Dave Weagle may be better known for his e.thirteen chain devices and dw-link suspension system, but before all that he created this cult classic hardtail. The latest generation Sovereign is still trail royalty – if you can afford the relative king’s ransom that’s required to buy one.
Ride & handling: Pitch perfect design creates an insatiably insane ride character
The Evil's medium length ‘effective’ top tube measurement on our ‘regular’ frame is lengthened by the slack seat angle. That means when you’re out of the saddle your body weight is actually well forward on the bike, right over the front wheel.
With your chin right over the Maxle axled fork and the big wide Race Face Atlas bars squaring your shoulders against the trail, you can’t help but charge down the singletrack as aggressively as possible.
We can still clearly remember the last Sov we tested four years ago, for its permanent sensation of insolent disrespect and impending disaster that only tube surfers normally experience.
This ‘win it or bin it’ attitude is still the overwhelming emotion of the Evil, but however hard and headless we pushed it we never actually came unstuck. The rear wheel was rarely going the same direction as the front, and both wheels being on the ground for any length of time was also a rarity.
In fact, every test ride on the Evil was just a string of goofy slides, giggling skin-of-your-teeth escapes and consistently blasting through or off stuff that we thought about twice on other bikes.
It’s got the muscle to turn savagely enough to rip tyres to shreds but the slack seat means it’ll manual instantly. Up front, the in-your-face handling means it’ll flick the rear and let the front fall into long, dirty drifting slides that’ll make you feel like an Atherton, and punch up short climbs or out of corners like Peaty.
The steel stays skim the sharper edges off big blocks enough to retain control and tyre pressure, and this slight compliance – rather than the clatter of aluminium – makes a tangible difference to tyre adhesion and overall confidence, which goes a long way to offset the ferrous weight penalty on more technical trails.
Frame: Indulgent detailing and DIY decal individuality makes owning one a privilege
The Sovereign has changed a fair bit since we last tested it. The frame is now made from double-butted Tange Prestige steel rather than the original Reynolds 853/725 mix, which knocks £255 off the price, although it’s still expensive for a steel bike.
This ain’t no ordinary frame though. A smoothly flared (rather than conventionally ring-reinforced) head tube mitres onto a down tube of the same diameter and the radically sloping top tube.
An oversized bracing pipe supports the extended seat tube, which also penetrates through the top tube, which continues on to form the centrepiece of the seatstay wishbone.
The chainstays also use a wishbone arrangement, but while the offside is a conventional curved pipe, the initial section of the driveside is a machined plate.
Evil signature plates seal off the diagonal stay ends ahead of the cantilevered frame terminals. Here twin bolts in sliding slots with track bike style stop screws mean the ‘XX-Rated’ dropout plates can slide back and forwards 18mm to adjust the chainline on singlespeed systems or run 24in or 26in wheels.
Either way, there’s absolutely massive tyre clearance for up to 3in rubber. Not surprisingly, given the e.thirteen design link, there’s also an ISCG05 chainguide mount on the bottom bracket shell.
The finishing quality is fantastic, right through to the surreal skull/penny farthing head tube badge, and the three colour options come with eight different DIY decal kits. It only comes in regular and long versions though, and the seat tube is the same length on both.
Equipment: Pick your own, but our spec was ideal for singletrack thrashing
The Evil is another ‘frame only’ deal so build-up is in your hands, but this spec is as good a template as you’ll get. Race Face's Atlas AM cockpit kit and double-and-bash cranks are tough but not too heavy, and SDG’s innovative I-Beam saddle and seatpost system shaves grams.
The RockShox Revelation fork with Maxle screw-through axle is the toughest, tightest steering 140mm (5.5in) fork around. Hope SP-AM 4 and Mavic EX521 hubs are very accurate for their weight ,and Intense’s System Four dual compound tyres are fast, tough all-rounders.