Review: The Pole Machine Has a Serious Need For Speed
|This is the kind of bike where you can let off the brakes and trust that everything will be all right – it delivers a level of composed stability that's more typically associated with a downhill bike.— Mike Kazimer|
Geometry & Sizing Pole was one of the early adopters of truly long and slack geometry, and that trend continues with the Machine. Other larger manufacturers have started to hop on the bandwagon, but Pole still remain on the cutting edge. The 63.9-degree head angle, 480mm reach (size medium), and 455mm chainstays add up to give the Machine a whopping 1305mm wheelbase; for reference, that's longer than a size XL Yeti SB150 (1277mm), and just 10mm less than the length of an XL Santa Cruz V10 29. The seat tube angle is also very steep at 79-degrees. That's the effective angle, but the actual angle is plenty steep as well at 78-degrees. Taller riders shouldn't have any trouble finding a Machine that fits - the XL has a reach of 535mm, and a top tube length of 662mm, although it might be tricky finding a rack that'll hold a bike that long.
Suspension DesignThe Machine uses Pole's Evolink suspension layout, a dual-short-link design where one of the links rotates around the bottom bracket. The bike's leverage ratio begins at 3:1 and ends at 2.2:1, providing enough progression to allow it to work with either a coil or air shock. The Machine's anti-squat value at 30% sag in the 32/50 gear ratio is 105%, which falls off quickly as the bike goes through its travel in order to keep the suspension active and responsive during larger impacts.
How does it compare? The Machine doesn't really have that many direct competitors, but it's worth taking a moment to compare it to a bike that's designed with the same intentions in mind – the Scott Ransom. Yes, the Ransom's made of carbon fiber, but it was designed with the same goals that fueled the creation of the Machine – to be able to handle the nastiest of trails while also remaining pedalable. Both bikes fall into the long travel 29er category, but they behave quite differently out on the trail.
Climbing: The Ransom's seat tube angle is 4-degrees slacker than the Machine's, which gives it a more 'traditional' feel when climbing; the riding position is a little less upright, which puts my weight is a little further back towards the rear axle. In a perfect world, I'd split the difference between the two – the Ransom's seat angle is just a bit slacker, and the Machine's is a little steeper than I'd like. Of course, there's a reason seats can be slid forward or backward, and I can find a comfortable pedaling position on both bikes.The Ransom is 2.5 pounds lighter than the Machine, which is a significant difference. I'm more likely to grab the Ransom for longer, more pedaly rides, while the Machine gets the call on days that are more strictly focused on the descents. As far as actual pedaling performance goes, if both bikes are ridden with their suspension in the fully open setting, the Machine's higher level of anti-squat means that it has less bob and a more efficient ride feel than the Ransom. That being said, the Ransom's handlebar mounted TwinLoc remote is there for a reason, and all it takes is a push of a lever to bring its performance in line with the Machine.
Descending: The Machine takes the win when it comes to straight-line speed and stability – the long chainstays and sprawling wheelbase make it feel incredibly planted and unflappable no matter how quickly the world is rushing by. The Ransom may have 10mm more rear travel, but the Machine's handling is closer to that of a DH bike, and it has the edge as far as pure monster trucking goes. At more reasonable speeds, the Ransom is easier to handle; it takes less effort to air over obstacles, and it's less work to navigate twistier sections of trail. Both bikes offer excellent traction in loose or wet conditions, but the Ransom's rear suspension feels slightly more supple off the top.
Racing: How about as an enduro race bike? Which bike is best? That's a tough one to call, and it'll really depend on the rider and the track. Personally, I'd be inclined to go with the Ransom, due to the fact that it's easier to handle on tighter and flatter tracks. But for somewhere like Whistler, or any of the more gravity-oriented stops on the EWS circuit, the Machine would be an excellent pick.
Mavic Deemax Pro wheels: The Deemax wheels remained true for the duration of testing, and have a very nice ride feel, although the freehub did emit a few more popping noises under load than I would have liked. Everything was in good shape when I pulled the freehub apart, but it's worth mentioning. The wheels worked well with the 2.5" / 2.3" tire combo on the Machine, but riders who plan on running 2.6" or wider tires may find themselves wishing for a rim width greater than 28mm.
Huck Norris inserts: Huck Norris foam inserts are included in both tires, something that pinch flat prone riders will be happy to see.
RockShox Lyrik RC2: The 180mm Lyrik complemented to the Machine's ride-over-anything manners very nicely. Once I had it set up I didn't need to give it a second thought - it performed perfectly on every ride, with good small bump sensitivity and plenty of support for bigger hits.
Pole have always done things a little differently than the big players in the mountain bike world, and that trend continues with the Machine. It's a bike unlike anything else on the market, and that sentiment applies to the construction technique and the ride characteristics.— Mike Kazimer
Pole's long and slack geometry numbers may no longer look quite as radical as they once did, but that doesn't make the Machine any less formidable out on the trail. For riders in search of something out of the ordinary, a bike that takes away any equipment-related excuses for not being able to get down a gnarly descent, the Machine fits the bill.