Four years ago, while interviewing Dave Weagle we got a hint at what was to come. There were no definitive plans at the time, but Weagle mentioned that he had an all new suspension platform named Orion that would be perfectly matched to a 1x drivetrain – only there were no plans for it to be used on a bicycle. Originally developed for motorcycle use (hence the 1x specific nature, just with a sprocket instead of chainring), Weagle was keeping his options open in terms of licensing the design – to motorcycle or mountain bike companies.

About the same time, Tim Krueger was just starting to form his rider-owned empire. His long term plan would be to have a high performance mountain bike company with carbon frames, but the lengthy development time of carbon meant that he could pursue other things in the mean time. While Esker Cycles was being created in the background, Tim went on to found Advocate Cycles as a way to learn more about the ins and outs of owning a bike company while simultaneously giving back to the community. Then there was Terrene Tires – another way to learn more about the industry while creating a “house brand” tire so to speak that was purpose built to fit the needs of first Advocate, and now Esker.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Fast forward four years, and we’re seeing the first results of Tim’s massive investment in carbon molds with his first carbon bike, the Elkat. Not only is this Esker’s first model, but it’s the first bicycle in the world to use the Orion suspension system that Dave Weagle designed. As it has been in the past, the development of the Elkat around the Orion system was a very hands-on affair with Esker’s engineer Anders Broste working directly with Weagle to ensure that the suspension system lived up to its potential.

Throw in some killer design work from Jason Ness, and you have a mountain bike that rides as good as it looks – if not better. Combined, the team of industry veterans behind Esker have over 100 years of collective experience according to Krueger – and everyone rides. That’s a big part of the Esker brand philosophy. As a rider owned company, they want to design products that the end consumer can “ride any trail, anywhere, and know that they will be fully capable,” and know that it will stand up to the abuse.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

The Orion Project

Originally, the Orion project was slated for motorcycle use and because of that, Weagle was holding off on licensing it to mountain bike companies. However, in an apparent win for the world of mountain bikes, the motorcycle project never panned out and in December 2014, Tim and Dave started discussing an Orion equipped mountain bike.

According to Orion’s original patent filing in 2010, the system’s biggest advantage is the ability to “maintain a stable squat response magnitude under powered vehicle acceleration.” It goes on to discuss how many suspension systems allow this squat magnitude to vary widely based on where the wheel is in the travel which causes an inefficient design that results in a loss of energy. The Orion system maintains a stable squat response throughout the full range of travel to make for a very efficient pedaling bike that also increases the ability of the suspension to absorb bumps while also improving traction.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

To do it, the Orion system has a one piece swingarm assembly that rotates around the bottom bracket with two short links below, and a clevis shock yoke up top. The bottom link rotates around the bottom bracket, but the bottom bracket itself does not move. The massive size of the main lower link should help with frame stiffness along with the blend of high modulus carbon fiber with Smooth AF carbon molding. All suspension pivots utilize sealed cartridge bearings with dual row bearings used on the swingarm.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

The frame shown in all of our photos is the last prototype version so a few things will change – like the cable mount on top of the upper link. That will be gone for production. Not shown is a custom e*thirteen taco bash guard that will make use of the splined interface on the 73mm threaded BB shell and the 2/3rds ISCG 05 mount.

As mentioned, the Orion suspension system is specifically designed around a 1x drivetrain – so no front derailleurs here. As Tim points out, when the bike was first being developed four years ago, building a bike that was 1x only was still considered a risk. But as we’ve seen with 1x everything for mountain bikes, it’s a risk that seems to have paid off. Not to mention the Orion system seems to finally make good on those promises of better suspension designs thanks to the chain being in a single chainring position when 1x systems were first appearing as early as the days of Truvativ Hammerschmidt.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Key to the design of the suspension is that the kinematics of the frame are responsible for the performance of the system, rather than relying on shock technology. That means the shock runs lower compression and rebound damping for extremely active suspension when you need it and efficient pedaling when you don’t. You’ll still find a custom tuned Fox Float DPS rear shock with metric sizing, but it’s not far from your average Fox Float – just with a custom level of damping.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTBEsker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

150mm of travel, 27.5″ wheels

While the suspension is sure to get a lot of attention, there’s also the addition of an entirely new bike company and their first carbon frame. Named after the geology term referencing a serpentine ridge formed by streams in glacial ice, Esker joins Terrene Tires as another brand under the Krueger Outdoor Inc. roof.

The Elkat is a 150mm travel all-mountain bike that is built around 27.5″ wheels and has clearance for up to 2.6″ tires. Bikes will ship either with 150mm or 160mm forks. The cable routing is a mix of internal shift and external brake, though we’re told a few changes have been made to the cable ports for production.

The frame has all of the features you’d expect like Boost 148mm rear spacing, internal dropper compatibility, a 44/56mm ID internal headset, and frame protection for the chainstay, seat stay, and two spots on the downtube (lower section, and upper section for tailgate pads). We’re told that rather than molded plastic, Esker is opting for custom 3M helicopter tape application since it ends up lighter than the molded pieces and offers a surprising amount of protection. That, and we’re sure it’s a lot less expensive for a new brand to produce than custom molded plastic/rubber pieces. You’ll also find a bottle cage mount inside the front triangle with plenty of room for a larger bottle even on our test bike which was a medium.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Rather than try to hide it, the Kruegers have always been proponents of the idea of “Handmade in Taiwan.” These frames are indeed made by hand in Taiwan by people that take a lot of pride in their work. My first carbon frame factory tour in Taiwan was actually arranged by Tim years ago, and it wasn’t until writing this post that I realized he was actually showing me the factory that would later make his bikes. And that factory was extremely impressive – clean, well organized, and home to some other big name brands.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Slack & Steep Geometry

We’ve been seeing a steady evolution of mountain bike geometry and the Elkat continues that. If you’re not used to modern mountain bike design with steep seat tube angles and slack head tube angles, the Elkat will take a bit to get used to, but the idea is that it’s designed for dual purpose. When climbing, the frame’s steep effective seat tube angle of 75.9° puts you in a position that’s ideal for maintaining traction and using the muscle groups best suited for climbing.

But when the trail points down, the advent of the dropper post has allowed bikes like the Elkat to drop the saddle so that it’s out of the way, letting you get into an attack position for controlled descending. The Elkat is definitely not an ultra long reach monster like a Mondraker however, as the resulting saddle position of the bike actually makes it feel fairly short when seated and pedaling, but more on that in our first ride review.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Pricing / Availability / Builds

Starting with your choice of four frame colors, riders will have the ability to purchase frame kits for $3,000 which includes the seat collar, the Fox DPS rear shock, Wolf Tooth Components headset, spare derailleur hanger, and pivot service tools. Complete builds will start at $4,000, but the idea is that each bike will be hand assembled to order with the individual owner choosing all of the parts based on their needs and wants. Because of that, Esker will be primarily consumer direct, though we’re told there will be a limited group of national retailers that will offer the same kind of service – start with the frame and hand pick your build.

Esker Cycles first w/ Weagle's Orion suspension on all-new 150mm Elkat MTB

Your first chance to demo an Esker Elkat is this weekend at Outerbike Crested Butte. But if you don’t happen to be within driving distance of Colorado, Esker will have demo bikes at a number of consumer events for the remainder of the year with the goal of delivering production bikes by December. If you want to guarantee your own bike from the first batch, Esker will be offering pre-order reservations for $500 which includes immediate delivery of an Esker gear pack with a hat, t-shirt, and a custom High Above x Esker hip pack shown above. That $500 will of course then be applied to the price of the bike once delivered.

What about Advocate Cycles?

The Advocate Cycles brand has evolved into Esker, but that doesn’t mean favorites like the Hayduke are gone for good. We’re told that a new and improved version of the (now) Esker Hayduke is on its way, and we’ll see more bikes under the Esker brand in the future.

eskercycles.com

15 COMMENTS

  1. Any type of suspension kinematic is suitable for 1x… it only depends where you place the (virtual or not) pivot point, and what kind of effect you’re looking for. It’s just another DW.

    • Agreed. All this does in unnecessarily complicate replicating a single pivot with an Instant Center that remains almost static. That’s the dirty secret none of the suspension designers have wanted to admit to…1x renders VPP, DW, etc pointless. A single pivot and 1x drivetrain are a match made in heaven.

        • Riding something like a VPP back-to-back with a modern single pivot like a DELTA system is extremely convincing in favor of single pivot. The success of HSP bikes on the World Cup is another data point. But execution is always more important than the layout.

  2. So Esker Cycles is rider owned, like Specialized and Trek?

    Just poking fun. Always interested in what the mad engineer, DW, is up to next. Looking forward to seeing Esker’s first 29er with Orion.

    • 2x or 3x systems have radically different chainlines and chain force vectors acting on the suspension depending on what ring you’re in. That all goes away with a 1x. Hence why a single pivot is ideal for a 1x system.

      • Chris – you are right if you are only isolating the drivetrain. Somewhat. With a single pivot, yes, you can easily dial in any anti-squat numbers that you want with a single chainring, by simply placing the pivot in the right location. However, there are two major things you are missing. With a single pivot, you cannot change the range of the anti-squat, or the curve that it takes. It will simply go linear based on the pivot placement, movement of the tire contact patch, and travel of the bike. With a multi-link, not only can you change the rate at which the anti-squat changes, but you can also adjust the total range that it will change throughout the travel of the bike.

        And then, that also is only talking about drivetrain forces and forward motion. Once you also realize that bikes need to stop too, and in addition to all we said above, we also need to factor in braking forces, well then single pivots end up falling way behind. You can never optimize a single pivot for both acceleration AND braking at the exact same time with the exact same pivot.

        • A bit late for a comment, but, really nice response! And procecuted nicely and sober.
          I guess sceptics will always drag a single fact out of context, just to prove a point. Which then becomes kinda moot.
          The frame sounds/looks very interesting!

  3. Sorry, but this suspension system was not designed with 29er’s in mind. That wheel size does not work well with suspension. The new 28.5er will work as long as it is super boost plus.

  4. Hello,
    At outerbike Crested Butte my brother did a demo of this bike just randomly. He loved it and let me ride it a bit. The bike felt amazing. It felt smooth over downhill sections that in other bikes were too chattery. The pedaling platform was amazing. I went uphill to test it out and was amazed. It seemed perfect on the up as well as the down. I then went back to the booth and talked to them a bit. Dave Weagle did their suspension. The closest thing I could compare this bike to was the Pivot Mach 6, which is an amazing bike in itself. I think the Esker Elkat is the best 150mm bike I have ever ridden.

  5. looks like it functions similarly to Niner’s CVA suspension, just with a closer link spacing and concentric BB. Looks really cool tho

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