It’s been 25 years since the first Ellsworth mountain bike saw dirt. After a great run as one of the premier brands, Ellsworth started an uphill battle in a struggle to remain current. The ride of their iconic Instant Center Tracking suspension design is very rarely called into question, but the forums echoed concerns about aesthetics and frame stiffness.
To address those concerns, Ellsworth decided it was time for a new owner. BST Nano Carbon was chosen due to their desire to build new carbon bikes in the United States. While BST did a lot to help Tony and his engineering and design crew redesign the bikes, Ellsworth has a new owner. Again.
But this time, if Tony Ellsworth’s body language is any indication, things are looking up for the legendary brand…
One of the biggest points that Tony stressed to me during our time at PressCamp was that even though none of their bikes are completely made in the U.S. at the moment, Ellsworth still has one of the highest percentages of domestic components in the industry. For the carbon bikes that means around 45% domestic, while the aluminum frames are up to 65%. BST’s goal was to build an entire carbon bike in the U.S., but apparently aluminum bikes weren’t high on the priority list. Ellsworth still wants to have those halo carbon builds, but knows that to survive, aluminum frames will be important to the brand.
However, BST’s contribution to Ellsworth design is easy to see on the new frames. The rocker links are shorter (a common complaint against the old aesthetics), the rear end is completely redesigned and much more stiff, and the paint and finish of the frames is stunning.
Stiffness of the rear end has been increased substantially thanks to the new rocker arm design as well as the locking Hex Taper Axle. To improve the rocker link, the new two piece design uses an ovalized connector to prevent the two pieces from twisting. It also uses larger dual row, encapsulated bearings that use a 15mm locking pin where the seat stays attach to the rocker.
Using 12×148 Boost spacing on all of their suspension bikes, Ellsworth is employing a very interesting take on a thru axle with something of their own design. The theory behind their Hex Taper axle is that instead of round or threaded surfaces where the axle meets the frame, this design uses a tapered hexagon shape that physically can’t rotate. Tony says this increases the stiffness of the rear dropout area dramatically. To change the axle tension and lever position it can be rotated in the dropout with the numbers indicating its current position. Clearly the skewer lever is on the “wrong” side, but it’s designed to not interfere with the derailleur. There will also be a bolt on option in the future which will clear up the drive side dropout.
Additional changes include Di2 compatibility for the carbon frames (aluminum frame Di2 compatibility is coming), as well as a removable direct mount front derailleur mount. Tony mentioned that with so many bikes going to 1x, he hated the idea of this bulky derailleur mount left on the frame. Instead, a mount for Direct Mount front derailleurs can be added. Most riders will also probably be excited to see threaded bottom bracket shells on almost every bike.
To keep up with all of this new momentum, Tony looked to an owner who would be able to take care of all of the business stuff – things he admittedly doesn’t want to deal with. Instead, as the Vice President of Product design, Tony is free to work with his team to develop the product while the new owner Jonathan Freeman keeps the machine running. With the deal officially completed in December, Tony said that Jonathan has some serious business chops and great operational strengths which will help strengthen the Ellsworth brand.
As to the current state of Ellsworth? Tony claims they are selling every bike they can land. Product development is continuing with a goal to reshore some of the composite production this year, and a goal of a completely made-in-the-USA bike in the next product cycle. With a great staff and a bright future, it’s easy to believe Tony when he says, “the team has gelled together and has become more focused, and even more resolute.”