Pole Bicycles are a relatively new brand from Finland, but one that has already caused quite a stir around those 'in the know.' Everybody wants to try one, but they are rare beasts. This is set to change as 2016 models were a sellout, and 2017 production has seen a multi-fold increase in volume due to heavy demand from this direct-to-consumer Scandinavian seller.
I have been riding an Evolink 140 since last June, and over the last few months, the updated 2017 frame. Even though their range of bikes look similar, there are various options of wheel size, travel, and slightly differing geometry numbers for disciplines from cross country racing to downhill. Here we focus on the 140mm travel, 29" wheeled frame only, as this has been my long-term custom build, used as a workhorse for testing various products.
Pole Evolink 140 2017 Details
• Intended use: trail, enduro
• Travel: 140mm
• 29" wheels
• 64° head angle
• 456mm chainstay
• 142mm or 148mm rear hub spacing
• 7005–T6 alloy frame
• Evolink suspension system
• Sizes: XS, S, M, L
• Frame Weight: 3.9kg inc. shock, axle, headset, seatclamp, size Large (actual)
• Price: €2450 frame inc. shock, axle, headset
Framesets start at €2450 including a RockShox Monarch Plus RT3. Bikes start at €4100 for a RockShox, RaceFace and DT Swiss build. I'm sure I'm missing something here... oh yeah, all Pole bikes are arguably the longest production bikes on the market. I'm still missing something interesting, as anyone can make a tube longer, can't they?... Oh yeah, the Evolink has two freaking bottle cage mounts! Suspension Design
The alloy frame uses a dual-link design dubbed the Evolink. The solid rear triangle rotates on two short links, one link rotates around the bottom bracket, the other is close by, underneath the seat tube area.
The linkage is designed to make the instant center (the actual pivot point) rotate in front of, and approximately around, the bottom bracket. This starts with a medium amount of anti-squat, around 85% depending on sag, which falls away as the suspension moves through its travel. This should give good support when pedaling at the sag point, but doesn't create a lot of pedal kickback deeper into the travel.
The leverage ratio is progressive, but increases at the end of the shock's stroke. This is designed to work in conjunction with the rapid ramp up at the end of an air shock's travel. Geometry/Sizing
I have been riding a large-sized frame, which on paper has a 510mm reach, a 64º head angle (with a 150mm travel fork) and a 456mm chainstay. With my 160mm fork, the head angle is closer to 63º, the stated bottom bracket drop is 20mm below the axles, which is 352mm from the floor with my 2.5" Maxxis Minion tires.
It's fantastic to feel like a bike has a really good fit for me in a large size with a short 35mm stem and wide 800mm bar, as I am no giant at 185cm – I know plenty of riders who are a lot taller than me. Unfortunately, there is currently no XL size in the 29" Evolink 140, but other models do carry this extra size.Details
The Evolink frame uses an interchangeable rear wheel dropout system, to switch between 142 or 148mm hub widths. Simply pull the inserts out from the inside face of the dropouts and insert the correct set. The old fashioned IS160mm (International Standard, remember that...) brake mount is used and 3mm washers are needed here for correct brake spacing on a 142mm hub. The supplied Maxle stays the same for both widths.
The shock is nestled between a split seat tube, which does create some access issues for an internally-routed dropper post. I ran a Fox Transfer post for the duration of the test and there's not a huge amount of space to fit the actuation cable around the shock. An externally-routed post would be a better solution than my choice. I also found my 150mm drop Transfer was close to being as low as possible inside the seat tube, partly due to the actuation mechanism at the bottom of the post; shorter riders may not be able to run as long dropper post/internal dropper and get the saddle as low as they need.
A tall, 135mm tapered head tube is supplied with a Cane Creek headset with a 15mm high stack top cap. This could be the second issue for shorter riders and low handlebar lovers, I generally run a fairly high bar (107 cm from the ground) and my stem was usually slammed with one 10mm spacer and a low, 18mm rise bar.
The frame weighs in at 3.9kgs including shock, Maxle, seatclamp and headset. Certainly not a lightweight, but I have given up on that tosh. It's a mountain bike, so it needs to ride up and down a mountain, not reach a magical number on the scale in my bathroom. The current build (pictured) is 100% carbon-fiber free and everything has been hand-picked to take a beating. When I say hand-picked, I mean it has survived more than a few weeks before needing replacement. Coil shocks, downhill tires, ProCore rear, Huck Norris front, plenty of sealant, big brakes, big wheels and flat pedals means she weighs in around 37lbs. But that hasn't held me back from 80km pedals with 9000ft feet of upwards. With an average trail bike build, it should be easy to get close to the 30lb mark.Three Questions with Leo Kokkonen, Pole Bicycles Designer, and CEO.
How did you decide upon the geometry numbers for this bike? It would appear to be very extreme to most riders checking the charts.
By experimenting. We started from an insight that the existing trail bikes are too dangerous to ride because of the small wheelbase. We made an enduro mule from my old K9 DH bike to experiment with the angles and after that, we knew right away that we should push the geometry even further. We ended up with Evolink's geometry and kinematics by testing with stopwatches.
Most people think that this modern/extreme geometry is only for expert-level riders. How do you think it works for the average rider?
My mom, mother-in-law and father-in-law (~65yrs) all ride Evolinks. They love the bike because of the upright riding posture. Other than that, it's easier for beginners to ride Evolink as it is safer to ride a longer wheelbase. You can gain speed easier and everyone knows that it's more fun if you ride more fluidly.
The suspension kinematic doesn’t pedal as well as other bikes, in terms of the anti-squat neutralizing suspension movement on a smooth surface. Does this translate to better performance off road?
I think that the anti-squat and the suspension dynamics are connected to each other. The anti-squat creates pedal kickback and that restricts the suspension's movement as it supposed to be because of the anti-squat. The Evolink's progressive leverage ratio gives the rider more support from the suspension, so at that point there is no need for overdesigned mechanical anti-squat. We found a balance between these two. Also, the anti-squat creates stress to the frame. The more you have anti-squat, the more it stresses the frame as the chain becomes another link that is actually moving on a different path than the rear wheel. Because of the mechanical anti-squat the chain pulls the chainstay to the drive side when the wheel travels through the travel (and the rider weight is on the pedals) and if the chainstays are super stiff, anti-squat wears out the drivetrain more easily.
The advantages on Evolink is that we have a very supportive and active suspension. The anti-squat and the suspension work together and I don't hardly ever touch the climb switch even when I ride my local flat woods. There is enough anti-squat on the sag point. The anti-squat on the Evolink is reducing towards the end of the stroke where you hardly ever pedal. This is why there is not much pedal kickback and this gives a smoother ride. All together: geometry, anti-squat and the suspension are linked together. If you look at only the one number, you will get a wrong idea of the bike. I think people have gotten used to look at one number because most of the bikes are very similar compared to each other. This is why it might be difficult to understand our new-school bikes.
This bike (along with the Nicolai GeoMetron) can heavy-handedly hammer the final nails into the coffin about head angle and stem length being the dictators of climbing prowess. Even when I had an angle set installed and the degree was hovering around 62º with a 35mm stem, I can, and did, climb everything better and more easily than any other bikes. The super steep seat tube angle combined with a long chainstay made my life much easier with a more upright position and when things inclined, much less body English is needed and less energy exerted trying to keep the front wheel on the ground. The slack head angle also seems to allow the front wheel to roll over trail obstacles more easily even when climbing.
The steep seat angle does cause a problem of longing for more dropper post travel. The steeper seat angle means that your legs don't extend as far as the seat rises, meaning that the overall riding height is higher, and the full 150mm drop feels less than with a slacker seat angle.
For reference, the centre of my seat post clamp at full height (725mm from bottom bracket centre) was 150mm behind the bottom bracket in a horizontal plane. This gave me an actual seat angle of approx. 78º.
I still ran the saddle extremely far forward on the rails, as I feel it gives an even
better climbing position – "once you go steep, you never go back" – I think that's the old adage. Contrary to popular belief, slamming the seat forwards on the rails has no relation to the extra long top tube. Some riders think that a slammed forward seat is to get the rider closer to the handlebars on a long reach bike, but this is not the case. The distance from the handlebar centre to seat post centre is 685mm and feels easily comfortable for me, and less than that of many shorter bikes with steeper head angles, slacker seat angles, and longer stems.
The Evolink pedals OK when the suspension is unlocked on smooth ground, but will bob more than most bikes, this is offset when pedalling through rough stuff as the rear wheel moves easily over obstacles under power. The steeper seat angle leads to less suspension bob when pedalling seated, due to the angle of the 'seat tube lever' having less effect on the suspension. When standing, the long front centre moves body weight more towards the front of the bike, this also results in less sagging and bobbing here too.Trail
Manualing this bike isn't easy. Who would have expected that? However, I can pop the front wheel with no problem long enough to get over any trail obstacles. For performing super long manuals, getting such a beast up, and on to the balance point takes some muscle and exaggeration, but when it's up there it keeps going no problem. Albeit it does look a little strange when your front wheel is four meters off the ground.
The whopping 1314mm wheelbase makes fore-aft weight changes much less sensitive than on a small bike. Some people might think that this makes for a boring or sluggish bike. I think the opposite. When you have masses of stability, this allows the rider to be super aggressive and less precise when weighting either wheel in different situations. It also allows more aggressive manoeuvres with ease and confidence, like cutting up onto a high line, getting an inside line or sending a jump. I also have a level of riding accuracy at speed on the Evolink that I struggle to match with any other bike.Descending
The capability of this bike has led me to a downhill orientated build. The shape allows excessive speeds and rarely a reason to brake, but is limited by the short 140mm travel, this has led to plenty of over-excitement and a pile of lightweight rims and tires that couldn't handle the pace. This was finally 'solved' (I am going to regret saying this) by Maxxis Minion DHF downhill casing tires, combined with Schwalbe ProCore rear and Huck Norris in the front.
Cornering? Surely such a big bike can't go around corners? Think again. Yes, super tight switchbacks that need trials skills to turn aren't so easy, but on anything that can be ridden around with both wheels on the ground, the Evolink storms through. Aim the front wheel into the turn, lean in, experience oodles of grip, stability, and balance. Exit fast.
If anything to Evolink is too
stable. Its constant desire to truck through the worst situation in a straight plane means it can be quite hard to keep it leaned into cambers and stay on track in long, flat corners. It also slows down direction changes between consecutive corners. This is a combination of the angles, huge gyroscopic motion of the heavy tire combinations, and the bottom bracket drop between the axles. Dare I say it, the bottom bracket might benefit from the same drop below the axles as a 27.5" bike, instead of the same measurement from the floor – blasphemy!ThoughtsGeometry:
I'm convinced by these forward geometry bikes like the Pole, GeoMetron, and Mondraker. If it was up to me, I would never choose anything else again. In fact, considering riding other bikes kind of upsets me before I have to mount them. Many are not convinced, and I think can be because if you are habituated to something very different, these machines are alien at first, but having had the opportunity over the last few years to really get some time on them, and back to back with other 'normal' bikes I can only find advantages and benefits. But what about beginners?
"It's easy for you, Paul, you have expert-level skills, and that is why you have the ability to ride such a bike," is touted from the naysayers. My argument is this – if I can ride a certain trail on this bike with ease, but be scared on the same trail with a 'normal' bike and struggle my way down, what is going to happen to a rider off lesser ability? Huge stability up and down the hill is going to be better for any riders. On the Evolink, it's easier to climb, easier to predict, and there is little chance of going over the handlebars. I haven't been close to an OTB on this bike, but how many riders do you see after their first bike ride on a beginner bike with a long stem, short frame, and steep head angle – with a broken wrist or collarbone.Playing catch-up.
Big brands are slower to move, for a number of reasons, but we have already seen nearly all brands moving incrementally towards Pole-style shapes. I predict in five years, the Poles and GeoMetrons will be nothing out of the ordinary. I'll bet you fifty quid.Isn't a 510mm reach ridiculous?
On paper, it might seem that way, but short stems and wide bars have a big impact on this. Now I know reach isn't everything, but let's consider this: My 2014 Specialized Enduro 29 in XL size came with a 90mm stem (which was swapped out before the first ride), which the designers must have decided gives the correct cockpit size for an XL rider. Combine the 465mm reach of that bike and the stem, 465 + 90 = 555mm. This Pole has a 510mm reach with a 35mm stem, 510 + 35 = 545mm. The other thing to consider here is that a wider handlebar moves the rider closer towards the front of the bike, making it feel shorter, and everybody
likes a wider bar and a shorter stem than they did five years ago – if their frame is five years old, though, but they have gone wider/shorter, their bike is now likely to be too small.Isn't a really slack head angle ridiculous?
Not really. Motocross bikes have head angles around 63º. MX bikes are designed to be ridden on a level course. Riding with acceleration power the rear suspension will sag, the front of the bike will lift and give an even slacker dynamic head angle. For me, anything that starts to head downwards is the fun part of mountain biking, which will move body weight towards the front of the bike and steepen the HA. So we could say a mountain bike should have a slacker head angle than an MX bike? Mountain bikes are still working their way out of a hole that was dug by road biking predecessors.Pinkbike's Take:
About the Reviewer Stats:
Age: 31 • Height: 6'1” • Ape Index: +4" • Weight: 75kg • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None • Instagram: astonatorPaul Aston is a racer and dirt-jumper at heart. Previously adding to the list of non-qualifiers at World Cup DH events, now he attacked enduro before it was fashionable. Based in the UK, but often found residing between mainland Europe and New Zealand allows him to experience a huge variety of terrains and trails.