I've been talking to Glen at Elephant Bikes about a mountain bike for at least a year. Probably more like two. I really liked the Kona and I had no pressing need for a new bike, so the Elephant mountain bike was always sort of pushed back on the priority list.
But as it often happens: a bike gets in your head and you want to make it real. Over the last couple years Glen has built a handful of mountain bikes. Most of them have been 29ers. He built himself a 26" and he built one 27.5'er. Mine is a 27.5. But I prefer calling it a 650b.
Glen likes a long front-center, a slack-ish head angle, and tight rear triangle. That's what my bike got. And so far, it's rad. Glen and I ride enough together where he's been able to watch me ride and understand what I like/want. He didn't like how much drop I had between my saddle height and my bars on my last bike. He thought I should be more stretched out, but not with as much weight forward/down. I didn't specify any angles or other design elements of this bike. The only input I provided on this bike was the color.
I've only taken one ride on this bike, so I can't claim to understand it completely. Also: I have a really hard time verbalizing how bikes "feel" when you ride them, especially when comparing handling characteristics. It's like watching people taste wine or coffee or beer and picking out "notes" of exotic, random flavors (nutmeg, rosemary, straw...).
In any case, I took a super familiar route for my first ride: down the HD trails to the river trail out to megachurch, up to SFCC drop into the river trail again, then looped back at Meenach. I've done this section a million times and I know it inch by inch, so I know how it feels to ride all the various interesting sections.
My descending on twisty stuff was a bit slower as I'm getting used to the front end handling. I want to provide way more steering input than this bike requires, so I'm getting used to that. When sitting, my weight is more evenly distributed on this bike -- more over the center of the bike, whereas on my Kona, I really had push my weight back on descents -- so on this bike, I don't need to do that as much. That kept me a bit conservative on the switchbacks.
But the straighter/flow sections of the descents were ridiculously wonderful -- the input thing and the weight distribution thing that kept me a bit tentative on twisty stuff, allows me to just friggin layback and lean through the long turns. As a result I went way faster through the rollouts than I have on any other bikes.
I also really noticed a difference with climbing: both seated and standing. Again: it has to do with where my weight is. I don't quite understand it yet, but the rear wheel seems to grab better and my feet feel like they are more behind the pedals a bit -- it feels right. With the higher cockpit and more weight back -- transitioning into a climbing stand seems way more intuitive right off the bat. This is hard to explain. But I'm digging the bike.