By Karl Rosengarth
When 29ers first burst onto the scene, "hardtail" was the only flavor on the menu. Nowadays, riders can choose from a veritable feast of big-wheeled delicacies, including a growing number of longer-travel bikes. The Ellsworth Evolution SST.2, with its 120mm of front/rear travel, is one such offering.
Tony Ellsworth, CEO of Ellsworth, told me: "The Evolution is for cross-country trails, built for all day excursions, where comfort is paramount over weight, though its weight is kept lean through careful design optimization. If you’re a big air, all mountain, gravity type rider—that would exceed the design intent for this bike, as it is meant to be light and pedaled all day through the mountains and deserts, with enough travel to make any terrain rideable with a high degree of control and comfort."
I say: "Big wheels plus big travel sounds like a recipe for big fun. Sign me up!"
I devoted my first ride to dialing in my suspension and cockpit position. Ellsworth recommended setting up the rear shock with 20-25% sag, and after some trial and error, I settled on about 25% sag in the rear shock, as well as the fork.
My first impression was that the rear suspension did a fine job of resisting rider-induced bob, yet remaining active and supple, even on smaller-scale impacts. For this preliminary report, I’ll spare you the gory details of how Ellsworth’s Instant Center Tracking (ICT) tuned four-bar linkage suspension works. Besides, Ellsworth has a great series of vides on the tech section of its website that does a does a much better job of explaining the ICT than I could ever do.
Talk about diving into the deep end! My next ride, after setting up the Evolution, was with the Dirt Rag staff at Moraine State Park, home to some of the rockiest, most technically challenging trails within striking distance from DRHQ. Plunging into technical terrain atop an unfamiliar bike could have been big mistake. Fortunately, it turned out to be quite the opposite.
The Evolution handled instinctively, and I felt immediately at ease atop this steed. Thanks in no little part to the confidence inspired by 120mm-worth of well-behaved suspension. I charged into unfamiliar rock gardens, and for the most part, came out clean. The few dabs that day kept my ego in check and remind me that line choice is still part of the game, even with big wheels and long travel. Some folks will look at the suspension’s long linkages, and wonder about side-play. So far, I can say that I haven’t noticed any significant side-play nor unwanted flex.
During subsequent rides, closer to home, I’ve had the opportunity to exercise bike’s nimble handling on tight, twisty singletrack. The 72-degree head angle is steeper and I typically prefer. However, the bike has a flickability that worked well in close quarters at slow-to-moderate speeds. It remains to be seen how well the geometry works on fast, flowy trails. I’m looking forward to hitting some bigger mountains and answering that very question. That’ll have to wait until later.
Note that the Evolution is just one bike among a series of longer-travel 29ers that Dirt Rag has lined up for a group-test, scheduled for Issue #165. Right now would be a great time to subscribe and make sure a copy of Issue #165 is waiting for you in your mailbox. Until then, I’ll see you on the trails. I’ll be the guy riding big wheels with big travel, and having big fun.
- Age: 55
- Height: 5′ 10"
- Weight: 150
- Inseam: 32
- Country of Origin: USA
- Price: $4,595 as tested ($2,395 frame/rear shock).
- Weight: 28.2lns (without pedals)
- Sizes Available: S, M (tested), L, XL
- Drivetrain: SRAM X9
- Fork: Fox Talas 29
- Rear Shock: Fox Float RP23 w/ Boost Valve
- Brakes: Avid Elixr 7
- Wheelset: Ellsworth XC