March 11/11 10:30 am - 2010-11 Specialized Epic Marathon 29
Posted by Editoress on 03/11/11
Review and photos by Mike Badyk
Note: Since we received this bike, Specialized has revised their Epic 29er lineup, increasing it to five models. The Marathon model is now gone, and the closest match is the Expert Carbon, with a lighter weight carbon composite main frame instead of alloy (the rear triangle is still M5 alloy), and a suggested retail of $5900. However, the technology (29" wheel suspension) is the same.
Whenever I hear of a Specialized bike model it kind of reminds me of the dog shows where each animal has this huge long name denoting heritage. That's kind of what you have here too. Specialized is self explanatory (at least I hope) as one of the world's largest bicycle manufacturers. Epic makes it a race model, Marathon implies XC and trail use. Which brings me to the end moniker - it's a 29 inch wheeled bike. The simple reason why Specialized needs so many names for this bike is that they have so many different models. It's just mind-boggling.
Specialized has extended the superb Epic line into 29" models
On to the task, or the bike, at hand. Visually, the Marathon 29 is a big bike. I'm a big person so I needed an XL, which is 533mm centre to top with an ample 640mm top tube. There are the big wheels, made even bigger by the V-profile rims. The multi-shaped Specialized M5 aluminium alloy tubes are big in diameter, and the stays are laterally compressed which makes them look very substantial in side profile. The flat black anodized paint also helps to accentuate the size.
Besides looking big, the Marathon 29 could easily go along the trail without drawing much attention to itself. You need to look closely to see all of the details that have gone into it. This full suspension model has not only multi-shaped main tubes, but there are all sorts of twists, kinks and indents to provide clearance for the tires and the rear linkage. It is quite masterful what they have done. The attention to detail is quite impressive.
Then you need to look at the components. Suspension in the front is provided by a Rock Shox Reba S29 mated to Specialized tapered carbon crown and steerer. Fork travel is 100mm. For rear suspension there is a Specialized Future Shock (made by Fox) with a Mini- Brain Remote reservoir. Rear travel is 90mm. It is all top quality stuff.
The other components are a match to this high end frame and suspension. Shifting is from the top end SRAM XX group (SRAM X.0/X.9 on the Carbon). This is the front and rear derailleurs, shifters, chain, crank (in 39/26 double configuration) and cassette (11-36). There are Specialized branded bar, stem, grips and Ti railed Phenom saddle. The seat post is a very fine Thomson Elite Setback model. Brakes are the SRAM Elixir R CR Mag hydraulic disc (Elixir CR SL on the Carbon). A nice touch is the larger 185mm rotor on the front for the large and XL frame sizes.
Right: A RockShox Reba S 29 shock provides front suspension
The wheels get the full-on Specialized treatment. They are officially known as the “Roval Control EL 29”, Roval being Specialized's in house brand. They come with straight pull spokes (24 front and 28 rear), V-profile rims, sealed bearing hubs and very nice titanium QR's. [Note: On the Carbon these wheels are replaced with Specialized Hi-Lo hubs and DT Swiss X450SL rims]
Completing the picture are 29x2.0 "The Captain" and Renegade tires. If you're in to bikes you just know that with this spec you aren't going to be looking at a budget machine. The suggested retail price is in the range of $6100. For what you're getting that is actually a good value and more than competitive with other brands.
I had a chance to live with Marathon 29 for a couple of months. I'd describe its stay as: "The Marathon 29 was my main bike". It was ridden on rocky trails, tight twisting single track and even on some rail trail. My first impression was that they got the overall geometry nailed. I felt instantly at home.
In the past one of my criticisms of Specialized's trail bikes was that they had too low a bottom bracket. Encountering an obstacle pretty much guaranteed that you'd hit a pedal or chainring. This bike had an ample 32 cm bottom bracket height, even though Specialized says that the BB is low for better balance. It makes you wonder how low the BB was in the past. Everything just worked from there. The top tube provided lots of room for movement and yet the bike wasn't overly long either thanks to short stays. It is a good frame design for a full suspension 29er.
The Epic uses a custom Fox shock designed by Specialized
The adjustability of the suspension is also wonderful. The Brain Fade adjustment on the remote works fantastically. One click on the adjuster and you could stiffen or plush out the rear suspension. The front fork also had a great deal of adjustment built into it. Where suspension is all about dialing it to the rider it doesn't get much easier than what is offered here.
The only bad trait that I noted with the Epic Marathon was that at slow speed on twisty trails there was noticeable front wheel flop. You could make the bike sit up a little straighter to lessen the wheel flop by putting more air in the rear shock but you lost a lot of the beautiful plush rear suspension. At speed the bike felt fine so overall you have to make the assessment of the type of conditions you ride in.
I have used the SRAM XX drivetrain before and I am no less impressed with it's application here. The shifting is excellent, especially in the front with the double chainrings. If I had a wish it would be for longer cranks. This XL bike is big and the added leverage of a longer crank would be welcome. Unfortunately SRAM doesn't offer anything longer than the 175mm that this bike comes with. You'd have to look at another brand in this case.
The Epic Brain system provides inertial damping; the Elixir CR brakes were a rare negative on the spec
If I have one complaint with the overall performance of the bike it is with the Avid brakes. Yes, they stop and they stop well. It's just that they don't feel that great. They were either off or on without a great deal of modulation. They are advertised as a model that offers easy adjustment but I just couldn't get them dialled to where I wanted them, no matter how I tried. I run Avid brakes a couple of years older on my own bike and they feel much nicer than the ones on this bike. Admittedly this was not a brand new out of the box bike (it was part of Specialized Canada's test fleet), but I never got along with them.
As you may have noticed this is a 2010 model. For 2011 the Epic line continues, but the submodel name Marathon has been dropped. It's really difficult to come up with an equivalent bike but there are a total of 5 different Epic 29er models. Perhaps the near equivalent is the Epic Expert Carbon 29er, which will get you a carbon frame but some down spec'd components compared to our test bike. Overall, there are more carbon frames and some different component selections for the 2011 Epics. The one big difference is that Specialized is promoting the 142mm rear dropout spacing as a means of making a stiffer rear wheel, thanks to spreading the hub flanges wider. I'm not sure it would make that much difference unless you are using 29er carbon rims. The 2010 model worked just fine for me.
However, what we have at hand is a fine sub 26 pound bike (11.7kg/25.8 pounds, XL size, no pedals) that will keep you happy for years. Now that we're in February a lot of last year's product is getting cleared out. This would be one of the bikes to look for if you're after an excellent all around trail bike, and don't necessarily need carbon. Check out all the models at www.specialized.ca.
The Epic was the first full suspension bike to be ridden to an elite world title