In Poway, California, a phoenix is rising from the ashes.
Tucked away in a nondescript industrial park, Ellsworth Handcrafted Bikes has come back with a vengeance after a season’s pause in making bikes and two changes ownership of the SoCal company.
In its the Poway warehouse, remnants of the brand’s history are evident, racks of legacy bikes featuring the previous logo, the Ellsworth name written in a old-fashioned patrician calligraphy. But these ghosts of bikes past are overshadowed by rows of the sleek, tech-forward models emblazoned with a new signature logo and released over the past year. The most popular color for the new models is a fiery orange.
Andre Pepin, 25, who first job was sweeping floors in the Ellsworth factory when he was 18, is showing me around the warehouse, which the company shares with a speaker-manufacturer. I’d expected something along the lines of Santa’s workshop: assembly lines of elf-like technicians wrenching bikes together, but that’s not how a high-end, custom bike brand works.
The Ellsworth side of the building is filled with long racks covered with hanging frames, cranks and other parts. All orders are custom, so when a customer orders a bike, the warehouse staff boxes up the various parts and ships them to the bike shop, where the shop staff assemble the bikes for the rider. Pepin, who has risen up the ranks at Ellsworth over the years, and now works in purchasing and product development, explains how the company has evolved over the past few years.
“We didn’t manufacture any bikes in 2015,” says Pepin, who has raced Ellsworth mountain bikes on the pro circuit. “And people thought we were gone, but we never went anywhere. I know because I’ve been here the whole time, and we’ve always kept moving forward. We just took some time to refocus and refine new design ideas.”
The boutique mountain bike brand, founded 25 years ago by Tony Ellsworth, has long had a reputation for making high-quality bikes for discerning riders. It was sold in late 2014 to BST Nano Carbon, a San Diego composites manufacture but BST soon ran out of capital to invest in the bike company. A San Diego investor bought the brand from BST in 2015, and with the founder Tony Ellsworth still leading the design team is running at full steam again.
We just took some time to refocus and refine new design ideas
The company has built its new bikes around its ACTIVE Energy Efficient Suspension, an architecture that isolates pedal and braking forces from bump input, with the intent of making efficient use of pedal power while soaking up the jarring impacts from the trail.
The new bikers are stiffer than older models, thanks to the company’s new Rocker Locker technology, a tapered, hex-head axle that creates greater torsional stiffness by locking together the two sides of the drive train. Ellsworth has also switched to using military-grade encapsulated bearings to enhance its bike’s performance and durability.
In January, the company announced it had signed legendary mountain bike racer Brian Lopes to a multi-year contract. Lopes is one of the winningest riders, holding 18 national and international titles, and his addition to the Ellsworth roster brings a new level of rider visibility for the brand.
“I usually tend to look for smaller companies be involved with, ones where I feel like I can have a bigger impact in helping them grow,” Lopes told MTBR magazine. “I love being able to speak directly with the owner and not have to through a bunch of different channels to get anything accomplished. Ellsworth fit all these desires.”
Pepin said Ellsworth is also stepping up its presence in SoCal, sponsoring a number of mountain biking events, and supporting organizations like the San Diego Mountain Biking Association that advocate for trail access and great participation.
“We’re a national brand, but San Diego and SoCal have always been home to Ellsworth, and SoCal has a great mountain biking community,” he said, gesturing out the factory doors at the open space canyon behind the building. “There’s plenty of sun and lots of trails. This is a great place to be a mountain biker.”