First Ride: Ibis Mojo HDR 650B and Ripley 29

First Ride: Ibis Mojo HDR 650B and Ripley 29

Since re-entering mountain biking following a pretty serious near 15-year hiatus, I’ve been doing all I can to ride as many different bikes as possible. RKP is never going to be a mountain bike site, but I don’t plan for it to be one-dimensional, either. I’ve always enjoyed having a working vocabulary of different cycling experiences. As a reviewer, it’s an occupational hazard, but as a consumer, it’s fun to experience the range of what’s out there. After all, not all bikes are created equal.

Ibis has had a demo fleet circulating for a while, but I didn’t have a convenient opportunity to cross paths with it until recently. I knew that if I played my cards just right (meaning arrive early and turn the bikes over relatively quickly), I would have a shot at riding both the new Mojo HDR 650b as well as the 29″ Ripley. Turns out, I’m a lucky guy. Or maybe I just plan well.

I’ve had an especially high interest in riding both the Mojo HDR 650b and the 29″ Ripley for a simple reason. Scot Nicol has been in the mountain bike game as long as there has been a mountain bike game. He was there for Repack Hill. He was among the earliest producers of mountain bikes and coaxed Gary Helfrich into a collaboration when he left Merlin and moved west, and in the process produced some of the most coveted titanium mountain bikes ever built. Just say “Ibis Silk Ti” to someone rode one and you’ll get a big, knowing grin in return. Ibis has always been a home for great thinking.

With road bikes, geometry is no great mystery. There is a large body of evidence of what makes a road bike handle well and you can find the same basic geometry replicated across a number of different brands. For reasons that are both obvious surprising, there’s much less agreement on mountain bike geometry. While you might think that suspension design would be the big driver in this, even when you look at hard tails you’ll see that there’s no such thing as general agreement. That’s why companies like Specialized and Ibis have gained a reputation for making bikes that handle unusually well.

Geometry is often derided as a nerd’s game, a way to turn something as fun as a bicycle into something lively as math. It’s a losing argument, no matter which side you’re on, but the truth is that geometry is what can make the difference between a bike that moves with you, becomes one with you, and one that’s just this thing you pedal around. Making the bike disappear is what makes cycling not just exercise but an artful expression of freedom. It’s why we ride.

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The Mojo HDR falls in the territory of all-mountain—bigger hits and harder riding. As a result, the suspension is really tuned for impact which helps make it more efficient while pedaling uphill. I had no problems climbing on this bike. Where the bike most shined was once the trail got gnarly and I needed to just pound through rocks and ruts or off ledges and over trees. Able seems kind of an undersell in this regard, but it was able to handle anything I had the guts to throw it at.

Where the Mojo HDR  didn’t excel was in that range of active suspension you need for trail riding. But then, that’s what the Ripley is for. Typically, the knock against full-suspension 29ers is that the combination of large wheels and the longer rear travel necessitated by the suspension linkage makes for a bike that corners like a school bus. Specialized has proven it’s possible to make a 29er with a tight wheelbase, but the Ripley intrigued me because of Chuck Ibis’ longstanding history for making bikes handle in a very intuitive manner.

Broadly speaking, the Ripley features a slightly steeper head tube angle (70 degrees) a shorter top tube (60.5cm) and a shorter wheelbase (112cm) compared to the other trail bikes I’ve ridden. From my first turn I noticed that the bike turned in easily and due to the slightly tighter cockpit allowed me to shift my weight more quickly and effectively.

I ride a lot of bikes, as many as I can get my hands on. What I learned years ago was that a different bike really can mean a different experience and some of those experiences are qualitatively better. Ultimately, what I’m looking for is the bike that disappears beneath me, and frankly, it’s hardest to do with mountain bikes. You can’t enter a flow state if you’re busy thinking about what your bike can or can’t do, or whether it’s going to cooperate on your next challenge. The Ripley was the most surprising bike I’ve ridden in maybe 15 years. It allowed me to ride in a way I was beginning to think wasn’t possible with a 5-inch travel 29er. Just as I was thinking I might have to ditch 29ers in order to achieve the playfulness everyone talks about the 27.5-inch bikes possessing, this. There’s a reason this bike has garnered nods from every mountain bike publication that has reviewed it.

If mountain biking was still 26″ wheels and forks with 50 or 80mm of travel, I’d never have returned to it. I’d simply run big tires on my ‘cross bike. But the technology has come so far, if you’re not riding some variation of today’s full-suspension bikes with either 27.5 or 29-inch wheels, you’re really missing out on ticklishly good fun.

 

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5 comments

  1. Pat O'Brien

    I have never ridden a 27.5 or 29 inch wheel full suspension bike, but owned 26 inch full suspension bikes. I also do not ride any extremely technical trails. I really appreciate simplicity, and the new crop of full suspension bikes are complicated, expensive, and have features many, maybe most, riders will not use. Well, at least not me. So, I went to a good 29 inch steel hard tail, with a good front suspension fork, and have been happy ever since. I know, I am an old luddite slowly going backwards as I age. If my front fork fails one more time, I am going to try and find that White Brothers rigid carbon fork I used to have. Gotta be around here somewhere.

    1. Tina

      I’m right there with you, Pat. I sold my Giant NSR a few years ago and got a full rigid steel Voodoo 29er with a 1×10 and haven’t looked backed. It’s a more visceral experience and has made me a stronger rider. I finally upgraded to carbon fork and I think it’s just about perfect…for me…

    2. Dustin

      Comparing the NRS to a modern dually is like comparing the ’69 Camaro to the new Corvette. The new bikes are much, much better, in every way imaginable.

      That said, for me and my local trails, a rigid single speed 29er is the perfect weapon. Steel frame, carbon fork, tubeless tires, and good to go all day long. Nice and light, nothing to break, no real maintenance needed. Air in the tires and some lube on the chain is all it needs, and maybe a new set of brake pads every year or so.

      Horses for courses and all that.

  2. Shawn

    For me, the Ibis Mojo SL was the best all-around 26″ mtb ever. So I waited anxiously for the Ripley when it was time to move my saddle to a 29er. The Ripley was good — really good — but the closest I could get to the heavenly feel of the Mojo was on a Niner Jet-9 RDO, so I went with the Niner.

    Anyway, all that stuff about “29ers corner like a bus” and “they’re not nimble enough” is complete rubbish, except perhaps for department store bikes and models at the lower end of the major brands’ lines. 29ers may never get much representation in the DH crowd (perhaps that may be where a 26″ bike shines a little brighter than a 29er because the 26″ bike’s fork-rake can be more chopper-like) but otherwise, get on a good 29er and you’ll kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

    So says a former successful road racer who traded his Cervelo for a huge smile, dirty socks, singletrack, a camelback from time to time, and rediscovery of the fact that riding a bike can actually be fun.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Shawn, my bike is a Niner MCR, and I agree with your comments on handling. It was their flagship bike, but they no longer make it.

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