Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
So, I was sitting down at my desk, staring at my screen the night before the launch of the new Eminent Drive, and thinking about what sort of hook I should use to lead you into my first-ride report. Then, suddenly, I realized that its high-pivot linkage was not even on my mind. From your perspective, staring at your screen, it’s probably the first thing you notice. And I guess it should be. Although the new Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay technically counts as the first production high-pivot e-bike, Rocky kinda cheated. Their motor system has always used an idler pulley (or three), so they really just had to rotate the whole thing and then position the main pivot higher … a little higher. That idler could only go so far. The Eminent Drive, on the other hand, is the real deal, and a real first. Running on a Shimano EP8 motor, Eminent was free to approach the Drive’s high-pivot linkage exactly how they wanted. But again, that’s not what stood out for me after my first week (and first 15,000 vertical feet) on the Drive. What stood out was just how much the Eminent Drive liked to goof off on the trail.
I tested the Drive LT, which is built around 140mm of rear travel and 150 up front. There’s also the Drive MT, which bumps up to 160/170, but the LT is really something special. There are other short-ish-travel e-bikes like the Orbea Rise and the Specialized Levo SL, but neither are specced with the intent that the Drive is. I’m sure there are others in this category on the European market, but here in North America, it’s a bit of a blindspot. And maybe that’s because it’s a hard thing to do right. There’s a good reason that e-bike motors like to hang out on enduro-category bikes these days, and on plus-sized tires back in the before times. When you’ve got a 55-pound bike, there’s only so much whipping-around you’re going to want to do with it. Most brands just play to their strengths and let ’em eat. But the Drive LT strikes a more careful balance, and it’s because of the combined effort of every part of the bike, including the high pivot, which I promise we’ll get to.
First, it’s the weight. My test bike tipped my Park Tools scale at 48.9 lbs (without pedals, and with the specced XT cassette instead of the Deore one pictured). And that’s with real EXO+ front & rear tires and alloy rims. No funny stuff. Again, it’s no sub-40-pound Levo SL or Rise, but you couldn’t ride those like you ride the Drive. Or at least, I wouldn’t. The Drive has also got a far more powerful battery. Eminent was able to pack a custom 504 watt-hour battery in this frame. A tad smaller than the common 540 w/h battery you often see on Shimano e-bikes, but significantly more than the 360-ish that seems to be the go-to in the lightweight e-bike space. I found that, if almost exclusively in Trail mode, I was able to get well over 3,000 feet of moderately technical singletrack climbing without fully depleting that last bar. If I was careful to keep it in Eco mode as much as possible, I went over 5,000 feet, though that day included a fair bit of smooth fire road climbing. Basically, this is not trying to be an all-day-epic bike like those 700- and 900-w/h platforms, but it is definitely not limited to lunch loops.
That sleek approach to the battery also makes this bike look stunning. Eminent’s frame styles can be a little polarizing. They’re pretty out there. But whenever you make a high-pivot e-bike, it’s gonna look pretty “out there.” That’s why, in the case of the the Drive, everything actually fits together beautifully. Designing an e-bike with the sharp, angular lines that Eminent is known for just works. It makes the broad, muscular outline of an e-mtb’s downtube and bottom bracket look deliberate. Maybe even proud. Nothing about this bike looks or feels out of place. The square frame members camouflage the oversized downtube better than any optical trick you could ever play with paint. Oh, and the paint is pretty cool too. There’s a navy and turquoise option, but the olive and tan I tested looks simple and dignified.
Another way Eminent pulled off the balance was in the suspension feel. You’ll notice (behind the idler pulley) an extra pair of links that set the lower shock eyelet afloat. This approach nets Eminent a nearly dead-straight 30-percent progressivity throughout the rear travel. Even on a middle-weight e-bike, it’s easy to fall through the travel. But the Drive stands at attention. In fact, I sensed a late-stroke ramp-up that made it especially hard to bottom out the shock. I trust that Eminent’s published leverage curve is accurate, but somehow, the combination of my shock settings and the bike’s moderate travel seemed to limit my access to the very last bit of travel.
And I’m not complaining about how hard that last bit of squish was to reach. Because of the way this bike wants to be ridden, I found myself hitting things pretty hard, and driving my 190 pounds through the bike’s 48 pounds, and into the unsuspecting earth. But it almost never bottomed out harshly. And more importantly, it seemed to ask for more.
Look, it’s a lot of work to muscle around an e-bike, even one with as much going for it as the Drive. Some new and unexplored parts of my back and shoulders have been sore lately, especially after that 5,000-foot day. But on most any other bike, I wouldn’t have even bothered riding the way I did the Drive. That supportive suspension and manageable weight made a playful riding style possible, and the geometry strikes a nice balance between nimble and capable. I normally run bikes in their low setting, but even with the 160mm cranks, I was catching pedals climbing through chop. In the high setting, the 65-degree head angle and rangy 515mm reach on my XL test bike made for a balanced, centered front end, while the relatively short 440mm chainstay helped keep the bike from fighting me when I wanted the front wheel off the ground. Popping off rocks into the transition on the edge of a rut, slashing up the wall on a traverse, dipping into a manual whenever the trail drops sharply enough. These are the maneuvers that keep me from riding e-bikes more often. And although they took some work on the Drive LT, they worked beautifully.
But when they didn’t, and when I got in over my head by forgetting this wasn’t one of those enduro-level e-bikes, well, that worked too. Now, here is where I’m gonna talk about the high-pivot: I barely ever thought about it. While longer-travel high-pivot bikes exaggerate the lengthening rear center, the Drive LT didn’t make a big deal out of it. I have to mention, though, that there’s nothing wrong with either approach. The Forbidden Dreadnought (and that XL’s interminable 465mm chainstays) kept me glued to the ground and locked in a racer’s stance. It made it fast, forgiving, and safe. The high pivot on the Drive is less preoccupied with those things, though I remember several moments when it happened to keep me safe. Braking is crucial and difficult on e-bikes. Because of their weight, they kinda like to just keep going. And the less time you spend on e-bikes, the more frequently you forget that. But the Drive keeps remarkable traction when you’re on the brakes. Part of that may be the high-pivot, the other part may be Eminent’s AFS linkage. Whatever it was, on the brakes or off, the small-bump sensitivity was far beyond what I’m used to on a 140mm bike. Maybe the longer-travel Drive MT has that Dreadnought-like stability. I’ll have to try it out someday, but the LT is just my speed.
And that goes for the uphills as well. That travel and progressivity kept it from being a cloud over everything, but like the descents, the small-bump sensitivity was excellent. It refused to get hung up, high torque or soft pedaling. I still ended up slamming my saddle forward for comfort and ride height, but that’s my quirk, not the bike’s. Eminent didn’t shoehorn its claimed steep effective seat angle around a slack actual one. It’s predictable, even at the lofty heights I run my saddle. I’ve noticed the new Float X shocks rarely have as firm a lockout as I’d like, because again, I have a fair bit of smooth fire road in my backyard, but that’s a small efficiency loss on an e-bike.
And speaking of small efficiency losses, the fact that Eminent chose to go high-pivot on their first e-bike is brilliant. Everything that one might complain about when pedaling a high-pivot bike over long distances will disappear on any well-designed e-bike. The added noise of an idler pulley is drowned out by the noise of the motor. Any friction you sense in your pedal will dissolve in the assist from the motor. And any overall power loss from adding an idler pulley is negligible, as we proved with power meter tests on the Dreadnought. But instead of any remaining perceived inefficiency getting in your head anyway, you just won’t think about it. I didn’t, and it was great.
You can find spec and pricing details at eminentcycles.com/ebikes. Availability, of course, is a little ways off, but bikes should be available this spring.
Photos: Chris Wellhausen