01 Mar 2018

From two of the most significant names in cycling come a pair of irresistible cross-country race bikes, and coincidentally both are completely new for this year; please put your hands together for the Specialized Epic and Giant Anthem 29er. These two bikes make up a large chunk of the pack at the races and have done for many years now, even way back when 26” wheels were hot. So, let’s put them against each other, shall we!?

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0, it is on! Testing either bike individually we’d expect to feel pretty positive about them, they are both the top-shelf models, with proven parts and a high-quality heritage. But what about when you ride them side-by-side? How do they differ? Which bike does what best?

Of the two, what would we choose? What would you choose? Firstly, make sure you’ve read our Giant Anthem 29er 2018 review and Specialized Epic 2018 review.

Dive in deep with the full reviews right here.

Complete Specialized S-Works Epic 2018 review.

Complete Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 2018 review.


Where do these two sit in the scheme of things?

100mm-travel 29ers, we think, have the magic formula for cross-country racing. With the increasingly technical nature of race tracks, combined with the improvement of suspension systems and lower weights, it’s no wonder we’re seeing full suspension bikes at the top of the game in the World Cup more often each year.

giant anthem vs specialized epic

Specialized Epic 2018.

All-new for 2018, the release of the new Epic had us all in awe. The new Brain 2.0 suspension system is a significant advance over the preceding one, the bike’s handling takes it to another level, and the frame weight drops significantly. It’s an impressive release that we didn’t think was achievable!

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet.

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet. It’s a $12500 bike that sits at the top of a decent range of options, and all the way down to an aluminium frame version developed around the same concept.

The new Epic has taken a different approach to frame geometry. The head angle is now 69.5 degrees, a full 1.5 degrees more relaxed than the previous Epic. The Epic uses a custom RockShox SID Brain-equipped fork, with just 42mm of offset (compare that to the 51mm found on many 29er). That means it’s slacker but paired with a shorter stem for quicker steering.

s-works epic 2018 review

Giant Anthem 29er 2018.

We touted the new Anthem as ‘The cross-country race bike we’ve been waiting for from Giant’. It breaks a long drought of 29ers in their range, after staunchly standing by their ‘27.5” is best’ mantra. The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed, we’ve thoroughly loved ripping laps of the race track with it.

The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed.

The Advance 0 model is the top model from a healthy range of Anthems, with a far more value conscious representation than the Epic.

giant anthem 29er 2018 review


FOX dual remote lockout vs RockShox/Specialized Brain.

Epic.

The Brain suspension system is what sets the Epic apart from the rest of the pack, the unique inertia valve damping can successfully differentiate between impacts from the ground and bobbing motions from the rider, to give you an amazingly efficient ride without relying on external lockouts. Push down on the bike and it won’t compress the fork and shock, run over a bump and it will. Confused? Watch this.

specialized epic 2018 brain
The new RockShox/Specialized Brain 2.0 is said to react faster and feel more sensitive than the previous model, which it is to a degree, but still sacrifices a lot of feel and comfort for increased efficiency. Especially when compared to the plush Anthem.
specialized epic 2018 brain
View of the Brain unit with the rear wheel removed.

Anthem.

The Anthem’s suspension system may be without any fancy proprietary suspension technologies like the Epic, but that’s certainly not a downside, quite the contrary if you ask many of us here. The Anthem uses regular FOX Suspension front and back with remote lockout control. The new FOX lockout levers are easy and quick to use, sitting comfortably under the left side of the bar requiring only light action to engage. It only 90mm of rear travel, but it’s super-active and supple. Why only has 90mm of travel? Read this.

giant anthem advanced pro 29er 0 2018 review
The Anthem’s stout 90mm of rear wheel travel is ultra-plush, very smooth and supple. The polar opposite of the Epic’s system.

Back-to-back on the race track. 

We spent hours riding these two bikes back-to-back on three different circuits to replicate what terrain you’d encounter in a season of multi-day, short course and marathon racing. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad in our minds between the two.

Best aspects of the Specialized Epic:

  • Fantastic handling. Right away we found the Epic’s handling to be a real highlight, especially the steering through singletrack corners. The new approach to the frame geometry of longer, slacker front end/quicker steering, with shorter stems, has paid off and makes a cross-country race bike far more confident to rip through the singletrack super-fast. The front end is remarkably composed and easy to hold onto, where we’d expect the front wheel to feel nervous and to tuck underneath you in a sharp turn it wouldn’t, so our confidence grew, and we found ourselves going faster and faster and laying off the brakes for longer.
  • Brain 2.0. The updated Brain 2.0 shock out the back takes the inertia valve technology to the next level with a more sensitive action and a wider range of adjustability. There’s still that trademark knocking feedback as the Brain opens up with each impact – even in the softest setting – but it’s a significant improvement over years past. It’s about as close to ultimate efficiency as you can get, just with the sacrifice to a certain degree of ‘plushness’.
  • Aesthetics and cleanliness. The Epic will win over the most pedantic freak with its squeaky-clean aesthetics; the bike is all class. With no remote lockouts or any added fuss on the bars, the cockpit is refreshingly clutter-free.
  • Mad light. 9.58kg out of the box, c’mon that’s pretty insane!

Low points for the Specialized Epic:

  • Ouch, that fork! Our hands are still aching as we type, ok that’s a slight exaggeration, but we never got along with the Brain damper in the fork. While we respect this bike’s high-end race intentions, and it sure is efficient, the feedback transferred to our hands and body as we rode rough terrain was pretty brutal.
  • Noisy drivetrain. For a bike that’s so dialled, it makes quite a racket on the descents, the chain slap on the chainstay is not what we’d expect. Not too hard to rectify though, with a little section of rubberised tape.
  • Outrageous price. Nobody can tell us this bike is good value!  S-Works models are a premium offering, and the frame and suspension technology are superb, but when you stack it up against the Giant which has a very comparable spec, it’s hard to justify the $3500 difference in price.
  • Proprietary suspension concerns. Sure it may not ever pose an issue, but the rear shock and fork damper are parts exclusive to Specialized. Proprietary elements are always at risk of limiting your options and serviceability centres.
specialized epic 2018 review
Set how hard or soft you wish the Brain to feel, and you’re off. Hammer hard on the pedals and the Epic is an absolute rocketship.
specialized epic 2018 brain RockShox SID World Cup fork
Deluxe carbon crowns on the RockShox SID World Cup fork with a Specialized exclusive Brain damper system inside.
specialized epic 2018 suspension sram xx1
The new one-piece rear with the 2018 Epic forgoes the Horst Link pivot of years past; the frame flexes in the right place instead.
specialized epic 2018 brain handlebar
Winning the clean cockpit challenge, the Epic is a standout with a neat and clutter-free handlebar setup.

Best aspects of the Giant Anthem:

  • Fast yet comfortable. The Anthem strikes a great balance between fast and too fast to handle. While the Maestro Suspension relies on you to hit the lockout for better efficiency during climbs or sprints, its smooth and supple action wins our hearts and our hands.
  • FOX 32 SC fork. There’s something special about the new 32 SC fork from FOX, the combination of the low weight, smooth action, supple air spring and stable damper make it a fantastic addition to a race bike. The 100mm of travel was so supportive when pedalling out of the saddle, yet it kept that front wheel sticking to the dirt and reduced feedback to the hands damn well.
  • Fast rolling 29er. The wheels and tyres wind up to speed easily and the body position is low, long and fast. The Anthem feels like a classic race bike just with really great suspension.
  • Fair price. Compare it to a Specialized or compare it to a Canyon and the Anthem holds its own in the value department, especially considering that we can’t think of anything that needs to be changed to make it race-ready.

Low points of the Giant Anthem:

  • On or off remote lockout. Compared to the regular non-remote FOX suspension that has three modes of adjustment, the remote has two. The two modes are ‘on and off’ so it’s either locked out for the smooth climbs or open for rough descents. The middle ‘trail mode’ is sorely missed, we know we’d use it more than both of the provided settings combined.
  • Male model only. The Anthem 29 is not represented in the LIV range, which doesn’t make it un-rideable for women, Specialized does offer the Epic with a gender-neutral frame with gender-specific parts.
  • Where is my dropper post? Repeating this will send the product managers at Giant into a groaning frenzy, but building the new Anthem with a 27.2″ seatpost severely limits your options for dropper post with only a couple key brands producing one that size. If the Anthem were our bike, we’d want to add a dropper; we’re probably not alone either.
  • Cable Carbonara. The suspension remote levers add two cables to the equation like pasta hanging from your bars. It’s not a deal-breaker for us, as we see how it adds to the efficiency of the bike without sacrificing the suspension performance on the descents (sorry, Epic Brain). But we can appreciate how it’ll mess with the minds of the fussier riders. You can certainly make it all neater with a little cable-cutter tailoring and time.
giant anthem 29er 2018 review
The long, low and fast Anthem is the ultimate race bike, just with really good suspension! With such efficiency and low weight, it’s a worthy choice over a hardtail any day.
giant anthem 29er 2018 with SRAM XX1 eagle drivetrain
So smooth, so quiet.

FOX SC forks on giant anthem 29er reviewThe narrow crown and chassis of the FOX SC forks are partly responsible for its low weight. This fork outshone the RockShox SID fork with the Brain internals hands down; it’s perfect for this purpose.giant anthem 29erOut of the box, the Anthem’s cockpit is a bit of a headache with the additional two cables for the fork and shock lockout but with time, tailoring, trial-and-error and a pair of cable cutters and cable ties it’d be quickly consolidated.


Proprietary vs standard?

The Giant is 100% standard; the Specialized is not. How does that sit with us? On one had it limits upgrade options, and on the other the approach to servicing, but we are talking about Specialized here and not some obscure brand. We’re pretty confident that the Epic shouldn’t run into any issues with its proprietary bits with strong after-sales support.


Gender options?

Specialized has taken a new approach for this year model offering a gender-neutral frame with a gender-specific build instead of a women’s specific bike. A women’s ‘version’ is available which uses a lighter suspension tune, a ladies Myth saddle, a smaller 30t chainring and a different paint job.

s-works epic 2018 women's


Simple suspension setup.

Specialized’s own suspension setup system ‘Auto Sag’ takes the guess-work out of setting the sag on the rear shock, it is as easy as inflating the shock, sitting on the bike, pressing a button and presto, it’s good to go. The Giant loses out with any whiz-bang helping hand here. Auto Sag is an excellent feature.

The Giant will require the good-old trial-and-error setting sag as you balance propped against a wall, not exactly a chore but in comparison, the Specialized Auto Sag is pretty nifty in contrast.


Be sensible.

Two water bottle cages on all sizes? Yes, the Epic has you covered here, sorry Giant while we appreciate the merits of a rear shock that is mounted in the centre of the frame down low, the single-bottle mount could pose an issue for a marathon racer needing more water storage.

No frame protection, Specialized? C’mon rocks puncture downtubes all the time, Giant have prioritised protection here, and a rubber guard underneath the downtube is sure to prevent expensive unfortunate incidents. And what’s with the poorly placed chainstay protection, not only does the chain wallop the stays over rough trails, it’s chipping away the expensive paint!

Don’t drop the dropper, Giant! The Epic uses a post diameter that can accommodate any brand of dropper post; the Anthem doesn’t.


Be snazzy!

Oh, Anthem you look so lovely! Your 50 shades of blue and mixture of matte and gloss graphics give the Giant attractive looks, while the black on white Epic looks as flashy as a bike of half the price. Bummer that the team riders and international markets have access to the coloured frame S-Works models, as they look so fine! Like the women’s S-Works Epic above, it is way cooler than the mundane magpie we tested.


$3500 between the two, sorry what!?

There are no two ways about it; the S-Works Epic is astonishingly expensive, $12500 is mind-boggling! Yes it’s an industry-leading brand, yes it is loaded with excellent and modern tech, and yes they will still fly off the shop floors because they are fabulous bikes, but $12500… They use the same drivetrain, brakes, and all have carbon bits everywhere. Put it side-by-side with the $8999 Giant you could argue all day about where the dollars go, but we’re talking 3500 of them!

Is the Brain suspension and lighter overall bike worth the difference? Nah, it’s not worth that much to us.


Verdict.

If we were to take it a marathon or multi-day stage race? The Giant. It’s way more forgiving to ride over a few hours or multiple days, no doubt about that!

Our choice for a 1.5hr cross-country Olympic distance event? The Specialized for its hard-out pedalling efficiency and cornering prowess, especially on a buff race track you’ve been practising.

What’s lighter? The Epic is 9.58kg and Anthem is 10.08 as we tested them.

If we had to race it 100% stock, no parts changed? The Giant, it is simply ready to go. We’d not put up with the Specialized’s fork any longer, and send it to a suspension service centre for a conventional RockShox Charger 2 damper to be installed, not a cheap fix.

Part-time trail bike, part-time race bike? The Specialized’s handling feels more like a trail bike, but the suspension on the Giant was more confident and active off the beaten path.

What bike impressed us the most? The Specialized, it’s an engineering masterpiece with its frame construction, Brain technology and overall weight.

Women’s option? The Specialized has you covered with a women’s gender-specific spec model, though the Anthem with a few spec preference modifications will bring it in line with the Epic.

Value for money? Giant, hands down. The complete spec is very comparable, though the price is not. The Giant blows the Specialized out of the water with this one. $8999 vs $12500, ouch.

Fastest lap times? The Specialized. It beats you up and doesn’t feel exceptionally kind at times, but the clock doesn’t lie, and we posted faster lap times of our 20-minute race track on the Specialized.

If money was no option, bottom line verdict? The Specialized, thanks.

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem 29er

S-Works Epic review.

Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 review.