Evil Bikes has been enjoying some well-deserved time in the spotlight as of late. The path to becoming one of mountain biking’s most noteworthy underdogs hasn’t exactly been easy, but with last year’s launch of the critically acclaimed Following, it became clear that Evil has finally arrived. The Following proved that Evil could produce a reliable, fast, short-travel 29er with a fun streak a mile wide, and naturally, that captured our attention. So in honor of Evil Bikes joining the Competitive Cyclist family, we wanted to see if the Insurgent, Evil’s long-travel 27.5 bike, could strike the same elusive balance.
The Insurgent’s feature list and geometry sheet read like many of the best offerings in the hotly contested aggressive trail bike segment. It’s short of chainstay, low of bottom bracket, and slack of head angle, and the Insurgent pushes those numbers into the more aggressive end of the category, even when the adjustable geometry is in the more conservative setting. With its fluid lines and burly construction, it immediately draws comparisons to Santa Cruz’s esteemed Nomad. However, there’s something that the Insurgent’s CV doesn’t quite capture, namely that while it’s clearly optimized for going fast, it’s far more lively―and dare I say playful―than the Nomad, which significantly broadens its appeal.
It wasn’t more than a few seconds into the first descent that I experienced a sort of déjà vu moment with the Insurgent―I felt immediately at home. The relaxed steering and a roomy front end conspire with the short chainstays to push you forward in the cockpit, allowing you to drive the front wheel into corners and pick lines with inch-perfect precision. Even with the handlebars appropriately weighted, the rear wheel is close enough underfoot to develop gobs of braking and cornering grip, which made it almost effortless to lock into off-camber corners and square off berms at speed. The DELTA Link suspension is supple and forgiving, ramping up consistently past the sag point and resisting hard bottom-outs. It makes for a sensation of nearly bottomless, yet immensely useable, travel. If its descending manners and suspension aren’t perfect, then they’re damn close.
The descending prowess may raise questions about its climbing chops, but I was pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t climb with the same urgency as a Yeti SB-5, but there’s hardly any suspension bob under power, even with the rear damper set to “descend” mode. The Insurgent’s demeanor calls for burly wheels and robust tires, which will naturally take some of the pep out of its step, although some sprightliness could be regained by upgrading to carbon wheels.
The cockpit is positioned slightly farther aft than some bikes, a result of the short back end and somewhat relaxed seat tube angle. That does mean that you’ll be out of the saddle earlier on exceptionally steep climbs, where it will take some additional attention to keep the front wheel from wandering. However, when you’re pointed up the majority of climbs, it’s perfectly content to motor, and it will keep you on a line with very little fuss once a suitably balanced position is achieved.
Personally, at 6 feet tall with a 33-inch inseam, I found the riding position on our size large test bike immensely comfortable. That said, the slacker seat angle becomes more pronounced as saddle height increases, and those with long legs can end up too far behind the bottom bracket for an effective climbing position. However, if your proportions are average, or you’re long in the arm or torso, the Insurgent’s fit should be spot-on.
The geometry chart makes the Insurgent’s intentions obvious, but it’s the 151mm of DELTA Link suspension that allows the bike to deliver on its promise. Despite a somewhat complex appearance, DELTA is a true single-pivot suspension platform. Countless words have been spent extolling the benefits of more complicated designs, but DELTA lays claim to a blend of blistering rolling speed, poised cornering, big-hit management, lively pop, and pedaling efficiency that positions the Insurgent firmly as the best suspended trail bike I’ve ridden to date.
The man behind the magic is Dave Weagle, who happens to be the D in DELTA, aka Dave’s Extra Legitimate Travel Apparatus. He’s widely regarded as mountain biking’s premier suspension guru, and his contributions in the form of the DW Link and Switch Pivot suspension platforms, as well as their impressive collection of race wins, are well known. Less widely known is that Weagle was one of the original partners in Evil Bikes, way back in Y2K. He put the project on the back burner through the mid 2000s while he focused on developing DW Link, which gave us the definitive downhill race bike of the era―the Iron Horse Sunday―and the pivotal Iron Horse Mark III trail bike, among others. The Iron Horse connection is important, because that’s where Weagle developed a working relationship with Kevin Walsh, who went on to launch Evil in its current form. So when Weagle set out to design a suspension platform for the brand which he helped birth, he employed the full breadth of his unsurpassed experience. The upshot is that DELTA is a single-pivot design that’s as advanced as any suspension platform used today.
The Insurgent isn’t a bike for everyone. As previously mentioned, those with average builds or those longer of torso or arm will be ideal candidates, while those with especially long inseams will find it difficult to achieve a desirable fit. It gets better the faster it’s ridden, and its immense capabilities mean that it will be overkill on mellower terrain. If you’re on the fence, the Following is going to be more versatile more fun in plenty of situations.
That said, the Insurgent will appeal to a much wider range of riders than its numbers might suggest. The suspension is supple and forgiving, but it still provides ample feedback from the trail, which makes the bike lively and responsive― much more so than the majority of bikes in this travel bracket. It’s easy to throw around, it carries speed incredibly well, and it’s equally at home riding flat-out or seeking out bonus hits on the side of the trail. If you want a machine that will allow you to push your limits in technical terrain, up to and including bike park or shuttle laps, and still welcome all-day rides all season long, the Insurgent needs to be on your list.