Hands On With The New MX6-EVO From Empire Cycles

by
June 20, 2017

Empire Cycles first made a splash nearly a decade ago when the British manufacturer launched the utterly unique AP-1 downhill bike. That was 2008, and the bike was well regarded for its strength and durability, as well as it’s local manufacture. In 2011, Empire launched the 6in travel MX6 trail bike, which was then updated in 2014 with the MX6 EVO.

Shortly after its release we tested and reviewed the MX6 EVO, where the burly British all mountain bike earned high praise for its bulletproof single pivot suspension design. However, there was no denying it was a bike of sizeable mass compared to much lighter alloy and carbon options within a similar travel bracket.

Things have been a little quiet on the Empire Cycles front since then, but that’s because it’s largely a one-man band, and owner, lead designer, engineer and fabricator, Chris Williams, has been slightly preoccupied with a new baby. The good news for Chris and the Empire Cycles brand is that his wee bub is now old enough to not keep him up through the entire night, so he’s refocussing his energy back onto the brand, with a few new ideas on the go. We caught up with Chris at the Fort William World Cup, where he had a refined version of the MX6 EVO on display that was getting loads of attention from passers by.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
The MX6-EVO from Empire Cycles has been updated.

The MX6-EVO is a bike that likes – no, needs – gradients. It’s a proper mountain bike. Built for clambering up stuff and then carving its way back down the other side.If we had to pigeon hole the MX6-EVO into a category then we’d happily say it was an enduro bike through and through. After all, enduro racing is just our normal sort of riding set against a stopwatch. Fast, fun, tight, twisty, demanding, rewarding. All the good stuff. From brilliantly unique to uniquely brilliant. With the new EVO version of our flagship MX6 we’ve managed to make a striking machine into a stunning bike” – From Empire Cycles

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
With 150mm of rear wheel travel, 27.5in wheels and 150-160mm fork travel, the MX6-EVO is a proper all mountain machine.

Empire Cycles MX6-EVO Features

  • 6082 T6 alloy custom construction
  • Made in the UK
  • 150mm rear wheel travel
  • 26in and 27.5in wheelsize compatible
  • Max tyre clearance: 2.5in
  • 150-160mm fork travel
  • 66.5° head angle
  • 73° seat tube angle
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 and 03 mounts
  • 142x12mm rear Maxle
  • Claimed frame weight: 3.6kg
  • Sizes: Short, Medium, Long, Extra Long
  • RRP: £1399 (frame w/RockShox Monarch RT3 shock)
  • Complete bikes starting at £3000
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Billet machined head tube and logo.

So for the most part, the MX6 EVO looks very similar to the bike you would have seen us test last time. There have been some subtle tweaks and changes in that time however, and the new MX6 EVO has lobbed off a very substantial 400g from the frame weight. It’s still pretty burly at 3.6kg, but that puts it into similar territory as other burly alloy enduro frames such as the new DMR SLED.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Designed for a tapered fork steerer, an additional lower headset cup can be used for compatibility with 26in frames.

The frame still gets the unique frame design as the previous MX6 EVO, which uses a combination of drawn and cast alloy tubing, as well as some machined components to build what is the Terminator of all mountain bike frames. The head tube (or \headstock’ as Empire calls it) is billet machined from a single block of alloy, resulting in a lovely hourglass shape for the tapered headset and steerer tube.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Box section tubes are laser cut to different lengths depending on frame size.

The top and down tubes are made of box section alloy that are laser cut to length, rather than the original girder-style cast beams used on the original AP-1 and MX6 bikes. Aside from giving a slightly less radical look, these tubes allow Chris to offer four frame sizes to the MX6 EVO, while the other frame components largely remain the same through each size.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
The upper shock mount sits within a cut out shell that serves as a junction for the top tube and seat mast.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
The seat tube is made from cast alloy and bolts onto the frame as a separate piece.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Huge needle roller bearings inside the main pivot.

Drawing from motocross bikes, the frame uses a single pivot that’s equipped with full complement needle roller bearings that Chris has designed to be easily serviceable. The bearings are pressed into the swingarm and feature four seals in total. The pivot axle clamps on the inner race of the bearing, so load is evenly distributed on the bearings. An outer flange seal is flared outwards, so it flexes if it gets blasted with a high pressure water hose, causing the seal to deflect and form a tighter seal to keep water out. Clever stuff, and important for all-weather riders.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
The hollow cast alloy swingarm uses a similar concept to the high strength casting used on a KTM motorbike swingarm.

The swingarm itself is quite the engineering feat. It’s made from cast alloy, which sounds agricultural, but is quite a complex piece to make. Essentially it’s a hollow monocoque structure that is both incredibly strong and stiff. Chris starts with an internal mould that’s made out of firm sand. This mould is then positioned inside a larger steel mould, and then liquid alloy is poured in to fill the air gap between the internal and external moulds. The piece is taken out of the furnace, then the sand is chipped away, and you’re left with a hollow structure as the result.

empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Chris shoes us one of the cast alloy components for the leading edge of the swingarm.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
The wall thicknesses can be manipulated by changing the internal and external moulds for the casted component. Here you can see just how thick the alloy is for the swingarm yoke.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Dropouts are interchangeable between 135mm and 142x12mm thru-axle setups.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
There’s a Maxle out back to lock down the rear deropouts. Elevated swingarm design provides huuuuge mud clearance and room for 2.5in wide rubber.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
A good ol’ threaded bottom bracket shell, and ISCG tabs for those who want a chain device.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
To shield the rear shock stanchion and seals, an integrated mudguard bolts onto the swingarm.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
A look down through the seat mast and seat tube assembly.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Handmade in Bolton.
empire mx6-evo british made uk alloy cast fort william
Its looks may be a little different, but we like it!

Although the looks of the MX6 EVO might be a little polarising, there is a lot to like about this bike, and for those who want a brutally strong and simple machine for all-weather riding, Empire might have what you’re looking for. Talking with Chris at Fort William, he’s also starting to work on some new projects, which we’ll be eager to share with you in the future. We’re also planning a factory tour of Empire Cycles Bolton factory, so we can get a closer look at how all the frame components are made and how the complete structure comes together.

Want to know more? Get onto the Empire Cycles website for more info.

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