Dream Builds: Evil Following – A Little Big Bike
A short-travel bike with a long-travel personality
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We’re back in Ryan Palmer’s shop for another installment of Dream Builds; this time with Video Editor Satchel Cronk’s overachieving Evil Following. Beta and Outside+ members get this full and early access to both the complete build video (see just below) and the breakdown of all the parts that make this bike tick.
In a lot of ways, this bike is a contradiction. It’s a 120mm bike–the same amount of travel Nino Schurter used to win a cross-country World Cup last month–with downhill tires and a coil shock. If you just look at that travel number, it’s not a bike that I would choose to ride, being at least 40mm less squishy than any bike I’ve owned in nearly a decade. It’s a machine that was dreamed up in one place under a very specific set of circumstances, but pressed into service in a totally different situation.
So what the heck? Let me explain. The story of this bike traces back to lockdown, in 2020. A lot of things changed then, including–on an exceedingly superficial and insignificant level relative to world affairs–my day-to-day experience of mountain biking. After years of banging out laps on the rough, fast, pseudo-DH tracks of San Diego, I spent most of that year in Marin County, getting back to my riding roots. I had time to find new trails in my old backyard, and time to pedal for hours, linking trails old and new into routes that I simply would never have done if the world hadn’t slowed down.
Marin mountain biking doesn’t get the best rap these days, but there are good trails–real, challenging, exciting, adventurous stretches of singletrack; trails that warrant a bike setup that’s capable and comfortable going downhill. But much of the beauty of Marin is in its wide-open spaces, and those trails often aren’t exactly close together. To get the Marin goods often very much means earning them, with hours in the saddle and miles of road burning and fire road climbing par for the course.
I spent many of those hours and miles that year thinking about what would ultimately become this bike. This Evil Following build was my best guess at a build that could pedal all day, and give up as little as possible on the descents. The holy grail: short-travel mountain bike edition.
This being a concepted-in-2020 bike, the dream didn’t actually materialize until the end of 2021. Here’s how it all came together.
If there was ever a short-travel bike with a long-travel personality, it’s the Evil Following. I chose it after riding it downhill for two minutes and twenty-five seconds–literally. During a bike test with the Beta crew, I rode the Following down a trail I’d ridden multiple times a week for months, on a certain 140mm bike that I loved. The 120mm-travel Following felt poppier and at least as capable, and I think before that 0.57 miles of trail was up, I’d decided it’d be my next bike.
The boingy bits are where I may have most taken Evil’s vision of a light, super-poppy trail skateboard and given it the overbuilt treatment. There are two reasons for this. One, I hate feeling like I’m thrashing my bike, and I don’t have as much fun riding when I feel like I’m on the edge of breaking something beneath me all the time. Second, when I pedal a long way to get to a trail, I want to be able to hang it out and enjoy myself as much as possible on the way down. So, the more bike the merrier, even on such a pedal-friendly chassis.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, my intention overall here was to build a short-travel bike with a big-bike mentality, and the suspension makes that quite clear. PUSH’s ElevenSix Micro coil shock is built specifically for the Following, and it was really the only logical option for the kind of bike I was imagining. I’ve become such a fan of the simply solid feel of coil suspension over the last few years, and this shock is exactly that in a smaller package. It’s obviously not as bottomless on big hits as a longer-travel package, but I believe it’s a big part of this bike staying remarkably composed in more medium-intensity chatter. And by medium I mean pretty much anything less than yanking into chunder at speed…which I still do sometimes.
Up front, Evil specs the Following with a Pike, but I opted for a Fox 36, lowered to 130mm. I’ve generally gotten along better with Fox forks over the years, but I also was after the added stiffness of the 36. Yes, it’s only one millimeter thicker than the Pike’s stanchions, but the 36 just feels more solid to me. Solid springers at both ends makes for a balanced package. In the visual department, we swapped to a set of matte black lowers to match the frame.
I stuck with my tried-and-true here of SRAM AXS. Aside from a 52-tooth cassette instead of a 50 and a few bits of red, this is exactly the same drivetrain setup as I’ve been running hard on my Megatower for some three years, without a single issue. Shifting is always easy, quick and precise with the robot derailleur, and just feels so nice. This shifter has the newer paddle interface–I actually prefer the original AXS single rocker, but the difference is marginal and may just be down to a need to retrain my brain.
The wheel situation here is somewhat of a balance between trail and overbuilt trail, like much of the rest of the bike. I’ve had good relationships with Reserve rims in the past, and their newer SL options seemed like a good fit for the build here; kinda up for whatever, but also giving at least a semblance of thought to weight, in the important department of rotational grams. I have a pretty decent track records of not being too hard on wheels, so this felt like a fair bet for a place to not add to the scale’s woes. So far, so good.
Palmer laced the rims up on a set of Industry Nine Hydra hubs–another part where past reliability gave me confidence in the choice, but also not all that much to say about it. Plus they come in a glorious red, and I’d have a hard time tabbing another part that brings an aesthetic scheme together quite like these. For those who might be scared off by the volume of these out of the box, some synthetic motor oil brings the noise down into normal territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with keeping er’ cranked to 11.
To stay on-theme, the tire choice also blurs lines, in an attempt to keep all lines open on-trail. Schwalbe’s Super Trail casing is the moderate option in their range, but the Magic Mary tread is a dead giveaway of the outsized intentions of this bike. Especially in the soft compound these aren’t particularly race-y rolling, but clearly I don’t care. I know that these will bite into any traction that’s to be had, and that’s priority number one.
Speaking of known bite quantities, a set of Code RSC brakes slow the roll of those wheels. Admittedly, other options being in short or nonexistent supply had some impact on the decision to not try something new (the TRP’s on Anthony Smith’s Commencal Dream Build certainly felt intriguing, and I’m also curious about Magura’s MT7, which perhaps have the most stopping power I’ve ever felt–and I rode them on a full-power e-bike.) But, Codes do just feel like a well-known safety blanket to me. What can I say–habit breeds comfort, and comfort breeds confidence. SRAM’s new HSC rotors were an upgrade on this bike compared to previous sets of Codes I’ve ridden, and they do seem to offer a slight upgrade in power, which I quite appreciate.
Now here’s a departure–I built a bike without my trusty weird look generator, AKA the Pacenti P-Dent handlebar and stem combo. I’ve used the Pacenti and its ultra-short reach almost exclusively for something like five years now, and I suppose I was just ready to try something new. Industry Nine’s A35 stem is a clean-looking and solid chunk of metal that comes in a 32mm length, which was about as close as I could find to the Pacenti’s 20mm reach. I think a dream build like this is often pulled together by these smaller details that may not catch the eye like a frame or fork, and this stem is just the right kind of understated quality for this bike.
The stem is clamping down on a OneUp carbon handlebar which, for a handlebar, I’d heard a surprising number of good things about. (Who actually talks about handlebars that much?) OneUp claims some 20 percent more compliance with these compared to many other bars on the market, which felt like a good choice for a bike that’d be shorter on squish than I was used to. I can’t say that I can scientifically judge handlebar stiffness while riding a bike, but they’ve worked nicely so far. Plus, they’re another bit with a cool and unique look.
Let’s start with grips here before we move too far from the cockpit–Deity’s Supracush’s were a handy choice. I don’t have big hands but am a big-time convert to fatter grips and the comfort they provide in rougher stuff, even if I do feel like that sacrifices a small amount of leverage for those moments when I really want to throw the bike around. The Supracush’s are a perfect compromise–thicker than the grips I used to run but a touch thinner than the Meaty Paws on my bigger bike (the claimed diameters are only a millimeter different, but it feels like more of a difference than that to me.) They’re also just a comfort to squeeze; super cushy is an accurate description. That squishy rubber does seem to wear slightly quicker than some other grips I’ve used, but that seems like a worthwhile compromise.
Fabric’s Scoop Pro saddle is the other cushioned body bit on the bike. I’m a heckuva lot less picky about my seat than I am things like my cockpit and brakes, so in a lot of ways this was an aesthetic choice. You have to admit it really ties the room together.
That seat is bolted to a RockShox Reverb AXS post, which has become one of my all-time favorite bits of componentry. It’s just so quick and responsive, and it has allowed my riding style to develop to the point where I now constantly micro adjust my saddle height when pedaling through rougher or more technical terrain. Basically, it’s the answer to a comfort problem you won’t know you have until you try one of these.
I’ll wrap this breakdown up with another absolute favorite: the Shimano Saint M820 pedal. I’ve written about these before and surely will again so I’ll keep this short, but these pedals are bombproof and provide comfort, control and security in spades. They’re not for weight-weenies (which I’d argue is a terrible perspective to come from in regards to the one component on your bike that holds most of your weight) but I’d absolutely recommend them to anyone else.
So, how does it all add up? Is it an all-in-one wunderbike, or is it just too heavy to be a short-travel bike and too short-travel to be heavy-duty?
Overall, it is indeed the genre-bending, category-confused combination that I was going for. It punches far above the weight of other modern 120mm bikes that I’ve ridden when it comes to going downhill, and goes uphill significantly better than my 160mm bike. Which, in a nutshell, is exactly what I was going for with this build.
Admittedly, though, I’ve puzzled over this bike more than I perhaps ever have with a bike of mine before. It felt wild (in a good way) the first few weeks of riding it, in San Diego and Sedona. I was zipping up hills with a pep my legs hadn’t felt since quarantine shape, but then generally holding it wide open on the way back down. I caught myself charging sections like I was on my big bike, with consequences feeling a lot farther away than when going hero mode on other shorter-travel bikes. Then I moved to Santa Cruz, where the daily laps got a lot steeper, and at first, scarier than anywhere else I’d ridden on the Following. And so I puzzled.
I wasn’t sure if this sort of trail was just the Achilles heel of this kind of bike, if I’d been kidding myself about the capabilities of my build and now I was coming back down to earth, or if I just needed some tweaks to the setup. For several weeks, I felt like I adjusted something nearly every time I rode; trying to dial-twist and bolt-turn back to that originally-outsized comfort I’d had on the bike. I adjusted lever angle and bar roll (nearly flat levers, bars rolled back, but not too far), played with the geometry flip chip (the extra half-degree of slackness in the X-Low mode was a big step, placebo or otherwise), slammed the seat forward to compensate, and more than anything else, messed with the suspension setup (bringing the weight bias rearward to pseudo-slacken things even more, and tuning more for plushness than pop.)
Thankfully, all of that head-scratching made a big difference, and I’m really feeling the bike now. I think in a lot of ways, the outsized capability of my Following contributed to the confusion–the initial confidence I’d felt had tricked my brain into forgetting just how little travel this bike has, and I was almost startled when it wasn’t quite a big bike in big bike terrain. I’ve gotten the setup to a really strong place though now, and I’ve also slightly adjusted how I think when riding it. I can usually go just about as fast as I want, but I also approach trails that much more creatively now. Which, when all balanced out, is a downright fun combination.
Finally, just this past week, I came full circle and spent some days in the terrain that this build was dreamt up in. And like a good plan finally coming together, it just felt right. It went up, it went down, I hit some rocks really hard, and floated some extra-credit root gaps. I was thinking less and smiling more. Can you really ask for anything else?
Studio photos by Anthony Smith.
Video & build photos by Satchel Cronk.
Full Parts List
Frame: Evil Following, size large
Shock: Push ElevenSix Micro
Fork: Fox 36 Factory, lowered to 130mm
Headset: Chris King NoThreadset
Seat: Fabric Scoop Pro Shallow
Seatpost: Rockshox AXS Reverb
Crank: SRAM XO1, 175mm
Chain: SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB
Derailleur: SRAM XO1 AXS
Shifter: SRAM XO1 AXS
Casette: SRAM GX, 10-52
Brakes: SRAM Code RSC
Rotors: Clean Sweet 200mm
Stem: Industry Nine A35, 32mm length
Handlebar: OneUp Carbon Bar, 20mm rise
Grips: Deity Supracush
Rims: Reserve SL 30
Hubs: Industry Nine Hydra
Front Tire: Schwalbe Magic Mary 29×2.4, Super Trail, Addix Soft
Rear Tire: Schwalbe Magic Mary 29×2.4, Super Trail, Addix Gravity
Pedals: Shimano Saint M820