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Added a product review for 2014 Ellsworth Epiphany C XC 275 with Shimano XT 5/22/2014 7:03 PM
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Its a XC bike - No - Its a trail bike - No - Its the Ellsworth Epiphany C XC 27.5

Rating:

The Good: Beautifully constructed work of carbon fiber bicycle art.

The Bad: Difficult to identify its niche in the quiver.

Overall:
The Ellsworth Epiphany C XC is an ultra-lightweight masterpiece of all carbon construction with 140-millimeters of travel that attempts to bridge the gap between cross-country geometry and trail bike capability. Ellsworth boldly claims that the suspension design of the Epiphany C XC experiences “zero energy loss” and uses this proposition to support the logic behind a cross-country bike with trail capable travel.

I got the opportunity to demo the Epiphany C XC at the 2014 Dirt Rag Magazine Dirtfest. The guys from the Ellsworth van did a stellar job of setting up the bike and after a few rounds of suspension adjustments I hit the trail.

It is evident from first glance that no detail of this frame was an afterthought. The oversized rocker link is anodized in a bright blue that matches the blue stem and headset from Loaded Precision. Details such as internal cable routing and pleasingly curved carbon tubes abound. The finish and graphics are beautiful. The build quality appears flawless.

The demo bike I rode had a full Shimano XT build kit.  Shifting was crisp and the stoppers were excellent, exactly what I have come to expect from Shimano XT. 

Besides for looking good, the bike is light too.  Not sure of the exact weight on the XT bike but it wouldn’t surprise me if it weighed in under 27 lbs.  And if you’re a true weight weenie, there is room to shed more weight by going to a 1x drivetrain and lighter XTR components. 

Sizing:

I usually ride a medium frame and the medium Epiphany felt spot on.  I am 5’10” with a 30” inseam and had plenty of stand-over clearance.  Of note is that the top tube length felt a little shorter than I am used to for a dedicated cross-country bike but an amply long stem compensated for this adequately.

The Ride:

Riding the bike from the exhibitors’ area to the trail I immediately noticed what Ellsworth means by “Fully Active Suspension”.  The suspension reacts to the slightest twitch – sort of like standing on the edge of a springboard.  The travel is well dampened, but very sensitive. 

Unfortunately, when the trail started upward the (over?) active suspension became somewhat of a detriment.  It felt like it was bogging down on me, even when climbing on pavement. I switched the Fox Float CTD Kashima shock from “trail” to “climb” mode but this was of little help.  The only thing that made any significant difference was staying in the smaller chain ring even if it meant being somewhat cross-chained, which I habitually try to avoid.  Once in the small chain ring of the 2x10 drivetrain some anti-squat kicked in and climbing manners improved a little, but were far from great. 

Small bump compliance and traction were both good as I slogged up a short climb through some muddy singletrack and switchbacks.  Eventually I arrived at the top of a fun downhill with some woops and berms.  Prior to the descent, I used the quick-release collar to drop the seatpost a few inches, flipped the shock and fork to “descend”, and away I went. 

The bike handled the descent better than expected for having such a steep geometry but felt a little sketchy in the air and a little twitchy through the turns.  The wheelbase of the 27.5” wheels goes only so far in balancing out the steep geometry.  The active suspension and carbon frame did a fantastic job of smoothing out the few rocks and roots I encountered.

The final part of the demo ride was a flowy loop with some net elevation gain.  The Epiphany rode ok on the flats but really underwhelmed on the short punchy climbs.  Standing on the pedals to climb was exhausting.

Conclusion:

The result of Ellsworth’s attempt to combine the cross-country and trail bike genres is a beautiful, no detail overlooked and lightweight bike with an identity crisis.  It needs to decide whether it’s a XC bike, and if so, grow some 29” wheels and better suspension efficiency. Otherwise, it should be a trail bike with slacker angles.

Unfortunately, the claim of “zero energy loss” falls short.  With its tweener 27.5” wheels and overactive suspension, this bike doesn’t climb any better than most trail / all-mountain bikes I’ve ridden.

Finally, the value equation – by the time you add pedals and a dropper post you’ll tip the $7,000.00 mark, price as tested.  And what you end up with for 7 G’s is a very pricey quiver bike that can neither replace a cross-country 29er nor a trail rig.  For that sort of cheddar, the exact purpose of a bike should make itself much more obvious. 

Synopsis:

A beautifully built and especially light, but expensive and generally underwhelming performer, whose exact niche in the quiver would be difficult to define. 

3.5 stars.  (1.5 deduction due to lackluster climbing performance.)

[Note: My experience with this bike was limited to a 2-hour demo ride at the 2014 Dirt Rag Dirtfest.  Conditions were damp-muddy.  Terrain was mostly smooth, hilly, singletrack.] 

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Yeti 575 Bike 9/16/2013 11:20 AM
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The Ultimate All-Mountain Single-Pivot?

Rating:

The Good: Short wheelbase provides excellent maneuverability; Suspension travel feels longer than its 5.75”; Carbon rear triangle dampens vibrations and reduces weight; Quality components, no house brand stuff; Reasonably light weight for an aluminum bike with this much travel.

The Bad: Front end can feel a little light on steep climbs; 32 mm fork stanchions can feel a little wobbly on really big hits.

Overall: [Bike reviewed: 2010 Yeti 575 Carbon "Race" build, size medium.]

[About me: 5’10” 205 lbs. 30” inseam.]

I’ve always been a huge fan of Yeti bikes, a company with roots dating back to the genesis of the sport and an enthusiastic, if not cult-like, following. After years of ogling I finally threw down the dough for a 575. My impressions of the 575 are overwhelmingly positive. I even entertain the possibility: is this the ultimate single-pivot all-mountain bike? Read on to find out.

Why the 575? This isn’t Yeti’s most advanced 26” suspension platform. For that you would need to look at the SB-66. Still, the 575 is Yeti’s longest standing and best selling model – and the reasons become obvious as soon as you hit the trail. This bike is pure playful fun. It wants to jump, flick and charge every line and it rewards an aggressive riding style.

To start, this bike climbs way better than one should expect from a 150 mm all-mountain bike.  (To be precise, the 575 has 146 mm rear travel and 150 mm front.)  The frame is adequately, though not overly, stiff. As far as anti-squat goes, I don’t know how Yeti does it with what appears to be a rather simple suspension, but they have it nailed.  Pedal bob is minimal with the Fox RP23 shock in ‘open’ mode and is virtually nonexistent when ‘pro pedal’ is engaged.

On steep technical climbs, my tendency is to ride the 575 with the rear shock in the ‘open’ position to benefit from the improved traction.  The drawback is that this causes the rear end to ride a little lower, which combined with its short wheelbase, gives the 575 a propensity to get a little light in the front end.  This only ever poses a problem on the steepest of climbs and can usually be overcome by positioning the ol’ derriere on the very tip of the saddle horn (ouch!  I know).

The only situation in which I regularly utilize the ‘pro pedal’ option is on long ascents up gravel or paved roads on my way to the real goods.  With ‘pro-pedal’ engaged the bike rides noticeably higher on its suspension but forfeits some needed compliance over larger bumps.  In all, the 575 doesn’t climb like a purpose built XC 29er but keep in mind we are talking about an all-mountain bike with 26” wheels. 

Further aiding its climbing ability is the 575’s reasonably low weight.  To that end, Yeti employs a mostly carbon fiber rear triangle with carbon seat stays and non drive-side chain stay.  The asymmetrical drive-side chain stay is aluminum and comes wrapped in a custom fitted chain stay protector.  I am sure the carbon fiber in the rear triangle shaves some weight.  But a latent benefit is its dampening effect that creates a very unique feel to the bike. 

An all-mountain bike that also climbs well is a beautiful thing.  But where the 575 truly shines is precisely where it ought to: on flowy trails and when gravity takes over.  The short wheelbase makes negotiating technical descents and switchbacks a breeze.  The suspension just seems to soak up anything you throw at it – travel feels way longer than measured.  It takes some patience to get the rebound and dampening dialed but the rewards are tremendous. 

A small drawback to the single-pivot suspension is that smaller bumps or washer board sections can feel a little harsh and sometimes a series of small wet roots requires a little more attention than deserved.  But this tendency is easily overcome on the 575 by simply pedaling aggressively keeping the rear suspension more actively engaged.

If I had to be ruthlessly fussy and choose just one thing to tweak in the 575’s downhill performance it would be to add a beefier fork (at the cost of added weight).  32 mm stanchions can feel a little wobbly on really chunky hits.  But this is really nitpicking.  Perhaps, if my intended use for this bike was to race enduro I may not only choose a beefier fork but also one with a little more travel, say 160-170 mm.  But I digress.

The “Race” build kit on my 575 sports mostly XT components with an XTR carbon cage rear derailleur and DT Swiss hubs and rims.  Other details include Fox RP23 rear shock and Float RLC 150 fork; Thomson Elite stem and seat-post; Cane Creek headset; Easton Monkey Lite composite handlebar; and Schwalbe Fat Albert tires.  Yeti doesn’t cut corners on their build kits with house brand components.  The only part with a Yeti logo on it is the saddle, but it’s a WTB Silverado.  The 575 can also be purchased as frame only, in a more value oriented “Enduro” build kit or a “Pro” version with full XTR.

I don’t want to spend too much space here on a detailed discussion of individual components because each one warrants its own in-depth review.  But I will say that the XT group components including brakes, levers, shifters, etc. are flawless and the XTR rear derailleur is a nice little bonus.

At 5'10" with a 30" inseam I went with a size medium, though I could easily ride a large in terms of stand-over clearance.  However, my theory of mountain bike fitting is that if in between sizes, always opt for the smaller one to promote improved bike handling. 

The only upgrades I made to my 575 are a Thomson Elite dropper seat post and tubeless conversion.  I used the stock rims and tires and Stan’s yellow tape and sealant (no rim strips).

If you are reading this review and considering the 575, it is worth noting that the model went through some minor tweaks in 2011 and a very big change is reported for 2014. 

The 2011 model sports a tapered head tube, dropper post cable mounts and direct mount front derailleur.  Unfortunately, gone is the carbon rear triangle in favor of heavier aluminum. But the geometry and hydro forming remains unchanged. 

If the reports are accurate, 2014 holds the most exciting changes for the 575 since its inception.  Yeti plans to continue the 575 as a 27.5” bike.  Pre-production photos look as though Yeti essentially maintained the geometry of the 26” model save for lengthening the rear triangle and slackening the head tube angle to make room for the larger wheels. While none of the changes from 2010 to 2011 would warrant an upgrade, I must admit, a 27.5” version is compelling.

The thing that can be most difficult to quantify and relate about any bike is the intangible element of overall “feel”.  When it comes to the 575 though, it’s easy.  One word: Solid.  This bike just oozes quality.  The design and craftsmanship are superb.  After much abuse from rocky, technical east coast riding my 575 is still flying high.

Mountain bike design is often a series of interrelated compromises and the 575 is not immune from that fact.  The 575 is not all things rolled into one.  But is it the ultimate single-pivot all-mountain bike?  A great case can be made in favor of that proposition.  Simply put, the bike does everything that it ought to very well.  It even excels in some categories that come as a surprise for an all-mountain rig.  So if you had to select a standard bearer for the all-mountain category the 575 should be near the very top of your list. 


This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2013 GT Sensor 9R Expert Bike 8/8/2013 10:16 AM
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2012 GT Sensor 9r Expert

Rating:

The Good: I-drive suspension works well. Formula RX brakes and levers are excellent.

The Bad: Stand-over clearance will have you singing soprano. Crazy long wheelbase. Rock Shox Recon Gold mates choppy travel with lots of lateral play. Alex XD-Lite rims are weak. Maxxis Aspen tires not ideal (regional consideration).

Overall:

[Note: This review is of the 2012 model which appears to be identical to the '13.]

Without burying the lead, I will start by saying that I consider GT to be an iconic bicycle brand and I have ridden many GT's in the past including my first mountain bike, a 1993 GT Tequesta. I wanted to love the Sensor 9r so badly but after about three weeks and 15 rides I ended up returning it. Here's why: 

On paper the Sensor 9r Expert seems like a good value with Fox's Float CTD shock, RockShoz Recon Gold fork and Formula RX brakes.

One thing I noted from the moment I climbed on the bike is that at 5'10" with a 30" inseam, the size Medium frame (which is the smallest size available) lacks adequate stand-over clearance.  But once in the saddle, the geometry of the bike feels ok.  I was assured that the lack of stand-over clearance would be a non-issue (turns out that was very wrong). 

First ride impressions was that the bike climbs surprisingly well for a 30 lbs. trail bike, even on techy climbs with lots of roots and large step-ups.  The hydro-formed tubing seems to provide a reasonably stiff frame and the i-drive system works as advertised with very minimal bobbing, though on longer sustained climbs I locked out the CTD shock.  All this comes with one major caveat: this bike likes to track straight.  The 29" wheels provide excellent roll-over capability but the very long wheelbase (more about this later) makes quick turns to avoid obstacles or improve your line very difficult.  Net result is that I would end up straight lining many tech sections that I would normally weave through on my 26er and the results were mixed.  if the 29" wheels were able to roll over an obstacle then great.  If not, I was usually unable to flick the bike up and over like I would my 26" wheeled bike.

When the climb ended and the trail turned to downhill the slack head tube angle and active (though not plush) suspension of the Sensor 9r is confidence inspiring.  Unfortunately, that confidence is very short lived due to the RockShox Recon Gold's stanchions having an uncomfortable amount of lateral play and very choppy travel.  At first blush, I thought the play might be coming from the head-set, but upon closer inspection all the play was, in fact, coming from the fork arms, not the head. 

As during the climb, if the downhill section is straight and does not require any serious maneuvering, the Sensor 9r is fine.  It also feels balanced launching small bumps.  However, on more technical sections or through tight twisty turns where there is a premium on acceleration, the length of the bike coupled with the loose and shaky front end leaves one wanting.  

On a high note, the Formula RX brakes with 180mm rotors provide excellent and quiet stopping power.

On a low note, the stock Alex XD-Lite rims couldn't go two rides without having to be trued and the Maxis Aspen tires with their thin sidewalls are the wrong choice for rocky east coast trails.  I ended up having to run 40 p.s.i. to avoid constant pinch flats.

As a result of long chain stays (possibly to make room for 29" wheels on a bike originally designed as a 26er) and slackish head angle, the wheelbase of the Sensor 9r is crazy long for a trail bike.  Test riding the bike in the parking lot of the LBS did little to prepare me for what to expect from the length of the bike in real world trail riding scenarios.

The underlying mistake I made with choosing the GT Sensor 9r was to give GT too much credit based on past successes.  There are several factors that lead me to suspect that GT's engineers did not give this frame enough careful consideration in retrofitting it as a 29er.  The wheelbase makes the bike difficult to manage.  The stand-over height is so tall that I would have to stand on the tips of my toes to avoid a sudden change in singing voice and in one particular emergency ejection situation this contributed to a rolled ankle -- that's when the honeymoon was officially over.

One final gripe is that the cable routing on the frame appears to have been an afterthought.  At several different locations along the cables' paths, the cables rubbed the finish down to bare metal.  I realize this is mostly a cosmetic matter, but it tends to shed some light on how much or how little attention was given to the design details.  Between that and the cheap finish on the Deore cranks being burnished off by the inside of my bike shoes, after merely three weeks of use the bike looked like it was three years old.

Despite my mostly negative thoughts on this bike, I still believe GT is an excellent bike company.  And they must have been listening to their consumers because the Sensor underwent a total revamp for 2014 and will come back as a 27.5" wheeled bike.  Unfortunately, for the 2012/2013 Sensor 9r, I believe this bike is lacking.

This review, however, would be woefully incomplete if I failed to mention that I purchased the bike from Performance bike shop who impressed me with the way they stood behind their product.  I explained to the shop manager that, although the bike was not dismal, I was certainly less than satisfied with it.  After a short discussion of my options the manager was happy to refund my purchase price in full, without further question.  That is impressive customer service!

All-in-all I think the GT Sensor 9r is a small dark spot in GT's otherwise sterling catalog.  Even the 26" wheeled version seems much more in its element.  The 9r sort of feels like you're wearing shoes that are three sizes too big.  However, the 2014 model looks like a very serious improvement and given my feelings about the 9r not really feeling right, I think its interesting that GT is reincarnating the Sensor line as a 27.5" only model.    

 

This product has 2 reviews.