Catching up with Tony EllsworthOriginally posted on June 9, 2016 at 10:19 am
For Issue #190, contributing editor Adam Newman sat down with Tony Ellsworth to catch up on the last few years and talk about bike technology. Photo: Adam Newman
You’ve been off the radar lately. What have you been up to the last couple of years?
That’s a big question. I could write a book with what I’ve learned. In 2014, BST Nano Carbon bought Ellsworth and hired me to design bikes and transition them into the bike industry and to making carbon bike frames and components in the USA. I designed components for them first, because that was the easiest place for them to start production: a riser Di2 handlebar that is 110 grams, a 125-gram seatpost, a 90-gram stem with some cool features for Di2 integration, amazing wheels using the recently designed Synergy Cantilever technology hub, an amazing road-bike-line concept.
In January of 2015 BST hired a general manager for their bike business who redirected my focus on a redesign of the Ellsworth Mountain Bike line, which was a complete rebranding and redesign of the mountain bike product line. It was a great opportunity for me to bring developments I’d been sitting on for years to the line.
Fortunately, before BST collapsed, once I found out what was happening, I was able to tap into the San Diego chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and networked to be introduced to Jonathan Freeman, who bought the Ellsworth brand out of BST’s demise— thankfully just in time. I was offered a job as vice president of product development/founder by Jonathan, and here we are with the Ellsworth brand, safe, recapitalized and back on track producing great, all-new bikes.
What impact does this have on things like dealerships, warranty, etc.?
We believe, and I agree, that ideally, the very best customer experience happens in association with a well-educated dealer who is committed to the customer experience and shares the vision and values of the Ellsworth brand. Jonathan and Lonnie Kinkade, director of sales, have secured some great new dealers and re-empowered some great legacy Ellsworth dealers. They have put together programs for dealers to make healthy margins and offer terms to help dealers be able to showcase the brand better than I was ever able to allow to happen while I owned the brand.
You’ve seen mountain biking change a lot over the past 25 years. What is your favorite innovation in the sport? Your least favorite?
I think I’d say “innovation” deemed innovation for the marketing forces of big companies, who need to drive sales, is my least favorite. I don’t like to see stuff change for no apparent reason, and then that change makes something somebody loves supposedly obsolete. I’ve got a lot of 26-inch wheeled Ellsworths out there over the last 20-something years and friends call and say, “Should I upgrade?” and I say, “Do you still love your bike?”
My favorite innovation would have to be the Instant Center Tracking suspension system. I find that continues to redefine the rider experience, as so many of today’s bikes still are semi-active and rely on good shock technology to mask that, or minimize that compromise. I think suspension should work all the time, and you shouldn’t pay a price for its function in energy loss or weight penalty.
I think the most exciting thing is that we can actually get 11 or 12 gears in the back of a bike and now you don’t need a front derailleur and three rings in the front. I love the Boost technology, where we’re now really able to optimize the triangulation for the spokes in the wheels for increased stiffness. People have always seemed to have a really polarized opinion of your bikes. They either love them or hate them, especially how they look.
Why do you think that is?
I’ve never met an Ellsworth owner, or a prospective qualified Ellsworth buyer, who was not enamored by some aspect of the Ellsworth design. I don’t really know or associate with anyone who doesn’t like my bikes. It’s not that I won’t associate with you if you don’t like my bikes; it’s just that everybody I meet and know loves them. Maybe that’s just because in the world you’re going to resonate with people that like things you like. I’m not going to resonate with somebody who doesn’t like something I like.
I respect people who have the opinion that they don’t like the way my bikes look. That doesn’t bother me at all. The [message] boards are full of people who will never own an Ellsworth for one reason or another—and that’s OK, and they should go and talk great about something they love instead of hating on something somebody else loves. Don’t be a hater just because somebody else loves it.
Looks-wise, I make things that are beautiful to me. I will stop designing things the day I have to design something that doesn’t appeal to my personal sense of “I need that bike!”
Again, I invite anyone with specifics they don’t like to share their thoughts with me; I’m super open to gathering input all the time for my next design project.
What sort of brand would you like to see Ellsworth be in five years?
It’s my prayer that the unique commitment to real technology, real performance [and] stable long-term perfection of a technology that adheres to the law of physical science will continue in the future.
I’ve just learned so much [from the BST ownership experience] that I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t gone through that. Money isn’t everything. I’m super excited about where it’s going and what people want to do and the talent and energies that people are putting into it. These are people dedicated to making this brand all it can be for the enjoyment and pleasure of everybody.