All that’s good about Evil: A history of MTB comebacks
Evil Bikes: Bad boy comeback kings
With most mountain bike manufacturers, there’s one of three ‘stories’ behind them. They are either an old road bike/established company that started building mountain bikes when they came along, or they are one of the ‘originals’ linked to a mystical bloke who started knocking together off road frames in the 70s or 80s in California/Yorkshire/The Alps, or they are a marketing company who spotted a niche, had a chat with a factory in Taiwan and then started selling online. Then there is Evil bikes. A unique story attached to a unique mountain bike brand. Get ready for the craziest tale in mountain bike branding.
It all began with a horse. An iron horse. Iron Horse bikes had long been known as stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap copies of other brands’ bikes which no one with any self-respect or understanding of mountain biking would actually buy. Then Dave Weagle came along and ruined it. He designed a DH suspension platform that, through the 2006-8 seasons, blew away everyone bar Steve Pete. Sam Hill piloted his Iron Horse Sunday downhill bike to multiple world cup victories, including a test event in 2008 when he gapped the filed by an unprecedented 5.2 seconds. The DW designed linkage looked like nothing else in downhill and the team around the bike, including one Kevin Walsh, knew their way around the industry like almost no one else. These were good times and the mountain bike world took note.
Then Iron Horse went bust. Almost overnight there was no more finance. Plenty of people wanted a Sunday, but the company could not provide. Weagle, Walsh and others had to walk away. Knowing that things were going awry, however, actually provided a motivation to discuss new plans, rather than provoking despondency. Walsh, Weagle and a third industry stalwart, Todd Seplavy had been chatting about some ideas for something even better than the Iron Horse. Trouble is, they’d been chatting in ear shot of a few media types and excitable industry insiders. Soon, the idea of something a bit ‘evil’ became ‘Evil bikes’ and, before they knew it, the three were in Taiwan looking at manufacturing facilities. With their hands slightly forced by industry gossip, the team put together some prototypes and the Evil Revolt downhill race bike was born.
Reviews were RAVE. Their new ride team of Stevie Smith (RIP) and Thomas Vanderham (they’d been looking at Sam Smith, but Specialized snapped him and his Monster team up for a figure that the Evil guys could only dream of) were rising stars and the Evil Revolt was the name on everyone’s lips. With ‘sells snow to the Eskimos’ salesmen Gabe Fox (the launchpad behind Cove’s success) on board to flog the frame to shops and orders flooding in, the world looked like their oyster. Which is when things went pear shaped again. The manufacturer, who had provided such high quality prototypes and demos, suddenly started shipping donkeys. Cracked frames, misaligned dropouts, see through welds and the like all plagued the Revolt. From being the potential darling of the scene, Evil were suddenly more known for snapping frame than snapping whips at Crankworx.
In fact, Evil bikes was pretty much dead in the water. Todd Seplavy could no longer hack the East coast – West coast commute to get to Evil’s Seatle HQ. Fox had been burned from constantly explaining to shops why they couldn’t quite get the warranty frame they wanted yet (the factory had not only been sending duds, they’d been sending them really slowly) and Weagle was very quietly keeping his distance (sensible man) while having, ahem, ‘discussions’ with Trek. This left Walsh, pretty much alone, running his own design company and wondering what to do with the new design that DW has slipped him. There was nothing for it but to launch a new bike and try to re-establish the hype. This machine, the Undead, was a different beast to the Revolt. Made from carbon fibre and looking, for all the world like a H.R. Giger painting, the Undead was ready to hit the trails under the crazy control of Rampage demon Cam Zink.
Sadly, things didn’t quite work out AGAIN. More broken bikes, not quite getting it out on the freeride circuit, further manufacturer woes, the lot. It looked like maybe the brand was mostly being evil to its owner. Maybe the Undead had actually signalled that Evil bikes was, actually, dead.
Things went pretty quiet for a while, but Walsh wasn’t beaten, he was just engaged in something of an internal battle – with himself. He’d asked Dave Weagle for one more design. Something more trail bike oriented, something to meet the demands of the new converts to 650b. So Weagle had given him a 29er – the Following. Looking back to 2014, this seemed completely bonkers. Evil bikes had effectively failed twice and the proposal was to return from the dead for a third time with a wheel size that was busy being killed off by the Goldilocks brigade. But a lot of the process of design to prototype is one of trust. You don’t know for certain that it’ll work until you build it so you have to trust the designer and Walsh definitely trusted Weagle – let’s face it he’d produced three incredible designs in a row (not to mention his work for a bunch of other brands) so why not trust him. But it was a 29er! And so on, in circles. Eventually Walsh made a decision and, despite hating 29ers himself, took the plunge and produced the Evil Following….and everybody, literally every jaded journalist who swung a leg over the early models, absolutely loved it.
Not only that, but the manufacturing held up. Customers loved the bike. Orders started up again. British importer, Silverfish, picked up distribution in the UK – where the Washington State developed designs lapped up the steep tech trails of the Surrey Hills, Yorkshire and the Welsh Valleys. No one else had even thought to develop a hooligan 29er and the public took the idea like ducks to water (if the ducks were adrenalin freaks and the water was grade five rapids). Weagle’s Delta System suspension design tucked under beautifully when climbing and then felt like riding on air through the descents. In terms of performance, the Following really had found the sweet spot of up/down balance while delivering the fun the riders demand of their mountain bikes.
Meanwhile, Evil has also released the 26” Uprising, just a 26” died a tragically rapid death. A smart rethink allowed Walsh to piggy back straight onto a new machine, the, er, Uprising. Rightly named, as Evil was well and truly back on track. Essentially a mini-DH machine, with a little more singletrack kick, the Uprising had all the enduro set frothing at the mouth in no time at all. Cleverly including a flip chip (like the Following) to allow geometry adjustment for seriously radical trails, the Uprising remains the default bike for downhillers on their day off.
By the start of 2016, Evil were not only very much back in contention, but Walsh had also been converted to the idea that 29ers might actually be making a comeback. Sure, the Uprising had sold well, but the Following was a runaway success. The only limitation seemed to be travel. 120mm may keep the endure lite brigade happy, but other brands were already adding more oomph to the back of their hardcore 29ers and Walsh saw this and saw that it was good. Tracey Mosely had repeatedly shown, for Trek, that 29ers could cut it at endure level, Evil needed to join that party. The Wreckoning was born and, like the demon child of a JCB and Ferrari, was soon ripping up trails from Whistler to Wenslydale. The 161mm travel beast was perfectly suited to faster flowing enduro and trail centre tracks, such as those in Scotland and on the Pacific West Coast. It was immense on big drops, fasts stutter bumps and mega berms. Evil was when and truly the baddest brand around. What more could be done?
As it turns out, just a little more. The 29er resurgence was not just about people falling back in love with big wheels, 27.5+ had made it possible to own two bikes for the price of one. A fat wheeled monster for gnarly terrain and a wagon wheeler for the faster’n’further stuff. Walsh and Weagle had one more trick to pull before 2016 was done. Evil launched its brand new plus bike, the Calling, just as Christmas came to call and it probably went on quite a few lists to Santa.
Looking at it, the now familiar lines of the Delta system are all there. It has supremely progressive geometry, massive tyres and an aggressive stance that says “yeah, I’ve only got 130mm travel, but are you rider enough to test me?” or something like that. With plus bikes taking the MTB world by storm and, just possibly, set to be the ‘one true bike’ of the future, Evil heard the Calling and responded just in time. With their stable full for the first time, bikes that consistently hold together, a manufacturer they can trust and the team gradually growing, maybe it’s time for Evil to look back to the DH trails and offer us a taste of what the Revolt promised way back in 2009…