Classic MTB Brand Reboot: Ellsworth Bicycles Is Back

Ellsworth Handcrafted Bicycles, founded in 1991, nearly went out of business last year. Thankfully, it didn’t, because the Rogue 60 is one of the most outstanding full-suspension mountain bikes coming in 2017.

Ellsworth Rogue Mountain Bike
The author (in front) rides with Tony Ellsworth last month in Utah

It’s a Wednesday night in Utah. Tony Ellsworth and I sit inside the RV where he now lives, pondering the ongoing remodel of his nearly-new mobile adventure center.

“This is the new bathroom, all that wasted space is now a full size walk-in shower,” he says. The RV is only a few years old, but that’s Tony’s nature. He takes things apart, figures them out completely, and makes them better – including his namesake bikes.

Ellsworth Rogue 60
Ellsworth’s 8th full frame redesign, the Rouge 60

New Ownership

Ellsworth has been making bikes in America for more than 25 years. Two years ago he sold his company to American carbon fiber manufacturer BST, but the brand was poorly managed under its new ownership and Ellsworth acted quickly to reclaim it.

Under new owner Jonathan Freeman, who handles the business side of Ellsworth Bikes, Tony is freed from operational concerns to focus on his passion: building bikes.

The two make a good partnership. They also make absolutely beautiful bikes.

Ellsworth epiphany Mountain bike
The Epiphany 27.5+

Ellsworth Today

Ellsworth is back on its feet and working hard to roll out three new bikes. Another, still under wraps, is in development. The Epiphany 29 and Epiphany 27.5+ became available this spring. The Rogue 60 will be available soon.

We have been testing all three models for a few months on techy singletrack in Minnesota, downhill riding in Fernie, British Columbia, and most recently, on the rugged landscape of Deer Valley, Utah.

Ellsworth Rogue 60

The flagship of the new line, the Rouge 60 is a modern enduro bike with 160mm of travel front and rear. It takes advantage of the company’s investment in bio-kinetic research to adapt modern stack and reach angles to their new bikes.

Tony will tell you not to look at the numbers, that his bikes just feel right. According to him, an Ellsworth bike “feels effortless, everything working the way it’s meant to be.”

But to bike junkies, numbers tell a story.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 1.25.09 PM

It seems that all new bikes in every category this year have slack front ends with a longer top tube and a short stem. The Rouge is right on trend. A shallow 66° head tube angle (HTA), short rear stays, and long 432-490mm reach (M-XL) mean that the bike feels great while descending. The super short 420mm rear end keeps the ride stiff for better efficiency and the wheelbase length maneuverable. Tony “Boost”-ed the rear hub spacing to make the wheels stronger and the frame more accommodating to varying tire widths.

Ellsworth Engineering

From there he added some awesome tricks unique to Ellsworth that further improve performance. The first is a very unique through-axle. It is a “Hex Taper” axle which uses a female hexagon shape in the frame and a male hex shape in the axle, as pictured below. Especially on a “boosted” bike (one with a wider axle), this additional engineering is needed. The Hex Axle is used on all three new bikes.

The Ellsworth Hex Axle preloads
The Ellsworth Hex Axle preloads the rear assembly to eliminate both axial and radial play in the system, a great idea

Second, the new AEES (Active Energy Efficient Suspension) system is still an ICT (Instant Center Tracking) design, but it’s much stiffer. AEES employs a shorter machined rocker link that Tony developed after studying the corollary part on his Honda dirt bike. The machining on this piece is super aggressive, and Tony was stoked as he explained how stiff and and light he was able to get it.

Ellsworth Full Suspension Mountain Bike
This machined rocker link is flat-out gorgeous, on both the outside and inside.

The Rocker Locker pivot pins are overbuilt in terms of size but under-built in number of parts — Tony does not add shims or washers to make things fit. This avoids frame flexbut what we like most about it is that it reduces creaks and squeaks. In the weeks that we rode his stuff, the bikes were rock solid and quiet. This goes a long way to give a bike owner a sense they have invested in a great bike.

Cutting Edge Features, Minus The Garbage

It’s not only old school mechanical engineering; the Rouge even has an “electronics den” with room for electronic shifting hardware, and more electronic magic that Tony hints will come down the pipeline.

Ellsworth Mountain Bike
The Ellsworth “Electronic’s Den” shown here with 3D printed prototype parts

Although the bikes have the modern touches we want, they don’t have the modern touches we don’t. To wit, a 73mm threaded bottom bracket is a welcome sight on Ellsworth bikes instead of the press-fit variety we usually see. The GearJunkie garage is full of press-fit bikes that squeak and creak, even if they are lighter.

Additionally, the bike has internal cable routing for shifting and dropper post, but they are lined with straws so no headaches. Thank you, Tony.

Tony deservedly keeps his tagline “Ellsworth Handcrafted Bicycles.” All the details are there and the bikes are flat out gorgeous. Take a look at the factory-ready Epiphany in Candy Red.

Ellsworth Rogue Review
Crushing it

Test Ride Impressions

The Epiphany and the Rouge ride similarly, which is no surprise considering they share technology and suspension design. Both bikes are solid and quiet, almost stiff as pedaling effort is well-rewarded with forward motion instead of bob. They are not perfect, and climb noticeably better with the shock lever in a firm setting, but they are very efficient. The new AEES suspension remains very active under power, such that rocky and bumpy climbs are actually easier with the shock open, absorbing the terrain as the rider smoothly powers along above.

Epiphany 29er

The Epiphany 29er’s 120mm of suspension is enough for all but the gnarliest of trails as long as you have a dropper post. The front wheel is just barely out front enough for difficult descents. But although we thought it might be too steep a head angle for rough terrain, it never hung up on big drops or obstacles, the big wheels probably deserve credit for that.

It’s the raciest and most efficient Ellsworth, and would be a good marathon racer. We don’t recommend it as a cross-country racer, at least not without any remote lockouts. The bike is otherwise light and fast, which is one reason it was ridden a lot during our test. Another reason was its good looks. Waiting in your garage, it will draw you towards it, as if the visible carbon fibers might have something to show you beneath its translucent candied paint.

Buy Now: From $4,495

Epiphany 27.5+

The 27.5+ is the same bike as the 29er, but with a wider rear triangle that accommodates the 27.5 x 3.0 inch tires. This bikes was great in the rough and rocky terrain of Deer Valley, and held a ton of speed in corners. If we were buying, we would choose either the snappy acceleration of the 29er, or the plush travel of the Rogue, depending on riding style.

Buy Now: From $4,595

Rogue 60: Coming Soon

The Rogue has a lot of usable suspension travel that stays active under power. Despite the increased travel, it pedals similarly to the Epiphany with just a small reduction in efficiency. But the long reach and slack angles are what make the bike obviously different from the Epiphany, and these differences give the Rogue a lot more descending capability. Hitting the dropper post and sitting down into the Rogue’s deep suspension travel is where it’s at its best. Our time on the Rogue was short, so we can’t speak in depth about this one, but it’s laterally very stiff and quiet, and absolutely gorgeous.

Both the upcoming Rouge and the currently available Epiphany frames weigh 5.5lbs in size medium. The Rogue is slightly more advanced in terms of its weight reduction, which is how its weight equals the shorter-travel Epiphany.

Multiple builds are available, but we loved the $6,500 model we rode. That gets you a Shimano XT 1x build with Fox Factory suspension, XT brakes, DT Swiss M1700 27.5″ wheels and a RaceFace Turbine dropper. It weighed just under 30 pounds (size medium).

Final Word

The new bikes from Ellsworth completely kick ass. An Ellsworth owner can justifiably be a proud owner. They have a long history of being made in the U.S. by people that care about domestic manufacturing. They live up to the “Handcrafted” moniker: elegant design with unique ideas that work, and they’re stunningly good looking. If I were buying a 160mm trail bike, the Rogue would be at the top of my list.

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Contributing Editor Tom Puzak, a former attorney, found himself more interested in his bike than filing copies in triplicate. Now as GearJunkie's resident "bike junkie" he makes less money but enjoys a more creative work atmosphere. Puzak is based out of the Minneapolis office.

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