I recently had a chance to interview Tony Ellsworth, of Ellsworth Bikes. Besides building some truly great mountain bikes, he’s also got a beautiful road bike available, and a sweet cruiser with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Here’s what went down:
Q. To a lot of people, Ellsworth means meticulously engineered and crafted mountain bikes. There is nothing else like them. Can you share with us your design philosophy?
T.E. There’s so much to share about my passion for being outdoors, for powering the rapid movement over terrain by myself on a bike. For the freedom of independence from fossil fuels, from the exhilaration of conquering the technical terrain at speed with the mechanical advantage of a fine bike. My design philosophy is to not offend any of the natural wonders of cycling. Not to make inefficient frame designs, not to make bikes that look cool or have some faux new look or function, but to make bikes that bring real innovation and real advantage to the sport and art of cycling. My design philosophy is to think harder to make things more simple, efficient, aesthetically pleasing. I love bikes, and the best thing about being in the bicycle business is having someone else experience that “love” of bikes on something I’ve lovingly designed and created.
Q. Your Truth is considered an industry benchmark, and now you’re developing a titanium version. Is this a one-off exercise, or will we see the use of new materials across the range?
T.E. Material utilization means commitment to using the right material for the load and structure of a specific part. Each material has it’s strengths and weaknesses that have to be taken into account when we design with that material. Titanium’s strength is it’s ability to flex and move without fatigue, it’s weakness is too much deflection. Aluminium’s strength is it’s lightweight, so you can use enough of it to prevent excessive deflection, it’s weakness is fatigue. Titanium, if designed correctly has a unique feel of low amplitude deflection. The Truth being a benchmark, there are those who want that benchmark rendered in Titanium, and I wanted them to have what they wanted. I’ve been riding one for about a year, if you like the feel of Titanium, and want the uncompromised performance of the ICT suspension system, coupled with the Ellsworth brand, you’ll find the TiRUTH a warm addition to your bike quiver.
I’ll continue to explore and broaden choice and preference without compromise. I’ll continue to render the state of the art in a variety of forms and materials that lend themselves to clean, efficient, ownership friendly bicycles.
Q. The Project Pink is an unusual promotion for a bike company. How did that come about?
T.E. Actually I can’t take credit for this, it’s the brain child of Dave Wisenteiner, VP of Ellsworthia. He and Aimee Rocheleau, our Sales and marketing Coordinator, sadly, had a good deal of experience with cancer in their families and wanted to do something specific to make a difference. He wanted to make it substantial rather than just a marketing gimmick so that is why we are giving $50 per frameset to Ovarian and Breast Cancer Research. We’re all about doing things to make a difference in any small way we can. Yesterday, I walked around an entire rack of pink bikes (which we have not been able to keep in stock)—Dave hit a good nerve with this promotion, and I’m excited to be part of it.
T.E. I’ve been a road rider for longer then I’ve been a mountain biker. In fact, when people ask me if I’m a road or mountain rider, I say, “Well, I’m a dirty roadie”. The purity of a frame’s design counts on the road as well. Lately, all the cool carbon-fiber shapes and molding have kindled the interest of more people on the road, but it’s also made a 1.2 kilogram frame acceptable. I say, if you can have a horizontally stiff frame that has a supple engineered ride for less then a kilo, maybe all the swoopy shape in the world doesn’t offer more then the simple tenants of pure form and function. This last sentence described the ScANT. Shaped, tapered and swagged Scandium tubes coupled with engineered carbon fibre rear section. At less then a kilo, it will accelerate effortlessly, sustain high speeds without unwanted flex and sway from other lightweight frames, and amaze you with its supple ride characteristics. This is the heart of a fine road bike.
The RIDE is another project that is pretty divergent for me. Like I said above, I love bikes, and my greatest remuneration is having someone enjoy the outdoors and the cycling experience on one of my bikes. The RIDE is an effort to offer high performance, handling, design and craftsmanship in a package that is as inviting as it is rewarding to ride. When you see a RIDE, almost everyone is compelled to throw a leg over it, to take it for a ride. My goal was to package key things like sealed bearings, bio-kinetic geometry, lightweight carbon and aluminium, high pressure, low profile tires, and a revolutionary new transmission that takes all the hassle and intimidation out of the drivetrain and efficiently offers a 400:1 gear range. The RIDE’s best thing is how fun it is to ride. I’m hoping that this bike will capture the hearts of people who wouldn’t think of spending 5 hours on a 14 pound road bike, or crossing the front range on a full suspension mountain bike. But they’d love to feel the rush of leaning into a turn with the wind in their hair in shorts and flip flops. This is the bike for everyone else. Additionally, I’m finding it puts me in touch with the simple allure of a cycling in it’s purest form. I hope we can all get a chance to enjoy this part of cycling regularly. A grocery run on the bike, a coffee bar by bike. A date by bike. The RIDE makes all this more possible and more fun then a hardcore cyclist can remember. The RIDE series is expanding as well. My goal is to slowly make a difference with regard to fossil fuel consumption by offering viable alternatives to internal combustion transportation. Wish me luck!
Q. I understand that for 2007, you’re putting a lot into R&D. What can we expect to see on new models?
T.E. New models is the cry from just about everyone all the time. The fact is that this industry really shoots itself in the foot sometimes changing things that work great, instead of careful timely refinement of something that has the greatest potential. For example, The Truth didn’t become a benchmark from incessant changes – it became a benchmark by constant and relentless small refinements. I remember when I took three years to dial in the BB height by less then ¼”! You’ll see my working to provide the perfection of ICT suspension in better, more user-friendly packages and configurations. You’ll see careful attention to design, without sacrificing function. You’ll see me explore what’s possible with material management, with regard to components. We’ve been experimenting with carbon fibre technology that promises to reduce weight and increase strength by 10%. I’m super excited about the Ellsworth Wheels we are introducing this year.
Q. What do you see for the future of cycling, and where does Ellsworth aim to fit in?
T.E. Bikes will come and bikes will go, but cycling will go on forever. That’s not original, it’s plagiarized from Ray Davies of the Kinks—only he was talking about Rock Bands and Rock and Roll. Cycling is much more then a fad or a trend or a technological wave. There’s something really alluring about a bike, and how it to date will allow a human to cover more terrain with less energy then ANY other method. It’s like asking if sailing will ever fall out of style??? The future of cycling is bright and fun. It’s secure, and rewarding for all those that participate.
My only beef currently with the industry from my perspective is we all need to spend more time cooperating and getting along. No one benefits from big companies stealing the little guy’s ideas and marketing it as their own. None of us benefit from a sociopathic attitude toward other riders on the trail, on a different bike than us, or who enjoys a different aspect of the sport. We all need to celebrate the shared passion for turning the cranks, and breathing the air, and enjoying the fantastic planet that we’ve been given stewardship of.
Q. Anything you’d like to add?
T.E. Thanks so much for asking! Enjoy the ride.