Specialized S-Works Epic 8 review – ultra high-tech, superlight but trail-tough XC race superbike

With an Olympics to win 2024 is going to be a big year for XC bikes. Specialized has thrown down a serious challenge to the rest of the pack with its ultra-tech, ultra-fast, and freaky fun S-Works Epic 8

The Specialized S-Works Epic 8
(Image: © Specialized)

BikePerfect Verdict

If you can afford the S-Works Epic 8, it really is a next-level technology and velocity benchmark that makes maximum speed easier than ever. Whichever spec of Epic 8 you get, the frame, geometry, and suspension will make it an exceptional XC race/superfast trail bike though.

Pros

  • +

    Superlight sub-1,800g frame with awesome geometry

  • +

    Stiff, tough and practical enough to ride really hard

  • +

    New kick-ass pedaling kinematics

  • +

    Up to 1.7 liters of internal storage

  • +

    Ultimate SRAM/RockShox AXS XC equipment

  • +

    Excellent Specialized/Roval wheels, tires, and finishing kit

Cons

  • -

    High tech is high-cost

  • -

    Flight Attendant means more batteries, whirring, and weight

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Specialized’s new S-Works Epic 8 is possibly the best XC race MTB ever and certainly the smartest. That's because it's the first production bike to be launched with RockShox latest Flight Attendant XC suspension. The new Epic 8 frame is an outstanding piece of race/rally kit in its own right though, so that’s what I’m concentrating on in this review.

Specialized S-Works Epic 8

The most obvious new frame feature of Epic 8 is the introduction of SWAT 4.0 internal storage (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design and geometry

With the slacker, longer travel Epic Evo 7 often being chosen over the more upright and uptight Epic 7 race bike by Specialized’s pro racers, it’s no surprise that the new Epic 8 is very similar in geometry terms. It comes with a 0.1-degree slacker 66.4-degree head angle as standard, but you can relax that half a degree in just a few minutes by reversing the flip-chip. Seat tube angle is a degree steeper at 75.5, but you’re getting 15mm more reach across the board. That means 475mm on the size large I tested. Specialized has added an XS frame option (390mm) reach for smaller riders though, which is an excellent bit of inclusivity.

Typically for the flagship S–Works range, the frame composition is definitely highly exclusive though. That includes its highest 12M carbon fiber grade, a carbon fiber shock link, and titanium bolts throughout. The shock mount is now molded into the top tube and machined in place rather than being stuck on too, which saves 24g and improves alignment. That gives a claimed all-up frame weight (including standard SID Luxe shock and all hardware) of just 1,795g, but you can remove the 75g of rubber armor if you really want. That would make it 150g lighter than the outgoing S-Works Epic 7 but still 61g heavier than the previous S–Works Epic Evo. 

That’s not a straight comparison though as the new Epic 8 chassis has an impressive level of practical race and trail detailing. As well as the removable/replaceable chainstay and belly armor you get a steering lock blocker in the head tube to protect from controls on top tube trauma with a low bar position. Internal cable routing through the head tube (not the headset) is fully plumbed for easy servicing and you now get SWAT 4.0 internal storage. That provides up to 1.7L of downtube stowage space up and downstream from the neat lever-locked hatch – which also includes a clip for a CO2 canister and Dynaplug tool. There’s room for two bottles on all frame sizes and all sizes get a different ‘Rider Tuned’ layup to create similar ride characteristics. That includes a 12 percent reduction in vibration transmission and fatigue – according to Specialized. That leaves the ‘tight with a low tread 2.4in tire’ rear wheel clearance as the only real practical grumble, but that's acceptable for XC anyway.

Specialized S-Works Epic 8 cornering shot

The kit list on the S-Works is pretty much perfect for XC racing (Image credit: Specialized)

Components and build

The kit collection on the S–Works will make most XC racers as giddy as nailing a whole box of caffeine gels too. The Quarq XX SL chainset comes in an extra narrow 168mm width, the rear mech is the ultralight carbon cage XX SL and the slotted flat top chain comes from the same family. You get SRAM’s Level Ultimate 4-pot brakes which are actually lighter than the 2-pot brakes despite being more powerful. While racers might point out that the Reverb AXS seatpost is significantly heavier than a cable option, the left-hand AXS Pod Controller also works as a customizable mode switch remote for the Flight Attendant suspension. Also, while the SID Ultimate Flight Attendant fork and SIDLuxe Ultimate Flight Attendant rear shock are each 100g heavier than the conventional versions, the TwistLoc manual remote and cables would add 100g to the mix.

RockShox Flight Attendant on SID fork

RockShox Flight Attendant is the standout feature on the S-Works spec with sensors on the SID Ultimate fork (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Sub 1,300g Roval Control Wheels, Roval SL one-piece carbon cockpit, and carbon rails on the Body Geometry S-Works Power saddle keep grams to a minimum too. Specialized realize that the geometry and capability of this bike means it’s likely going to need a bit more tire survivability and more to hang onto than a more fragile XC bike though. That’s why Specialized fit the slightly heavier Control casing versions of its FastTrak and Renegade tires rather than S–Works and you also get ‘trail’ grips not painful SLs or fast-wearing foam tubes.

RockShox Flight Attendant on SIDLuxe shock

And the SIDLuxe rear shock as well as the power cranks, shifter and XX SL rear mech (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Ride, handling and performance

Ironically, that tire spec didn’t stop me from getting my first ever pinch puncture on the flat top Roval rims in two years of running them within twenty minutes of starting the test. The mitigating circumstance was that those twenty minutes had already made it clear that this new Epic 8 was a totally different beast from the previous bike. And I use the word beast deliberately as that’s exactly the mode I was in as I sprinted into the purpose-built rock garden of the Chilean launch venue flat out to see just how much the S-Works could handle. And that was the mode I carried on riding it in for the next two days. Sending decent-sized ramps to flat, straining the tires on their beads through turns, sketching down coastal cliff singletrack switchbacks, and generally treating this Olympic race hopeful like a hardcore trail bike. Even when I nose-cased an unexpected double so hard I nearly split the travel indicator rings on fork and shock, it didn’t flinch though and the whole test experience was hugely impressive in ways I didn’t expect.

Not only is the geometry gagging to be rallied hard on technical trails, the larger volume downtube gives the front end seriously accurate authority. That’s backed up by the Control SL wheel's oversized Torque Cap connection to the excellent SID Ultimate forks. While the flex stay back end can be twisted out of shape slightly if you really try in turns, that’s actually less noticeable than it is on the Epic 8 Evo. Partly because that bike has a much stickier front and grippier rear tire to load the frame up with. But also because the Flight Attendant suspension brings a whole new bandwidth of control to the bike.

Guy Keseteven charging on Specialized S-Works Epic 8

Even by superlative race bike standards, the S-Works is an outstanding machine to hammer flat out fast on (Image credit: Specialized)

Specifically because the multi-sentient algorithm will generally keep you in Specialized’s ‘Magic Middle’ mode for efficient speed and the Open mode is more open than that on the Fox Float shock tune of the Evo. Moving the main pivot has increased anti-squat values dramatically, so the Epic 8 pedals 20 percent more efficiently than previous Epics – according to Specialized. That means there’s none of the sag into mushy ‘open mode’ pedaling that I found deeply morale-sapping on the previous Epic and current Epic World Cup. Instead, you whirr off the Magic Middle and into an open mode that’s still taut, power lifted, and ego-boosting – rather than charge choking. You’re going to get that same pedaling performance on all the other analog rather than algorithm-controlled Epic bikes too. That should make even the $5,000 / £4,250 / €5,200 Epic 8 Comp a potent podium contender as well as a pure predator on the trail.

Speaking of trail use, despite its precision and the snarling stiffness of the Flight Attendant when it defaulted into lock mode, the Epic 8 is a lot more forgiving to ride than the Epic World Cup. Where that bike left me battered and numb after anything more than a short track race’s worth of riding, I was still feeling fresh on the Epic 8 several hours into a fast-paced XC ride. I wasn’t completely totaled even after a full day of testing with a ‘fake race’ session in the middle either. When you add aspects like the internal storage and twin bottle cages, the marathon race or truly ‘Epic’ backcountry ride potential of the new S-Works becomes even more obvious.

Specialized S-Works Epic 8 cockpit

The Roval SL one piece cockpit is the leading edge of a complete suite of superlight Specialized componentry including wheels and saddle (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Verdict: Specialized S-Works Epic 8

It would be easy to lose sight of the performance of the S-Works Epic 8 behind all the hype of RockShox's new Flight Attendant suspension. There’s no doubting that Flight Attendant does work extremely well and helps take the S-Works performance to another level in the same way that the no expense spared, but also weak link-free spec does.

Having ridden both the Epic 8 and the Epic 8 Evo, it’s clearly the new frame that’s the star of this show though. Not only is the geometry rowdy-ready, but it’s taut and tough enough to genuinely be rallied as hard as a kilo-heavier trail bike frame. Not only that but it’s got much better, bigger storage than most enduro bikes, let alone the fraction of XC/trail bikes that have some kind of carry space. While it’s a little more twangy at the ragged edge than a multi-pivot or floating shaft suspension setup, the Epic back end will likely need less servicing long term. And while this bike is heavier than the old Epic Evo, which had become the default race choice of Specialized’s racers, it’s still much lighter than a lot of race frames. More importantly, it’s easier to ride faster for longer than most of them. And while it’s something I’ve not done in a long time, I’m pretty sure that’s still how you win races.

In other words, while we’re likely to see more race bike launches as we get nearer the Olympics and the World Cup season starts, Specialized has thrown down a very impressive, maximum velocity benchmark with the new Epic 8. And I also really like the fact that still applies whether you buy the ultra high-tech S-Works tested here as the ultimate race machine, or get the basic Comp model as an excellent way to just go further and faster with or without a number on.

Specialized S-Works Epic 8 pack shot

The S–Works is the flagship model of the Epic 8 range but it starts with the Epic 8 Comp at $5,000 / £4,250 / €5,200 (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
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The lowdown: Specialized S-Works Epic 8
AttributesNotesRating
Downhill performanceOutstandingly controlled and precise for a 10kg racer★★★★
Climbing performanceNot the lightest but electrically ultra efficient★★★★★
Components and buildPretty much perfect flat out race kit★★★★★
Value for moneyPremium kit and construction equals punishing price★★★

Test conditions

  • Trails: Purpose built Chilean XC race track with ramps, jumps, rock gardens, berms and other play features. Fast day ride on natural roller coaster singletrack
  • Surface: Dry, dusty, often rooty, occasionally rocky
  • Weather: 10 to 25 degrees C

Tech specs: Specialized S-Works Epic 8

  • Discipline: XC race/trail
  • Price: $14,500 / £12,000, €14,500 /AUS $24,000
  • Head angle: 66.4/65.9 degrees
  • Frame material: Specialized FACT 12M carbon fibre
  • Fork: RockShox SID ULTIMATE Flight Attendant 120mm travel
  • Shock: RockShox SIDLuxe ULTIMATE Flight Attendant 120mm travel
  • Size: XS, S, M, M/L, L (tested), XL 
  • Weight: 10.49kg (large without pedals)
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Chainset: SRAM Quarq XX SL power meter 175mm arms with 34T ring and DUB bottom bracket. 
  • Rear mech: SRAM Eagle AXS XX SL, T-Type
  • Shifter: SRAM Eagle AXS XX SL
  • Cassette: SRAM Eagle XX SL CS-1299 12-speed 10-52T
  • Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate, 4–piston hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors 
  • Tires: Specialized Fast Trak Control 29x2.35in front and Specialized Renegade, Control 29x2.35in rear tires
  • Wheels: Roval Control SL 29in with Torque Cap front adaptor
  • Bars: Roval Control SL Integrated cockpit 760mm width, 70mm effective stem length 
  • Grips: Specialized Trail
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb AXS 150mm
  • Saddle: Body Geometry S-Works Power Carbon
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