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  1. #1
    DJO
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    Specialized BRAIN suspension - review / question

    I was a little skeptical of Specialized claims for the BRAIN -

    "With its inertia valve technology, it knows the difference between rider inputs (pedaling) and terrain bump forces (rocks, ruts, and roots), meaning it is firm on smooth terrain to transfer all of the riderís pedaling effort into forward motion, and then instantly transitions to active in the bumps to maintain more control."

    After spending a month on my 2013 Epic Comp Carbon I am convinced that the BRAIN does work. It is incredibly efficient while climbing and allows me to stand-up on hills without significant pedal bob. It does not soak up the small stuff but does take the edge off harder hits and keeps the back wheel on the ground better than a hardtail.

    The BRAINs strengths seem to be designed for x-country fast single-track. On long, up hill climbs, it really shines. It is only average in rock gardens and terrain with drops.

    My question for those of you who have tried the BRAIN but chose another technology - what suspension is better for x-country racing and why?

  2. #2
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    Straight from the racer's I've talked to the Epic with it's BRAIN is as good as it gets for what it's designed for ..... XC racing.

    I chose the Scalpel mainly for the Lefty but as you know, some suspension harshness is just part of the equation with XC race bikes.

    I really like Rockshox's full-sprint lock-out on the Scalpel, one push and both fork and shock become rigid.

    That said, I'm a big fan of the Epic

  3. #3
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    I do like the Epic, had one for several years. The Brain technology does work as advertised but as you say, it doesn't do a great job with small bumps even though later Brain shocks have inertia valve adjustment for activation. There was a recent Bike Mag review that said they liked the Epic but just set it to be open/active all the time, they thought it worked best in that mode.

    However, my current FS bike has a Fox CTD setup which also works very well. It's a bit more plush and really soaks up the small bumps. I have a Scott Twin-Loc lever to control the suspension to make it do what I want it do, when I want to do it. For example, on rough downhill sections I can switch to full open, on moderate down/up hills I can set it to trail mode which does a great job soaking up small to moderate bumps while still being very efficient for pedaling. Finally, there is the full lockout mode for climbing. Although, in full lockout you still have some small bump compliance.

    My Epic was just a small step up from a hardtail and I felt it rode more like a hardtail bike than a FS bike which is why I think the racers like the Epic so much. For my riding, I am much happier having a FS bike that feels like a FS bike, more compliance is a nice thing as I get older.

  4. #4
    DJO
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    Quote Originally Posted by Epic_Dude View Post
    I do like the Epic, had one for several years. The Brain technology does work as advertised but as you say, it doesn't do a great job with small bumps even though later Brain shocks have inertia valve adjustment for activation. There was a recent Bike Mag review that said they liked the Epic but just set it to be open/active all the time, they thought it worked best in that mode.

    However, my current FS bike has a Fox CTD setup which also works very well. It's a bit more plush and really soaks up the small bumps. I have a Scott Twin-Loc lever to control the suspension to make it do what I want it do, when I want to do it. For example, on rough downhill sections I can switch to full open, on moderate down/up hills I can set it to trail mode which does a great job soaking up small to moderate bumps while still being very efficient for pedaling. Finally, there is the full lockout mode for climbing. Although, in full lockout you still have some small bump compliance.

    My Epic was just a small step up from a hardtail and I felt it rode more like a hardtail bike than a FS bike which is why I think the racers like the Epic so much. For my riding, I am much happier having a FS bike that feels like a FS bike, more compliance is a nice thing as I get older.
    You are right, the Epic is absorbs bumps better than a hardtail but not like many other high end bikes. Pedaling efficiency is great but there are drawbacks. I'm curious if there is a suspension system that allows the same level of pedaling efficiency but absorbs the roots and rocks a little better than the BRAIN.

  5. #5
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    I personally feel that while the brain does pretty much what it says it does, its not worth it. I will argue that a modern dual link full suspension climbs better than my carbon HT simply because it maintains traction with the ground on rough technical single track. Sure, on a fire road the HT kills it. But on choppy climbs it just bounces around and my tires spin out pretty easily.

    I am also not a fan of poor suspension designs that rely on the shock to compensate. I prefer a design that is shock independent. If you take that brain shock out of the FSR, it will become a mushy pile of poo. Where other designs will still work correctly.
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  6. #6
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    I have a Specialized Epic and a Lapierre Zesty. The Zesty has a E:i shocks that is basically like the epic brain but controlled by a computer which is constantly looking at speed, cadence, whether you're going up or down and terrain. It changes the shock between open, medium and locked depending on conditions and what settings you have. Comparing it to the Epic is hard since the Zesty is an all mountain bike but unlike the Epic the shock is always in the correct setting. The epic will many times not open until after a big hit sometimes it will open when you trying pedaling over an obstacle. The Lapierre has had its issues not related to the E:i shock but they may be because it was a first run bike.

    My dream bike I think would be a Specialized Epic with E:i technology or maybe if they get all there bugs work out the Lapierre XR cross country bike.

  7. #7
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJO View Post
    I was a little skeptical of Specialized claims for the BRAIN -

    "With its inertia valve technology, it knows the difference between rider inputs (pedaling) and terrain bump forces (rocks, ruts, and roots), meaning it is firm on smooth terrain to transfer all of the riderís pedaling effort into forward motion, and then instantly transitions to active in the bumps to maintain more control."

    After spending a month on my 2013 Epic Comp Carbon I am convinced that the BRAIN does work. It is incredibly efficient while climbing and allows me to stand-up on hills without significant pedal bob. It does not soak up the small stuff but does take the edge off harder hits and keeps the back wheel on the ground better than a hardtail.

    The BRAINs strengths seem to be designed for x-country fast single-track. On long, up hill climbs, it really shines. It is only average in rock gardens and terrain with drops.

    My question for those of you who have tried the BRAIN but chose another technology - what suspension is better for x-country racing and why?
    The brain is a band-aid for a suspension design that is inferior to more modern stuff. That said, with a huge amount of refinement they have made it light and made the brain work pretty well, kind of how Porsche has made an inferior chassis (rear engine) work pretty good, but ever year they have to make it wider and wider to compete with $60K corvettes that are faster than $150K 911 4Ss. Not the best example maybe, but if all you care about is XC racing, it will work pretty good. A high end XC racing bike from ANY of the major manufacturers will work pretty darn good though, with a few standing out as excellent. I'd rather be on a 23lb Turner Czar than a Specialized Epic, because the Czar will be compliant up and down, accelerate like a rocket due to the DW link and how it transfers pedal strokes, and it will suck up the small stuff and not leave me feeling beaten up.

    The brain is a pretty good idea, but it's also a compromise. There are other bikes that "let you have your cake and eat it too" with far less, if any, compromise.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  9. #9
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    Please do share the options soon to be in the Market!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    The brain is a band-aid for a suspension design that is inferior to more modern stuff.

    The brain is a pretty good idea, but it's also a compromise. There are other bikes that "let you have your cake and eat it too" with far less, if any, compromise.
    • Trek Stache
    • Giant XTC
    • BMX

  10. #10
    DJO
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    I too would like to hear, better/comparable other options.

  11. #11
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    The brain is not a bandaid solution. The FSR suspension works well without it but the brain enhances it exactly as advertised, that is, locking up the rear suspension when it's not needed. I find this especially nice on smooth trails, roads, and long climbs up relatively smooth trails.

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