Roughly 10 years ago I had a conversation with one of the brighter engineers I know in the bike industry. He’s designed some incredible road bikes, a number of remarkable mountain bikes and even is listed as the inventor of a patented suspension. And he’s got more than 20 years in the industry. When I have a question about the use of carbon fiber in bike frames, he’s one of my first three phone calls.
We were out for a ride on some trails in Southern California and I was digging the way the 29er I was on handled the sandy trails. The then ginormous 2.2-inch wide tires broke away on the 100 grit surface—gradually, not with the suddenness of a high-school breakup. I wondered aloud how much longer it would be before full-suspension 29ers emerged as a category.
“Not gonna happen,” he said.
I don’t even have to include my next question.
“Well, 29ers already have a pretty long wheelbase. By the time you create room for the pivots the wheelbase will be so long that you won’t be able to get the front wheel off the ground.”
We know where that went. The next question became when we’d start to see 29ers with more than 120mm of travel. The first bike that broke that mold that I recall making any sort of splash was the Specialized Enduro 29. But at 160mm of travel, I recall thinking (as I rode one down Copper Mountain), “This might be a bit too much for me.”
I don’t recall much about how that bike pedaled, but my memory was that relative to my skills and desire for a full-suspension rig that pedaled well, I desired more efficiency and less bounce. That said, it did handle well. Getting it down singletrack was eaiser than doing a three-point turn with a school bus.
Welcome to 2018. In 2008 I’m not sure I would asked for a world where a 25mm tire was considered skinny, where gravel bike sales were outstripping road bike sales in some bike shops and where the long-travel 29er was a bonafide category. We’ve gotten here by increments and that journey, both for the industry and me, has been surprising. I can’t speak for the industry, but I welcome all the changes.
It’s fair to say that with the continued improvements to the Specialized Enduro 29, and models like the Evil Wreckoning (what a great name) and the Marin Wolf Ridge, the long-travel 29er is a thing.
If you follow Ibis at all, the introduction of the Ripmo doesn’t require much of an explanation. In five letters they let you know exactly what the bike is. With the wheel size ripped from the Ripley 29er and the longer-travel found in the Mojo, Ibis has unleashed what seems to be the bike they’ve been destined to make all along. And the way sales for the Ripmo have taken off (it’s the most successful launch in the company’s history), the mountain biking world seems to agree.
I got 45 minutes on the bike last week. It was all I and they could manage, though I suspect there’s more to come. Here are the basics: the Ripmo features a 160mm-travel Fox 36 up front and a Fox DP X2 handling 145mm of travel in the rear. The linkage design is yet another expression of the DW Link.
To me, the question behind a 29er with 145mm of rear-suspension travel is whether it pedals worth a damn. Once a manufacturer is working with 145mm or more of travel it’s not particularly difficult to make a bike that you can ride downhill. Crisp handling isn’t even that big a deal. When in doubt, don’t go around the boulder, go over it.
The first thing I noticed about the Ripmo was that it felt light like a trail bike, not burly like an enduro bike. That’s due to more than just running a lightweight group. The Ripmo’s frame comes in at under six pounds. But as I wound through the first singletrack the bike handled intuitively, naturally, not like some sideshow act, and that’s due in part to the 43.5cm chainstays. That the stays can be so short and still allow you to run 29 x 2.6-inch tires is impressive, and owe to the asymmetric chainstay design that’s become more common. The drive-side chainstay drops low to leave room for tires and chainring. Boost axle spacing keeps the wheels locked in place and allows the flange spacing on the wheels to be great enough to build wheels that would survive a blitzkrieg.
Climbing that nominal first hill, the bike moved over rocks without bucking and didn’t sink with each pedal stroke. There’s a turn I take turn exit one park and enter the next on my way to Annadel. There are as many different lines as there are recordings of “Yesterday.” I prefer to take the high line directly over the rocks, pop off another and then dive into the small downhill. From there the trail becomes a flat run of scree, with small chunks of sandstone and granite punctuated with bigger slabs canted at inconvenient angles. Strava says I recorded a PR here.
I note this because it speaks to the Ripmo’s ability to float over rock and still allow the rider to pedal max watts. And honestly, I wasn’t going that hard. My climb of the rockiest trail I know, Rough Go was not without dabs. I’ll still need technique and balance to ride this thing. And while the return descent of the trail was good enough for my third fastest drop of that section of trail, what’s notable about that is I rolled into the section with no momentum from up high. I hit it from a dead stop. And yes, while the bike lacks some of the nimble nature of the Ripley, it makes up for that with aplomb. It suggests that lines should be carved vertically, not horizontally.
The Ripmo saved its biggest surprise for last. Short on time, I dove through a park exit and found the road that would take me back to Trail House where I needed to drop the bike off. Thanks to the bike lane, I was able to put my head down and drill my legs. One of the reasons 29ers mostly stalled at 120mm of travel for so many years was more travel meant more pedal-induced bob. With the chain under constant tension, the Ripmo pedaled as well as some 100mm cross country bikes I’ve ridden.
There’s a natural question about just how rad you have to be to buy a bike like the Ripmo. My personal airtime is most easily measured in inches, not feet. Most bike shop employees would probably steer me away from this bike, what with my gray hair. What I can tell you is the Ripmo is unqualified fun. It makes any trail more fluid, adds confidence to any move. The Ripmo is a good time best fueled with giggles, grins and high-fives.
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