MI:TECH Epsilon P1 – On Test: by c_g

Unified Rear Triangle frame (short: URT), PINION-Internal gears and GATES Center Track– those are the keywords to quickly summarize the technological highlights of the Espilon 120mm 29″er full suspension bike by MI:TECH. Each one of them would be reason enough to do a multi piece article on but all combined into one – that is pretty spectacular, I´d say.

MI:TECH is no stranger to us. We have known them since we have had their ROHLOFF/GATES equipped alloy hard tail Tyke RoEx in 2010 on test (here). They are a small manufacturer from Germany specializing on made-by-order and custom frames, but also do a lot of prototyping for other bike companies. Flexible building processes long lasting experience in alloy frame building and meticulous attention to detail come together at MI-TECH and help create truly desirable bikes. Each bike is made specifically for the customer with lots of options – be it the choice between standard or custom geometry or other details like smoothed over welds, internal routing or axle/bottom bracket standards, and finish – in the end there is hardly one MI:TECH bike that is like another.

Luckily folks at MI:TECH dare to think out of the box, too. Far from mainstream they have always been open to innovations and are working a lot with alternative drive train technologies, such as GATES belt drive systems and ROHLOFF´s internally geared hubs … and they have been one of the earliest adapters to the brand new PINION internal gearing. What´s more, the newly designed Epsilon puts all this into a frame with URT suspension technology.

Many of you readers may be catapulted into the 90´s when hearing about URT bikes (if you remember them at all :)). The concept has been quite popular with several bike manufacturers, most notably by TREK and GARY FISHER (then formally still separate), IBIS and KLEIN, but things did quiet down in the late 90´s – arguably because the moving bottom bracket (relative to the rider) and the compromised rear suspension performance when standing on the bike were putting limits to the bikes´ performance single pivot or Horst –Link bikes didn’t have. I have never thrown a leg over any of these bikes at the time, so my approach to this test is pretty much free of prejudice. The reasoning that when standing you increase unsprung mass dramatically is well known and that this is something not desirable, but I am still very curious as to how the system will actually ride out on the trail in real life.

MI:TECH to our knowledge are the only high-end manufacturer, who has revived the URT concept into a modern MTB. „Our experimenting have shown that, when carefully placing the central pivot point and with the performance of the modern day platform shocks this is really not an issue anymore.“ says Jürgen Militzer, owner and master brain at MI:TECH „We feel the efficiency gain when standing and still very active suspension performance when sitting actually are more assets than a drawbacks. By customer reception and number of orders, I´d dare to call the Epsilon a success for us already.

Something else is worth noting: The fact that with the URT suspension design you get absolutely no chain stay growth by suspension action, the Epsilon may well be the only existing full suspension bike that can be run with a GATES belt and as a single speeder (without the need of a chain tensioning device).

Sounds great on paper, doesn´t it – but in true TNI-fashion we judge a bike by how it does on the trail and this is what we will be setting out to explore in the coming weeks …and of course let you know about it here.

We have first been introduced to the MI:TECH Epsilon last summer and have been wanting one for test ever since. Unfortunately some availability issues with the PINION gearing unit and later with the compatible GATES components have delayed this test until now. Differing to the version we have seen then, the current Epsilon (and our testing sample) is executed with a new, dynamic looking set of hydroformed tubes. Gone are the conservatively looking straight tubes for their full suspension bikes (unless specifically requested) – only the hard tails will come stock with them from now on. For this progressive bike we think it looks really great!

When looking at the geometry numbers – our Epsilon sample is rather conservative and promises a neutral feel. To accommodate the GATES Center Track belt, it comes with slider dropouts that allow a chain stay length adjustment from 445 to 465mm. The bike came with a 39T sprocket in the front and 30T in the rear and with the right size belt – the sliders are pretty far back, resulting in a chain stay length of 462mm. Later on we were announced a 1:1 ratio combination, which may result in quite a different chain stay length. We will see.

Of course the PINION internally geared system is another key part of the bike – the P1.18 as it is called is a unit with 18 gears with pretty constant 11,5% steps per gear, resulting in a overall range of a very respectable 635%. The system has been envisioned by two bike crazy engineers from a automotive background but the high standards set by them have postponed the final release considerably. It was 2011 that the PINION 1.18 has first been shown to the public and only late in 2012 that the production units became available to the public.

PINION promises an extremely low level of maintenance, a free trouble free mileage of at least 60.000 km between major services (that’s better than most cars :)) the only maintenance work being a recommended annual oil change (or after 10.000 km – whatever comes first), perfect gearing steps without any overlapping – overall the PINION gearing system could well be the only real competitor to the durability champion ROHLOFF 500/14 internally geared hub (reviewed here). The biggest step when going for the frame mounted PINION unit is that it requires a special frame (no retrofitting to existing frames possible or compatibility with other drive train systems). Also – it weighs a hefty 2.7kg). So when you commit to PINION it is „all or nothing“ and financially quite a plunge. Of course the centralized weight of the PINION unit right at the BB makes up for some of this weight, but just how much … we shall see.

The GATES belt drive is no stranger to us – we at TNI have had plenty of time with it in the last years. I have had my first contact with the GATES belt drive in 2010 – curiously on another MI:TECH bike – the Tyke RoEx hard tail (tested here) an EBB frame with a Rohloff rear hub. According to GATES and supported by Guitar Ted’s and Grannygear´s experiences the Center Track belt is even more tolerant to small variations in belt alignment, frame stiffness and belt tension. In their recent reviews of the SPOT BRAND Rocker SS Ti (here) Grannygear had little to complain about the belt´s performance and Guitar Ted came away impressed after his Interbike demo ride on the RALEIGH XXIX (here) as well. We are curious to see if we will agree.

All together the MI:TECH Epsilon is one exciting bike. The frame including the PINION unit retails for € 2998.-, or € 3198.-. when going for the full custom geometry. For all those fine upgrade details mentioned earlier the up-charge is quite reasonable.

Apart from the above covered our Epsilon sample came with several well known components. Suspension duties are handled by FOX – the shock is a high volume FOX CTD unit, the fork is a 120 mm F32 FIT Talas Terralogic – both out of the KASHIMA coated top end Factory series. Wheels are the REYNOLDS MT29 carbon hoops –the 2012 version of the wheels we have used and abused intensively in 2012 (here). Tires are SCHWALBE´s Hans Dampf 2.35“ and brakes come from MAGURA in form of their MT6 (180mm front, 160mm rear). The cockpit and seat post are from German component master brains SYNTACE and the saddle is one of our current favorites – the WTB Volt Team.

With the info given above it is no surprise that the complete bike in size M is no lightweight racer, but a truly trail worthy machine with weight of 14 kg or 30.8 lbs (w/o pedals). You may get a bit lighter with very weigh conscious components, but the MI:TECH Epsilon P1 is never going to be a lightweight bike.

Stay tuned – we will report back when the trails clear up again after the recent winter storm and we have gathered our first impressions on the MI:TECH Espilon P1.