Jumping on a bike to ride, evaluate and review is often a case of looking for very subtle, and let’s be honest, sometimes irrelevant points of difference. This is a reflection of the way large bicycle companies and mass manufactured bikes dominate the market. It also is a symptom of a market where the product specifications such as geometries have been refined to a reliable (if boring) and narrow window. This mass production of carbon frames and groupsets is of a very high quality. Even middle and lower range bike models generally deliver a frame that is within 200-300 grams of the higher end models and often with identical geometry. Coupled with how well lower range groupsets such as the 11 speed Shimano 105 perform, the perceivable performance gap between middle to upper range models has become quite small. In contrast, putting a leg over the disc brake equipped, hand-built, titanium Enigma Evoke felt like simultaneously stepping backwards and forwards in time.
Enigma Bicycleworks are a small (ish) British company delivering hand-built (and potentially custom) titanium and steel framed bikes to the UK and Australian markets. They represent an increasing segment of the market stepping away from the mass produced, in favour of custom and/or hand-built bikes. Titanium is the obvious material match for this part of the market too. Hand-built or custom designed frames inevitably carry a higher price tag and titanium allows ready modification of individual tube dimensions; provided the frame builder has the skill required. Enigma claim that frame builder Joe Walker is the leading expert of the TIG welding technique in the UK. Looking at the finesse and skill evident on the double butted joints of the Evoke, it is hard to argue. Which brings us to the appeal of hand-built titanium frames: they “evoke” (excuse the pun) a sense of boutique charm and attention to detail that is expressed from each hand assembled and artfully joined frame. The Enigma Evoke frame combines this hand-built style with a few modern touches such as the oversized downtube and 44mm head tube which mates with current headset and fork styles. The bead brushed finish and understated Enigma logos combine to create a frame which looks classic yet modern and like it may even be quite fast. The rear dropouts are beautifully machined, nicely detailed and whilst not looking particularly lightweight, are designed to handle the majority of the rear brake loads, alleviating the stays. The dropouts incorporate a replaceable gear hanger and dedicated disc brake mounts reflecting a frame designed with disc brakes as an integral feature rather than optional addition.
Some titanium frame manufacturers have utilised advances in tube forming techniques to allow for more exotic tube profiles and frame shapes. The Enigma Evoke, however, uses conventional tube shapes (with the exception of the chain stays), resulting in a classically appealing aesthetic. This is contrasted by the inclusion of the discs, which depending on your tastes either complements or detracts from the design. In this reviewer’s opinion, the lines around the frame are left appealingly clean due to the lack of brake callipers and all of the rear cables being routed via the underside of the downtube. Frame weight comes in around the 1350 gram mark, a respectable figure for titanium. Enigma offers a range of customisations, including the type of finish of the frame and decals; even custom paintwork if desired. The real coup though is the ability to order complete custom frame sizing. This is something that mass produced carbon bikes cannot compete with. Custom sizing is particularly handy for those whose bodies don’t lie in the middle of the bell curve. Measurements and dimensions are taken here in Australia then converted by Enigma in the UK to give a CAD model of the frame and initial estimates of tube dimensions. These are then sent back to the distributor and customer for confirmation and potential modification before final dimensions are locked in for manufacture. This customisation increases cost by around $800 AUD and adds an additional 6-12 weeks delivery, but that is quite impressive, especially when compared to the cost of some custom builds.
The Evoke tested here utilised Csix carbon forks seated neatly in a Chris King headset. Enigma branded saddle, seat mast, stem and bars were all well matched to the bike to complete a build which performs seamlessly.
The rise and rise of disc brakes for road bikes has accelerated over the last couple of years and the quality of hydraulic options from all three of the main groupset manufacturers have reached a high level. Whilst the suitability and necessity of discs for racing is still under debate, the endurance style of riding for which the majority of titanium frames are designed is well matched to incorporating the additional weight, cost and complexity. The Ultegra hydraulic groupset does not carry the price-tag of the Shimano flagship model, but always performs well. In fact Ultegra would certainly make the shortlist for the price/performance award amongst all groupsets. The hydraulic disc addition is fairly seamless too. Shifter size is comparable to the standard mechanical and electronic versions. Actual braking performance is superb. Nearly enough to convert the most hardened disc brake critic. On the Evoke, the rear disc is a 140mm diameter, with the front disc a larger 160mm for even greater stopping power and control. Whilst the current range of Shimano rim brakes, particularly the direct mount versions, perform impressively well; the hydraulic disc brakes provide improvement in almost every area. Stopping power is much more than required, but when matched with great modulation, allow for new levels of braking confidence, not achievable with rim brakes. The question then becomes “do you need braking this good?”. The downsides are the increased weight, in wheels, frame and the brakes themselves. On racing bikes, this critique could be understood, but on the Enigma, designed for a more luxurious performance, the compromise on weight is an understandable one.
So how does it ride? As mentioned at the start of the review, the Enigma provided the most unique ride of any bike I have tested to date. Not “unique” in the way you describe your child’s “special” drawings either. The combination of well thought out geometry and the inherent compliance of titanium, make for a bike which is superbly comfortable, predictable and just plain fun to ride. The main critique would be that the heavy Mavic Aksium wheelset, whist keeping the final price down, also acts to slow you down on the road, especially when attempting to accelerate sharply. Once you filter out the dampening effect on the heavy wheelset however, the ride quality and performance of the Evoke is exactly what you would hope for in a bike that may last the remainder of your life. The frame doesn’t exhibit excessive flex under load, yet provided the sort of comfort that made me want to ride it all day. My first two rides on the Evoke, whilst perhaps foolish, were both well over 100kms. Yet despite being new gear, and not totally fitted correctly for me, I returned home in comfort. Testament to the pleasure of titanium as well as the quality of the machine Enigma has created. Despite this fun, comfort and quality ride, I found myself yearning for that lighter wheelset which may have improved the sense of zip and agility of the bike.
When all’s said and done though, titanium frames are said to be the bikes you buy for life. In the Evoke, Enigma deliver an affordable machine which would provide many a year of bespoke, hand-built, pleasure filled riding.
Quality: Enigma Evoke boasts some beautiful TIG welds. The frame is finished with the sort of attention to detail you would hope for in a hand-built titanium bike. The superb frameset is matched with a mid-range set of componentry.
Performance: This is not a bike built with racing in mind. It delivers without fault in the endurance department though; silky ride, predictable and stable handling. It is a joy to ride. It goes fast when it needs to. A lighter wheelset would enliven the feel of the ride greatly.
Value: $5995 may sound like a lot, but for hand-built in the UK, Ti bike, this is very competitive. An extra $800 or so for a fully custom build increases the value even further.
Overall: If you’re after a titanium bike, enjoy long days in the saddle, grand fondos, or the like, the Enigma Evoke provides an affordable (in context) yet very impressive option. A high quality build throughout, with admirable design features and a classic aesthetic. This is a bike you want to keep on riding.
Frame: Enigma Evoke, 3AL 2.5V titanium
Fork: Enigma C-Six disc
Headset: Chris King inset 7
Bars: Enigma double butted Aluminium alloy compact drop (42cm)
Stem: Enigma 3K Carbon
Seatpost: Enigma Carbon (31.6mm) 25mm offset
Saddle: Enigma Ellipse titanium rails
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Shifters: Shimano RS685 hydraulic levers and callipers
Brakes: Shimano Ice-tech (centre lock) rotors (160mm front, 140mm rear)
Wheelset: Mavic Aksium disc
Tyres: Michelin Pro 4
Price: $5995, (Frame only $3099)
Distributor: British Imports www.britishimports.com.au