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First Impressions: Ibis Ripmo

With the release of the Ripmo, Ibis placed itself at the sharp end of one of the most competitive spaces in mountain biking, namely the long travel, enduro-focused 29’er market. And while the Ripmo’s aggressive intent makes it an easy choice for enduro racers, what’s remarkable is how easy it is to ride for everyone else.

The author chasing Ibis ambassador and certified legend Brian Lopes. At 6’ tall, the author felt that the large was a perfect fit. Lopes, at 5’10”, had tested multiple sizes, and preferred the medium Ripmo.

The Origin

Even if Ibis hadn’t spelled it out, it wouldn’t take a great leap to realize that the Ripmo name is a mashup of the two families that have previously comprised the brand’s mountain bike offerings- Ripley and Mojo. By pairing the 2017 EWS team overall winning spirit of the Mojo HD4 with the bigger wheels and welcoming nature of the Ripley, Ibis set out to build a long travel, big wheeled trail bike to compete in what has become one of mountain biking’s most hotly contested spaces.

The Geometry

Although Ibis has developed a reputation for bikes whose handling is fairly conservative, the Ripmo’s geometry is so new school it could be considered futuristic. The shift started with the seat tube angle, which was pushed several degrees forward of Ibis’s other offerings. The reasons for this are twofold- it shifts the rider’s seated neutral weight balance forward, which makes the steering quicker, and counteracts the tendency of the bike to sag under climbing, which dramatically enhances its ascending abilities. At the same time, the seat tube was shortened dramatically, allowing riders on a size small to run a 150mm dropper, and taller riders to run droppers 170mm or longer.

Of course, each aspect of frame geometry impacts the overall handling, and a change of several degrees at the seat tube has a cascading effect moving forward. In order to maintain a comfortable tip to center measurement (tip of saddle to center of handlebar), the reach measurement was lengthened roughly a full inch as compared to the already roomy Mojo 4.

The final piece of the puzzle was the move to a shorter offset fork, which is a trend that’s rapidly being adopted industry wide. Geometry nerds will recognize that the benefit of this change is to increase the trail measurement, which enhances the stability of the front wheel by, at the risk of oversimplifying, providing a more pronounced caster effect (as in caster wheel). Basically, with a shorter fork offset, Ibis is able to achieve a trail measurement that would otherwise only be possible by relaxing the head angle almost two degrees. And despite the trend towards ever slacker head angles, raking the fork out further would stretch the already massive wheelbase and compromise the Ripmo’s cornering in tight turns. For Ibis, the goal was not to create an enduro specific freight train but a versatile trail bike that’s also comfortable when pushed flat out in wild terrain. And at the risk of skipping ahead, the Ripmo most certainly delivers on that promise.

The Features

Rather than slapping bigger wheels onto the Mojo HD4, the design team at Ibis effectively started with a blank slate when designing the Ripmo. That freedom in the design phase has resulted in a sleek, beautiful machine. With frame weights starting at roughly five pounds without a shock, the Ripmo is astonishingly lightweight. At the same time, Ibis’s no-nonsense 7 year warranty suggests a great deal of confidence in its ruggedness as well. From design elements like the internal cable tunnels, which do away with nearly all of the headaches often associated with internal cable routing, to the choice to stick with a proven BSA threaded bottom bracket, it’s clear that every design feature was driven by the desire to build a reliable bike that’s easy to live with.

The signature DW Link suspension is similar to that found on the Mojo 4 and makes 145mm of travel at the rear wheel. The biggest difference is the lower link, which employs Igus bushings rather than bearings. Although it enhances stiffness and saves roughly 80g over the previous link, Ibis claims that the primary driver for this shift was improved reliability. After all, bushings are designed for high load, low rotation applications, which is precisely the situation faced by the lower link on a DW Link bike. And while many people, the author included, have had issues with bushing-based designs in the past, the typical design flaws that cause bushing failures, namely contamination, poor tolerances, and excessive side loading have all been addressed by a clever link design that ensures precise fit, an air and watertight seal, and installation that’s essentially impossible to get wrong. There are sure to be some skeptics, but those riding Turners or Knollys will gladly vouch for the durability of bushings when employed correctly.

Mojo 4 link (left) compared with the much lighter Ripmo link (right)

The Ride

With the wheelbase of a size large Ripmo measuring in at a sprawling 48.3 inches, it’s easy to imagine that this bike is a sled. But in reality, that assumption is dead wrong.

Although the Ripmo initially felt very roomy, it was a matter of minutes before the cockpit just felt right. The first on trail impression came in the form of some quick, tricky corners that, according to conventional wisdom, should have tripped up the enormous Ripmo. Instead, it intuitively bobbed and weaved through the flat and occasionally rooty corners that made up the beginning of the test ride. There’s no denying that it’s long, but it’ll dice turns with bikes that are inches shorter and be overall easier to ride in the process.

For a big bike, it’s a peppy and graceful climber. The DW Link suspension’s firmness at the pedals and the open chest position allowed by the Ripmo’s fit make it very easy to gain elevation. In tricky technical sections, the steeper seat tube angle and stable steering geometry make it unbelievably simple to keep motoring up sections that I’ve struggled with on other bikes. Although its climbing abilities aren’t its primary selling feature, they very well could be.

Getting it pointed downhill was genuinely eye opening. Although the length affords it a great degree of fore/aft stability, it requires very little effort to set up for corners. Once laid over, its composure inspires immediate confidence. Unlike some slacker bikes, the steering geometry displays the signature light touch at the bars that has become a calling card for Ibis.

Even when the front end pushed in the slightly greasy conditions, it did so predictably. This trait encouraged the rider to stay committed and wait for the sideknobs to regain traction, which they managed to do every single time. As compared to my personal Hightower LT, for example, the seemingly contradictory blend of light touch and enhanced stability was undeniable. While I could see some riders needing time to adjust, I personally felt immediately at home.

Santa Cruz’s trails skew loamy and rooty, so I didn’t have a chance to really put the Ripmo through its paces in the rough, but the initial impression was that this example of DW Link suspension is as good as it has ever been. It’s firm at the pedals, even under shifts in body mass, and the nature of the suspension design means that very little compression damping is required to provide stability, which allows for excellent compliance over minute trail chatter. To that end, I was notified that after much testing, most of Ibis’s team riders preferred the Fox DPX2 rear shock over the FLOAT X2 because the former offers a lighter compression tune. Those opting for the X2 upgrade would be wise to start with the low speed compression adjuster backed all the way out as they begin their quest for the ideal setup.

The Competitors

The Ripmo’s blend of features make a head-on comparison somewhat tricky. It’s not a trail flattening trophy truck like the Evil Wreckoning or the Trek Slash, and while the Wreckoning may have an edge in terms of straight line smashing, I suspect that the difference is one of perception more so than measurable advantage. Understanding that limitation would allow a thoughtful rider to make up the deficit by exploiting the Ripmo’s superior quickness in corners and mellower sections of trail. In spirit, the Ripmo is very similar to Santa Cruz’s Hightower LT, which is my personal ride at the time of writing this. As someone who frequently finds myself between sizes in Santa Cruz’s offerings, I appreciated the dropper post clearance afforded by the shorter seat tube. The same goes for the longer reach, which enabled me to adopt a riding position marked by a straighter spine and more open chest, reducing the amount of core engagement required to keep the bike on a line. As compared to Yeti’s SB5.5, the Ripmo simply feels quicker and lighter, with traction, efficiency, and aggressiveness to match the biggest SuperBike.

I’ve yet to ride Transition’s Sentinel, which is probably the Ripmo’s closest competition due to its nearly identical travel, steep seat tube angle and short offset fork. By all accounts, it’s a genuinely impressive machine. That said, the Sentinel is roughly two degrees slacker and a pound heavier, which should push it further in the direction of the Wreckoning or Slash, handing the Ripmo a decisive edge in terms of versatility. The other option that squares up nicely with the Ripmo is Pivot’s Switchblade, which despite having 10mm less travel at both ends offers up very similar fit and handling. However, the Ripmo’s short offset fork and slightly more progressive geometry put it a step ahead, especially as the entire industry seems to be shifting towards a similar geometric concept for long travel trail bikes. Frankly, it appears that the Ripmo’s closest competition will come from future challengers, rather than the current crop.

In Conclusion

I struggled to find anything I didn’t like about the Ripmo. It’s long, stable, forgiving, and aggressive, just like you want from an enduro race bike. At the same time, it’s comfortable, light, efficient, and refined, as a great trail bike should be. Furthermore, its feature set checks essentially every box on my personal wish list. Granted, I’d prefer to have the option to run it with a coil shock, as the lack of end stroke progression makes such a setup unadvisable. But that’s my only real gripe, and the rest of the package makes that particular shortcoming easily forgivable. And lest anyone assume that these are empty platitudes, I should note that immediately after handing back my demo bike, I walked into the Ibis sales office to order one for myself.

In the competitive class of long travel 29’ers, the Ripmo strikes a remarkable balance between the character of a trail steed and the forgiveness of an enduro racer. If that sounds like the formula for your next trail bike, the Ripmo absolutely deserves a top spot on your list.

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