If 29-inch wheels had not gained wide acceptance, the concept of one bike that does it all would be a pipe dream. You would have to have one bike for your daily rides (say an Ellsworth Glimpse), one for those times you wanted to slap a number plate on (an Enlightenment) and one for when you got together with some friends for an endurance event (the Truth). Well, Ellsworth would rather sell you three bikes, but if you don’t have the room, they feel their new-for-2011 Evolution 29er can take the place of all three.
Jump forward: Not all suspension designs make the jump to 29-inch wheels as gracefully as others. The Ellsworth Instant Center Tracking has no trouble with the transition.
WHO IT IS MADE FOR?
Just looking at the numbers, it would be easy to lump the Evolution in with short-travel trailbikes, and it would be right at home there. Yet the larger wheels make the most out of the bike’s 4.7 inches of travel, and with the right component group, pounds could be taken off this bike. That means the Evolution is an everyday trailbike that could be pressed into service as a cross-country racer, technical rager or long-distance wrangler.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The frame is made from Ellsworth’s proprietary, drawn, seamless aluminum tubing that is swaged, shaped and tapered. The only gusset on our frame was at the top tube/seat tube junction. The rocker links are machined in the USA, and the CNC-machined chainstays are asymmetrical, offering plenty of tire clearance. Ellsworth’s oversize bearings press into seats and housings, requiring only a single-bolt-per-pivot assembly.
On course: Ellsworth has the steering geometry dialed for a 29er. It turns with a light touch and offers more than enough stability. Even loose terrain feels tacky under the Evolution.
The rear suspension is Ellsworth’s patented “Instant Center Tracking,” a take on a four-bar linkage. At any point in the suspension travel, a four-bar linkage causes the rear wheel to swing in an arc around an imaginary point in space called an “instant center.” The Evolution uses its long upper link and an FSR-type, chainstay-mounted pivot to direct the rear suspension’s instant center ahead of the front wheel. In theory, this causes the rear suspension to support the rider as if he were riding aboard a swingarm much longer than the bicycle itself. Instead of rocking between a short lever and a telescoping fork, pedaling forces are distributed more evenly between the front and rear suspensions.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Our Evolution was close to the SRAM X9 build kit that Ellsworth offers. This is their entry-level kit that doesn’t skimp on the all-important suspension components but passes on super-lightweight (expensive) parts in favor of slightly more durable ones. The standout component, other than the upper link that dominates the horizon on any Ellsworth, is the Ellsworth X39 XC wheelset. They use 24 spokes with two-cross lacing and Ellsworth’s patented “Quad Butted Spokes” up front and 32 three-cross Quad Butted Spokes in the rear. The Kashima coating on the Fox suspension is a hard extra to miss.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
| Ell-ementary: Ellsworth “Instant Center Tracking” rear suspension. The Avid Elixir brakes provide plenty of 29-inch wheel-stopping power. One beefy head tube.
The last Ellsworth 29er we tested was their Evolve model way back in 2008. That’s like 20 years in 29er years. That bike suffered from the ills of most 29ers of that era: heavy acceleration from wheels, tires and drivetrains that were all borrowed from 26ers. The 2011 Evolution is a different animal.
The Evolution’s sloping top tube affords a low standover height for a frame of this size. In fact, this bike doesn’t feel like a 29er when you are positioned in its cockpit. It mimics a 26er closely, even in regards to the handlebar height and top tube length.
The Ellsworth ICT has no issues in the pedaling performance department. We had great results running the shock on the “1” firmness setting and never touched it again. In or out of the saddle, the rear suspension delivers a firm pedaling platform but remains active enough to soak up trail chatter. You know you are on a 29er getting up to speed from a stop, but the 30-speed drivetrain gives you plenty of options to get up to and maintain speed.
Our Evolution had such meaty tires that we stopped trying to find the bike’s high-speed cornering limit because we were scaring ourselves. This bike sticks. When it does lose traction, you are going to be traveling at warp speed. Ellsworth has the steering geometry dialed for a 29er. It turns with a light touch. The only caveat is a fairly long wheelbase that slows things up a bit in tight singletrack.
At close to 30 pounds, it doesn’t have the uphill snap of its carbon fiber counterparts, but it doesn’t have their price tag either. The bike is willing to motor up the climbs, again, in or out of the saddle. If climbing is your thing, there are plenty of ways to reduce the Evolution’s weight—and your wallet’s weight at the same time.
When a 29er is designed with quality travel, it is hard to imagine a need for more travel than what the Evolution has. This bike gobbles up the descents. The nastier the better. Both wheels divvy up the suspension chores equally. The Ellsworth suspension gives the rider a totally centered feel. The final bonus is a rear suspension that remains active under braking. Nice.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Convert the wheels to tubeless. Sure, you already knew that. We would be tempted to slap on 1.9-inch-wide tires to help with acceleration, and then maybe we would be able to find this bike’s cornering limit.
Country of origin
Bottom bracket height
Top tube length
Head tube angle
Seat tube angle
Fox 32 Float TALAS 29 RLC
Fox Float RP23 Adaptive Logic
Ellsworth XC 29
Kenda Karma L3R Pro (2.2”)
Avid Elixir 7
Ellsworth Loaded X-Lite (27" wide)
SRAM 10-cog (12-36)
27.8 feet (per crank rotation)
4.6 feet (per crank rotation
None (weighed with Shimano XTR)
Not all suspension and frame designs make the jump to 29-inch wheels as gracefully as others. The Evolution not only made the jump, it benefited from it. The ICT suspension seems like it was made for 29ers. Its frame and upper rockers show no weakness in the form of lateral flex. The Evolution’s suspension is well balanced, and there is no learning curve on setting up the suspension. Finally, there is plenty of room for weight reduction if that is your ultimate goal. The Evolution is a bike that can wear a lot of hats. If you can’t decide which bike is best for you, why not get them all by buying an Evolution?