The more the merrier. It's why late 80s through mid-90s were such a special time in mountain biking. There were no designer linkages and no carbon fiber. If you could weld and miter, you could make a bike. A bike that just might have the right kind of attitude to grab a foothold. Brands like Ibis and Yeti who did exactly that would have had a much harder time launching in today's environment. The barrier to entry is higher, and the audience is more demanding. Once you've engineered your linkage, worked out your carbon layup, commissioned a factory in Asia to manufacture molds, and finally produced enough frames to pay for those molds, there's not much room for attitude. If you saw a frame from Newcomer brands, Revel Bikes or Esker Cycles without its decals, it'd be easy to assume it could be some sort of new Specialized or old GT. They make great machines, but they kinda blend in. Like most brands, they don't appear to make many deliberate aesthetic choices.
Eminent Cycles does. Debuting about a year ago, the San Diego-based brand's 27.5-inch, enduro-oriented Haste model looks more like a concept car than a bike. Eminent is fond of straight lines and sharp angles, and their new model, the 29-inch trail-oriented Onset, leans into that fondness hard. But it does it in a way that feels more mature than the Haste. The graphics work in harmony with the frame's shape instead of trying to amp it up. And it still has stealthily functional bits like the integrated seat clamp and fully guided internal cable routing, and a surprisingly elegant floating rear brake mount. Though the Stealth Fighter aesthetic can be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, it's clear there were no accidents in the designing of the Onset. Every piece is part of a cohesive, deliberate whole.
That extends to Eminent's AFS linkage. Essentially a heavily modified Horst link, the heart of AFS is its long rocker plates. They’re long enough to double as the seatstays, and they make a certain sort of sense. Eminent uses the term “1:1 response rate” to describe that particular design’s benefits. Essentially, the shock is getting exactly what the trail is giving it without a lot of misdirection through the leverage curve. The angles between the members attached to a compact rocker link change drastically throughout the stroke, potentially leading to drastic changes in the leverage curve. Long rocker links make for more predictable shock tuning, and ideally a more predictable trail feel. And you might think that those two long, unsupported structures would lead to a flexy frame, but quite the contrary. Their boxy shape and well-supported angular contact bearings kept me from noticing any unpleasant flex in the Onset. A less obvious AFS standout is the extension at the bottom of the shock. Its design prevents lateral forces from transferring to the shock, meaning less binding, longer shock life and better sensitivity. It also varies in length depending on which Onset you're going with. There's the Onset ST, at 120 millimeters in the rear and 130 up front, and the LT at 140 rear, 150 front. That's the one I've been riding for about the past month.
Though the Onset definitely carries the torch lit by the Haste, it deviates in one very welcomed way. It's got a healthy 75-degree seat tube angle in the LT version and 76 in the ST, compared to an arguably outdated 73-degree on the Haste. On that bike, I felt the need to run the sag at the shallowest end of Eminent's recommendations to keep from sinking on the climbs. I still slammed the saddle forward on the Offset, but climbing at 30-percent sag exposed the AFS linkage's talent for floating up rough climbs. Our gold standard for this is still the Ibis Ripmo, and at 145 millimeters of rear travel, it's a worthy comparison to the Onset LT. For those seeking perfect isolation of acceleration output and suspension input, the Ripmo is nearly impossible to beat. The Onset lands a tad toward the acceleration-focused end of the spectrum, but really just a tad. And in a way that suits most trails well. It was only on the roughest and steepest sections that I sensed any hang-ups, and even then, it was only when the peak power point of my pedal stroke met the peak of a sharp rock. I'm the kind of climber who, unless we're talking about a 500-foot section in the middle of a downhill, prefers his uphills with a little help from a little blue switch. I consider a little extra support at the cost of a little sensitivity to be an asset, as long as there's no inchworm-effect, and there was none in the Onset.
Carried over from the Haste, the Onset benefits from the platform's supple initial small-bump performance. When, out of curiosity, I ran closer to 25-percent sag, the shock would still readily yield at first impact. If I wanted to set the Onset up as a light-duty enduro race rig, that configuration would suit the hard hits that come with beating the clock. But that wasn't where this bike felt most at home. What stood out was its talent for keeping its composure on trails decidedly lacking in composure. The Onset came to me at the tail end of a wet and windy southern California winter, and the trails are littered with deadfall and debris. That's on top of the detritus that already covers the seldom-traveled routes that I find myself drawn to. After spending most of my season on longer-travel 29ers, the 140-millimeter Onset offered an appropriate balance of capability and playfulness. I say "appropriate" because 140 millimeters is more mid-travel than long-travel. The Onset isn't trying to make up for that moderation with immoderate geometry. The 66-degree head angle and 1,216-millimeter wheelbase (size large) pair well with what this bike is best for. The only thing I found lacking in the Onset's numbers is an XL size option. Even though there's still a 407-millimeter small size in the lineup, the reach maxes out at 460 on a large. That seems like an odd choice for a 29er like this, especially considering many larges in this category are pushing 470 and beyond. But Eminent wanted to keep the cockpit classic, and that no doubt helped it achieve the maneuverability that I noticed.
Aside from the reach, the rest of the numbers are within a fraction of the aforementioned Ripmo, and a few fractions of the Yeti SB130. But the Onset feels more balanced. That's sort of a nice way of saying "conservative," but it's more nuanced than that. Most of my rides on the Onset were over five hours, and though I'll gladly go all day on pretty much any bike, the Onset felt like it's supposed to go all day. That well-chosen head angle and wheelbase suit the bike's overall versatility, and they hint at Eminent aiming to widen, not deepen, its still-fresh footprint on the industry after introducing the Haste.
As that footprint widened, Eminent went away from its customization-focused sales process. They found that buyers weren't getting as granular as they’d expected on the site's bike builder, so now both the Onset and the Haste are available in three build kits. Some unique spec choices pepper that spreadsheet. Each bike comes with 31.8-clamp ProTaper bars, an Acros Block Lock headset and Shimano drivetrains across the board. That Shimano-only choice was inspired by the widely held belief that Shimano has crisper shifts and better reliability than the competition. While I don't disagree, I found myself missing SRAM Eagle's range when I was on the Onset more than I missed Shimano's shifting when I was back on my personal bike. But that's a matter of opinion, and there's really no wrong answer.
If you ask most mountain bikers, what isn't a matter of opinion is that internally routed dropper posts are better than externally routed ones, and the Onset shares the Haste's compatibility exclusively with the latter. Each bike specs a KS LEV external dropper. To be fair, the action feels exactly like an internally routed KS (likewise on the Fox Transfer external), and the three inches of exposed cable is really not unsightly. But the only reasonable choices you have other than the $800 RockShox Reverb AXS are the stock LEV and the Fox Transfer External. Internally routed droppers connect the cable directly to the business end of the post, while externally routed designs need an extra mechanism to get to the action.
There's a reason I saved that bit for last. It's often the first thing that gets commented on when I take the Onset to the trail. But it’s not the first thing to get noticed. Eminent’s bikes turn heads. In itself, that’s not a hard thing to pull off. The real feat is that the Onset is still a good bike beneath all that. Eminent is doing something that, in the post-carbon era, is sort of a dying art. The brand makes bikes that trigger an emotional reaction the moment you look at them. They’re not relying on a high-profile race team, a name-brand linkage or a long-storied head badge to catch your eye. They’re a new brand that actually wants to do something new, which we don’t see often enough.