What happens when you take one of the lightest hardtail mountain bikes, add drop bars and send it off on a bikepacking trip? We did exactly that with the Specialized S-Works EPIC HT AXS Custom and tell you whether the concept works.

For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best bikepacking bike in review

Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail AXS Mullett Build | 8.95 kg in size L | Manufacturer’s website

Designed as a mountain bike, tested as a bikepacking rig: the Specialized S-Works EPIC HT AXS promises to bridge the gap between cross country World Cup race bike and adventure rig. Strange as the idea might sound, it seems the logical consequence of ultra-endurance bikepacking events like the Atlas Mountain Race, which test the limits of human endurance over thousands of kilometres of unforgiving, rocky terrain. Juliane Boetel, Specialized PR Leader for the DACH region, took part in the race with a similar setup, so we decided to find out whether it might make for an exciting alternative for you too. The bike is largely based on the standard Specialized S-Works EPIC HT AXS with 29″ Roval Control carbon wheels. You want to know everything about bikepacking and bikes, gear, route planning and accommodation? Click here for our detailed Bikepacking 101.

The only thing we changed is the cockpit: as the frame is designed for flat bars, the short 40 mm Specialized XC stem we fitted compensates for the increased reach of the Specialized Adventure Gear Hover drop bar we fitted. As the cherry on top, we installed the SWAT Conceal Carry MTB tool in the steerer tube while we were at it. Thanks to SRAM’s wireless AXS groupset, swapping the flat bar shifter out for SRAM’s RED eTap AXS brifters was no problem at all, and simply involved linking them up with the XX1 Eagle AXS derailleur via the app. The Quarq power meter in the cranks is also part of the stock configuration, as is the RockShox SID Brain suspension fork with Specialized’s proprietary damping technology offering 100 mm travel up front. The standard components are high-end throughout, making for a premium build. Weighing in at 8.95 kg in size L, the Epic is the second lightest bike in the test field. We do have to admit that with its super light carbon frame, the Specialized is likely too fragile for adventures in remote destinations, far away from any bike shops or carbon repair specialists. No one wants to cut their adventure short just because their fully loaded bike fell over and hit a rock.

The Quarq power meter comes standard on the Epic. A useful update for all those who want to pace themselves in a bikepacking race.
Hidden tool
Housed inside the steerer tube you’ll find Specialized’s SWAT Conceal Carry MTB tool including a quick link, multi-tool and chain breaker. Smart!
Five is all you get
Besides the triple mount on the down tube and regular bottle cage bosses on the seat tube, the Epic doesn’t have additional mounting points for gear or bottle cages.
Not that brainy afterall?
The 100 mm travel RockShox SID Brain fork features smart damping technology that is supposed to isolate the effects of the rider and only absorb impacts on the trail. We found it only worked to a certain degree.

Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail AXS Mullett Build

€ 2,999


Seatpost Specialized S-Works Carbon
Brakes SRAM Level TLM 180/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM RED eTap AXS-Hebel / SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS 32 (10–50)
Stem Specialized XC 40 mm
Handlebar Specialized Adventure Gear Hover 420 mm
Wheelset Roval Control Carbon
Tires Specialized Renegade 58C

Technical Data

Size XS S M L XL
Weight 8.95 kg
Wheelsize 700C

Specific Features

suspension fork
SWAT Conceal Carry MTB Tool in the steerer tube
Quarq powermeter in the cranks
generous tire clearance

Handlebar Pack (9 l, € 99.99) and Accessory Pack (3.5 l, € 54.99) | Frame Pack (6 l, € 119.99)
Seat Pack (16.5 l, € 139.99) | Cockpit Pack (0.8 l, € 49.99)
Size XS S M L XL
Seat tube 367 mm 400 mm 430 mm 470 mm 520 mm
Top tube 555 mm 579 mm 604 mm 633 mm 662 mm
Head tube 95 mm 95 mm 95 mm 110 mm 125 mm
Head angle 68.5° 68.5° 68.5° 68.5° 68.5°
Seat angle 74.0° 74.0° 74.0° 74.0° 74.0°
BB Drop 63 mm 63 mm 63 mm 63 mm 63 mm
Chainstay 430 mm 430 mm 430 mm 430 mm 430 mm
Wheelbase 1,062 mm 1,090 mm 1,115 mm 1,146 mm 1,176 mm
Reach 385 mm 405 mm 430 mm 455 mm 480 mm
Stack 594 mm 608 mm 608 mm 622 mm 636 mm

Even if it looks as though someone just went and built up a bike with all the most expensive components they could find, the Epic HT makes a lot of sense as a bikepacking rig.

Helmet iXS Trigger AM | Glasses POC Aspire Clarity | Jersey GRAN FONDO Crew-Shirt
Shorts Sweet Protection Hunter Light | Socks VOID Socks 16 | Shoes FiveTen Kestrel Lace Carbon

The Epic is super quick accelerating and flies uphill like a rocket – with its minimal weight and maximum traction, it simply keeps on going up even the steepest, meanest climbs. Considering the size of the tires, the bike rolls fast enough but doesn’t stay at speed as effortlessly the best bikes on test. The reason for this is that the light components and the wide tires don’t carry their momentum as well. However, getting back up to speed is all the easier for it. The handling strikes a nice balance between agility in the corners and composure on the straights. There’s no denying the bike’s mountain bike genes, which allows you to stay off the brakes a lot longer on the descents. With confidence-inspiring handling, you’ll feel ready to take on any challenge aboard the Epic.

Like the ROSE, the Epic HT has a 180 mm brake rotor up front and the SRAM brakes offer lots of stopping power with easy modulation. We were surprised by the fork. It works really well in this setup. The only time we even remotely missed having a rigid fork is when pedalling out of the saddle. On a hardtail, you would usually stand up to ride through particularly bumpy terrain and that’s exactly how you should ride the Epic. If you stay seated, it only emphasises the obvious imbalance in comfort between the front and rear. Unfortunately, adding to that is the fact that the 30.9 mm Specialized S-Works carbon seat post is less compliant than expected due to its large diameter. This design related imbalance of comfort between the front and rear is easily forgotten as you revel in the fork’s ability to almost completely absorb big impacts at the front. Is the drop bar Epic the future of bikepacking? Not necessarily. It only works so well because of its low weight. A drop bar hardtail immediately loses its appeal when it’s heavier than a comparable gravel bike. So this is much more of a standalone concept than a representative of a new breed.

Tuning tips: Custom made dyneema bags and then collect your starting number for the race


The Specialized S-Works EPIC HT AXS Custom is a perfect companion for fast and light adventures, performing particularly well in alpine terrain with its unbeatable off-road climbing capabilities and confidence-inspiring handling on rough descents. It’s a great option for ambitious bikepacking racers but if you’re just out to have an adventure, you’ll find more suitable alternatives. It lacks the versatility required for a top spot in this group test.


  • acceleration
  • best of the best components
  • confidence-inspiring handling
  • amazing concept for racers


  • frame requires delicate treatment
  • fork sags when you pedal standing up

For more info head to specialized.com.

The test field

For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best bikepacking bike in review

All bikes in test: Bombtrack Hook 2 (Click for review) | Canyon Grail AL 7.0 SL (Click for review) | Fern Chuck Explorer (Click for review) | Marin Headlands 2 (Click for review) | Mason Bokeh GRX (Click for review) | MERIDA SILEX+ 8000-E (Click for review) | RONDO BOGAN (Click for review) | ROSE BACKROAD AXS Mullet Build (Click for review) | Salsa Cutthroat GRX 600 (Click for review) | Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Epic HT AXS Custom | Trek Fuel EX 9.9 XTR Project One (Click for review)

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Words: Photos: Benjamin Topf, Robin Schmitt, Valentin Rühl