Pic: Frans le Roux
Pic: Frans le Roux

Ellsworth is a relatively unknown brand in SA, but with ASG recently picking up local distribution rights we’re sure to see more of these hand built bikes around. All round mountain bike guru and regular Full Sus tester, Rudolf Zuidema spent a couple of weeks with the Ellsworth Epiphany.

We managed to get our hands on the Epiphany Convert, essentially the same bike as the standard Epiphany, with the exception of being supplied with 2 wheelsets; one 29” and one 27.5+.

Our test bike came with a top tier build kit featuring XX1 Eagle Drivetrain, XTR Trail Brakes, Fox Factory Series 34 fork with 130mm travel and Factory Series EVOL (Extra Volume) Rear Shock providing the frame’s 120mm rear travel. Wheelsets are both DT Swiss Mid-Range Alloy offerings and finishing kit is supplied by Race Face including the Turbine Dropper post. The frame features a hand-built carbon main frame & seatstay assembly with alloy chainstays.

The Epiphany is a striking bike and demands closer inspection from the moment it catches your eye. The quality of the build is immediately evident in the striking paint finish that fades from a brilliant metallic blue into a blue smoke finish revealing the hand laid carbon structure of the bike. The very organic shapes of the mainframe, super beefy seatstays with what Ellsworth call CTA (Carbon Torsion Arch),  oversized (for 120mm travel) rocker arm and the relatively steep 69.8-degree head angle seeming to be at odds with each other will definitely raise a number of questions on the bike’s handling.

Cables are all full length internally routed in carbon channels that are part of the top tube structure, which will make servicing and configuration of all the hoses and cables a doddle. However, the absence of a configurable entry/exit port system or even a rubber grommet does mean that one gets a fair amount of cable rattling from the frame.

Suspension design is a tried and trusted four bar linkage that gives minimal brake jack or pedal bob and thanks to the FOX EVOL Damper doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of small bump sensitivity. The best feature on the suspension design is Ellsworth’s Torque Tube pivots. Ellsworth have opted to use Angular Contact Bearings on all their pivots, as opposed to the standard bearings used by most other manufacturers. Angular Contact Bearings are designed to function equally well under linear (straight) and torsional (sideways) load. The result in this application is bearings that last longer, work better and pivots that can be adjusted as the races start to bed in. So while replacement bearings will definitely come at a premium they will last much longer than standard bearings.

Ellsworth have their own rear axle system called HexTaper which features a hexagonal head at both ends of the axle that securely locate it into the frame, with an old-school style QR Lever for tightening up the entire assembly.  While the hex heads do locate precisely in the frame, the cam lever system is finicky and care will have to be taken not to lose parts in the dirt should you need to do a trailside repair.

We had the Epiphany for a very limited test period and as such still have a lot of questions as to who the bike is best suited for and what its true calling is. As you can expect from the spec list everything on the bike works like a dream. From our initial rides one thing is certainly clear; the 27.5+ tyre standard is a game changer. It’s already been proven that on the road a wider tyre rolls faster and some rudimentary comparative tests seem to suggest the same to be true off-road. The Epiphany was definitely more fun to ride with the fatties fitted as opposed to the standard 29” wheels. We suspect that it is largely due to the quirkiness of the frame geometry, which is where our questions find their roots.

Most of the Epiphany’s competitors that have proven themselves as excellent all-rounders have head angles between 67 & 68 degrees while the Ellsworth is pegged at 69.8; steeper than the Cannondale Scalpel at 69.5. Then there’s the very slack seat tube angle and long chainstays that are more common on long travel bikes and affect the bike’s climbing ability.

So in short the Ellsworth is pricey at over 120k for a bike with an alloy chain stay and alloy wheels, all be it two sets of them and the questions around the geometry. However, with its long wheelbase and steep head angle it is definitely going to be a stable, comfortable ride, particularly if you are a bigger rider as the frame sizes are on the bigger side of the scale. So if you’re a believer in precision craftsmanship or don’t like MADE IN TAIWAN stickers on your 100k+ bike and are more into finishing a day on the bike in comfort and style go take a look at the Epiphany.

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