In my endurance racing this year, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the importance of having the right tool for the job. Most of those races have taken me over a wide variety of terrain, and often, my current bike isn’t well suited to the task at hand. Being an older, full-suspension, 26″ bike, it’s heavy and a little bouncy. (Not unlike us as we get older, eh?)
But there are places where that bike shines. Bombing downhills, for instance. When I hit a section like the descent from Hesitation Point at Brown County State Park, the bike seems to come alive, carving through the terrain with a surefooted ease that belies its difficulty in making it up the other side of the hill. For those few moments, when the bike is in its element, I experience that sense of chaotic bliss that every mountain biker seeks.
So when Airborne Bicycles asked me to take their new Goblin Evo out for a spin, I wondered what I might find as its natural element. Airborne bills their new hardtail 29er as a “trail” bike, rather than its Cross Country predecessor, the Goblin. I’ve ridden the old Goblin on a few occasions, and found it a competent bike, but the only thing that really knocked my socks off was the price point. And to be fair, the price point ($1199? Are you serious?!) is pretty amazing.
The boys at Airborne seemed all excited about this Goblin Evo, though. I wasn’t sure why. Visually, they’re not much different. The fork is raked out a little (69 degrees to the Goblin’s 71) and has more travel (120mm), the chain stays are a little shorter (by 15 mm), it’s fitted with chunkier, 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires, and it’s got a spiffy new paint job. How much better could it be, and what was getting Airborne’s crew all hot and bothered?
My first ride on the Evo seemed to confirm my initial skepticism. I raced it at our local IMBA chapter’s Wednesday night series, and by the end of my nine miles, felt like I had gotten the crap kicked out of me. I expected a transition in harshness from a full-squish to a hardtail, but I was getting bounced all over! After I got home from the race, I checked the pressure in the fork, and found out it was a little high. By like 40 pounds. Duh, that’ll do it! I dropped the tire pressures to 30 psi front and rear while I was at it, and tweaked the seat and lever positions to my liking. Things I should’ve done in the first place!
The next chance I had to ride the Goblin Evo, a few of us headed out to Versailles State Park in Indiana, to sample some of the best singletrack the Midwest has to offer. Immediately upon entering the woods and motoring up a winding, undulating climb, I started grinning. Hello, hardtail efficiency! Then the trail turned slightly downhill and I began to really get into a flow, learning how the bike likes to be handled and where I needed to change my style. My grin became a smile as I pushed deeper into corners, throwing the front end around with abandon, and rocketing out with the sort of acceleration that’s supposed to be impossible on an aluminum 29er. This thing likes to play!
Steering the Goblin Evo is a little different than on a thoroughbred XC machine, but that’s not to say it’s heavy. The slackened front geometry means that you throw the bike into the corners with your shoulders, using plenty of body english to get it to turn in. Then those Ardents dig in and you can rail as hard as you like. It’s not as quick or twitchy as a cross country bike, but the reward is supreme confidence mid-corner, whatever the conditions. Make no mistake: this bike is no slower than its XC brethren, “trail” designation notwithstanding.
The shorter chainstays transform the bike into something truly playful. The front end lifts easily, making the bike seem to leap over rocks, logs and technical terrain.
Let me rephrase that: this bike wants to jump everything.
It’s a bike that begs to be raged on. It requires very little finesse, preferring instead to be manhandled, stomped on, and tossed around. The payback for all that abuse is that it takes everything you throw at it, and then begs you to do it faster. On descents and over technical terrain, the Goblin Evo earns the trail epithet handily, punching through creek crossings and over obstacles with enough ease to make you wonder why they put rear suspension on bikes in the first place.
Component performance was, for the most part, just as inspiring as the bike’s handling. The X7 shifters and X9 rear derailleur performed flawlessly, handling shifts under power with the notchy easy you’d expect from SRAM. I had a little trouble with the chain coming off the big ring up front, likely due to an out-of-adjustment front D, but frankly we were having too much fun to stop and do anything about it.
The Goblin Evo isn’t the lightest thing in the world, owing in no small part to the Sun Ringle Charger hoops fitted with harmongous tires. The wheels are like boat achors; heavy, but indestructable. I’d probably keep the big rubber, but go with lighter rims and a tubeless variety of the Ardent, if I got one to race.
A big surprise came from the Hayes Prime Comp brakes, which performed flawlessly all day. I found them to have more than adequate power and superb feel, performing at least as well as similar offerings from SRAM/Avid. And the RockShox Revelation fork lived up to its name (once set with the proper pressure), tracking smoothly over bumps and soaking up hits without getting out of shape in the least.
As I look toward next year’s races, I think most often of what bike might be the right tool for the widely-varying job of ultra endurance mountain bike racing. That answer will be a little different for everybody. I’m not 100% sure that I could give up the comfort and forgiving nature of a full-suspension bike for the distances I like to cover, but the Goblin Evo makes a strong argument. It does so many things so well, with so few weak points, that it might just be the answer. And at a mere $1599, I could buy it and still have plenty left over to patch up those weak points, and register for races!