Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The last time I had ridden at McDowell Mountain outside Scottsdale, Arizona, I was racing my 2005 Trek 9.8 hardtail and it was the newest, hottest carbon race bike money could buy. While my skills as a mountain bike racer were only moderately better than mediocre, the bike itself was a star: a full-carbon frame, a RockShox SID fork with 80mm of travel, and 26-inch aluminum wheels you could set up tubeless!
This past week, I returned to those sandy, loopy trails on a bike with DNA derived from those XC racing days, which should come as no surprise, as the Chamois Hagar gravel bike is the brainchild of Evil Bikes — a mountain bike company from start to finish.
Chamois Hagar’s mountain roots
The Chamois Hagar looks an awful lot like the child of a mountain bike, with a staggeringly slack 66.67-degree head tube angle (and a whopping 93mm of mechanical trail!) and a top tube that slopes dramatically on a collision course with a seat tube that houses a 30.9mm dropper post. If those numbers sound unwieldy and out of place, well, you’re wrong on the first point but right on the second point.
“Most gravel bikes are a road bike scaled up to a gravel bike,” says Jason Moeschler, COO at Evil. “Evil started from a mountain bike and brought it down to what you see here.”
But it’s not a mountain bike. That, Moeschler reiterates, is key to ensuring the Chamois Hagar acts as a tool specifically for gravel — not shredding trails exactly, or tackling a tight cyclocross course. And certainly not for hopping in your local road crit. Dual-purpose design was not part of the agenda here.
What Evil set out to do was redefine what a gravel bike is. The Chamois Hagar is the mountain biker’s interpretation of where gravel is going. Evil might not be too far off base.
The Chamois Hagar’s notably unique appearance hides some clever geometry choices that will have you forgetting all about that slacked out head tube angle and dramatically sloping top tube when you’re ticking off the pavement miles before you reach the dirt. A special fork design reduces the axle to crown height, and a special offset helps reduce the flop-over feel you’d expect from a bike this slack.
Beyond that, the rider’s position in relation to the bottom bracket isn’t far off from that of other, more traditional gravel bikes on the market. In fact, the saddle position butts right up against the UCI’s limit on forward positioning in relation to the bottom bracket. You’ll be pedaling in a power position, in other words.
“Our saddle is at the forward edge of the UCI requirements,” says Moeschler. For reference, that UCI requirement states that the saddle nose must be 50mm rearward of the center of the bottom bracket. “From a cockpit perspective, the rider has just what you’re used to as far as pedaling. In general, your cockpit is right in the realm of a traditional road or gravel bike.”
To accommodate the long and slack geometry, Evil specs a super short 45mm stem on the Chamois Hagar. That helps keep the cockpit feeling lithe and maneuverable despite the long positioning. All told, the idea here was to maintain an active steering feel while elongating the bike itself for stability, all while allowing the rider to get lower on descents. A lower center of gravity (particularly with the dropper post dropped) means you can hit technical turns with more speed.
About that dropper post…
Not long ago, editorial director Ben Delaney and I postulated on the VeloNews Tech Podcast that dropper posts wouldn’t stick around very long in the gravel scene. The Chamois Hagar might have us eating our words.
For starters, Evil wisely chose to make the Chamois Hagar stock with a 30.9mm BikeYoke dropper post. That opens up compatibility with a far wider range of droppers should you want to make your own choice here. Had Evil chosen 27.2mm instead, options become limited. And the company found that the compliance flex between the two sized didn’t differ much, so why not go with more options? More is better, yes?
But that’s just a spec detail. The dropper adds much more to the ride than you might expect. Dropping the post low on the Chamois Hagar allows the rider to drop his or her center of gravity, while encouraging the rider to use the drops rather than the tops of the hoods. The drops are the safer and more stable position for descending and for tackling certain technical sections. The dropper encourages you to live there when you need it most.
Where art thou, 650b?
The Chamois Hagar can easily clear a 700x50mm tire. That allows heaps of tire options for racing, adventuring, and everything in between. Notably, however, Evil doesn’t say much about accommodating 650b tires.
That’s part of the design philosophy here. For starters, there’s a far wider array of tire choices at the 700c size. In addition to that, the super-slack head tube angle pushes the front wheel out enough that toe overlap isn’t likely to be an issue at any size. And finally, since the Chamois Hagar clears 700x50mm tires, Evil believes if you’re looking to go beyond that, you should probably be riding a mountain bike. (They have a few of those, too.)
Lastly, the super-low 80mm bottom bracket drop, another nod to stability, rules out 650b because you’d bottom out your pedals.
So that’s a line in the sand from this mountain bike company. If you are a 650b adventurer, this may not be your jam. But Evil seems to be confident that this won’t be an issue for most riders. Time will tell.
What it’s like to ride the Chamois Hagar
Getting back on my old XC racing trails had me planted firmly in the time machine, reminiscing on the vast amount of time I had spent years ago looping around these very same trails. But here I was, now riding a gravel bike on what we once considered race-worthy singletrack. That speaks a lot to how far gravel bikes have come — and how much farther gravel as a category has to go to find itself, and define itself.
The bike comes with either SRAM Force AXS ($5,899) or Shimano GRX ($4,799), and you can upgrade from the WTB Proterra Light i23 wheels, Evil 50mm stem and Easton handlebar to carbon options from Enve. My test bike had Shimano GRX with Enve G23 gravel wheels, stem and G Series gravel bar.
While I generally ride size Large gravel bikes, I fit perfectly on Evil’s size Medium.
On the swoopy, undulating singletrack near Cave Creek, Arizona, the Chamois Hagar feels right at home. It feels unsurprisingly stable on wickedly fast descents, a testament to that long trail and head tube angle. Drop the seatpost and you can get your weight lower than you ever would on basically any other gravel bike, so get off the brakes and let it rip.
The Chamois Hagar isn’t designed to accept a suspension fork, though given its capabilities on some of the rougher singletrack we encountered, I could certainly envision a suspension fork being useful here. Because I had slack geometry at my disposal, I found myself hitting technical trail sections with more speed and aggressiveness (as I would on my mountain bike). That was great, but it also meant that when I hit something the wrong way, the fork fought back and my wrists lost that fight every time. I wouldn’t rush out to put a suspension fork on this on my home trails, but I was certainly thinking about it here in the Arizona desert. Alas, the Chamois Hagar isn’t made for squishy bits.
I expected the slack geometry to become an issue on climbs, but it really was no problem at all. That’s due in part to another clever geometry cue: the position of the saddle in relation to the bottom bracket, as mentioned above. On long dirt road stretches, the Chamois Hagar felt like a more aggressively roadie gravel bike. And on climbs it felt easy enough to muscle up and over bits of technical outcroppings and the like. I always felt centered on the bike, and that in turn made me feel as though I was in good position for short bursts of power, or sustained efforts on flat road.
The one place I noticed the Chamois Hagar struggled is exactly where I thought it would: tight corners, especially at speed. Like early 29er mountain bikes, the Chamois Hagar does tend to overshoot corners. That’s the downside to the long, slack, mountain bike-esque geometry here, and that was evident on our test rides: any time a tight turn came up, the lines of tire tracks leading right off the trail seemed to pile up.
But again, as a mountain biker at heart, this felt familiar to me and it was easy to adjust my riding accordingly. It helped to lower my tire pressure a bit for extra traction while cornering, and once I found the sweet spot, it was easy to collaborate with the Chamois Hagar, even in high-speed and tight cornering situations.
If you’re coming to gravel from road or cyclocross bikes, expect a bit of a learning curve here. The slack geometry can prove to be tricky if you’re not used to it, and when you hop on the bike, you’re likely to notice the front end’s flop as you spin around the parking lot. But give it a chance; once you’re up to speed, the bike’s handling feels stable and intuitive.
A fellow rider asked mid-ride, “What exactly are we doing here? It’s not mountain biking, but it’s not really gravel either.” That’s a great way to sum up the Chamois Hagar: It’s charting a new path on familiar ground. You can shred it like a mountain bike or grind it all day like a gravel bike. It’s about power, but it’s also primarily about fun. You’ll be able to push the bike’s limits — and your own — on singletrack or tick away long miles on tamer dirt roads. Is it the perfect tool for either of those situations? No, but it sure is pretty darn good at both of them.