I’ve been racing XC on a hardtail since 1989, when I bought a Muddy Fox Courier. Back then there was no such thing as a full suspension mountainbike.
The first ‘full sussers’ appeared a couple of years later. I was riding for the Mycycles team and our sponsors Cannondale sent us their first full suss incarnation. I can’t remember the name of the model, but we called it the fish bike on account of the way it moved when pedalled. At this time, full sussers were not an option for serious xc racers…
Jump forward to 2000, by now full sus xc bikes are starting to look like an option. I’d been on a Specialized Stumpjumper, for a couple of years now, and although it was, and still, is one of the fastest, lightest, sweetest, most comfortable frames around, I’m coming to the conclusion that sooner or later a full switch to full suss is inevitable. It’s just a question of when. It’s spring, and my brother and I take an FSR and a Stumpy hardtail out for a long ride. We share a similar stature, so it means the bikes can be set up for one, and suit us both, meaning we can switch bikes easily. We ride for hours, taking it in turns to race each bike over our favourite trails. We are very impressed with the FSR, but we still prefer our hardtails.
2003 sees the launch of the Epic. Now I’m convinced, and would like to buy one but lack of funds means that I stay with my hardtail. I don’t even test one… why test something you can’t have?
September 2003, and I go along to the Specialized Trade Show for their 2004 range of bikes. Looking at all the full suspension bikes on show namely the Enduro, FSR and Epic, I’m thinking Enduro, uh, great heavy thing, can’t understand why anyone would wanna ride one. FSR, yes very interesting, can we move on? Epic, tell me more, oh 0.75g instead of 1g, tell me more, I want one. Can’t wait for the test bikes to arrive and they do in December! Let the testing begin. Just before I go on, I should mention that I have spent most of he autumn riding a Kona Singlespeed, or an old steel Stumpjumper along the tow path! more later.
I tested the Enduro first because on the day it was wet and muddy and the Enduro was the only one fitted with mudguards, which I think look really cool by the way. It’s a group ride, there’s nine of us, on all sorts of bikes, so a good test. With a couple of miles of undulating tarmac lane to the forest, I start off with the suspension locked out. It does feel like you’re riding a “big” bike, you’re higher off the ground, and it’s definitely longer. As we ride along the lane I make a conscious effort to sit a little further back from the wheel in front; there’s a lot of fork out there. But it’s ok, I can keep up, I’m comfortable. The steering feels a little slacker than I’m used to, at first I’m thinking Dennis Hopper, but after a short while it feels natural.
We hit the first climb. The lightweights on their hard tails dance away, but I get to the top of the climb about half way down the group. Climbing bike it ain’t but it climbs ok. First descent, lock out off, full travel on, and waaaaheay! Wow! Grin from ear to ear! Wet roots!? what wet roots? Slippy, tricky!!??? naaah. Look at the bigger picture, look further ahead at where you want to go, ride the line that you would like to ride. This bike is amazing. Faster, Faster, more!
As we fire on down to the lowest part of our circuit, there’s a tricky left hander followed by a long fire road climb to the highest point of our ride. It’s so easy to get to the front on the way down into the left hander, no need for brakes, and I come onto the climb with a 50 meter advantage. In a desperate effort to prove to myself that this bike cannot climb I throw down the gauntlet and attempt to ride away from the group. At first they don’t notice, but not for long, the group starts to string out, but I hold them. By the time we get to the top only the whippets who climb better than me anyway, have caught me. I am still ahead of my equals.
For the rest of the ride I am amazed at what this bike can do, including what it can climb. This bike is such fun to ride I don’t want to give it back. I wasn’t supposed to like this bike, and as we ride back along the lane home, I struggle to find something wrong with it.
The only problem I see with this bike, is that in a short while, you’d become so damn fast on it you might want to seriously consider body armour!