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.
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.