Ibis Cycles have been around for over three decades now, and produce some of the most instantly recognizable frames in the business. The company was started by Scot Nicol, who at the time of Ibis’ inception was a self-described hippie living in Mendocino, California. A perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, Scot got plugged into a trip headed to the secondary origin of mountain biking, Crested Butte, CO (Marin County, CA being the first). Along with him on this road trip were several other harbingers of our sport, including Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze of Breezer Bikes, and Charlie Kelly. That fateful adventure led to a stint in Marin, learning how to build frames with Joe Breeze and Charlie Cunningham. A lot has changed since those days. Ibis has relocated to Santa Cruz, California, and carbon fiber has taken the place of steel as their frame material of choice, but Scot is still around, and beautiful, high quality, extremely fun bikes are still the name of Ibis’ game.
Here we are comparing two of Ibis’ newest creations: a re-shaping of the venerable two-niner known as the Ripley, called the Ripley LS (long and slack), and a completely new bike, the Mojo 3. These bikes sport 120mm and 130mm of rear travel, respectively. In an interview with Pinkbike, Scot Nicol expressed his thoughts on bikes in this travel range: they are “ideal for many, many riders. Not everyone needs the full capabilities of a bike like the HD3 [their 152mm enduro bike]. Yes, our EWS team works the HD3 to the limit. Most people, however, don't . . . . It's the best bike for the most people.”
We tend to agree with that statement, and we also feel that Ibis makes some of the most fun, well rounded bikes on the market. So without further ado, let’s see what makes these bikes tick, and then sort out how to pick one over the other.
Don't have time to read the review? See what Kevin and Ashley have to say about these two rides.
The heyday of the 29er
When 29’ers came on to the scene in the early 2000’s they were touted for their virtues: increased rollover capability, greater angular momentum, etc. Unfortunately for many of us, these big wheeled bikes tended to favor the endurance/XC side of mountain biking. The tire selection at the time was a lackluster mix of narrow, small knobbed rubber that catered to the larger wheel’s already strong rolling speed. These larger wheels suffered from a noodly feel, the result of technology and design that had yet to catch up with the needs of the sport. The few frame designers that tried to build up more aggressive wagon wheeled bikes didn’t stray far enough from the status quo to make anything that was actually fun. For the end user, that is a recipe for failure.
Today, things are a little different. A number of bike manufacturers are now building 29’ers that keep the fun between your legs, where it belongs. Ibis is one of them, and the Ripley LS is their take on the all-mountain breed of 29er that, as many of us are finding out, are leaps and bounds more fun than the uninspired bikes of yesteryear.
In Bike Mag’s review, Vernon Felton asks Nicol what Ibis was trying to achieve with the LS: “we didn’t go too slack on this bike, so that the climbing performance would be preserved. We don’t like sluggish, floppy bikes. We like fun bikes. We tried to reach a happy compromise with the Ripley LS, where the lively feel of the original Ripley was preserved, but you could push the bike harder on the descents.” That sentiment rings true through all of Ibis’s bikes, but is exemplified with this one. When I get out on the LS I find myself delighted to sprint up hills that my 30lb Wreckoning has me wishing I’d stayed home on. Reminiscent of the the company's namesake, the Ibis bird, the LS is extremely light and spry, ushering you to stay out of your saddle and charge ahead, with nary a backward glance at roots and divots that leave smaller wheeled bikes scrambling.
None of this should come as a surprise though. The original Ripley has been around for some time and earned its chops as a bike that can climb. So how does this new “Long and Slack” version stand up to the Evil Followings and Specialized Stumpjumpers of today when the trail turns downhill?
Very well, is the short answer. Ibis has seemingly hit their intended nail on the head, and done what Scot Nicol set out to do. Part of this is as simple as numbers on paper. The Ripley LS with a 130mm fork has nearly identical geometry to the very successful Evil Following (when that bike is built in the "high" geo setting with a 130mm fork - the most common set up we've seen). Top tube, head tube angle, wheelbase, and seat tube length are all within a few millimeters of each other for any given size. The only notable differences are a slightly shorter reach for the Ripley (about 1cm for the large size), a slightly longer chainstay (also about 1cm), and a lower BB (again, 1cm).
But as the the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and despite similarities, this is not a Following clone. Where the Following has a “devil may care” attitude and the ability to go even slacker in the “Low” geometry setting, the Ripley prides itself in being a well balanced and refined bike. The highly polished DW-link design (Dave Weagle actually designed the DELTA system also, but they are different beasts) mated to Fox’s newest Evol rear shock creates a bike that remains stable in its travel when you are standing up to sprint while retaining its small bump compliance. Its long wheelbase combined with Boost 29” wheels result in a bike that just screams down straights, regardless of what chunder may lay in wait. You may think it wouldn't, but the thing corners, too. Its light weight, fairly neutral geometry, and low BB let you lean it over and push, and the wide-stance Boost wheels help to provide extra stiffness and strength where it's needed the most. While not quite as poppy as the Following, which is renowned for being easy to jump, the LS is no slouch, as Kevin demonstrates here.
The rise of plus size
We’ve all seen 29’ers before, and many of us have tried them out on trail. There is a new tire size on the block though, and it’s getting a lot of attention. The bastard child of fat bikes (4” tire monsters designed for sand and snow) and the 2.3” tires we all know, these bikes have very wide (30-40mm) 27.5” rims, and run tires between 2.8” and 3.25” wide. They are touted for their slightly increased rollover capacity vs normal 27.5”, a supple ride feel, and most notably, increased traction. The old-school camp of MTB seems to deride these “mid-fat” bikes as lifeless humdrum, but newcomers to the sport and an increasing number of industry veterans come back with reports of ear to ear grins, and the Mojo 3 seems to be leading the pack.
Perhaps this is because the Mojo 3 differs from many of the other plus tire bikes on the market in a significant way. It was designed from the ground up to be one. With 27.5+ being a fairly new development (that gained a lot of traction very quickly), many companies threw a plus sized build kit on existing or soon-to-be released short-travel 29ers. The Mojo 3 is a very deliberately designed 27.5+ bike, from the geometry of the frame to the selection of the wheels and tires. Ibis eschews wider tires in favor of 2.8” wide rubber, which allows you to get noteworthy benefits in traction but without the bouncy, balloon bike feel ultra-wide tires have. This also lets them shrink the chainstays to an extremely short 424mm; not possible for a bike that accommodates 29” wheels or 3”+ tires. And why would you want short chainstays, you may wonder?
Those short chainstays allow you to pop off any little bump in the trail. Just lean back and pull. The “meager” 130mm of dw-link rear travel is extremely predictable, and allows you to preload and jump at a moment’s notice. This is assisted by a frame weight of 5 lbs 11 oz (size medium), which allows you to easily build a sub 30 lb bike. The bike is long, but not so long as to be unwieldy. When asked by Pinkbike’s Mike Levy about the ultra-long reach numbers some companies are adopting, Scot very aptly says they make it “hard to get enough weight on the front wheel. Not everybody wants to ride that aggressively all the time, so we try to strike a balance.” They did.
More so than any other bike I’ve ridden, the Mojo 3 feels like it is part of you. At almost no point on this bike have I felt a disconnect between myself and the trail. This might sound counter-intuitive for a bike with tires that “dampen” your ride, but that is actually the reason it is so. The massive grip that it maintains means that you aren’t second guessing yourself when you enter a turn, wondering if your wheels will break free into a drift; that uncertainty is gone. Now, in the video we talked about these larger tires starting to feel squirmy under aggressive riding. As with everything in life, there are compromises to be made. To get all the traction that 2.8” tires can provide (any tire in fact), you have to run low tire pressures. The “mid-fat” tires and wide rims can accommodate lower pressures (15-18 psi), but there are concessions to made for doing so. Under heavy cornering, your tire will probably start to roll. I found myself running pressures closer to what I normally do, around 18-21 psi vs my norm of 22-26, to avoid just that. But then you don’t gain all the traction you potentially could. The nice thing about this bike is that you don’t have to give anything up. Because a 2.8” tire has a very similar height to a 2.3” tire, and this bike is typically built up with 30-35mm wide rims, it can be run with normal tires. No need to buy a different wheelset or fork, just swap em out and go ride. The geometry stays almost identical, as does the fun, sunny disposition of the bike. The choice is yours.
Well then, how do I choose?
I just finished telling you that both of these bikes are awesome, and they are. So how do you decide which one will suit you best? The absolute best way to determine is to ride the bikes on trail (not around the parking lot, that doesn’t count), but that is not always an option. We can ask ourselves a few questions though, which may help illuminate the answer.
How tall am I?
If the answer is “under 5’4,” than the Ripley is probably not for you. There is no size small, and even if there were, larger wheels are harder to manipulate, and a larger rider can do so more easily.
How long have I been riding?
The advantages of plus size tires seem be of particular benefit to newer riders. Having your wheels start to slide on you can be pretty scary, and that just doesn’t happen as much with the wider tires, leading to a more confidence inspiring ride.The Mojo 3 also has a lower standover height, so getting on and off the bike is easier.
More experienced riders and racers will have the skillset and ability to maneuver a larger 29’er, whereas newer riders may just find it to be unwieldy. The Ripley LS is, overall, a faster bike, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it, and to those of us who aren’t racing that shouldn’t matter anyways.
What type of trails do I ride?
High speed, G’d out berms and jumps are not plus-tire friendly at the pressures that maximize traction. In this case, the Ripley or a Mojo 3 without plus tires will be the better option.
For long days in the saddle 29er’s rule supreme. The rolling resistance of a plus tire will begin to wear on you, and the Ripley is a lighter bike.
If you spend lots of time riding very technical terrain, you may find the Ripley LS to be the better option. The angle of attack for a 29’er is still better than 27.5+, especially the 2.8” tires the Mojo 3 uses. Their outer diameter is about an inch more for 29ers, making these wheels roll over obstacles more easily and maintain their momentum better. On top of this, to keep the weight of mid-fat tires down, less material is used. This translates to a thinner sidewall, which in turn means sharp edged rocks pose more of a threat. If you attack the tech like it’s your job, the Ripley LS or the Mojo 3 with normal tires will probably be the ticket.
If you still can’t decide
Please give us a call at 1-844-326-2845 or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We've spent a good deal of time on both these bikes, and know their ins and outs. We also have plenty of experience helping people sort out their ideal custom build, if you decide to go that route. Feel free to give us a shout and pick our brains; we like talking about bikes almost as much as we like riding them, and these are two of our favorites.
Until next time, happy trails - Dan P.