It took years and years for this boutique brand to release a 29er. But it was worth the wait.
Ibis had some ripping tracks to follow when it set out to build its first-ever 29er.
The Mojo, a 26er that launched the company’s rebirth back in 2006 after a five-year hiatus, was a bike ahead of its time and earned myriad accolades. It won Outside’s Gear of the Year in 2010. And subsequent Mojos, including long-travel and 650B renditions, have helped cement the company’s cult-like following.
The company started working on a 29er not long after we bestowed Gear of the Year on the Mojo, and I saw early versions of the new pivot design all the way back in 2011. But if Ibis is genius at crafting great bikes, they are less impressive at doing it on a schedule. And though the company continued to promise a 29er, the years ticked by. Ibis even had to modify the bike it was creating—from a 100mm cross-country machine to a 120mm trail bike—to keep up with changing tides. Meanwhile, other companies were developing great new bikes, and it seemed as if Ibis’ moment had passed.
Late last fall, however, Ibis figurehead Scot Nicol called to say that the company’s 29er masterpiece was finally complete. They named the 120mm 29er the Ripley—it’s not just vaporware, believe it or not—and Nicol promised that the bike was every bit as innovative as the Mojo.
We’ve spent half a year putting the Ripley through its paces, and though at first look it’s not as futuristic as the Mojo was, it’s unquestionably a worthy successor to that venerable model.
The Ripley frame looks so pared down that several testers mistook it for a single-pivot design. In fact, the bike uses a new execution of the refined DW Link, with two pairs of internal eccentric bearings allowing the dual pivots to be placed very close together. The design is largely what delayed the release of the Ripley for so long, as Dave Weagle worked to get the same efficiency and anti-squat of the original DW Link into a package that’s smaller, lighter, stiffer, and housed internally for durability. It’s amazing engineering in a deceptively simple package.
In this day of lightweight, bigger-travel bikes, the Ripley doesn’t sound impressive on paper: it’s an all-carbon construction with 120mm of travel (4.7 inches) that weighs 5.2 pounds (reasonably light but not the lightest) and touts a 70-degree head angle (somewhat steep side for a trail bike). It has the niceties one expects: tapered head tube, BB92 bottom bracket, 142x12mm rear thru axle, and routing for a dropper seat post. But with so many light, full-suspension mountain bikes out there, many of which are longer or lighter or slacker, the Ripley might seem uninspired. But this bike is more impressive than a sum of its numbers.
The DW Link has always been an efficient, firm system, and it’s optimized here for incredible pedaling performance. The Ripley climbs like a lightweight XC race bike even with the Fox Float CTD shock set wide open. We never had to flip between shock settings, instead simply leaving it in Descend mode full time (except perhaps on pavement).
Yet in spite of the taut uphill sensibilities and responsiveness, the Ripley still manages to feel plush going down, even in the rough. Though it’s only a five-inch bike, it rides with the certainty and comfort of a longer-travel model, which we credit to the 29er wheels. Some riders say that 29ers are too big and clumsy for technical downhill, but they likely haven’t spent much time on the big wheels. This bike hopped and skipped over log drops, kickers, and big features, with the playfulness (if not the squish) of some longer travel 27.5ers.
Kudos to Ibis for including mounts for two water bottles—one inside the main triangle and one underneath it. If there was a failing of the Mojo design, it was lack of water access. And since the Ripley is fast and light enough for racing, especially in endurance settings, the inclusion of two water bottle bosses is key.
One downside: because of the cable routing, our test model developed a significant wear spot in the carbon on the seat tube just above the linkage. Apparently this issue has been rectified by way of a little contraption called a Cable Dice that keeps the routing clear of the frame. (Our test bike was one of the first off the production line and didn’t come equipped with the device.) Still, it’s a reminder that all carbon frames are susceptible to such repetitive-use damage, so check frequently and reinforce rub points with protective tape.
Our Ripley was spec’d with high-end parts based on our preferences and the type of riding we like to do.
We went with a SRAM XO1 1x11 drivetrain. Note: the frame is equipped for a direct-mount front derailleur, which is smartly placed on the swing arm so that shifting is unaffected by the suspension. Performance on the SRAM stuff is as expected, with no major issues, though once again we’ll point out that we feel most people will benefit from either a smaller front chain ring than most companies are spec’ing (at least a 30, and perhaps a 28, depending on how steep and long are the local climbs) or 2x configuration up front. Having said that, the lack of clutter on the bars and the lack of front derailleur to fail or tune is nice.
The Ripley also came equipped with Shimano XTR Trail brakes—as always, these worked flawlessly. Other highlights included Easton EC90 wheels (one caveat to follow), WTB Silverado saddle, Ibis Lo-Fi Carbon bars, which are pleasantly wide (740mm) and have a nice, ergonomic sweep, and Maxxis Ardent tires.
Surprisingly for such premium parts, we did have a few component issues. Most notably, we cracked the rim of the rear Easton EC90 wheel not long into the test. A 110-pound woman was riding the bike when the wheel failed, and she wasn’t doing anything exceptionally burly. Easton said the problem was an anomaly, and they dispatched a replacement immediately. We have ridden several sets of these wheels over the years for long distances and through harsh terrain and we’ve never had an issue before, so we tend to agree with them. Still, it’s worth noting.
Also, the KS Lev dropper seat post had constant issues and needed multiple bleeds. In the bigger scope of our testing, the KS models have proven much more durable than the RockShox Reverb, so we were disappointed to have problems with this one. We cannot imagine riding a bicycle without a dropper post anymore given the performance advantages and ease of use they afford. However most of the offerings are still finicky—three quarters of the units we tried this year had issues—and you have to plan on ongoing maintenance if you choose a dropper. The only model we’ve tried over the years that has not had any issues is the Specialized Command Post.
Finally, we didn’t love the Fox Float 32 CTD 120mm fork. Despite this being the top-of-the-line option, this fork was inconsistent. If we set it to the proper sag, the top of the stroke felt way too soft, blew through the travel, and dived under braking. We could avoid this by over-inflating the shock, but then we couldn’t get all of the travel. It’s a problem we noted on many 2014 model Fox forks, and rumor has it the issues have been resolved for 2015 with new dampers. It’s also worth noting that while we appreciated the light weight and nimbleness of the 120mm fork, the Ripley comes with a 140mm option, and we feel this would enliven the bike and make it even more capable downhill.
Despite the component misfires, the Ripley is one of our favorite new bikes of 2014. The suspension is refined, the frame beautiful, and the detailing superb. It manages to ride with the lightness and speed of an XC race bike, but still has the mettle of a brawny trail bike on technical terrain. Our tester weighed 25.3 pounds, but Ibis says you can build it 2.5 pounds lighter with SRAM XX1, making it just as light as any full-suspension rig out there.
Our Ripley was expensive at $8,044, though much of that cost can be attributed to the Easton wheels. The same build with the standard Stan’s ZTR Arch EX hoops is a much more palatable $5,965. And for those on a tighter budget still, Ibis offers a high-value Shimano SLX package for $3,950. That’s still not cheap, but we defy anyone to find a better bike for less.
This is the perfect bike for the trail rider who races occasionally, has an interest in endurance riding, and likes to get rowdy on hard terrain. If it were our only bike, we’d think hard about the 140mm fork option, which would make the Ripley even more capable. Built with the taller fork, the Ripley would be the perfect one-bike quiver. The bike reminds us a lot of the Yeti SB-95 Carbon, which won our Editor’s Pick in 2013, though the two bottles and the clean aesthetics of the Ripley might put it over the top for us.
We also love the new eccentric suspension design, and we look forward to more bikes in the Ibis line-up that are sure to follow using it. It’s difficult to imagine Ibis improving on the Ripley. Then again, we said the same thing about the Mojo all those years ago. And that’s the most endearing thing about Ibis: It’s a company that proves its dedication, over and over, to creating the best bike they possibly can build. With the Ripley, they’ve done it again.