27.5-inch wheels; 2.6-inch tires; Orion suspension by Dave Weagle; 150mm travel rear; 160mm travel front
Great parts spec; stable pedaling platform; excellent steering and handling through technical sections
Tire spec is too big
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Perhaps the powder blue paint scheme threw me off, but when I first saw Esker’s Elkat, I didn’t think rowdy enduro bike. Nor did I immediately think versatile trail bike. I simply thought, boy those tires are big!
And they are. It’s perhaps one of the first things I would change about the Elkat, but there isn’t much else beyond that. Esker’s 27.5-inch trail/enduro bike gets so much right that the tire spec seems almost superfluous. Its quick, confident steering makes it a blast to change lines and hit corners harder than you might normally, and the Orion suspension — yet another Dave Weagle creation — rivals Yeti’s Switch Infinity for its stability on climbs and plushness on descents. The Elkat is a darn good bike.
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Elkat build and details
The Elkat is built around Orion Suspension that Esker says will remain active and stable at all speeds. A 65.46-degree head tube angle fits the narrative here, especially given Esker’s “Slack and Steep” design philosophy (a 75.9-degree seat tube angle helps explain the ‘steep’ part of that equation).
Orion suspension is the latest in a long line of suspension creations from Dave Weagle, and it aims to do what most suspension systems do: sweep through travel smoothly while providing a stable platform for pedaling. There’s not much on the Esker website specifically about kinematics here, so I was largely left to determining the effectiveness of this system based solely on my rides — arguably as it should be.
A Fox DPX2 rear shock with 150mm of travel works with the Orion suspension; having used this particular shock before, I knew what I was getting into and had high expectations. The shock works in tandem with the Fox 36 Factory Grip2 fork with 160mm of travel — another bit of wonder from Fox that I’m well versed with. The suspension here is a great pairing.
The frame is advertised at 3,065 grams and features a threaded bottom bracket — a practice mountain bike companies adopted years ago while we roadies still clung to our press-fit systems. I’m a big supporter of threaded systems.
The build kit itself is an ideal mix of workhorse components and high-end bits. The SRAM GX drivetrain shifts wonderfully, especially for the price, while the Shimano XT brakes are a nice upgrade for stopping power and reliability. Wolf Tooth components are in the mix, too. The fork and shock both get Kashima coating, and the fork gets a Grip2 damper. It seems Esker spent the money where it counts and trimmed back where it doesn’t. The build is just about perfect.
It’s important to note that this is one of only a handful of 27.5+ bikes I’ve ridden this year. The plus-size trend seems to have fizzled, and 27.5-inch wheels have also taken a backseat to 29-inch wheels. Hopping on the Elkat, I expected to have to pay closer attention to my lines given the wheel size, and I also expected to fight the big 2.6-inch Terrene Chunk tires. That’s all part of the game with plus-size tires. Then again, with tires that big, the wheel’s diameter probably wasn’t far off from that of a 29er wheel with a smaller tire.
The specific build on my test bike is no longer available, but the E3 build that has replaced it at the same price point is largely similar.
Riding the Elkat
The Elkat was full of surprises.
The first surprise came right out of the parking lot, where the trail heads just about straight up no matter where you’re riding here on the front range of Colorado. The Orion suspension accomplishes what Esker says it does: It remains active but supportive when climbing and breezed over square-edged hits. It took some tinkering with the low-speed compression, but once I got it dialed, it was easy to just leave the shock in Trail mode just about all the time. Climbing in full-open position was actually pretty enjoyable, too. If you like a more active feel on technical climbs, it’s entirely possible to find that sweet spot.
Now onto the fun part: descending. The tighter the turn, the brighter the Elkat shone. Having spent much of my time in the last two seasons on 29-inch wheels, switchbacks and tight corners have become a moment of compromise and extra attention to make it through cleanly. That’s why it was so fun to ride the Elkat, with its 27.5-inch wheels that allowed me to turn the bike over a bit more and dig in deeper into the tightest corners.
Sure, that’s largely a function of the 27.5-inch platform in general, but the Elkat feels nimble and eager to bite in harder into the apex of the turn. Esker’s geometry plays a role here too, and it all comes together nicely when the turns get tight.
Generally, when a company makes a bike that climbs well, there’s a compromise on the other end — most notably at high speeds on rough trails. Not so with the Elkat. It feels composed and up to the most bone-shaking chunder. Then take it off a drop or jump and you feel every millimeter of the travel working smoothly with very little bottom-out. I did need to bump up the pressure in the fork and the shock, higher than I would normally, because I felt like I was riding deeper in the travel than I would have liked. Once I got it dialed, the Elkat felt balanced and responsive to all kinds of hits.
The future of the 27.5-inch platform is arguably murky. Is it necessary, given how much 29er bikes have progressed in recent years? Until I rode the Elkat, I was largely ready to give up on 27.5-inch bikes altogether, but they certainly have their place, especially if you’re the type of rider who likes quick control and super-responsiveness, especially in tight turns.
In other words, the Elkat is a whole lot of fun, and it’s a bike I would happily ride on my everyday trails and for lift days at the bike park. It is likely too rowdy for Trail/XC riders, though the Elkat does more than hold its own on climbs. Still, the big, 2.6-inch tires will remind you this is a bike for high speeds and drops, so for everyday trail riding, I’d swap these out for a 2.4.
With a solid build and an excellent ride, the Elkat certainly impresses if you’re sold on the 27.5-inch platform and you err on the side of rowdier trail and enduro riding.