First Ride Review: Pole Machine – Challenging the Status Quo | ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine
No bike has been attracting more attention in recent weeks than the Pole Machine. Manufactured using a process that is entirely unique in the bike industry, it calls previously held notions of design into question before you’ve even swung a leg over. But as soon as you do, you will have a completely new world opened up to you.
In a time when the comments on almost every new bike are: “looks like a Session” the Pole Machine looks like it must have been delivered by a UFO. Its curved, flowing forms, the asymmetrical shock mount and the extremely low slung top tube (if you can even call it a tube) lend the bike a unique, extravagant look – at least when you’re looking at it from the drive side. Although Leo Kokkonen, the creator of this special bike, has a distinctive design fetish, he is familiar with the needs of riders and is fully committed to the motto: form follows function.
Looking at the bike from the opposite side, it reminded us of the Centre Pompidou in Paris designed by Renzo Piano. All cables are routed on the outside of the frame in a special recess, except for the stealth dropper seat post hose which enters the frame through the bottom of the seat tube.
One of the main features of the Pole Machine is the way in which it is manufactured. After Leo cancelled the plan of a carbon bike for ethical reasons (more on that in our interview), in his search for alternatives he came across a method long established in other industries. The frame of the Machine is machined, as the name suggests. CNC machines mill the two halves of the frame out of two large pieces of aluminium. The two halves are then joined together using a special bonding process and a few screws. This makes it possible to use 7075 T6 aluminium, as used in aircraft construction, instead of the classic 7005 aluminium, which is much stiffer and more durable but almost impossible to weld. The seat tube is a regular tube, which is inserted, glued and screwed into the two halves.
After cancelling the carbon bike for ethical reasons, I had to find an alternative – Leo Kokkonen
The Pole Machine delivers impressive numbers: 180/160 mm travel, 29″ wheels, a very long front triangle (510 mm reach in L), a slack 63.9° head angle and long 455 mm chainstays. But looking at individual numbers makes no sense – what matters is the package as a whole. And Leo knows what he is doing, as he has already proven with the Pole Evolink. For the Machine, the numbers have been adjusted to accommodate the increased travel. Most notable on the Machine is the low standover height of 360 mm across all sizes (measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to the lowest point on the top tube).
|Top tube||577 mm||607 mm||637 mm||662 mm|
|Head tube||115 mm||125 mm||135 mm||145 mm|
|Chainstays||455 mm||455 mm||455 mm||455 mm|
|BB Drop||20 mm||20 mm||20 mm||20 mm|
|Wheelbase||1275 mm||1305 mm||1335 mm||1360 mm|
|Reach||450 mm||480 mm||510 mm||535 mm|
|Stack||640 mm||650 mm||660 mm||670 mm|
The suspension of the Pole Machine
The Pole Machine has a full 180 mm of travel at the front and 160 mm at the rear. Pole’s signature Evolink linkage at the rear consists of two short rocker links. During compression, the virtual pivot point rotates around the bottom bracket. Unlike many other manufacturers, Pole relies on a forward-facing wheel lift curve and greatly reduced anti-squat shortly after the sag point to decouple the suspension from pedal input through the chain.
The kinematic is progressive and offers a lot of support in the middle range of the travel, making it possible to run the shock with low compression damping. In contrast, Pole relies on lots of high-speed rebound damping to keep the bike in full control during hard, fast hits. Paired with very little low-speed rebound damping, this should generate plenty of traction. This setup should also ensure that the geometry remains constant and predictable in steep sections or through g-outs.
Since tokens influence the ratio of positive and negative air chambers, Leo recommends them only for small, light riders. For big riders with an active riding style who are looking for more progression and bottom out protection, however, he advises to increase the air pressure slightly and to close the high-speed compression.
The setup of the Pole Machine
During setup, it quickly becomes clear that the Machine is not a bike like any other. There was nothing new about setting up the RockShox Lyrik, but Leo recommended we use a little more air pressure than indicated on the fork. We also used just around 28% SAG (seated), which is stiffer than we are used to on a bike of this class. But what is really surprising is the recommendation to leave the rebound or compression damping completely open. You would expect it to feel like you’re riding a pogo stick, but you’d be in for a surprise.
The trails in Malaga on which we tested the Pole Machine are very rocky, steep and demanding, with rocks everywhere, waiting to destroy tyres and rims. For this reason, our test bike was equipped with a MAXXIS Double Down rear tyre and the HuckNorris system in both wheels. Puncture protection was paramount. Built up in this way the bike weighed in at about 15 kg.
Climbing with the Pole Machine
Although we got up most of the climbs with a shuttle, there were enough opportunities to test the climbing abilities of the Machine. Due to the very steep seat tube angle (79°) you’re sat comfortably upright despite the very long top tube and pedal in a much more central position than you’re used to on almost any other bike on the market. As a result, you can put a lot of power to the pedals using the musculature in the back of your legs and buttocks, like you’re spinning. As usual for a bike of this class, you won’t get up the mountain in record time, though with the Machine you will do so efficiently and relaxed. Even in steep sections, the front wheel stuck to the ground. And despite the slack head angle, the front wheel doesn’t tip from side to side in slow in technical sections.
The revelation – descending on the Machine
The question you’ve all been asking: how does the Pole Machine descend? In two words: blisteringly fast! Despite the unusual geometry, it only takes a few rides to get used to the handling of the bike, and you automatically begin to use the brakes less and less. The biggest adjustment is probably how far ahead you’ve got to read the trail. Due to the effortless speed the Machine carries, you have to look much further ahead than usual. But even if you do let your guard down for a second only to be surprised a rock garden, the bike, with its enormous reserves, will hold your line without flinching.
One of the Machine’s greatest strengths is its balance. You’re placed very centrally on the bike and so have lots of room to throw your weight around. The weight distribution between the wheels is very balanced, and it’s easy to keep the front wheel weight and in control through curves.
If you think that a bike this long can’t cope with tight trails, you’re wrong. Of course, the Pole is exactly the opposite of a BMX and manualing down the road does take more effort, but on the trail, you can still easily manual through rollers and pop off ledges. When things get really tight, you’ll be forced to reposition the rear wheel regardless of the bike you’re on, and the Machine does so without problems.
Compared to the Pole Evolink 140, you don’t immediately feel the Machine’s increased travel at the rear. While the suspension of many bikes currently on the market is very plush with a lot of sag, the Pole gives significantly more feedback without being harsh. Over small bumps, the fast low-speed rebound provides a lot of traction, but with harder hits, the rear end willingly goes through its travel without feeling harsh or uncontrolled towards the end. This is where the Machine differs from the Evolink 140. It remains calmer and more controllable through hard, blunt, high-speed hits. Nevertheless, it is still very lively and agile – despite the enormous wheelbase.
The support offered by the rear suspension, set up with less sag than usual, also helps in keeping the front wheel weighted, since you don’t sink in towards the rear of the bike. On top of that, you’ll be able to generate a lot of speed on the Machine on flat sections by pushing it through dips in the trail. Even at high speed, the handling is very precise, but without sacrificing flex and comfort due to exaggerated stiffness.
We had no objections about the spec. The new RockShox Lyrik with a full 180 mm of travel worked flawlessly. The SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain is in a class of its own and the SRAM Code brakes with large 200 mm rotors always provided enough stopping power. We were particularly impressed with the NEWMEN EVOLUTION SL A30 wheels which, despite their low weight and some nasty snake-bites and flats, easily withstood all the abuse we threw at it.
Pricing and availability
The Pole Machine will be offered as a frame-kit as well as two complete bike options. The price is € 3,450 for the frame including shock, € 5,500 for the Machine TR version and € 6,950 for the top Machine EN version as ridden by us. The first frames are already in production, and the bike will be available from June this year. For further questions, simply write an e-mail to: [email protected]
The Pole Machine is a real superbike. Similar to a supercar, the faster you ride, the better it gets. It offers an unprecedented degree of stability and control. It takes the horror out of the scariest trails without feeling sedate or undefined on flat sections. Oh, and there’s the look and the manufacturing process: this bike is a one-of-kind masterpiece!
Climbing | Descending | Stability | Agility | Value for Money – a bike as unique as this has its price
– unique look – pushes your self-confidence to the next level – balanced handling
– simultaneously composed and lively
For more information head to polebicycles.com
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Toni Ritanen