2018 Ellsworth Evolution Convert
Words by Chili Dog // Photos by Chili Dog, Drew Rohde
As we wandered Sea Otter 2017, the sleek and sexy curves of a candy red Ellsworth Evolution Convert caught our eye. We were drawn into the booth to take it all in. After talking with founder, Tony Ellsworth, we got the details on the new bike and put our name on the list for a test bike once they were available. Slack, aggressive and beefy, it’s just the kind of 29er that gets us excited. But would it be a fleeting romance based on looks alone? Or would we still love the bike after months of riding it on our home trails.
The spec on our $6,495 XT build test bike was carefully chosen – an assortment of Shimano, Fox, and Race Face parts. For those wanting an absolutely decked build, Ellsworth also offers Di2 or Eagle equipped packages and a carbon Reynolds wheel upgrade. Bling comes at a price though so we were more than happy with our XT set up.
The Convert part of the Evolution’s name, comes from the frame’s ability to be run with either 27.5+ or 29-inch wheels. We chose the 29er platform with DT Swiss E1700 wheels clad in Maxxis Minion rubber.
Along with the ability to swap between wheel sizes, you’ll also notice lots of small details on this build. The tidy “E Den” is ready to house Di2 electronics. A hexagonal rear axle and shock mount bolts are also small but meaningful touches Ellsworth includes to improve the bike. According to Ellsworth, the simple addition of the Hex Taper Anti-Torsion Axle and the Carbon Torsion Arch has increased stiffness by over 300%.
This is a bike that was designed to go fast. We’re happy to live in a time where Minions on 29ers are a normal occurrence, and the fact they come spec’d on this bike speaks greatly to its intent. The wheelbase is longer than much of the competition at 48.26 inches (1,226mm) but what it sacrifices in tight switchback maneuverability, it gains in all out confidence at speed. The 17.91-inch (455mm) reach number and 17.16-inch (436mm) chain stay length puts it between the YT Jeffsy 29er and Trek’s Fuel EX.
The 66-degree head angle provides a slack and aggressive front end paired with a 13.74-inch (349mm) BB height. While average on paper, the BB feels a tad higher than some of the other 29er competition we’re testing right now on the trail.
None of that was an accident though. Andre Pepin, who works in product development at Ellsworth explains that, “Versatility was a main thrust of this bike. Put the 29-in wheels on this 140mm bike and the ACTIVE suspension provides everything you need to run with any travel 29er bike in the Enduro class. We’ve learned that following “popular” geometry trends sometimes means you get “pigeon-holed” in what a bike is capable of from a versatility standpoint. Most people don’t have three or five bikes in their quiver. Those customers will appreciate the versatility and capability of this enduro machine.”
The bike only packs 140mm of travel, which is on the shorter end for a bike that can hang with long travel 29ers. We attribute that to an impressively bottomless feel and tuned suspension curve. Despite using 100% of travel on every ride during our floggings, we never really felt it bottom or wished for more travel. Pepin says this is because “The Evolution’s Leverage ratio has no peaks or dives when compressing through the travel, allowing it to feel smooth over bumps all the way to the end of the travel.” The suspension on the Evolution remains active under braking or pedaling. Ellsworth also designed the bike to have a near vertical wheel path with no chain growth according to their charts found at the end of the review.
As a brand that has struggled in the face of a persistent negative stigma regarding their, “visually unappealing” bikes of the past, Ellsworth knew they had to get it right with the appearance of the Evolution. Most of our testers and the people we met on the trail think they did a great job. People’s eyes are drawn to the smooth lines and beautiful contrast between the glossy carbon fiber and the metallic candy red flake paint. This is a bike that you can stare at for hours and still find new details.
Thankfully the Evolution is more than a pretty face. Out on the trail, the bike has a calm and composed demeanor courtesy of the long wheelbase and slack head angle. The suspension is supportive and seemingly bottomless for being 140mm. Though we frequently used the entirety of the available rear travel, we never felt a harsh bottom out or catch. The Ellsworth team clearly put in the hours to craft a rear end that soaks up big hits while remaining efficient on the pedals.
Even under heavy braking, the rear end remains supple and active, which is much appreciated in washboard braking bumps. The Evolution is deft and poised in rowdy terrain. Though it isn’t as supple or remarkable as the NAILD suspension platform in the rough stuff, the Evolution is no slouch when it comes to getting rowdy, soaking up big hits and rocks nonchalantly. Coupled with the rollover abilities of the 29″ wheels it’s a recipe for speed.
Even under heavy braking, the rear end remains supple and active, which is much appreciated in washboard braking bumps. The Evolution is deft and poised in rowdy terrain. Though it isn’t as supple or remarkable as the NAILD suspension platform in the rough stuff, the Evolution is no slouch when it comes to getting rowdy.
Cornering was good once you got the bike leaned over and committed thanks to the long wheelbase and slack head angle. However, the bike took a bit more work to get there with what felt like a high center of gravity. Conversely, pedal strikes on climbs were much less frequent than on other low BB rigs. The added height is nice for putting down the power. While we can’t tell the difference between 279% and 300%, the increase in stiffness is real!
Sadly, the large upper rocker link that makes the suspension feel so phenomenal and laterally stiff is a just a little too bulky for our liking. It resulted in frequent calf strikes during pedaling or when throwing the bike around in the air. We definitely put on our kneepads to ride this bike.
While 29er’s aren’t typically known for their airborne prowess, the Evolution holds its own as a stable and self-assured co-pilot. It isn’t quite as flickable or playful as a Jeffsy 29, but Ellsworth’s intention was never to have the Evolution be a toy. It was created as a tool to get you up and down as fast as possible.
Climbing efficiency on the bike is solid in the open position and exceptional with the rear shock locked out. For a bike that descends as well as the Evolution, we were impressed by its ability to scale to the top of a climb with ease.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Ellsworth set out to create an enduro ready race machine with the Evolution Convert, but in the end created something far better. It’s a bike that’s able to handle the big stuff, while still remaining incredibly comfortable as a do it all rig. We do wish that the sizable rocker arm was just a little less chunky. We’d also prefer a ever-so-slightly lower BB height, though riders that live in fear of rock strikes would disagree.
For someone that only wants one bike in the garage and gets their kicks from going fast, the Evolution may be the ticket with its impressive suspension and good looks. With the ability to switch between 27.5+ and 29, the Evolution Convert certainly flirts with that elusive quiver killer idea, serving as a solid all around rig that can climb, descend and do everything in between. No bike is perfect, but the Evolution makes a damn good stab at it. If you’re one of the naysayers in the anti-Ellsworth camp, it’s time to suck it up and give the Evolution a try.
Simply put, this bike made us eat candy red crow.
Weight: 30.9 lbs