Like, oh my GOD. It’s amazing! It’s gorgeous! It’s PINK! Ellsworth kindly lent us an Epiphany for the summer, and even made it pink to promote Project Pink, which donates to breast cancer research every time someone orders a pink bike. If you’re considering an Ellsworth purchase, I can assure you that the color pink they use is out-of-this-world beautiful. No sissy powder pink here!
The Epiphany, as far as I can tell, is a sort of crossover, something-for-everyone, divine creation. Even after talking to Tony Ellsworth himself in depth about bike design, I scoff at the idea that a mere mortal designed this otherworldly frame. It climbs well, it descends well, it soaks up the bumps…this is THE go-to bike for a one-bike quiver (one bike? What madness is this of which I speak?) and for those planning trips with a little bit of everything.
Speaking of Tony, he had a lot to say about frame design, materials, the development of his patented Instant Center Tracking system, and the quality of bike manufacturing, and I particularly enjoyed his “Conversation with Carbon Fiber” bit which I like to think he did just for me. The guy is clearly brilliant and a perfectionist, which he freely admitted (though he had no choice but to admit it, since I overheard him explaining to a contractor that he would only permit round holes for his HVAC systems – oval just would not do. Since I’ve spent the last year renovating my house, I can fully appreciate this level of attention to detail). And perfectionism is what you want when you’re dropping more money on your bike than you do on your car. Seriously – once I had two Ellsworth bikes on the bike rack on my old GMC Jimmy, and I realized that the combined net worth of the bikes could buy four Jimmys. Not worth the risk of having them on a rather aged hitch rack. I then took the bikes off the hitch rack and carefully stowed them in the Jimmy for safety. Good old Jimmy, plenty of room for two Ellsworths. What more could one want from an SUV? Anyway….
After a few local test-rides, I was presented with the opportunity to tag along on a 50-mile mountain race with one of the other Geargals. Get this – she was RUNNING fifty miles. Because of the isolation of the race and the potential for bear encounters, she asked me to tag along on a bike for safety. The route would involve steep and sustained ascents and descents, technical terrain, variable weather, and probably quite a bit of mud, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what the Epiphany could do. I also wanted to use a bike with a comfortable riding position and enough technical capabilities and substance to handle the terrain. Like any Geargal worth her salt, I wanted it ALL! With a 120-mm fork and five inches of rear travel, I figured the Epiphany was the right bike for this type of trip – and, for those of you who don’t like suspense – I was right!
I’m not a very finessed rider, and tend to just bully in hail-mary style through rocky sections. Therefore I was beyond thankful for the travel on this bike. Every time I smacked my pedals on a rock was a bad fall avoided – on a bike with less travel, I probably would have been crashing to the ground. The suspension ate up the terrain like it was made of gummy bears and other soft squishy things. Forgive the TMI, but I had been too lazy to swap the stock saddle out to my women-specific saddle, putting my faith in Ellsworth’s legendary cush-factor technology. The Epiphany’s suspension was so plush that it almost didn’t matter that I was riding on an inappropriate saddle. I say “almost” because I was suffering during the last 12 “junk miles” which were road miles and therefore required seat-firmly-in-saddle style riding – ouch. Even the Epiphany couldn’t do much about that.
The ICT suspension really does work. Very heavy riders might have trouble with full suspension bikes, but I noticed absolutely no difference in efficiency while climbing. As a matter of fact, for a biker at my level, this bike offers the same efficiency as a hardtail and perhaps even more, since the mere pain factor of climbing rough terrain on a hardtail tends to slow me down. I am much quicker at climbing with the Epiphany, because I don’t pre-wince when big obstacles arise. I know the ICT will just soak up the bumps while keeping the back wheel firmly in contact with the ground. I noticed that it was even a little more difficult to bunny hop the Epiphany, because it really does want to keep its rear wheel on the ground. This bike cares about you, you see, and it hates to see you turning the cranks for nothing. You pedal, you move forward; it’s a no-nonsense arrangement.
I did take a nasty tumble that I blame firmly on the Epiphany. After the steepest, most difficult climb of the ride, I was enjoying the more mellow incline of the trail and the scenery at the top of the pass, and the comfy Epiphany lulled me into not watching where I was going. Front wheel off the trail – Head Geargal goes boom. Ow. So, note to self: Epiphany is not equipped with autopilot.
That’s about the only complaint I can come up with, really – that the bike doesn’t steer itself. This bike is incredible and I am beyond impressed with Tony Ellsworth’s talent and dedication to creating unmatchable mountain bikes. Since I’ve progressed to riding high-end bikes, I’ve become more attuned to the nuances of frame design, personal preferences, and fit. Those who believe that riders can’t discern differences in frame design are just flat wrong. Positioning, balance, and technique are all affected by frame design, and each rider is going to have her own preferences. Thus, it’s very difficult to review bikes without resorting to comparing them to other bikes, and the Epiphany puts its rider in a slightly less aggressive stance than either my regular bike or the Ellsworth Truth (which I’ve also spent some pedal time on). I prefer a more stretched-out and aggro position, but to be fair I didn’t have a professional fitting done for me with this bike. Whatever issues I had (which were so minor I really can’t even justify mentioning them) could probably have been addressed with a proper fitting. Even so, most people prefer a less aggressive position than I do, so I think for the majority of riders, the Epiphany’s rider positioning is just about perfect.
Because of its “crossover” (XC + downhill) type of design, the one thing this bike doesn’t do as well as some others is tight cornering. It’s just more substantial than some XC race-style bikes, and isn’t as flickable as others I’ve ridden. This doesn’t mean it can’t do it, it just means that it requires a different style of riding than I’m used to. This won’t be an issue for good riders, and beginner riders will appreciate the stability and forgiveness of the Epiphany. Everyone will have a different opinion regarding the highlight of the Epiphany, but for me it’s the bike’s performance on sustained downhills. During the 20 miles of sustained descent on my 50 mile ride, I found the Epiphany so comfortable I hardly even had to think about it.
Now the bad news. If you want this bike, it’s not gonna come cheap. Even after a gracious discount offer from Ellsworth, I still couldn’t afford to keep the Epiphany this year (I probably couldn’t afford to maintain its lifestyle in a way to which it is accustomed, anyway) due to my compulsive bike-buying spree earlier in the spring. If you, like others who aren’t members of the Gates family, can only afford one high-end bike, you cannot possibly go wrong with the Epiphany. There is absolutely nothing that it can’t do to the very highest standard. Be warned, though – you’ll be so spoiled by all that rear travel that riding other bikes will become much more difficult. It will puzzle you why some obstacles that the Epiphany ate for breakfast aren’t quite as easy for other bikes. Poor other bikes – this is the Angelina Jolie, and they are the Jennifer Aniston. I think Jennifer Aniston is totally rad herself; I just think Angie is more likely to eat things that get in her way for breakfast.
Muchas gracias to Ellsworth for lending us the bike, and to Tony for taking the time to chat!