Evil Chamois Hagar gravel bike review: An unusual look, an unusual ride

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Evil Bicycles infused a massive helping of mountain bike design into the recipe for its Chamois Hagar gravel machine. It’s unquestionably one of the most unusual — and visually striking — drop-bar bikes in recent memory. However, does that different approach actually deliver an improved experience, or is it different for the sake of being different?


Story Highlights

  • What it is: A gravel bike designed for downhill racers
  • Frame features: Carbon fiber construction, ultra-progressive geometry, mounts galore, 700 x 50 mm tire clearance, threaded bottom bracket, internal cable routing
  • Weight: 1,164 g (raw medium frame only, claimed); 467 g (fork only, claimed); 8.71 kg (19.20 lb, small size as tested, without pedals)
  • Price: USUS$4,800 / AU$7,800 / £4,200 / €5,000
  • Highs: Brilliant handling at high speed, striking design, conventional riding position
  • Lows: Goofy low-speed handling, backbreaking ride quality

Ultra-progressive geometry

If you had to pick three words to describe the predominant trend in mountain bike design in recent years, they’d be “long”, “low”, and “slack”. Generally speaking, that means front wheels have been pushed farther forward relative to the rider, bottom brackets have edged steadily downward (thus bringing the overall center of gravity closer to the ground), and head tube angles have grown shallower, all of which combine for superb confidence at higher speeds and on steeper descents.

In developing its first-ever drop-bar offering, Evil Bicycles — one of the earliest proponents of the long-low-and-slack philosophy — has taken that same idea and adapted it to the new Chamois Hagar gravel bike. Without question, the bike is a visual outlier, and if it looks to you like a 29er mountain bike hardtail with drop bars, that’s because that’s basically what it is. However, the Chamois Hagar becomes an even bigger oddball when you inspect its geometry numbers in more detail.

The Evil Chamois Hagar boasts a radically different design that delivers a radically different handling experience as compared to most conventional gravel bikes.

Compare, for example, a small-sized Chamois Hagar (which was the size recommended to me by Evil) with a 52 cm Trek Checkpoint (the size I know I’m most comfortable on based on prior experience):

– At a whopping 400 mm, the reach on the Chamois Hagar is 21 mm longer than the Checkpoint, while its 575 mm stack is also 26 mm taller.

– Evil’s tongue-in-cheek 66.6° head tube is a full 5° slacker than the Checkpoint. More importantly, its 57 mm fork offset combines for a truly staggering 93 mm of trail, as compared to a much more average 65 mm on the Trek.

– While the front end of the Evil is very long, the rear end is quite short at 430 mm. That’s 5 mm longer than the Trek, but the Chamois Hagar also offers much more tire clearance.

– When you combine the slack head tube angle, the generous fork rake, and the slightly longer rear end, it adds up to an awful lot of wheelbase. In fact, at 1,098 mm, the Chamois Hagar is 93 mm longer than that of the Trek. Perhaps more importantly, the front wheel on the Evil is nearly 9 cm (3 1/2 inches!) further out in front of you.

– The Evil’s 80 mm of bottom bracket drop is a modest 2 mm lower than the Trek’s but bear in mind that that 2 mm affects the largest mass in the rider-plus-bike system by far: you. The top tube is also dramatically dropped for extra standover clearance.

Despite those extreme figures, the riding position is decidedly normal. The seat tube angle is officially listed at a seemingly slack 73°, but it’s important to remember that the seat tube is offset slightly forward at the bottom bracket; the effective angle is more conventional at 73.5°. Coupled with the stubby 45-50 mm stems recommended by Evil, the overall feel with your eyes shut is very similar to most other middle-of-the-road gravel bikes (aside from the rather tall stack height).

Just as on mountain bikes with similar numbers, Evil is claiming the same benefits for the Chamois Hagar: more stability on loose terrain, more confidence in tricky situations, more speed overall, and — listen up, big-footed riders! — an end to toe overlap.

That unusual design also affords some impressive versatility.

Despite the relatively short rear end, there’s a ton of tire clearance. Even with 700c rims (Evil doesn’t intend the Chamois Hagar to be used with 650b setups), there’s room for 50 mm-wide rubber. That figure drops to 40 mm if you’re running fenders or a two-chainring drivetrain, though.

Both chainstays are dramatically lowered so as to tuck the rear wheel closer to the seat tube. Considering the 700 x 50 mm maximum allowable tire size, the 430 mm-long rear end is impressively compact.

There are also mounts for up to seven bottles (six on the smallest size), front and rear fenders, and a rear rack. Routing is internal throughout, and the seat tube is sized for a 30.9 mm diameter for easy dropper seatpost compatibility.

Down below are molded rubber guards for the chainstay and underside of the down tube, and — woo hoo! — Evil has thankfully graced the Chamois Hagar with a conventional threaded bottom bracket.

While the Chamois Hagar is an oversized gravel beast visually, it’s quite light all things considered. Claimed weight for a raw medium frame is just 1,164 g, plus 467 g for a matching unpainted fork. According to Evil, a complete Chamois Hagar frameset — painted, with rubber guards, seatpost collar, rear derailleur hanger, and associated hardware — tips the scales at 1,899 g.

We tested the Evil Chamois Hagar with the same 40 mm-wide Continental Terra Speed control tires that we used on every bike at the 2020 CyclingTips Gravel Bike Field Test, as well as with the 50 mm-wide WTB Ventures that came stock.

Actual weight for our small-sized complete bike with a 1x Shimano GRX 800 mechanical groupset, WTB Proterra Light aluminum clincher wheels, a flared Easton EA70 AX aluminum handlebar, WTB SL8 Pro saddle, and BikeYoke dropper seatpost is 8.71 kg (with 40 mm-wide Continental Terra Speed control tires).

Retail price for our build is US$4,800 / AU$7,800 / £4,200 / €5,000. There’s also a SRAM Force AXS build available for US$5,900 / AU$9,600 / £5,000 / €6,000, as well as a frameset option for US$2,800 / AU$4,500 / £2,500 / €3,000 (including VAT for UK and EU markets).

The best of both worlds?

Evil makes it clear that the Chamois Hagar is intended to “shred” the gravel — and as much as that sort of slogan seems cringingly cheesy, it’s actually an apt description of how it’s best to ride this unorthodox machine.

Whereas most other gravel machines seem perfectly content moving along at a wide range of speeds and attitudes, the Chamois Hagar has the most to offer when you’re pushing beyond your comfort zone. Just as with mountain bikes with similar design philosophies, the Chamois Hagar’s long and slack front end offers heaps of confidence on tricky ground.

The head tube area is positively massive – and perhaps bigger (and stiffer) than it really needs to be.

There’s undoubtedly a bit of a learning curve involved in getting the most out of the Chamois Hagar — it’s more effective to aggressively lean the whole bike instead of just turning the bars to initiate corners, for example — but once you get the hang of it, it’s an awful lot of fun.

As promised, it’s extremely stable at high speeds, owing to that relaxed steering geometry and incredibly long front center. And with the wheel so far ahead of you, loose corners that would otherwise be challenging on a more conventional gravel bike are child’s play on the Chamois Hagar: just dive in and rest assured that, even if the front wheel starts to slide, all you have to do is maintain your composure for a split second and wait for it to regain traction again.

“There’s no denying this bike brings the play to gravel riding,” said CyclingTips tech editor Dave Rome, who also tested the bike with me in Sedona. “The rearward-biased riding position makes launching off water bars a hoot, and bombing descents is just so confidence-inspiring. I found myself wanting to push this bike harder and harder as it simply just gets better the faster you go.”

On tamer ground, the Chamois Hagar feels like most higher-end gravel bikes in terms of pedaling and rider position. The stiff chassis is very efficient with none of the mushiness that can sometimes accompany softer-riding carbon frames, and provided you’re ok with that curiously tall stack height, the riding position is pretty much spot-on.

The seat tube is offset forward slightly for extra tire clearance.

That all said, the Chamois Hagar is not without a lot of quirks. Evil may have brought a big dose of mountain bike design to the Chamois Hagar, but does that make sense in the gravel world?

In comparison to many other higher-end gravel bikes — carbon ones, in particular — the ride quality of the Chamois Hagar is bone-rattlingly stiff at both ends. Those massive tubes may look neat, but there isn’t a hint of compliance to be found anywhere, which unfortunately makes it hard to take advantage of the bike’s unique high-speed capabilities if you’re on anything but fairly smooth ground. While the front-end geometry encourages you to go faster, the chattery ride means the tires are bouncing around instead of staying planted on the dirt or gravel, and it’s even hard to maintain your focus since your eyeballs are shaking so much.

Granted, we didn’t help matters by replacing the stock 50 mm-wide WTB Venture tires with our 40 mm-wide Continental Terra Speed control tires, which obviously offer much less air volume. However, even after we re-installed the WTBs, our opinions didn’t change. The ride was better with the higher-volume tires in place, but it was still far from good.

The dropper post is nice to have on faster downhills, and very easy to use since it’s actuated by the left-hand brake lever. Note how built-up the seat cluster has to be to support that seat tube extension, though.

And while that unique front-end geometry works great at higher speeds, it doesn’t work as well at slower ones. There’s a ton of wheel flop, and it’s harder to hold your line than it should be, especially on technical climbs where you really need to be careful in placing your wheel. In particularly tight corners, too, the Chamois Hagar tends to understeer.

“At lower speeds, such as going up a meandering gravel climb, the bike almost feels like it’s had too much to drink and is stumbling home,” Dave said.

There are some downsides to the low-slung frame, too. While it’s true that the dramatically dropped top tube affords extra standover clearance (which can be especially useful in technical situations), it also makes some questionable sacrifices in areas where a bike like this should excel. The tiny front triangle it creates leaves almost no room for a frame bag, for example, and given that Evil had to incorporate a tall seat tube extension to bring the seatpost collar up to a more normal height, it sure seems like the top tube could have been brought up at least a little.

Seemingly standard issue for gravel bikes these days are a top tube feed bag mount (check) and wide, flared handlebars (check, check).

Moreover, that seat tube extension requires a lot of reinforcement around the seat cluster area — which likely contributes to the frame’s rough ride — and while Dave and I are both die-hard dropper post devotees off-road, the Chamois Hagar’s stubborn inability to stay planted on terra firma on bumpy terrain meant that we rarely felt sufficiently comfortable to just let it ride and hang on.

Overall, the Chamois Hagar feels like a gravel bike that was designed to appeal to downhill and enduro racers. But at least to us, it seems to make more sense that if you’re riding gravel primarily to enjoy the descents, a traditional flat-bar hardtail (with a suspension fork) might be the more sensible choice.

Spec notes

As was the case with many of the gravel bikes we had on hand at the Field Test, the Chamois Hagar that Evil sent us was equipped with Shimano’s new GRX 800 mechanical groupset. In essence, what Shimano has created here is a gravel-specific version of its popular Ultegra mechanical road groupset, and in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Shift quality on this 1x setup is superb — just as you’d expect from Shimano. I’m not usually a fan of single-chainring drivetrains on the road, but the 11-46T Deore XT cassette offers sufficient range for the application, and the jumps in between gears aren’t as disruptive as they are when riding on tarmac, either. Chain retention is excellent, thanks to the built-in pulley cage clutch on the rear derailleur and narrow-wide chainring profile, and the whole drivetrain runs impressively smoothly and quietly.

All of our higher-end test bikes at the 2020 Gravel Bike Field Test arrived with various incarnations of Shimano’s new GRX gravel-specific groupset. And like all the others, this one performed flawlessly.

It was a similar situation for the disc brakes, at least for the dry and dusty conditions we experienced in Sedona. There’s ample power, although in typical Shimano fashion, it comes on a bit quickly with more of an on/off feel than what you get out of SRAM (or Campagnolo, for that matter). That’s hardly a deal-breaker, mind you, but it’s nevertheless something to consider if your local riding conditions are especially slippery and fine brake control is a primary requirement.

Speaking of power, one of the advantages Shimano touts with its GRX groupset relative to its standard road components is the revised brake lever pivot point location on the former, which supposedly allows for more power while riding in the hoods. But is it a noticeable difference in reality? Well, no, mostly because that revised pivot placement only applies to the Di2 version of GRX, not the mechanical one used here. Boo.

That said, Evil has been wise in selecting the left-hand lever configuration designed specifically for use with dropper seatposts. Instead of tacking on a separate lever, this special GRX version uses the brake lever itself to actuate the dropper. It’s very clean, and very ergonomic. We may not have used the dropper much on our test sample while in Sedona for the Field Test, but when we did, it was super easy to do so. Kudos to Shimano for offering this from the factory.

Those levers are mounted to Easton’s EC70 AX flared carbon handlebar, which felt like a good choice for the application. I’m not normally a huge fan of flared bars or shallow drops, but both are appropriate here, as you get the additional control of the wider hand position (and better braking performance) while in the drops, but without a dramatic forward shift in weight. Unfortunately, if there was any comfort advantage to the carbon fiber construction relative to the aluminum version (which would normally be the case), it wasn’t noticeable here.

Given the increased speeds the Chamois Hagar is supposed to be capable of handling, I was a little surprised not to find a 180mm rotor up front.

Evil chief operating officer Jason Moeschler was formerly the global OEM sales manager for WTB, so it’s perhaps no surprise to see that brand featured prominently here. The Proterra i23 Light aluminum clincher wheels are decently wide with 23 mm between the bead hooks, and they set up tubeless very easily, even with a standard floor pump. The 10° engagement speed on the rear hub could be better, but it’s good enough for the application. All in all, they’re nothing groundbreaking, but a solid choice that’s easy to service with easily obtained parts should you ever dent a rim beyond repair.

The matching 50 mm-wide WTB Venture tires are more noteworthy, with their micro-patterned center tread and more aggressive shoulder design. They roll decently fast on harder ground and make easy work of smaller chatter (provided you get your pressures dialed in), and the more squared off cornering knobs are a good pairing for the Chamois Hagar’s more aggressive personality: just throw the bike into the corner and let the tires (and front-end geometry) do the work.

Likewise, the WTB SL8 Pro saddle’s flat shape and firm padding may not fit the snub-nosed profile currently en vogue on the road, but it should be agreeable with a wide number of people. And the BikeYoke dropper seatpost to which it’s attached? BikeYoke isn’t nearly as well known in the dropper seatpost world as Fox, SRAM, KS, and others, but it’s widely regarded amongst product managers for excellent reliability, owing in part to the handy valve up top that instantly relieves internal pressure that often builds up over time.

The stock BikeYoke dropper has an excellent reputation for durability.

Several weeks was hardly enough to evaluate that reputation ourselves, but it’s at least worth noting that the post had minimal rotational or off-axis slop (and online reports from longer-term users suggests that it’s apt to stay that way, too).

There was one strange misstep, though: while one of the tooled thru-axles required a 5 mm hex wrench for installation and removal, the other used a 6 mm one.

Otherwise, Evil made a lot of good choices here.

A step too far, or are we doing it wrong?

Interestingly, Moeschler didn’t dispute our issues regarding the Chamois Hagar’s ride quality. Rather, he says that the Chamois Hagar just shouldn’t be ridden like a “regular” gravel bike.

“Evil built the Chamois frame and fork to pass ISO mountain bike testing, not road testing,” he said. “Evil customers are notorious for thrashing, and this bike has the geometry to hit mountain bike speeds on downhills, so we had to make sure the frame strength was there.

“Prior to Grinduro, I, too, felt like the bike was a bit stiff. However, on Grinduro stage 2, I learned that the bike doesn’t come alive and truly hook up in corners and on downhill unless the saddle is down with my weight back, hands in the drops, and counter-steering like I would a mountain bike. Chamois essentially functions like an Evil mountain bike: when the rider puts the saddle down and shifts weight back, the bike goes into party mode.”

The fork features a custom rake and axle-to-crown. And yet despite the Chamois Hagar’s MTB-like look, the front end is not adjusted for a suspension fork.

Fair enough — and notably, Moeschler finished second overall — except that that’s also how Dave and I were riding it in Sedona. And while the Chamois Hagar may be built to withstand mountain bike-specific ISO test standards, both of us have ridden plenty of mountain bike frames with much better ride qualities.

Strength is always a good thing, no question. However, especially in this genre, I’d argue that any bike can perform better if it’s better able to keep the tires on the ground. Remember, too, that this rigidity argument isn’t all that different from what Cannondale and Klein were pushing decades ago — and I think it’s safe to say that “stiffer” isn’t always “better.”

Big props to Evil for being so willing to venture well outside the mainstream box here. But while we see a lot of potential here, the current iteration leaves something to be desired.

www.evil-bikes.com

Want more gravel? Be sure to check out the rest of the content from the 2020 CyclingTips Gravel Bike Field Test. Also, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of the associated videos, either.

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