The Empire MX6-EVO cuts a formidable silhouette. With its low-slung frame, single pivot and bolt-on seat mast, it’s instantly identifiable and it shares much of its DNA with Empire’s clever, cast aluminium-framed downhill bike. The MX6, though, is more of a hybrid, for practical and expense reasons, but is still 100% made in the UK.
The heart of the bike is its single pivot, running on needle bearings, essentially downsized from a motocross bike. The cast aluminium swingarm offers 150mm travel through a Monarch Plus (with natty splash guard). The front end of the bike has a formidable-looking CNC machined ‘headstock’ that is the key to one of the clever bits of design with the frame. Using an external headset lower cup and a different shock shuttle, the MX6 frame will happily run 26in wheels without any compromise in geometry and ride height. This would allow you to swap 26in forks and wheels over from your old bike and get riding immediately, putting off the 27.5in revolution until you’re good and ready. Even the dropouts are modular to allow 135 or 142mm wheels. All that’s needed to switch to 27.5in is to run an internal headset and swap the shock hardware. Clever.
The square top and down tubes are welded solidly between the headstock and bottom bracket, and the headstock and the hollow structure that houses the shock mount and seat mast. We measured the effective top tube as being over 25mm longer than the spec sheet, which gave a nice, roomy 600mm – perfect for a shorter stem.
Empire’s website allows you to take the basic £2,499 model and tweak bits and pieces. Lots of Hope gear is available as an upgrade, with colours no extra charge. Our bike was specced in the style of someone looking to perhaps do a bit of enduro racing and hard trail riding. In addition to the basic SRAM X9 spec, we have a 34T Hope Retainer thick/thin chainring and 40T add-on sprocket to give a wide-range 1×10 cassette.
The wheels have been hopped up with Hope floating rotors on the Pro2 EVO hubs and Stan’s Arch EX rims. Other additions to the basic spec include a Renthal Fatbar Lite and matching grips, as well as a Reverb Stealth dropper post on that beautiful cast seat mast. All in all, it’s a bike that’s ready to ride or race out of the box – and still comes in at £150 under our arbitrary target price. For this you could upgrade to a RockShox Pike fork if you had harder-hitting rides in mind and you’d end up with a very well-specced bike for the money.
The MX6 certainly wears that weight proudly and jumping on the bike, the sheer girthy look of the frame implies that it’ll be a bit of a beast to ride, but thanks to a decent wheelset and the platform damping on the Monarch, the bike climbs tenaciously. Empire had specced the 34T chainring partly (over the more-common-round-here 32T) to highlight that some other frames can only run a 32T single ring before fouling the frame or pivots; however, this did make long climbs hard work. The bike does seem to need the shock’s platform too, as there was a lot of bump and rider-induced bobbing with it switched off. The 66.5° head angle made the bike wander a little on climbs, but no more than any other 6in trail bike in its class and it’s a low price to pay for stable descending.
With the shock switched on, the bike was great fun when the climbing got rougher, chewing up bumpy sat-down climbs and really using the suspension. On fast and flowy trails, the bike felt like it needed a little dominating; it’s not one for the sit-and-steer brigade. Given some firm direction, the Empire starts to come alive and give some hint at its potential.
On the first few big downhills, the bike’s performance was undermined a little by the Hope brakes. There wasn’t the fingertip power available from Shimano’s current brakes, and so last-minute, controlled braking was substituted by various amounts of brake dragging and death gripping. As the brakes wore in and improved a little, the ride of the bike improved with it, showing how closely all the elements are linked. With braking less of a worry, we could start to ramp up the speeds.
The Empire proved worthy of just about anything we could throw at it. The chunky front end gave a lot of steering confidence (and we’d love to try it with a Pike in place) and throwing the bike onto dodgy lines became a new sport.
The Empire has two huge things going for it: the very reasonable price and the ability to take 26in wheels and later convert painlessly to 27.5in when the mood takes you. It’s a bike that responds to a firm hand and a confident rider, and is a great bike for riders that love to throw their machines around. However, we feel that the bare frame, at nearly 10lbs, is a good couple of pounds too heavy. The spec of the bike for the money is fantastic, with just about every sensible upgrade already made for you. However, this also means it’s hard to see where, if anywhere, you might save further weight.
If you’re an aggressive rider who’s not that bothered about climbing speed, then the Empire delivers, and why not fit a Pike while you’re there? If you’re looking for more of a map-crossing cross-country trail bike, then you’ll find it hard work on the climbs. You’ll love the descents though.
- Frame: Empire MX6-EVO, Monarch Plus 150mm shock
- Fork: RockShox Revelation RLT 150mm, QR15
- Hubs: Hope Pro2 EVO
- Rims: Stan’s Arch EX 650
- Tyres: Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.2in
- Chainset: SRAM 2000, Hope 34T Retainer Ring
- Front Mech: n/a
- Rear Mech: SRAM X9
- Shifters: SRAM X9
- Brakes: Hope Tech 3/E4
- Stem: Truvativ
- Bars: Renthal Fatbar Lite
- Grips: Renthal
- Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
- Saddle: San Marco/Dirty Zero One
- Size Tested: M
- Sizes available: S, M, L
- Weight: 31.5lbs (without pedals)
|From:||Empire Cycles, empire-cycles.com|
|Price:||£2,929.97 as tested. Base model starting at £2,499.00, frame only at £999.00|
|Tested:||by Jenn for|