Courtesy of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and Ibis Cycles, we got to spend a day aboard mountain biking’s latest entry in the 27.5 sweepstakes, the HD3.
First, a word about the demo: At its Santa Cruz factory, Ibis offers demos of its entire fleet for $20 a day, all of which goes to the good folks at MBoSC. Everybody wins in this equation: the rider, the company, the club and the trails. For me as a reviewer it’s nice, because I don’t have to feel beholden to Ibis to gloss up the review. I paid for the ride like any other schmoe, I get to say what I want.
So what’s up with the HD3?
Interestingly, that alphanumeric does not appear anywhere on the bike. It’s just “HD.” The guys at Ibis said the “3” is an informal designation simply to distinguish the 3 from its two predecessors. They added that their own internal code name for the bike was either Mojob (Mojo B, as in 650b) — which almost made it to market as the official name — or Bromad, referring to a cross between Santa Cruz’s Bronson and Nomad.
The latter is spot on. More on that later.
Not to second guess the folks at Ibis, I wonder why they didn’t call this bike something new. Because that’s what it is. While HD3 suggests simply a refresh of the popular HD and HDR, this bike is worlds different.
What I noticed first off was how well the bike fit. I felt centered on it all four ways — back, forward, up and down. It just kind of swallowed me up. I forgot about handling characteristics, compensating for this or that — geometry, suspension, bb height, saddle position. This is the first demo bike I think I’ve ever ridden where I haven’t immediately gotten out the allen wrenches and shock pump to fiddle. It just felt great right out of Ibis’ loading dock.
The build was burly — see video below. Burlier than I’d prefer — starting with Maxxis Minion DHF knobbies that weighed more than the super-wide Ibis carbon 741 “fattie” wheels (or about the same, anyway). The bike weighed 28.8 pounds, but just about every component on the build could be weenied out, and the guys at Ibis acknowledged the HD3 could be built up at right around 26 pounds. You could easily lose a pound and a half on the tires alone.
For all that, the bike climbed well. The HD3 has gotten a lot of early praise for its climbing, but honestly it didn’t climb as well as most Ibis bikes like the original Mojo and 29er Ripley. I would not call climbing its strong suit, but it wasn’t a pig by any means.
When I say it climbed “well,” I’m comparing it to other 27.5s I’ve ridden, everything from the Pivot Mach 6 to the SC Nomad to the Intense Tracer and the Specialized Enduro. There isn’t a gazelle in the group, and that’s pretty much to be expected. These bikes are aimed at the vague and narrow “enduro” category. We can only hope we’ll be seeing more AM and XC oriented versions in the near future.
My personal opinion is that these “enduro” bikes are overbuilt for 90 percent of mountain bike riders and 90 percent of mountain bike riding. They need a diet. A friend of mine has held back buying into the 27.5 platform just on that assumption — the bikes have to get lighter to appeal to a wide audience.
That said, the HD3 is a “seamless” climber. The suspension felt firm, the traction was great (the fattie 741s, running at 16 psi, helped loads). The front end did not pull up or wander, and the rear end never slipped. Well, once: On a steep and mudded-out fire road climb where the DHFs’ knobs got totally clogged. Hardly the bike’s fault, it had been raining hard earlier and was still spitting darts. I expected slippage elsewhere but as long as the knobs stayed clear, the bike grabbed the steeps.
Where the HD3 really shone was everywhere else. Tight singletrack, steep declines, jumps, features, flowy stuff. For a 29-pound bike it felt nimble, flickable, responsive. Again, I’d love to ride it with a light build.
I still ride a 6-inch-travel 26er as my “play bike,” and what occurred to me thrashing around my favorite haunts was that this is the first 27.5 that keeps the advantages of a 26er: quickness, fast acceleration, ability to change direction, move around on top of, navigate tight twisties, and so on down the line. It’s the first 27.5 bike that didn’t have me thinking, “I wish it handled as good on XYZ as my 26er.”
I attribute this largely to a crucial decision Ibis made to keep the HD3’s head angle at the comparatively steep 67 degrees. This comes at a time when 66 and 65 are increasingly the standard, and logically so. The slack HA, coupled with steeper seat tube angles, allows longer top tubes, shorter stems, wider bars and a more-forward (and centered) body position, helpful for climbing but also for controlling the bike overall.
But the slack HA also slows steering and can make the bike sluggish on singletrack, prime case in point being the Nomad.
On the HD3’s release, Ibis got raucous pushback from the fanboys over the head angle. But once they ride this bike, they’ll understand Ibis’ reasoning.
So how does the HD3 compare to the other high-end, boutique, customizable 27.5 offerings?
On overall ride quality, it’s at the top. The HD3 is just a fun ride all around. Keeping in mind the superficiality of such comparisons:
It doesn’t have the downhill-sled, rock-solid stable feel of the Nomad.
It doesn’t feel as racy as the Bronson.
It doesn’t go straight down on tech stuff as well as the Mach 6 (which needs a refresh).
Its DWL suspension trumps the Enduro.
It’s more playful than the Tracer.
One bike I’d like to include here is Yeti’s new SB6c. But I haven’t had a chance to demo it yet(i)…
These are highly subjective, and even the differences I feel are marginal. They’re all amazing bikes. I’d encourage any rider to demo the HD3 asap. No matter what your riding preferences, you’ll come away impressed.
Here’s my on-the-bike take…