Project 24 Review: 2011 Ellsworth Truth SST.2 frame
Check out all of our Project 24 posts here!
As far as the pieces that make up a bicycle, nothing defines the ride like the frame. That’s especially true of full suspension frames. In a time where even the most mainstream of bicycle brands sells (or at least makes available) $3,000 carbon fiber frames, it’s easy to forget that it’s possible to find frames that are hand built in the USA for about 2/3 of that price.
Because its design has been around for nearly twenty years (and the model itself fifteen), people tend to overlook Ellsworth’s Truth. While other companies have gone through 3 and 4 major suspension designs in the same time, Tony Ellsworth has been applying- and tweaking- his patented Instant Center Tracking suspension design to the Truth since day one. A true four-bar design, ICT is designed such that the rear wheel’s Instant Center (or virtual pivot) is always located somewhere along the chain’s torque line. This means that, as chain torque is always acting perpendicular to the wheel’s arc, that torque is unable to cause suspension movement. Also, because the design is a true four bar, the rear brake does not effect the suspension either. At the end of the day, ICT leaves only the rider to cause unwanted suspension movement and doesn’t require excessive compression or platform damping to prevent it- allowing for truly active suspension. This is all well and good in theory- read on to see lots of pretty pictures and find out how the Truth performed as part of our Project 24 race bike…
At Interbike last fall, one of my most memorable conversations by far was with Tony Ellsworth, whose enthusiasm was a blend between that of a proud parent and that of an engineer who gets to do really cool stuff. The SST.2 in the Truth’s proper name refers to the Superformed Seat Tube- a complex, organic-looking seat tube that incorporates the mounting point for the rocker’s central pivot. In fact, there is a lot of complex tube forming and machining going on with the Truth. The curved top and down tubes had aesthetic fans and detractors, but no one could deny that a good deal of time and love had been spent on the seatstay bridge, chainstay bridge, and rocker. Seeing as the Truth is made in Ellsworth’s own Washington factory, customization is easy. The nickel frame color shown here is a stock color (one of three stock and fifteen possible color choices), while the blue anodized rocker (silver is standard; red, green, blue, and black are optional) will run another $150 and the $50 blue “Bling Kit” (same color options as the rocker) added color coordinated head badge, suspension pivots, bottle cage bolts, and derailleur hanger.
Though Ellsworth might disagree, the Truth feels to me less an all-out race bike than a mile-eating enduro machine. Before swinging a leg over the complete bike, my fear (based on the 71 and 73.5 degree head and seat tube angles) was that the Truth would be a twitchy handful and would severely punish any inattention on my part. To put it plainly: I was wrong. Yes, the steep (by today’s more trail-oriented standards) angles do make for a responsive ride, but the long-ish wheelbase (44in in the large) and chainstays mean that the bike doesn’t change direction unless asked. Geometry-wise, the only odd thing about the Truth was the strangely short (5in) head tube. No, that doesn’t impact how the bike rides one bit (and does pay off with a crazy-low 28.1in standover height), but it adding so many spacers below the stem severely bruised my ego (note to prospective Truth owners: order the highest rise bar you can find). The 5.88lb frame weight (actual) does put the Truth a ways behind much of its carbon competition- but the $1k price savings will go a long way towards lighter wheels and components. Given $X, I have the feeling that the Truth would build up just as light as most bikes on the market- and no one will accuse it of being either laterally flexy or underbuilt.
So what makes the Truth such an effective mile muncher? First, the steep seat angle encourages a high-cadence spin- it’s hard to mash without getting behind the saddle, and the steep seat tube and zero-offset Crank Brothers seatpost really discouraged low-RPM lugging. Second, the suspension is extremely active, dispensing with anything smaller than a golf ball and leaving the rider feeling really fresh- all without needing to resort to the Fox Float RP23 Boost Valve shock’s ProPedal platform. Third, as mentioned above, the Ellsworth is stable without needing to be manhandled through tight singletrack. Finally, the ICT suspension is really good at dealing with unexpected crap. Diving blindly into rock gardens on the heels of a competitor hardly requires any thought or merits much concern. The Truth remains confident through all sorts of crap in the way that few race bikes are and I never felt as though the 2in stroke rear shock was overwhelmed or caught off guard. In fact, I think a 120mm fork would be a great option for riders (not just racers) looking for a bike on which to do the odd race as well as more routine ‘big days out’ with friends. A longer fork would bring the front end up a touch while knocking the angles back a smidge- not necessary, but not necessarily a bad thing, either.
Laterally, the Truth is a stiff frame. The material that contributes to the frame’s overall weight has been well-allocated. Heavier riders than I hopped right on to the silver Ellsworth and felt not only comfortable but confident and could put the bike exactly where they wanted. Ridden back-to-back with Giant’s Anthem X (not exactly a noodle and an excellent XC bike), the Truth was noticeably stiffer- and despite its age the suspension was very similar to and every bit as good as Giant’s latest.
So what’s bad? I mentioned above that “ICT leaves only the rider to cause unwanted suspension movement.” What this means is that, with the shock’s ProPedal off, the Ellsworth can wallow a bit when standing or if pedaled roughly. With the ProPedal on, the suspension’s wonderful suppleness is reduced and, in my opinion, too much harshness makes its way to the rider. Is this a bad thing? No- it’s a balance that all suspension designs have to strike. Personally, I prefer an active bike that will have my back when things get choppy or rough. Others will disagree. Anyone whose main focus is 90-minute races on non-technical courses will be better served by other options. As a 24-hour race bike, big day out bike, or just plain mountain bike, however, the Truth works very well. This is not always the case, but when I returned to my own 4in bike after disassembling the Truth, I really missed it.
The Truth SST.2 retails for $2,300 as a frame and complete bikes range from $4,000 (Fox F100, SRAM X-9) to $6,300 (full XTR). With its ecclectic (but sensible) XTR 2×10 build and color coordination, our Project 24 bike could be pulled together by your local Ellsworth dealer for a bit more than that. Not that the Truth isn’t deserving of a top-shelf build, but $4k for a US-built frame and fork built into a complete bike? That’s a screaming deal. Complete bike or dream build, if it sounds like it might be up your alley the Truth very much deserves a look.