The Good: Beautifully constructed work of carbon fiber bicycle art.
The Bad: Difficult to identify its niche in the quiver.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]