Kevin Sigismondo and Jeff Soncrant have been riding together for years. Both are all-mountain/gravity junkies who also happen to be engineers. Both were lucky enough to land jobs in the mountain bike industry, and it was there where the two forged their friendship and assimilated the building blocks that would eventually led them to pose a life-altering question:
Direct-Sales Business Model
Easier said than done. Bikes are pretty damn good these days, so moving the needle requires a lot more horsepower than a good frame design, a fresh take on suspension, and the right numbers. Undaunted, Kevin and Jeff quit their day jobs and founded "Eminent Cycles.
" Three and half years later, they had burned through a big pile of money, a number of aluminum prototypes, and had rejected 85 "almost perfect" carbon frames.
Anticipating that elite-level riders might want the choice, after the chassis was finalized, they worked out suspension tunes with Cane Creek, Fox, and RockShox. When they were finally satisfied with their creation they named the 160-millimeter-travel all-mountain bike the "Haste" and that's when the hard work began.
To succeed on the business end of their endeavor, Kevin and Jeff needed to pry elite-level customers away from the likes of Santa Cruz, Yeti, Specialized and Trek. To that end, they devised a direct sales model that gives potential customers wide range of options a to choose from. Eminent's standard builds range from $5200 to $7800, but their customers are encouraged to tailor their builds by hand-picking drivetrain, cockpit and suspension components from the selection that they stock. If they don't have the item, Eminent will special order it. The bike is then assembled, the transmission and suspension is adjusted, and finally, every Haste is test-ridden before it is shipped to the customer's doorstep in a special box with only its handlebar and front wheel removed. Ideally, when your Haste arrives, you could be headed out for a ride in ten minutes or less.
According to its founders, Eminent's strategy is three-fold: provide a class-leading, good-looking bike; use the savings afforded by selling direct to customers to offer higher-end components and more competitive pricing; and personalize the ownership experience, beginning with the purchasing process and continuing beyond, with a web-based help line which will offer tuning, maintenance, and setup advice.
It's a simple plan - one that a number of bike brands are considering as the likes of YT, Canyon and Commencal grow stronger every day. Eminent's challenge is to span the chasm between bargain bike buyers shopping for price, and the sport's high-end clientele who demand superior performance, but also choose particular brands that verify their skill sets and identities. Read Eminent's PR and you get the impression that they are ready to to rule the world, but the reality is that it is tough to earn the trust of experienced riders, and that doesn't happen overnight. Jeff says that Eminent plans to build sales locally and grow organically, so they can make adjustments along the way. As it stands, Eminent has a good strategy, three employees, one bike, and a positive, winning attitude. Introducing the Haste
I had the opportunity to ride the Haste on familiar trails near San Diego, California, where Eminent is based, and to discuss its finer details with Jeff, Kevin, and the newest member of the team, sales and marketing manager Paul Cusick, who is also an avid rider. The Haste was designed as collaboration between the two principals, with Jeff shouldering the lion's share of the mechanical engineering and working out its four-bar rear suspension design. Jeff says his role was 60-percent product engineering and 40-percent aesthetics, while Kevin's role in the Haste's development was 60-percent graphic design. Both participated in the vetting process (the fun stuff): test riding, judging suspension kinematics and experimenting with various forks and shocks.
Much of that initial process took place aboard aluminum-framed test mules. When they arrived at the function and geometry they wanted, they spent a lot of time getting the carbon version of their chassis to be visually appealing, and then crunched the numbers to ensure that their graphic rendition did not compromise the integrity of the structure. "We wanted the Haste to turn heads," said Jeff. "People are visual beings, so the look is as important as the function." Once the frame's shape and its carbon lay-up schedules were sketched out, the final step (like it is for most of the world's bike brands) was a trip to China, where Eminent had selected a manufacturer that specialized in the quality of construction and smaller production runs they needed.
Construction and Features
The Haste chassis is built around 27.5-inch wheels and incorporates design elements, both familiar and unique, into a profile is sure to stand out in a crowd. Most obvious is its AFS (Active Float System) 160-millimeter, four-bar rear suspension.
The parallelogram configuration is similar to Mert Lawwill's breakthrough design used by Gary Fisher and Yeti in the '90s, but it takes advantage of modern kinematics, materials, and construction methods to provide a level of performance which could not be attained back then.
The suspension's upper link directly drives the shock, which is connected to the swingarm instead of the frame's front section, reportedly, to isolate the shock from lateral forces that could create friction. A relatively linear shock rate was selected to favor descending, and a low-leverage ratio provides more sensitivity to tuning inputs and allows the shock-spring to support a wider range of rider weights.
The brake caliper "floats" between the rear axle and a ball-joint attached to the swingarm in an effort to isolate brake torque from the suspension action. Jeff said that the floating caliper was both necessary and beneficial to the suspension, which ultimately resulted in better brake modulation and a smoother feel while descending.
Motivation for the frame's modern look was as much for aesthetics as it was for function. The shock tunnel eliminated complicated linkages and made room for a single downtube water bottle, and the straight lines of the front-section matched the angular looking rear suspension, while providing a low stand-over height across their selection of frame sizes. One compromise that stands out in the Haste's frame design is the external dropper post actuator. According to Jeff, "Having an exposed cable between the shock and frame could make noise and cause rubbing. Our routing path is cleaner and with less exposed cable."
By the numbers, the Haste reflects its creator's influence. The 73-degree seat tube angle is conservative, while its 65.5-degree head tube angle, 17.4-inch chainstays, and generous reach mirror current trends. Although there is much emphasis upon personalizing the Haste's components, size-specific changes in the chainstay length and seat tube angles are missing from the geometry chart. In defense of Eminent, almost all high-end bike brands ignore those important details, but it seems like an opportunity missed to further personalize the chassis.
Other construction notables include full-complement Enduro ball bearings at key suspension pivots, with Igus plain bearings where angular rotation is minimal. There are guide-tubes to simplify the internal cable routing, provisions for one or two-by drivetrains, and a press-fit type bottom bracket. The frame has plenty of clearance between the rear stays for wider tires and, like most modern mountain bikes, the Haste has Boost axle spacing. Eminent plans to offer the Haste in five sizes (molds are expensive, so they are rolling out the most popular sizes first) which are designated by their effective seat tube lengths, rather than "small, medium, large, etc." Three color options will be available: red, blue, and natural carbon black. First impressions
I rode the Haste in a familiar zone that included steep, loose climbs and a variety of fast-paced singletrack trails. The descents were technical enough to get a feel of the bike's potential, but nothing that would challenge a DH bike. There were enough rocks to wake up the suspension and the dry soil provided ample opportunities to pay attention to the bike's cornering potential. Harold Preston, a familiar face in PB reviews, also put some time on the Haste to contribute his input. Both of us were in agreement that the bike's rear end felt smooth and in control through the entire performance envelope - up, down, around corners, and under braking. Its weight was average for enduro-class carbon bikes (I'd estimate it was just shy of 30 pounds) and like most good all-mountain designs, it responds best when its rider is centered between the wheels.
Acceleration and pedaling feel efficient in the sense that the Haste maintains momentum well and doesn't lag with each pedal stroke when powering hard up a climb. It feels much like a Giant Reign, transferring pedal strokes into smooth acceleration, but lacking the snappy-feeling direct response that you'd get from an Ibis or a Pivot in the same performance class. Where it impresses most is how well the rear end tracks over choppy surfaces without disturbing your pedaling cadence.
Prefaced by the usual first-ride disclaimer, if you ignore the hubris, the Haste delivers on the promises laid out in Eminent's press release. It looks sharp, it tracks where you point it on the descents and holds its line similarly around the bends. I'd prefer a steeper seat tube angle, but it's no slouch up technical climbs and it inspires confidence on the descents, where you'll need it most. It's a fun machine to ride fast, which is exactly what its creators built it for. "Ultimate?" "Class Leading?" "Breakthrough?" - I'll leave that up to you to decide. What I can say is that Eminent's mission statement: delivering an elite-level trail bike to the customer's doorstep that has been custom outfitted, tuned and test-ridden, is a solid first step. It's fitting that the Haste is an enduro bike, because success in the boutique bicycle business is a tall mountain to climb before the fun begins. I wish them luck. - RC