it a downcountry champ.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent tech taming longer, lower mainframe geometry

  • +

    XC weight frame with punchy pedaling leaves trail competitors standing

  • +

    Fox Factory Grip2 fork, Float shock and Transfer dropper

  • +

    Puncture reducing rims and grippy T9/T7 Grid tires

  • +

    Generous internal storage, SWAT stem and two bottle cage mounts

Cons

  • -

    Nearly a kilo heavier than the previous Epic Evo Comp

  • -

    Shock feels too firm at times

  • -

    Limited rear tire space

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The Specialized Epic 7 Evo was one of the best mountain bikes ever. The super-light racer that could win World Cups but still get rowdy off the track. The latest version gains frame weight but it's slacker, longer and stiffer with punchier pedalling for kick ass efficiency. Matching burly but XC fast build kit makes it our new lightweight ‘downcountry/fast trail’ champion.

Epic 8 Evo MTB side on

The sticky front tire and trail geometry works great for rallying all over the world (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design and geometry

At first glance, the only difference between the old Epic 7 Evo and the new Epic 8 Evo is the neat lever-locked SWAT internal storage hatch under the bottle cage on the bigger volume downtube. Look closer, though and while the flex stay suspension design is retained and the main pivot is lifted higher. That increases anti-squat and reduces pedal bob by 20 percent compared to the previous bike. A longer stroke Fox shock gives 120mm of travel compared to 110mm before . The bigger, stiffer downtube means the top tube can now be slimmer and the forward shock mount tab is molded into the frameset and then machined in place, saving 24g. The old S-Works Epic 7 Evo frame in 12M carbon fiber only weighed 1,659g though. That means the new Epic 8 Pro frame in 11M carbon fiber is almost 1lb/450g heavier.

Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro storage

The sub 2 kilo XC race frame now get's Specialized's easy access, high volume SWAT storage feature. There's still space for two bottles too (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

It's not a direct comparison though as reach extends 10mm to 470mm on the large model I tested. You've also got the added weight of the SWAT hatch and attendant reinforcing, plus a steering lock limiter and multiple sections of rubber armor. Even then it’s still lighter than many pure XC race bikes and over a kilo lighter than most competitors in the 130mm fork ‘downcountry’ category. The 8 Evo feeds controls through the front of the frame rather than the headset bearings for easier servicing too, with full internal trunking making threading fresh lines in easily. The new carbon layup also provides 12 percent more vibration damping for a less fatiguing ride according to Specialized.

The step up to a 130mm fork slackens the head angle half a degree compared to the 120mm fork Epic family which shares the same frame. That equates to 65.4 degrees in the low shock chip setting the bike ships in, or 65.9 degrees in the ‘Hi’ setting and 331mm or 336mm bottom bracket height respectively. Effective seat angle is a contemporary, if not super combative, 75.1 degrees and big rubber fans need to know there’s not a lot of spare space around the 2.35in rear tire.

Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro front end

Sticky T9 tire and Fox 34 fork with high control GRIP2 damper mean tons of front end control to match the Epic 8 Evo geometry changes (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Components and build

While the frame is still XC competitive, the complete build spec of the Pro takes it up a category in chaos capability, but also adds a kilo in weight compared to the previous Epic Evo Pro. Specialized isn’t messing around with half-measures though. The Fox Factory 34 fork gets the maximum control Grip2 damper not the lighter, taut pedaling but technically constipated Fit4 option. The Fox Float rear shock has a larger EVOL air can with a three-position micro gate on the open mode and then a fixed firm mode on the blue compression lever.  The Transfer dropper post is fully adjustable, not the lighter twin position SL version and it's Kashima gold anodized Factory spec. A nice bonus when so many bikes down-spec the dropper to the black shaft Performance model. Brakes are enduro strength SRAM Code with the thicker, power and modulation boosting HS2 rotors and a big 200mm plate up front. 

Specialized’s own Purgatory trail tire in a soft, slow rebound T9 compound adds front end tenacity but weighs in just under a kilo in the 2.4in size. Both that and the faster rolling Ground Control T7 rear tire are the trail tough Grid carcass versions. While the carbon Control rims are a light XC hoop, the pronounced 4mm Flat Top rim lip makes them 40 percent less likely to pinch flat than most other XC rims. That sounds a big claim, but to be fair I’ve not had any impact issues in three years of hammering them super hard. The Industry Nine 1/1 hubs have proved solid performers on several different wheelsets I've used long term too. 

The SRAM XO T-Type Transmission gets alloy cranks which add weight over the carbon equivalents but you don’t need to worry about tapping their tips when running the low BB height option. The Control carbon bars are 800mm wide for power steering leverage with a 45mm Race Face stem on all sizes. There's a pop-up SWAT mini tool hidden under the swiveling fork top cap too – which is convenient but adds over 100g when combined with the steerer tightening setup it sits in.

Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro drivetrain

SRAM X0 alloy keyhole cranks are a tough rather than light choice but the Roval Control carbon rims are proven tough AND light (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Ride, handling and performance

I always think personal preference should be screened out of reviews beyond the point where it’s useful in pointing riders towards performance traits that may or may not suit them. But I think there’s a story worth telling here with the Evo that might resonate with others. When I first saw the surprisingly burly spec on the new bike and hung it off the scales I’d lugged all the way to Chile I was a bit sad. Why? Because the previous Evo had been the insolent, superlight bike that could do it all. Its super low weight has seen remote lockout-equipped versions become the go-to multiple World Cup winning choice of the Specialized XC race team. Even several years after launch it's still the benchmark bike for the whole category of race light yet tech-capable 'downcountry' bikes that it helped to create and propagate. 

With only two Pro and Comp models in the Epic 8 Evo range compared to S-Works, Pro, Expert and Comp in the Specialized Epic 8, it felt like the US brand had sidelined it a bit too. Especially when it was rolled out on the second day of a press trip otherwise loaded with Olympic season race vibes and legendary pros like Peter Sagan and Anneke Langvad in attendance. Basically, the new Evo felt a lot like the Cinderella of the show but with steel toe capped boots rather than glass slippers.

Hustling up the first climb though and it was very clear that the new, increased anti-squat suspension and stiffer frame were a potent pedaling combination. The pedaling lift (rather than squat)  also means that dynamic ride height is only slightly lower than the previous bike – not the full eight millimeters it says on paper – so crank clearance isn’t an issue. While it's definitely not an XC tire, the Purgatory T9 rubber isn’t a total pace killer either. So while it didn’t rocket upwards as ridiculously fast as the 1.5kg lighter S-Works Epic with its electric suspension efficiency and skimpy race rubber, it’ll still get to the top or charge out of corners seriously fast if you drop the hammer. 

Bryan the Epic 8 Evo design team leader shredding on jumps

Brian Gordon is the Epic 8 design team leader and just like the Evo, he's pro quick on the climbs and an absolute shredder on descents (Image credit: Specialized)

However, as I nosed into the first descent the longer, lower geometry, grippy front tire, and high control Fox fork immediately gave me the nod that all the fun lines were game on and triggered the Eureka moment. While it shares the same sub-1,900g frame as the Epic race bike, the front end of the new 8 Evo feels every bit as connected and controlled on full commitment trails as bikes like the Santa Cruz Tallboy, Yeti SB-120, Pivot Mach 429 etc. Even when things got out of my comfort zone dropping super steep switchbacks and ‘can’t see the send’ drops, the Evo chassis, 34 fork, Purgatory tire, and Code brakes stepped up as my ‘you’ve got this’ cheerleaders. They were right to get the pom poms out too, because however nervous I felt, there was no sense of that vibe from the bike.

That’s seriously impressive too, as the bikes I’ve just listed all have frames with more complicated suspension systems that are nearly a kilo or more heavier than the Evo. While the burly Evo Pro build means the differences in complete bike weights aren’t quite as big, they are definitely enough to be noticeable in terms of acceleration, altitude gain, and pick-up-and-flick agility. Only the Tallboy can match the internal storage of the Evo, but it can’t match having two bottle cages inside the mainframe and the shock lockout is a lot harder to reach. 

Unsurprisingly, the flex stays and lighter rear tire twang and twist more than heavier linkage bikes under high cornering and power loads. If you don't get the rebound completely dialed, the reduced anti-squat can combine with that spring effect to kick the back wheel out of grip over roots and rocks too. If you keep power and corner pressure application more subtle though, the supple compliance actually increases traction. The two halves of the bike don't feel so different that I wasn't confident double wheel drifting on loose rocky descents in the Yorkshire Dales or blown out dusty corners in Chile either.

That means the only things potentially holding it back are lack of tire space in the rear end. Initially tight rear shocks mean it can feel slappy and harsh in some high-speed washboard / braking bump / multiple big root / rock scenarios too. The frame's native vibration damping meant the Epic 8 Evo never became uncomfortable even on long days on baked trails though.

S-Works Epic 8 flat out on singletrack riding shot

The new Epic 8 race bikes fill the hyper fast but still seriously capable spot of the old Epic 7 Evo range (Image credit: Specialized)

Verdict

In a world of nuance and niggles, the Epic Evo is a refreshingly easy bike to review and target a recommended rider for. If you always lusted after the previous Evo with its super low weight and 'much better than expected for an XC bike' confidence and fun time capability, then you don’t want the new Evo. That gig is now covered even better by the new Epic which shares the same frame.

Instead, the new Epic Evo is perfect for the increasing category of riders who want full trail attack capability, but with the agility, punch and efficiency that gives the kind of climbing and acceleration gains you’d otherwise have to get an e-bike to unleash. And while that’s being promised by a lot of downcountry/short travel trail bikes from other brands, the truth is that most of those aren’t actually light enough to feel much different to a full-blown enduro style bike on the trail. Except when they run out of travel and control right about the same point the Evo does. Generous internal storage, usable double bottle mounts, armor, non-headset control routing, damage limitation steering lock and an excellent rim warranty make it a very practical proposition too. 

While new bikes will always look expensive given the amount of old stock debris still being desperately discounted to keep shops and brands afloat, the fact that this wild eyed MMA warrior can easily be adapted to not just run, but win a marathon adds serious value to the package too.

That means only limited tire clearance and the occasionally harsh rear shock are the only potential downers on this excellent downcountry speed machine. 

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The lowdown: Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro
AttributesNotesRating
Downhill performanceFront end can hang with the best but rear can be harsh★★★★
Climbing performanceAn absolute rocket ship in its category★★★★★
Components and buildA great mix of traction, toughness and low weight★★★★★
Value for moneyWorth its price but not a bargain★★★

Guy Kesteven on the Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro

The Epic 8 Evo is still XC fast but with a ton more control for when things get wilder (Image credit: Specialized)

Test conditions

  • Surface: Dust, grass, occasional rocks, gravel
  • Trails: XC race track with rock gardens, wooden wall rides and ramp drops. Natural roller coaster XC singletrack
  • Weather: Dry 10 - 25 degrees C

Tech specs: Specialized Epic 8 Evo Pro

  • Discipline: Downcountry/Fast Trail
  • Price: $8,500 / £8.000 / €9,000
  • Head angle: 65.4 / 65.9 degrees
  • Frame material: Specialized FACT 11M carbon fiber
  • Fork: Fox 34 Factory Grip2 130mm travel
  • Shock: Fox Float Factory EVOL 120mm travel
  • Size: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL 
  • Weight: 12.36kg (large size with two bottle cages and SWAT tool)
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Chainset: SRAM XO with 175mm arms and DUB bottom bracket. 
  • Rear mech: SRAM Eagle XO AXS, T-Type
  • Shifter: SRAM Eagle XO AXS
  • Cassette: SRAM Eagle XO CS-1289 12-speed 10-52T
  • Brakes: SRAM Code Stealth Silver, 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes with 200/180mm HS2 rotors 
  • Tires: Specialized Purgatory Grid T9 29x2.35in front and Specialized Ground Control Grid T7 29x2.35in rear tires
  • Wheels: Roval Control rims with Industry Nine 1/1 hubs
  • Bars: Roval Control carbon 800 x 35mm width
  • Stem: Race Face Turbine 45 x 35mm 
  • Grips: Roval
  • Seatpost: Fox Transfer Factory 175mm 
  • Saddle: Body Geometry Power Expert
Guy Kesteven
Technical-Editor-at-Large

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since we launched in 2019. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Forbidden Druid V2, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg