Sunday, December 18, 2011

Personal Rides: Ellsworth Truth

It's been awhile since I cranked out an installment of Personal Rides, the critically acclaimed series where I amaze and delight readers with stories of bikes that I've ridden over the years. Soon to be mini-series on Fox, check your local listings...

The year was 1999, Racer Boy Ian almost ready to enter the world. Lovely wife Lori doing the house nesting thing - new crib, set up baby room, and other activities revolving around welcoming your first born. Bike geek, that be me, figured this could be the last chance to score a new mountain bike for quite awhile, not being sure what to expect being a new dad. Apparently, male and female brains are not quite alike.

The new bike selection process began to replace my current main mountain ride at the time, the illustrious '91 Fat Chance Yo Eddy, that I'd been riding since '93. A damn cool bike for sure, but pretty dated with non suspension adjusted geometry and 1" headset - even with rocking the Manitou suspension fork - all 60 mm of bumper technology, complete with greased rod for damping.

By 1999 full suspension had developed enough to work pretty well, so I wanted in, despite my old school roots. After reading and checking on various bikes, I zeroed in on a Ellsworth Truth. Handmade in the USA, four inches of rear travel, and geared towards XC use. Sign me up. One problem though, no one seemed to have 'em in stock. Bummer.

Small, short lived Seattle shop - can't remember the name - was the local Ellsworth dealer. One of the employees let me test ride his personal Truth. Cool, but a few week wait for a frame. I didn't wanna wait. Hey, we have a baby on the way...

I tried the mail order outfit, Cambria, none in stock, but they sent me a demo Truth to ride for a week. I rode it for few days and really liked it. Cambria had no frames in stock, also a wait. Damn. Offered to sell me the demo for a nice price. I didn't care for the parts pick or frame color, so shipped it back. The Cambria folks seemed really cool, even over the phone, wanted to give them my business - but didn't wanna wait for weeks. The search continued.

I forget where, probably from a magazine ad, called another mail order outfit. And at this point, years later, don't even remember the shop's name. Why yes, they did have Truth frames in stock, so I placed my order. Full Shimano XTR, Mavic ceramic rims, Thomson seatpost, Flite saddle, LP carbon 'bars, RockShox SID fork, Chris King headset, the full goodies list. This was gonna be a sweet bike. I gave the dude my credit card number and anxiously waited for the big brown UPS truck. And waited... And waited...

A week or two goes by, I call 'em to check on progress. Oh yeah, we just waiting for the headset, should ship tomorrow. More time goes by. My credit card is billed for the full amount, yet no bike. With very pregnant wife and other more important things to worry about, more time slips. I finally call 'em to cancel my order and magically my bike ships that day. Obviously this shop didn't have frames in stock and/or running by the seat of their lying pants filling orders after billing customers. Very lame indeed. Out of all my bicycle related purchases over the years, the only bad example, since bike related folks tend to be pretty cool. Not a happy customer experience.

In any case, the Truth finally arrived. Pulling it out of the box, looked fantastic. Matt black frame, gothic looking graphics, dark gray XTR, bright blue SID fork, red flight saddle. Awesome. After some minor assembly and tweaking, test ride confirms a sweet bike indeed. Light, snappy, but with rear suspension. The XTR worked flawlessly. The RockShox fork felt great - for awhile anyway. More on that later.

I rarely captured bike related pictures during that era, so only a few exist of the Truth. Here they are, with related tidbits of info from my defective mug...

Here's me, all puffy and red faced, getting my ass kicked during an actual mountain bike race, circa 2008. I wound up crashing heavily, no fault of the Ellsworth, severely bruising my leg and scoring a DNF. Weirdest injury I've ever had. Imagine getting hit in the femur with a baseball bat, but not breaking the bone. I limped around for weeks afterwards. When the swelling deep in my leg let go, entire leg turned various shades of purple, blue and yellow. Ouch.

Incredibly blurry, crappy shot, circa 2007. Ian and I riding the Iron Horse Trail, including the two mile tunnel. This was a medium sized Truth frame, me being between sizes. Seatpost jacked up and long stem to fit. Probably should have went for the large, but coming from the old school XC background, felt fine. I went with XTR v-brakes, looking to be light as possible. Combined with ceramic rims, next best thing to disk brakes.

Three different forks lived on this bike over the years. The original '99 era RockShox SID didn't last long. Adjustment was a hassle, it always seemed to blow through the travel, then include annoying top out noise. Replaced with a '99 Marzocchi Z-2, that felt heavier for sure, but worked well and required no fiddling. In 2004, grabbed a new Fox Talus fork on sale. Adjustable everything, including travel. Fantastic fork, felt like a whole different bike. I usually ran it at 90 mm of travel, steered well and provided enough suspension for XC Geek me.

The Truth was my mountain steed for almost 10 years, 1999 - 2008, a long run for any mountain bike. This being an early Ellsworth, press in bushings for the suspension pivots, instead of bearings. I replaced and greased the bushings occasionally, but still developed the occasional creak. I started spending way too much time tracing down the annoying creak factor and replacement parts were getting scarce. The creaking was actually minor, but enough to drive me insane during a ride. I let my gear head neighbor test ride to sample the noise, he couldn't even hear it. Maybe I am insane, I can't deal with noisy bikes, no matter how minor.

After 9 years of use, slighty creaky pivots, and a hankering to ride a hardtail again (see, I am insane) - I stripped the Ellsworth and sold it off via eBay, complete with minor bidding war.

Pics after strip down....

1999 era goodness, minus parts. I included the Chris King headset as part of the sale. Should of kept it, too late now. The rear suspension design worked well, even though the rear would stiffen under braking. After riding hardtails for 15 years previously, not a concern, still felt like a couch. A light, fast couch mind you. A nice frame indeed.

Detail of BB and pivot area, including pressed in bushings. I dig aluminum frames that feature unfinished welds. Very cool. Easton Ultra Lite sticker in view, to reflect the frame tubing. If I remember correctly, entire frame with rear shock was under 5 pounds. Impressive, especially for 1999.

I really liked the mat black finish and white Gothic graphics. Styling right up my alley.

Expensive to purchase in '99, around $3500 at the time, but worth it after 9 years of use. A 2011 comparable version would run you over $6500, thanks to inflation. Yikes. That's way outta my financial league now. Even for bike nut me, $7000 bicycles seem insanely priced.

For even more of the bargain angle, consider I moved the XTR and Fox fork over to a Cannondale hardtail I built up after the Ellsworth. I rode that for two years, then used the same XTR and Fox fork to build up a great bike for son Ian. Accountant type I'm not, but factor in hours of use and enjoyment and we're talking a fantastic all around deal. Also, add in the $350 I scored selling the frame via eBay. Not bad at all.

In a sense, this bike has come full circle. Purchased as my son was born in '99, now he's racing and riding with most of the components off it, 12 years later. How cool is that?


  1. Awsome. 99% the same logic I used 12 years later to purchase the Turner 5 Spot.

    Early Ellsworth's were slick!

  2. Turner 5 Spot - nice.

    The early Ellsworths had a trick, "works" look to 'em. I dug it.