Ellsworth is back.
OK, maybe it never fully went away, but for years the company struggled to find and replicate the formula of a decade ago when it was building industry-leading bikes. They lost that edge when the market moved on from aluminum to carbon fiber and from XC-oriented bikes to easier-going geometries—and Ellsworth did not. There was also a drawn-out patch of ownership woes, funding questions, and inventory shortages, leaving the American brand on what felt like the verge of extinction.
The business side of the equation fell into place over the past two years with a new, energized ownership and smart funding. Then last year, Ellsworth came out swinging with not one, but two new models: first the 160mm Rogue 60 in June, followed by the 140mm Rogue 40 at Interbike. The decision to lead with a 27.5-wheeled enduro machine signaled the company’s willingness, at last, to fully embrace the longer, slacker, lower, more aggressive paradigm now popular with mountain bikers.
The Rogue 40, like it’s longer-travel bigger sister, is a fully modern bike. The carbon fiber frame has a nice shape and beautiful, sculpted tubing, and the geometry is contemporary, with a long front-center mated to a short stem, relatively short chain stays (419mm), and a comfortably slack 67-degree head angle. The frame features Boost hub spacing and a 1x drivetrain, and there’s even an elegant seat tube hatch to accommodate a Di2 battery.
Our tester skipped the electronics for a more proletarian approach, which we appreciated. The spec is basically flawless, including what we consider to be the best value standard-bearers in several categories: Shimano’s excellent XT drivetrain (with a 46-tooth granny), matching XT brakes, which basically never fail, and a Fox Float 34 fork, which features our absolute favorite blend of weight and stiffness for an all-around trail bike. Ellsworth offers a Reynolds Carbon wheel upgrade, but honestly the alloy DT Swiss M1700 Wheels clad with Maxxis High Roller tires did the job just fine and kept the price within reason. There’s even a dropper seat post—the awesome new RaceFace Turbine—a feature that Ellsworth resisted for a spell.
While the packaging is new and dialed, the suspension design sticks to the company’s roots, using an updated version of Tony Ellsworth’s fully active four-bar linkage. (Yes, Tony is thankfully still at the engineering helm.) Compared with other setups that rely on lockouts and damper adjustments, this system favors leaving the shock open to gain traction and efficiency while pedaling. It feels a bit odd at first, but it works. We clambered relatively easily up loose and techy obstacles in Sedona during the Outside bike test. On smashing descents and big-hit downhills, the Rogue 40 doesn’t feel as bottomless or progressive as some of the other bikes in this class, but it dealt with the terrain just fine.
Overall, we were happy riding the Rogue 40, but it doesn’t feel groundbreaking like some of the company’s early bikes. That’s partly a testament to just how crowded the market is now with excellent rides, especially in the trail and all-mountain categories. It’s also because the bike has a strange design quirk in the long, wide rocker link, which still lends an ever so slightly dated look, but, more importantly, also rubbed the inside of several testers thighs with its width. It didn’t affect everyone, nor was it a deal-breaker, but to truly lead in this time of awesome and refined mountain bikes, every detail must be dialed.
Still, it’s great to see Ellsworth back in the mix. The Rogue 40 is a very solid outing that could easily function as a one-bike quiver if you lived in a rougher part of the country. It’s good value, too, at $5,995, and would be a great option for trail riders who don’t want to show up at the trails riding the same big-brand models as everyone else. Based on this test, we’re even more interested in the Rogue 60, which promises to be an incredible enduro sled given the platform’s solid pedaling characteristics.