If you’ve read any of my recent reviews on bikes like the Evil Following (as compared to its longer travel siblings), the Transition Spur, and the Revel Ranger, you’re aware that I’ve been really, really happy to see the proliferation of slack, short travel 29’ers that are blazingly fast and exceptionally fun.
These bikes exemplify what the large majority of us want out of a bike - they’re lightweight, quick to accelerate, have more than enough travel to soak up whatever bumps come down the trail, and they come equipped with the geometry and components to charge as hard as you possibly can on pretty much any terrain.
The best bike for the most people
The Ripley has long been Ibis’s do-it-all 29’er, starting with the second generation “LS” (long and slack) version that came out in 2016. What describes the best bike for the most people has changed over the years though, and the Ripley has changed with them.
In 2019, Ibis launched version 4 of the Ripley. In my review of that bike, I posed the question of whether 120mm of travel is enough, and concluded that “yes, this 4.7” travel bike is enough. In fact, it’s just right, because everything about it will increase the size of your smile at the end of your ride.” For the vast majority of us, after all, that is the whole point.
But a bike that is ideal for most of us isn’t necessarily affordable for most of us, so I was extra excited to hear that a less expensive alloy frame version of the same bike was coming to market, and even more-so when I learned I’d get a chance to try it out.
The Ripley AF
As with the enduro styled Ripmo AF that my coworker Rich covered, the only real geometry difference between this Ripley AF and its carbon counterpart is that it has a one degree slacker head angle, bringing it to from 66.5 degrees to 65.5 degrees. Consequently, the wheelbase is also one centimeter longer across the range of sizes (1188mm on my medium), and the bottom bracket is a tad lower.
These changes all reinforce this bike’s standing as a mini-Ripmo, bringing it directly into the sweet spot of aggressive down-country geometry. They also create a bike that, when combined with Ibis’s very smartly designed build kits, is almost irresistible. But before we get into that, let’s touch on the chassis, an Alloy Frame Ripley for the masses.
The bike comes in two colors: the raw looking Monolith Silver that you see pictured, as well as something called Pond Scum green, which is a sleek, fast looking sage color mixed with subtle yellow highlights. With either option, the opportunity for color matching and customization is broad.
The frame itself has all the features and details that you’d expect from Ibis. Not only can you fit a large, 26 ounce water bottle on every frame size (small included), you can opt to run big 203mm rotors and 2.6” tires on the rear, underscoring this bike’s intentions. That’s amplified by the bike’s short, uninterrupted seat tube, which allows everyone to take advantage of long dropper posts. Even the small frames can fit 150mm dropper posts, getting that saddle well out of the way when you’re pointed down a steep section of trail.
The cables are all internal, easy to route and access through the large cable ports, and the IGUS bushings used in the lower link this bike shares with its carbon sibling still carry the same lifetime warranty, despite the reduced cost of the bike.
The AF shares almost everything, from the upright 76 degree seat tube angle to the snappy, 432mm chainstays with the carbon frame, so rather than going through all the geometry again I’ll instead focus on telling you about how this bike rides. After that, I’ll break down the phenomenal build kits Ibis has put together to keep the cost low and the performance really, really high.
Riding the Ripley AF
A big part of what makes bikes like the Ripley so much fun is that instead of having six and a half inches of travel, they have under five. The 120mm rear end of this bike let’s you load the shock and pop off the ground in a way that those big 160mm bikes simply can’t. This means the bike, regardless of weight, simply feels more lively when you’re descending. Instead of a big chef’s knife, you’re working with a scalpel.
The Ripley AF in particular, which uses the well respected and much loved DW-link suspension platform, does a great job of mediating trail chatter and keeping feedback down more than something like an Epic Evo, which originated from a full blown racing steed. Instead it treats its duties more like the Revel Rascal, which maintains more compliance to bumps that get thrown at it.
As you’d expect, the same phenomenal pedaling traits that make the Ripmo AF so great at pedaling carry through to this bike, but even more so, given it’s lighter weight and lower travel.
Speaking of weight, you’re probably wondering how much the Ripley AF weighs, since that’s a big part of what makes these bikes so attractive. My medium bike, a slightly customized NGX build, weighs 32 pounds exactly, with pedals - pretty amazing for the cost, which I’ll get to now.
Ibis has matched this frame with two absolutely stellar build kits, both of which run a Fox performance 34 and a Performance DPS EVOL. They also all get Ibis’s awesome S35 wheels, a Cane Creek 40 headset, and a WTB Silverado saddle, which is one of my two go-to saddles.
Things differ from there, so let’s start with the first kit we’ll have available. Ibis is calling it the NGX build, because it uses a smart combination of SRAM NX and GX components to keep the price low and performance high. Both the shifter and the chain are NX, because longevity and performance aren’t substantially different versus the GX models. The NX shifters don’t feel quite as nice as GX shifters, both in terms of materials and action, but they work just fine, and upgrading is a $45 proposition.
The cassette and derailleur, on the other hand, are both GX. This is a big deal, and an incredibly good choice on Ibis’s part. The GX derailleur is significantly longer lasting than the NX model, using higher quality materials, more durable rivets, and better pulley wheels. The cassette, however, is the biggest advantage. The GX cassette not only comes in the 10-52t range, giving you both a smaller and a larger cog than the NX 11-50t option, but it also uses an XD hub driver as opposed to the NX, which mounts up to an HG hub. This gives you far greater options to upgrade down the road, once you wear out your GX cassette. Great job, Ibis.
From there, there’s a solid smattering of quality components, like SRAM’s G2 brakes, matched to big, 180mm rotors. You get comfortable Lizard Skin grips mounted to Ibis’s in-house alloy bars and stem, fat 2.5” Maxxis Aggressor EXO tires, and even a DUB crankset (the NX model).
It’s all in the details
The NGX build costs $3,299, and we’ll continue to receive smatterings of them throughout the remainder of the winter and into the spring.
Ibis has also worked with Shimano to make a Deore build, running that phenomenal 12 speed drivetrain and precise, XT-derived M6100 brakes. This build costs $2999, and we hope to be seeing it in-stock sometime this spring.
Should I spend more?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time on pricier, carbon framed aggressive XC bikes recently, and of course love how lightweight and svelte they are. But every time I hop on the Ripley AF, they seem to fade from my memory. This bike just fits. There’s no learning curve. The weight is distributed correctly, the suspension does what it’s supposed to do with no tinkering, the brakes are phenomenal… it all comes together in a crescendo of fun that, frankly, still astonishes me every time I ride it.
If this is the type of bike you’re looking for, and if you’re looking to save some money on parts that you can easily upgrade down the road, then I can’t imagine any reason to look elsewhere. The big smile you’ll have at the end of your first ride will be proof of that.
Happy trails - Dan at Fanatik