The words "small brand" usually conjure images of fillet-brazed steel hardtails. Maybe single-speeds. Maybe belt-drive single-speeds. But not full-suspension, and not carbon. This is 2018, though. Things have changed.
Namely, bike buyers are comfortable with the consumer-direct sales model. It makes it possible for emerging brands to start big. They can reach a nation-wide audience and can compete with larger brands' prices. For some manufacturers, consumer-direct is a way to drastically undercut those prices. For San Diego's Eminent Cycles, it's a way to do something a little different. Different enough that we should take some time to talk about it before we cover the bike itself.
The Shopping Cart
Eminent bikes are assembled in-house, though it's not the only online retail brand doing this. Diamondback, Orbea, Intense, and even Trek's Project One bikes are built by their own employees. That allows them to have tighter control over the condition the bike is in when it arrives in your hands. Each Eminent gets assembled and test-ridden before its front wheel and bars are removed and it's strapped into its box. This is a crucial step for consumer-direct bikes, and something that most overseas assembly contractors have never needed to bother with. Fine-tuning is usually the bike shop's job. Granted, a lot of mountain bikers are plenty proficient at checking for proper torque specs, b-tension adjustment, and cable tension. But a lot more mountain bikers are like, "b-tension?"After its painstaking pre-assembly, the Haste is packaged in a box that draws design cues from high-end re-usable travel boxes. And it includes a multitool, a torque wrench and a shock pump.
That in-house assembly allows Eminent to offer a few other things as well. You can customize your build down to some pretty minute details including components, suspension, wheels and one of four colors. So I won’t critique the build on my test bike, with one exception. The Haste uses a press-fit bottom bracket shell, but every build comes with a Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket. The U.S. made BB threads into itself to stay quiet and tight, so it should satisfy both lovers and haters of press-fit.
One detail Eminent addresses that’s not so minute is sizing. You can choose stem length, bar width, saddle width, and even grip thickness. For riders who don’t already have a preference, Eminent has a fit calculator. Enter in some body metrics, and you can take out the guesswork of proper bike fit. And the customization comes at a much lower cost than if you did it on your own or through a shop. Once you’ve made your decision, and if everything is in stock, your bike will be at your door in no more than three weeks. Eminent also gives you the option to come meet the folks in charge and, while you’re at it, meet your bike as it's being born. Or, if you're not ready to even conceive your bike, you can come to Eminent’s San Diego headquarters to rent a demo of their debut model, the Haste.
Though Eminent will be expanding its lineup soon, they came on the scene with a hard-swinging 160-millimeter rear, 170-millimeter-front-travel 27.5-inch enduro bike, the Haste. Its aesthetic picks up where the days of mid-school full suspension design left off. The days of wild shapes and radical lines. The linkage itself also happens to be reminiscent of those days. Eminent's Active Floating System, (AFS, of course) is essentially a Mert Lawwill design like the one used on a few Yeti, Tomac, and Schwinn bikes of the mid to late '90s. The idea is to offer the more finely tuned axle path of a Horst- or dual-link design with the small-bump sensitivity and simple leverage curve offered by long rocker links. Really long rocker links. In fact, in their heyday, Lawwill Link bikes tended to be a bit flexy. But rear thru-axles and advancements in carbon design offered a way to breathe new life into the old design. There are also touches like a floating rear brake caliper and a unique mount at the rear shock's lower eyelet that's essentially a u-joint shaft. This prevents lateral flex from binding the shock during compression.
The shock pierces the seat tube like on the new Santa Cruz Nomad, but significantly higher up. So there's no way for an internally routed dropper post to work on the Haste. That’s no small compromise, but consider the facts before you consider it a deal-breaker. Although the field of external droppers isn’t likely to be growing any time soon, there are more worthwhile options than you may think. The stock post is the Fox Transfer External, but there’s also the DVO Garnet and the KS Lev. The Lev is the one option available in more than 150-millimeters of drop, though the kevlar string that transfers force from the cable to the cartridge is a common point of failure for KS external posts. Whichever one you choose, the Haste's dropper cable routing is only partially external, and it's clean and tight. Once you're out on the trail, you won't be thinking about it.
Eminent recommends running just 20-25 percent sag on the Haste. I’m going to come back to those numbers a lot because they set the Eminent apart in the ever-more-crowded 27.5-inch enduro category. They set it apart because they work. With a setup that would make any other bike a chattery mess on the descents, the Haste works, and it works well. It works well on the climbs, but that should come as no surprise. Sitting nearly an extra 10 percent higher in the travel will always work well, it just happened to be necessary given the Haste's 73-degree seat angle. Its designers had comfort and body position in mind when they chose that angle, but if you don't want to fight its geometry on the climbs, you'll either need to adhere to the shallow sag recommendation or use the shock's firm setting. But either way, you won't have to fight its suspension.
Put simply, the AFS linkage does exactly what it's supposed to do. There's no noticeable drivetrain-induced squat, even when I rode it with deeper sag. But it tends towards active and supple rather than supportive and firm. Because of that stiffer preload, the Haste offers all of the get-up-and-go and none of the hang-ups of a more supportive but harsher suspension linkage like VPP. Its long rocker plates are the most direct and predictable way to transfer impacts from the axle to the suspension, and it doesn't take much force or speed for small bump energy to disappear into the shock.
Where the Haste’s small-bump sensitivity matters the most, of course, is on the descents. On other bikes in this category, I would usually dial my suspension to stay deep and planted, and I'd rely on some progressivity (whether natural or tuned-in) when I needed or wanted something to push against. The Haste, with that shallow sag, expects you to be pushing all the time. It was conceived around aggressive riding, aggressive terrain, and high velocities. I'm no lightweight, but I had to get used to a bike aimed so squarely at full-time full-speed. Hop on any professional rider’s enduro or DH rig, and you’ll be surprised at how firm they run their suspension. Their riding style demands it. The Haste would suit them well because it can handle heavy impacts, but it stays light and responsive on initial impacts and small bumps.
I had to make adjustments to my riding if I wanted to satisfy the Haste's dark desires. I found myself hitting things harder and more recklessly. The bike stays smooth and keeps traction, but always offers something to push against. We've said the same about other aggression-oriented bikes. Devinci's Spartan is so progressive, I may have never bottomed it out. But the Haste’s unique setup gives hard-charging riders multiple dimensions of control. The stock setup combines a linear feel with big-hit capability. Or you can go with a traditional setup and the maximum volume spacer. Or you can go anywhere in-between.
During all that high-speed bashing, I kept my feelers tuned for the frame flex that my elders warned would come with the Haste's linkage design. While it wasn't as deadly stout as the YT Capra or Devinci Spartan, it was stiffer than the Evil Insurgent, which is one of the few modern aggressive bikes on which I'm able to sense significant deflection. The Haste is not a board, but by no means is it a noodle. That'll teach me to listen to my elders.
When my speed dropped, and I was back in my element of slow, impossibly steep descents, I found myself getting pushed off the front of the bike a bit. At first, I thought the Haste may have had too high a bottom bracket or too low a stack height. But the geometry is pretty spot-on. Its numbers are modern, but not extreme, including stack and BB height. The 442-millimeter chainstay suits the bike's need for speed, as does its 65.5-degree head angle. And the reach measurements are appropriately contemporary for each of its five frame sizes. What I was feeling on the steeps (and this is the last time I'll mention it) was that sag setting. If there wasn’t enough weight or force acting on the rear end, it stayed a tad above its ideal range for slow, steep chutes. That's when I returned to my 30-percent comfort zone and swapped out the volume spacers until I found my sweet spot. It took on the light 'n lively feel of a Santa Cruz Nomad, but still offered that noticeable benefit to small-bump sensitivity. And for my riding style, this is where I would keep it. But in a way, going that route ignores what makes the Haste truly unique. Few bikes are this well-suited for taking big hits at high speed. But because you can build yours from the ground up the Haste will always be truly unique.