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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 flex, but 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.