Last week I got to spend a bit of time on the new Evolve so I thought I'd jot my musings on the experience.
To put this review in context here's some background on me and the type of riding I do. My current bikes are an Enlightenment (winter bike), a Truth (race bike), and an Id (for fun!) - all medium size. I race for the Freeborn Ellsworth team (UK Ells distrubutor - that may invalidate my impartiality ;-)) - mostly point-to-point enduros and 24hr races, but also some shorter XC stuff . Other riding is typical UK stuff with trips out to Europe when I need some bigger climbs! This was my first time on a 29er, so I can only compare the Evolve to my current rides.
My test ride was about 4 hours (approx 50 miles) over trails that I ride at least a couple of times a month. 50% was road and fire road, with the other 50% being forest singletrack, all told there was about 1,000m of climbing. Conditions were muddy under-wheel, but crisp and clear in the sky - about as perfect as it gets in the UK at this time of year. The Evolve was a medium frame set up with SRAM X9, Avid Juicys, a Reba Race 29er, and an Industry nine/Salsa wheel build. I didn't have a chance to weigh the Evolve, but I'm guessing that it was about 3lb heavier than my Truth.
So how was it for me?! My main impression was that the bike needed more heft to control than my Truth - in fact I would say that in general it felt closer to my Id than to my Truth. Another rider had exactly the same observation - the bike needed more "body language" to control it in singletrack, but once you get used to this it is seriously quick, particularly in flowing singletrack with the big wheels making short work of roots and rocks, and the bike sticking comfortably to your chosen line. In really tight singletrack, however, I found it harder work than my Truth, with the extra effort required to get the bike up to speed after each turn sapping strength over time.
Going downhill the bike was fast and assured - it certainly didn't ride like it only had 80mm of travel at the front. My biggest surprise of the day came when I took the Evolve down a steep, slippy bit of singletrack with numerous roots, rocks, and drop-offs. For no particular reason I thought that it would feel very sketchy, but actually the big wheels allowed me to roll down stuff in a much more controlled manner than my normal bikes.
Uphill I found the 29er experience much less convincing. My longest climb of the day was a 10 minute up-hill drag on road and fire road, and the extra weight of the Evolve certainly made itself felt. Some of this is down to the components - the build up was more trail than race, but there's always going to be a weight penalty with 29ers because of the bigger wheels and their requirements on the frame. Steep technical climbs were also harder with the front end having a tendancy to wander more than on the Truth - a negative rise stem would probably help with this.
So will I be racing on an Evolve next season? An interesting question. Probably not - mostly because I think that for the majority of events that I race my Truth would be quicker, but if I had a larger garage it would certainly be nice to have one to bring out for courses that were flat and fast. For point-to-point enduros I could see how an Enlightenment 29er could offer many of the advantages of the Evolve without so much of a weight penalty.
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Thread: Evolve test ride