First some background – The last time I got the chance to test an Epic and an FSR back to back, side by side, was in 2004 (we also rode a 2004 Enduro that day). At that time the FSR had 100mm at both ends, and I loved it so much I bought one. The Epic also had 100mm both ends, and I didn’t like it at all. Since then I have owned a 2005 FSR, which I had a love/hate relationship with, before going back to a Stumpjumper Hardtail for 2006.
My testing partner for the day was my brother ‘Supawal’. The great thing about testing with Supawal is that we ride almost identical set-up, so swithching bikes mid test was a simple matter of switching bikes! Technically we are of similar ability, so differences in bike should show more. We chose Mortimer Forest as our test venue, as it has a good mix of trails and terrains.
Both test bikes looked sexy in their colours. I’ve often prefereed the colours of the test bikes to the colours of the production bikes. The FSR was a lovely purple colour, while the Epic looked hot in mustard yellow. After checking tyre/shock pressures, setting saddle heights we loaded them into the van. Both bikes felt light, the Epic especially. I’d say the 2007 Epic with it’s E5 frame is only slightly heavier than my 2005 M4 Stumpy HT.
We parked up at the forestry offices, and headed into the forest, first stop the old cyclo-cross course. Rooty, fast, flowing, the FSR made it feel easy, the criss-cross matrix of wet roots could be virtually ignored as the FSR tracked beautifuly. Away from the cyclo-cross course, and down across the moorland chasing each other like the pair of daft idiots we become when we get together. A quick change of bikes at the fire road before plunging back into the forest down a tricky shelf with switchbacks that I hadn’t ridden for a couple of years. Both desperate to be first to the bottom we were all over the place. Badly out of shape but still in one piece the forest spat us back out onto the main track that would take us toward the Vinnals. So far there was little to choose between the bikes, both were great fun, and both were very idiot friendly.
As we wound our way up towards High Vinnals the Epic showed it’s climbing legs. The FSR climbed well, but it climbed best when seated, spinning a low gear in the full-sus climbing sort of stylee that full sussers seem to require. The Epic on the other hand could be ridden ALA roadie, out of the saddle in a much bigger gear. Where the FSR needed a constant measured effort, the Epic could sprint the steeper bits, leaving the rider to take it easy on the shallower bits. However, it was the FSR that made it to the top of High Vinnals first leaving the rider on the Epic to arrive with a good beer sweat on some thirty seconds later 😉
From High Vinnals down to Mary Knoll Valley in the direction of Overton is a good mile and a half of fast furious mountainbike fun. Through the twisty rooty sections at the top that are now clear felled before racing down the off-chamber track along the top of the common, then into the whoopy scare yourself ‘cos your going too fast final section. Mortimer does this to you because of the profile of the hills, the last few hundred meters being the steepest. The FSR made it to the bottom first, it soaked up everthing in it’s path leaving the rider free to choose best line. You could throw it in anyoldhow, and you still came out smiling, still feeling like you could go faster. Meanwhile, trying to keep up on the Epic was like riding on the ragged edge of control. Once at the bottom we hauled ourselves all the way back to the top so we could do it again, just to make sure.
All to soon we were out of time. As we rode back to the van we chatted about the pros and cons of the two bikes….
FSR – Great bike, we think it has become the bike that the Enduro was before it went freeride. The FSR gives you the confidence to take on bigger faster things. I loved riding this bike. In the company of other full sussers this one would be hard to beat.
EPIC – Great bike, we think it had become what the FSR used to be, and what Spesh said it would be right from the start, a full-sus XC race bike. While it struggled to keep up with the FSR on the downhills it flew up the climbs, and matched it on the flat stuff.
I asked Supawal which one he would choose if he was gonna do the same ride the next day, in my own mind I’d already chosen the Epic. He agreed! Both of us come from a hardtail XC racing background, and both of us have Veteran status. To us the Epic felt fast, fun, light, agile, racy, the winner. On the FSR, just like the old Enduro, you have to be going incredibly fast to feel like you’re going fast, and most of the time you’re not.
I’d enjoyed riding the Epic so much I wanted to ride it again to make sure it wasn’t just good on that day. I’ll let you know.