In the late 2000s, I went for a mountain bike ride with one of the brightest engineers I’ve known in the bike industry. I was on a hardtail 29er, still a novelty then, while he was on a full suspension rig with 26-inch wheels. We were talking about where the mountain bike market was headed—27.5-inch wheels were on the horizon and I asked when we might see a full-suspension 29er.
His answer: It won’t happen. Like, at all. Not even 100mm cross country bikes. His reasoning was that there was no way to fit everything that needs to happen between the bottom bracket and rear axle without pushing the rear wheel so far back (longer chainstays) that there would be no way to get the front wheel off the ground.
Ladies and gentleman, I submit the Ibis Ripmo, a bike with 145mm of rear travel while rolling on 29-inch wheels. It is a veritable bumblebee of a bike—impossible—if that engineer is to be believed. I offer that little anecdote to demonstrate just how creative bike-industry engineers are.
A tank in SUV trim
The Ripmo, as you’ve probably heard, is Ibis’ effort to marry the big wheels and fluid handling of the Ripley with the longer travel and aggressive personality of the Mojo. I’ve been riding the original version of the Ripmo, not the new V2 because my intent was a long-term test, in part to explore how my riding might change as a result of spending serious time on this bike.
The Ripmo is spec’d with a Fox 36 fork and one of three shocks (Fox X2, DVO Topaz T3 Air or DVO Jade X Coil—mine has the Fox Float DPX2) for 160mm travel front and 145mm travel in the rear. More and more long-travel 29ers are entering the market, but none of them have commanded the affection of the Ripmo. What gives?
The short version is: the Ripmo is a bike that can handle the air time of an enduro rig while having the spry character of a trail bike. Before you scratch your head, let’s just get this much set in pixels: Scot Nicol, Ibis’ founder, knows more about frame material and geometry than most bike engineers I know. The Ripmo has a 64.9-degree head tube angle paired to a short-rake (44mm) fork. The resulting 127mm of trail is long, but not nearly as long as with some long-travel 29ers. The shorter trail (to put this in perspective, your average road bike is built around 55mm of trail and gravel bikes can be more like 66mm of trail) brings the front wheel back, making it easier to get off the ground.
The reduced-rake fork helps tighten the wheelbase, which may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re talking about a bike with a 120.7cm wheelbase, once you consider that the radius of some turn arcs on singletrack can be two meters or less, that’s a bit like trying to get a school bus through a McDonald’s drive-thru. The shorter a bike’s wheelbase, the faster you can get it around a turn.
Which brings me to the Ripmo’s real strength. This bike is best at raw, hungry, bared-teeth speed. It traffics in velocity.
My first few parking lot pedal strokes didn’t tell me that, though. It felt like a pig as I swung through a few low-speed turns before heading to the trails. The grace inherent in this bike doesn’t manifest until it’s at speed, and while that speed need only be beach-cruiser-on-bike path, that momentum is what takes low-speed wheel flop and turns it into remarkable agility.
This bike will never be nimble the way a hard tail is, but it straddles the divide between a bike that pedals well everywhere and a bike that can handle a four-foot drop at speed without bottoming out.
Long-travel 29ers take everything about the full-suspension trail bike and turn the dials up. Longer wheelbase, higher bottom bracket, more weight—the upshot is that riding the Ripmo required me to recalibrate a number of otherwise ingrained behaviors.
I had to work harder to compress the suspension going into a turn, and I had to work harder to make the weight shift that happens in a turn. Of course, that was wrong and it made me see that my cornering technique was a little sloppy. The Ripmo forced me to make sure I was leaning the bike while keeping my body over the tires’ contact patch. The harder I worked to stay over the tires and remain willing to trust the bike with a hard lean and steering in, the better the bike cornered. As in so many cases with a great bike, it could do more than I could.
What about bob?
Of the many suspension systems I’ve tried, the DW Link pedals better than any other system I’ve used, even when the pro-pedal is turned off. That is one of the main reasons I was interested in the Ripmo. Can you make a 145mm suspension system pedal well? The Ripmo answers that, and the answer is yes.
How well does it pedal, though? In a world full of shades of gray, I can sum it up best by saying that it pedals efficiently enough that I don’t bother turning on the pro-pedal for most climbs, even the smooth ones. I know that sounds nuts, but the bike not only rewards a lithe spin, it also smooths a boxier pedal stroke. My best example of this was at the end of four hard hours. I was accelerating before a road descent back to my car and I was tired enough that I pistoned the pedals up and down. I figured that I’d benefit from the added efficiency of turning the pro-pedal on, but when I did, my up-down thrusts made me bounce in the saddle. So I turned the pro-pedal off, and in calming my input to the bike, I was able to accelerate just a hair more.
This is, to be sure, the wrong reason to use suspension.
What I’ve hated about so many full suspension designs is the way the bike sinks the moment I make a big surge on the pedals. Does the Ripmo move? Yes, but I never feel I’m losing energy. The only time I ever feel the bike do that rear-end sag-and-return is when I hit a bigger rock while climbing. And that only happens if I haven’t gotten off the saddle to let the rear wheel skip up the boulder.
This review isn’t about the Fox 36 fork, but I do need to mention how the fork setup affected the ride of the bike. Initially, the fork was set up with a single volume spacer; depending on how you like your fork to react volume spacers can either be a gift or the devil himself. Even after trying a number of different rebound and damping settings, I didn’t much like the fork. It was just too harsh for me. Then I removed a volume spacer and took 5 psi out of the fork. Boom—Strava PRs galore.
I’ve long sidestepped the question of who deserves what bike by considering a different question: Can a given bike help you grow as a rider? The answer for some bikes is yes, and those tend to be the bikes I find most interesting. With the Ripmo, I was driven to see if I could improve my comfort getting air and I figured if ever there was a bike that would encourage me to get my pilot’s license, this would be it. And while I’ve certainly improved my ability to huck off rocks, trees and ledges, this bike has taught me more about cornering a mountain bike than any other bike I’ve ridden because it rewards good technique by allowing a rider to accomplish things a bike this big shouldn’t be able to do.
It would be easy to say the Ripmo is a bike best-suited to more advanced riders, but that misses some of the beauty of this rig. It’s more versatile than its specs suggest, and in that, I can say that it’s a fine choice for a rider still in their growth curve, maybe better than any other I’ve ridden.
Final thought: a jack of more trades than you’d think.