Dirt Rag Magazine

Ellsworth returns with new ownership, new bikes


For a while there, the patient was touch-and-go. Assets were on the operating table. Little passion was moving through its blood. After its sale to BST Nano Carbon in late 2014, Ellsworth looked like it might not pull through. The 2015 lineup wasn’t released at all.

“We weren’t dead,” joked company founder Tony Ellsworth. “We were fermenting.”

Then, as it has done many times before, Ellsworth came roaring back to life—just in time for its 25th anniversary—with a new owner supplying much-needed capital and Tony Ellsworth still at the helm. Despite not having bikes in dealer showrooms, the team never stopped engineering, and for 2016 it has an all-new lineup with clean-slate designs built around its classic Instant Center Tracking linkage system.

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A four-bar design, ICT is similar to the Horst-link design used by many brands, but it keeps the virtual pivot point in line with the chain forces, thus preventing drivetrain input to affect the suspension. Because of this, Ellsworth says, it runs a much softer tune on its Fox shocks, allowing the suspension to remain much more active during pedaling or braking.

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The centerpiece of the new lineup is the Epiphany. Combining the traits of several previous models, the 2016 version is available in two frame materials and three wheel sizes. The 27.5 versions have 140 mm travel and are built for 150 mm forks, while the 27plus (pictured) and 29er versions have 120 mm of travel and 130 mm forks. To further differentiate the attitude, the aluminum bikes have a much slacker head tube angle for a more gravity-oriented ride.

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All the bikes use identical ICT systems with smaller rockers that Ellsworth admits were slimmed down based on customer feedback that the massive rocker links of the past looked outdated. All the models also use a 148×12 Boost rear axle with hex-shaped ends that lock into the frame to prevent twisting. Making everything as stiff as possible can only improve the performance of the suspension, Ellsworth says.

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Each of the Epiphany models will be available in a frame-only or in six spec levels, starting at $3,895 for the aluminum 27.5 and 29-inch models and $3,995 for the 27plus.

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The new lineup also includes the Moment and Dare, which share a frame but are built into either 160 mm all-mountain bikes in the case of the former, or 200 mm downhill bikes for the latter. That same frame can also be set to 180 mm for freeride or bike park use. Switching travel isn’t as simple as flipping a shock mount chip though, so don’t plan to do it trail-side.

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Other new models include a carbon hardtail Enlightenment in both 27.5 and 29er flavors, and the Buddha fat bike.

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While the bikes aren’t entirely made in America, Ellsworth says it still prides itself on having one of the highest percentage of American-made content in its bikes in the industry. The carbon frames are made overseas but the aluminum frames as well as the rocker links and chainstays are made in the U.S.

 

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Inside Line: New carbon Focus SAM C and Spine


When Focus first came to the U.S. in 2009, the brand made a name for itself in the road and cyclocross markets, but it wasn’t able to bring its full mountain bike line across from Germany because of patent conflicts. Since that time, it has been able to expand its suspension offerings in the U.S., first with the aluminum SAM and now for 2016 the carbon fiber SAM C and the Spine.

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SAM C

The SAM C is a 160mm travel all-mountain bike with 27.5 wheels and aggressive geometry with a slack head tube angle and long front center. Some key numbers:

  • 65.8 degree head tube angle
  • 75 degree head tube angle
  • 430mm chainstays

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The new carbon fiber version is an evolution of the aluminum model retaining the traditional linkage-driven single pivot suspension. The entire structure is carbon, including the swingarm and linkage. This is a bike that clearly prefers descending, but it can get uphill thanks to a frame that weighs just 2,400 grams.

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The frame also features internal cable routing through a port in the head tube and what Focus refers to as Stable Stiffness Per Size—the carbon layup changes throughout the size range to keep the ride quality consistent throughout the size range. The most visually striking aspect of the frame’s design is the top tube’s arrowhead shape that flares dramatically near the head tube.

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There are three SAM C models. All three models ship with Rockshox Pike forks, dropper posts and single-chainring drivetrains though the frame can accommodate a front derailleur.

  • Team: SRAM XX1 build and DT Swiss wheels.
  • SL: SRAM XO1 build and DT Swiss wheels.
  • Pro: SRAM X01 and X1 mix with Concept wheels.
  • The aluminum SAM model will stick around for 2016 as well.

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I took the SAM C for a quick demo ride and came away extremely impressed with its descending prowess. While the single pivot design lacks the more advanced axle path of more complex suspension layouts, the Rockshox suspension and carbon structure make it remarkably subtle over rough terrain. The combination of the light build and upright seat tube puts you in a comfortable position for climbing as well.

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Spine C

While the SAM C would be the choice for all-mountain riding or enduro racing, the Spine C is likely to be a better choice for all-purpose riding. With a design similar to the SAM C but with 120mm of travel, it bridges the gap between cross-country and trail. Available with fork choices including a Rockshox RS-1, Rockshox Pike or Fox Float 32, it can be configured with sever distinct attitudes. It also features internal dropper post routing and a fixed front derailleur mount—It can even fit a triple chainring crankset.

Some key numbers:

  • 68.3 degree head tube angle.
  • 75 degree seat tube angle.
  • 428mm chainstays.

The full carbon frame features all the same technologies as the SAM. While an aluminum Spine model is available in Europe, only the carbon fiber version is coming to the U.S. for 2016, in four trim levels:

  • 0.0 – SRAM XX1 build with Rockshox RS-1 fork and DT Swiss wheels.
  • Factory – SRAM X01 build with Rockshox Pike fork and DT Swiss wheels.
  • SL – Shimano 2×11 XT build with Fox 32 fork and DT Swiss wheels.
  • Pro – Shimano 2×11 XT build with Rockshox Reba fork and Shimano/Concept wheels.

Pricing hasn’t yet been set for the new Foucs models in the U.S., but it will be sorted by the time they go on sale in August.

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