We were lucky enough to be invited over to Mountain Bike Connection Winter in Massa Marittima, Tuscany to check out the latest products and technology from a handful of exciting European cycling companies, and to actually ride some of it on the beautiful, well-maintained singletrack of the Trail Brothers’ network. This first-look, first-ride on the new Arc8 Essential is one of a number of reviews from the event. All photos are credited to Rupert Fowler – Bike Connection Agency, unless otherwise stated.
Arc8 started out as a brand selling open-mold frames, but there’s a bit more to their story than that. They weren’t simply ordering from a catalog and slapping the Arc8 logo on with a fancy paint-job; their co-founder, Jonas Mueller, was in fact the original designer of those open-mold frames. The first mountain bikes to carry the Arc8 name; the Evolve, Essential and Enduro Extra, were all open-mold designs. However, as of 2022, Arc8 is on a mission to distinguish itself, with two all-new framesets that are specific to Arc8 and Arc8 alone. Again, designed by Jonas, but with an all-new suspension platform that has resulted in some seriously lightweight and drop dead gorgeous short-travel mountain bikes.
The Evolve FS, released in May of this year, was the first of those two frames. It debuted Jonas’ flex-stay shock-slider suspension platform on a frame that delivers 100-110mm rear wheel travel paired with a 100-120mm fork, respectively.
Now, Arc8 are ready with a second option featuring that same frame layout with the shock slider, only this one is more trail-oriented. The all-new Arc8 Essential is a 120-130mm full suspension mountain bike rocking a set of geometry figures more commonly seen on enduro bikes but in a seriously impressive, lightweight package; the XT Build we rode weighs a mere 12.2 kg in size medium.
New Arc8 Essential
The latest Arc8 to bear the Essential name has very little resemblance to the original open-mold Essential of yesteryear. Gone is the four-bar linkage with its 10 pivots, replaced by a much simpler, lighter suspension design that makes use of flexible seat stays and a shock-slider to guide those flexing stays to drive the rear shock – the very same layout boasted by the XC and Downcountry-oriented Evolve FS. Indeed, the development story of this frame is very closely-related to that of the Evolve FS.
- Bike: Arc8 Essential
- Intention: Trail Riding
- Fork Travel: 130-150mm
- Rear Wheel Travel: 120-130mm
- Wheel Size: 29″
- Frame Material: Carbon
- Sizes: M & L
- Weight: 12.7 kg (SLX Build in Size Large)
- Starting Price: 4,399 € (SLX Build)
We get the impression that the Essential is the bike that designer, Jonas Mueller, is most passionate about. He tells us that he named it as such because, if he was forced to own just one bike, this would be it. With the ability to run 120-130mm of rear wheel travel, paired with a 130-150mm fork, this one slots into the Trail category. But, this is a bike that blurs lines in both directions; the lightest stock build comes in at 12.2 kg, but there’s plenty of scope to build something a lot lighter.
The Arc8 Essential Trail Bike is a dedicated 29er, and it is available in just two sizes; Medium (465mm reach) and Large (495mm reach), accommodating riders from 160-190 cm tall. The team had originally planned to make a small frame, too, but found that riders as short as 160 cm felt the 465mm reach of the medium frame delivered a very comfortable fit. After consulting with Andreas Gösele, doctor of the Swiss Olympic team and a well known bike fitting expert, Jonas decided a size small was not necessary.
Arc8 Essential Frame Details
The Arc8 Essential frame weighs a claimed 1800g. Arc8 said they wanted to reduce the weight of the Essential frame, as compared to that original open-mold design, without compromising stiffness. They went about that by 1. switching to a lighter suspension platform, and 2. by reducing the surface area, not the wall thickness of the tubes.
They applied those changes in reverse order, however. Before they even turned their attention to the suspension platform, they were able to save over 250g simply by reducing the frame’s surface area. Moving away from the four-bar linkage of the original Essential, with its ten frame bearings and all of the hardware that came along with those pivots, Arc8 were able to save a further 118g.
The Essential’s suspension platform benefits from a reverse main pivot, wherein the chainstays sit inside the seat tube and the bearings are housed in the stay itself. That recessed portion of the seat tube, blocked from view by the stays, is in fact open, so debris cannot get trapped between the stay and the seat tube where it might cause damage. It can however enter the lumen of the front triangle.
Initial Ride Impressions
On the Trail Brothers’ Network of Massa Marittima, I rode the Size Medium Arc8 Essential in the top-end XT build. While the geometry chart you see above pertains to the 130mm/150mm setup, I rode the 130mm/140mm setup. This one retails at 5,299 €. That money gets you a Fox 34 Float Performance fork with Grip damper, a Fox Float X Performance shock, a 160mm (or 185mm) Bike Yoke Revive dropper seat post, a Faserwerk Baslerstab integrated 35mm (or 50mm) stem-handlebar combo, Shimano XT 4-piston brake up front with a 2-piston in the rear, and XT 12-speed drivetrain, Newmen Wheel Evolution alloy wheelset and Onza Ibex 2.4″ tires. It weighs 12.2 kg in size medium.
Setting up the bike was a brief affair. Taking the advice of an Arc8 representative, sag was set to 26%. At 163cm tall, I was fairly concerned the Medium Essential’s 465mm reach would be a stretch too far for me. And, I was right to be. With the shorter 140mm fork, the reach is actually slightly longer than that. At any rate, with the 35mm reach Faserwerk Baslerstab handlebar, the effective reach is 505mm, 25mm longer than that of my personal bike, the Revel Rail. The effective seat tube angle is 76°, delivering an effective top tube length of 596mm.
In the seated pedaling position, the bike simply felt too long. Weight was too rearward-biased, felt most acutely on the steeper singletrack climbs. I felt I had to bend forward more than was necessarily comfortable, resulting in my having to lean on the handlebar grips, rather than simply rest my hands upon them. To be fair, that was with the saddle positioned at the mid-way point along its rails, so there was scope to shunt it forward more to effectively shorten the front end and improve fit that way. Raising the bar higher up the stack, and cutting the bar to a more appropriate width (down from 800mm to 740mm) would have also helped reign in the reach, but i’m not entirely convinced it would be enough to achieve a good seated pedaling position for this 163cm rider.
On the climbs, the compromised fit did make the bike feel less efficient than a bike of this weight and travel bracket should feel. My hip flexors simply don’t have the mobility for that pedaling position to feel good. Having ridden bikes with a considerably shorter reach for many years, my muscles are adapted to pedal most efficiently at angles quite different to the angles permitted by the set up on the Medium Arc8 Essential. Based on that experience, I would have to warn shorter riders off the Essential unless of course they have positive prior experience of pedaling bicycles with that longer reach figure.
On the other side of the coin, I had no qualms with the additional reach when riding back down the hills on the blue-graded flow trails of Massa Marittima. It felt OK, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it any longer. Coming up out of the saddle, I immediately felt at home. The 64.5° head angle more commonly seen on enduro bikes was a great comfort, and I had no worries sending the Arc8 Essential down steep, rocky chutes with confidence.
That said, the 35mm reach stem with 800mm bars did make the steering feel a little twitchy and alien to me. The bike’s geometry requires an aggressive riding position; the relatively short rear-end (430mm stays) demands that the rider emphasizes weighting of the front wheel through turns in a bid to maintain traction.
Smooth, flowing, blue-graded trails were spot on for the Arc8 Essential. I had a lot of fun chasing down other riders on fast, undulating singletrack literred with small, optional, natural gaps. The bike gave me the confidence to hit those features, though I did case several of them. Little mistakes like that went unpunished, with the Essential’s 130mm travel taking those impacts in its stride. My willingness to attempt those features blind is evidence of the bike’s playful character. The bike’s low (BB drop of 40mm), slack geometry and trail-worthy spec make it very capable of some steeper, rougher terrain for the right riders.
A post-ride inspection revealed I’d made use of no more than 80% of the rear wheel travel, and no more than 80% of the fork travel. Thus, while the suspension set up felt balanced, it certainly wasn’t ideal. There was still plenty of travel left in reserve for bigger hits. Likely, the ride would have benefited from running slightly lower pressures in both the fork and shock.
At the Winter Bike Connection Event, I also had the pleasure of testing the Canyon Spectral 125 (reviewed here by Cory). I mention it here as the two bikes are very similar in regard to their travel numbers, as well as their head and seat tube angles, and I got to ride them both in the same week on the same trails under the same conditions. I was put on a small with a reach of 435mm (50mm stem), and I have to say I felt it was the better of the two bikes. I credit that to the more suitable sizing of the Spectral 125.
The Arc8 Essential has a very different suspension platform to the Canyon Spectral 125, and that can be felt on the trail. The Spectral 125 had noticeably more pedal kickback than the Essential, something this flat pedal rider is quite sensitive to. I’m not comparing apples with oranges too much here, as both the rear hubs had an equivalent engagement angle of 10°.
Pricing & Availability
In addition to the 5,299 € Arc8 Essential XT build described herein, there is also a more affordable SLX build available which retails at 4,399 €. That fetches you a RockShox Pike Select 140mm fork, a RockShox Deluxe Select+ RT shock, a 170mm travel RaceFace Aeffect 170mm dropper seat post, a Newmen Evolution SL 40mm stem with Faserwerk Rockstock carbon bar, a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain, SLX 4-piston brake up front with a 2-piston in the rear, and NEWMEN Performance 30 wheelset with Onza Ibex 2.4″ tires.
If you’ve a nice custom build in mind, you can also pick up a frameset for 2,199 € with a Rock Shox Deluxe Select+ RT shock and Acros headset and axle.