Bike Intelligencer » On The Bike Reviews All bike, all the time Wed, 13 May 2015 21:53:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ibis Mojo HD3 on the bike review: First impressions Sat, 06 Dec 2014 05:41:19 +0000

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…

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SRAM XX1 Drivetrain — an On The Bike Review Thu, 02 May 2013 02:29:44 +0000

At the Sea Otter Classic 2013 we had the opportunity to try out a SRAM XX1-equipped bike featuring the new 1×11 drivetrain.

Our impressions were recorded in real time in the attached video review, another in our On The Bike Reviews. We rode a SRAM-labeled Kona 29er equipped with the 1×11. The bike had a 32-tooth chainring and 10×42 rear cassette.

The first thing that threw us was the shifter. We instinctively reached for the trigger and found… nothing. Instead the bike was equipped with SRAM’s patented GripShift — the old motorcycle-style twist shifter.

We hadn’t ridden GripShifts since they first came out in the early 1990s. We tried ‘em on a couple of bikes and gave up. The response was slow, cable action was delayed, mis-shifting was common and in general — although we loved the idea — they didn’t deliver.

We stayed with SRAM drivetrains, in part because SRAM worked better than Shimano, and in part because we were a little tired of the Shimano monopoly. Whatever.

Over the years, we hadn’t paid much attention to GripShift.

On our tests of the 1×11, though, we soon came to like the gripper. SRAM has done much to improve the action and response. But there was another factor.

When you’re dependent on only the rear cassette, you find yourself flipping through multiple gears much more often. Without the front derailleur to rely on for step-up or down gearing spreads, you often want to jump two or three cogs at a time.

We came to think we should seriously consider this matchup for using 1×11 gearing, which our next bike will have.

One caveat: Troubling negative feedback
on GripShift in forums. Some riders are reporting failure. Some have asked SRAM for a response. So far, nothing from SRAM.

That’s too bad, because 1×11’s success may ultimately rely in part on GripShift adoption. We will be monitoring this as the season proceeds.

Back to the 1×11 test.

We found the rear derailleur to be smooth and responsive. Not much more to say there. It shifted as it should. We haven’t found any huge leaps in derailleur technology since index shifting, really. Refinements, yes. But let’s face it, if the gear changes precisely and quickly — which it does for nearly every brand of derailleur — that’s plenty good enough. Performance often is far more dependent on cable adjustment, tension and action.

The ride with a 1×11 is almost spooky quiet. Despite taking stutters at speed and tossing the bike around under us, we never experienced a single whisper of chain slap. When we checked the chain stay, we found it unprotected, unmarked and un-nicked. This setup lacked any chain tensioner or guide. The chain just doesn’t move around.

Our experience was confirmed by several months-long 1×11 users. Most started with a chain guide of some sort, but soon abandoned it as not needed.

What we really liked about the 1×11 had to do with … NO shifting!

With 1×11 of course, you lose the front derailleur and front shifter. And cable. And housing. (You even lose the chainstay protector, whether it’s a Velcro fabric or stretch tape.)

It’s like a whole chunk of stuff goes away, and you don’t have to worry about it any more.

The drivetrain as a result is going to be lighter. Because SRAM has made XX1 its new gold standard, the machining, weight and finish of the 1×11 is nonpareil. The stuff is really well made. (Again, they absolutely need to address the GripShift question.)

That leads us to the second part of our 1×11 experience. At Sea Otter we asked everyone from Pivot founder Chris Cocalis to the dude on the carbon Scott 27.5 (650b) from Los Angeles about how they liked 1×11. To a person, they all raved. They unreservedly gave it one thumb’s up — one, because that’s all you need with just a single shifter.

We had heard early rumors of chain fatigue and breakage with XX1, which made some sense given the amount of spread in an 11-cog cassette. Most feedback was that there’s less stress on the chain because it isn’t always having to hop back and forth among front chainrings.

We’re persuaded enough by experience and feedback to be eager to equip our next bike with 1×11. In the meantime, we’ll monitor the rumor mill and try to get a response from SRAM on GripShift issues.

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Carbon 29er Comparison: Ibis Ripley and Pivot Mach 429 Fri, 26 Apr 2013 16:01:32 +0000

At the recent Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival we had a chance to ride back-to-back the two hottest new carbon 29ers, the Ibis Ripley and Pivot’s Mach 429. We’re attaching our unique “On The Bike Review” videos here but also wanted to elaborate a bit now that we’ve had a chance to think the rides over.

At first glance, you’d assume these bikes are pretty much “carbon” copies of one another. They both spring from boutique backgrounds, they’re produced by two of mountain biking’s leading designers (Scot Nicol and Chris Cocalis), they both feature Dave Weagle’s DW-link suspension and they both aim at the top tier of quality, workmanship, esthetics and, of course, pricing.

What impressed us most about our rides, however, was how different these bikes are.

In a nutshell, the Ripley rides more like a really fast cross-country racer, while the 429 feels more like a ripping trail bike. Both can cross over into other disciplines, of course. But rider orientation is a big deal in choosing which of these bikes to go with.

What we noticed first about the Ripley was its flabbergasting climb prowess. Riding up forest trails, we easily were scaling step-ups, switchbacks and loose stuff that would have stopped us on a standard 26er, no matter how light and stiff. The bike tracked amazingly well, going right where we pointed it and offering effortless control, even when the front end was unweighted on the steeps.

At first we figured we were drunk on adrenaline, riding the cool new Ripley. And feeling really strong that day. Something we had for breakfast, perhaps.

Nope. The bike itself was the difference.

Hands-down, the Ripley is the best climbing bike we’ve ever ridden. There isn’t much more to say.

Part of this is the Ripley’s short chainstay (17.5 inches) and wheelbase (44.1 inches for a Large). Part of it is the DW-link configuration — built right into the frame rather than external. And part of it lies in Ripley’s fairly steep geometry — 70 degree head and 73 degree seat angles. The bike we rode was also pretty light, in the 26-pound range.

The Ripley’s climbing chops wrought an inevitable tradeoff, however.

On the downhill side, the bike felt less secure. It was a bit too upright to really settle down into. Although it cornered well and responded snappily on tight sections, there seemed to be a slight latency on drops, jumps and technical sections. We never were completely comfortable and never felt truly “centered” on the Ripley.

The caveat here, of course, is that we only had an hour on the bike and in no way could say it was completely dialed for our riding. But it’s also true that the climbing DNA of the Ripley may exert a tax on its downhill capability.

Note in the Ripley video that our take was shared by another rider testing out the Ripley whom we ran into heading back to the festival.

Our Ripley impressions also were confirmed by the ride on the Mach 429. While the 429 climbed better than our 26 and was certainly no slouch, it couldn’t touch the Ripley on the ups. A quick look at geometry gives a clue: The 429 has longer chainstays (17.65) and wheelbase (44.96), and slacker geometry (69.3 head, 71.9 seat). Also, as we note in the video, the Pivot’s front end sits noticeably higher, the head tube being 4.7 inches long v. 3.9 for the Ripley.

(All comparisons are for Large size, 120mm of travel and 2.1-inch tires, with similar Fox forks.)

Pointed down, though, the dynamic flipped. The 429 just railed. The cockpit felt immediately comfortable, the bike ate up berms, drops and jumps, and the suspension was supple and responsive. The bike felt more stable at speed and flickable on sketchy sections. Sitting on the 429, you really sink into the suspension, like the feeling you get when you manual a long-travel 26er.

The simplest way of putting it: The 429 was the first 29er we’ve ridden that really “disappeared” under us. We weren’t constantly reminded we were on a 29er. We were just out riding and having a blast.

You can’t go wrong with either of these bikes. But choosing which one may ultimately lie in your riding style and orientation as well as the trails you prefer. There was a time — when we were more racer boy and loved climbing better than anything — that the Ripley would have suited us better. But for all-around trail riding and just plain fun, we’d have to go with the 429. Beyond those two admittedly broad categorizations, the choice is up to you.

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27.5 Shootout: Santa Cruz Bronson and Pivot Firebird Compared Mon, 22 Apr 2013 02:49:50 +0000

At the Sea Otter Classic 2013 we had an opportunity to test ride two new 27.5 bikes: the carbon Bronson — Santa Cruz Bicycles’ latest and one of the showcase bikes of Otter this year — and the Pivot Firebird, modified for 27.5 setup and announced opening day at the festival.

[Note we use the term “shootout” advisedly, given our limited time on the bikes. This was more bb gun than OK Corral.]

At 26 to 27 pounds for 150mm of travel, the Bronson build was impressive, including ENVE wheels and Maxxis Hi Roller tires along with full XTR. Our bike had a 2×10 drivetrain, although the Santa Cruz booth was displaying the same build with a XX1 (1×11) drivetrain on a Medium it said tipped the scales at 26.5 lbs.

We admittedly couldn’t stretch the Bronson out on Laguna Seca’s fairly docile singletrack. But the ride was long enough to tell us a couple of things.

The geometry of the Bronson — 67 head, 73 seat angle on a Large — felt a little more upright than we’d like. This is a personal preference of course, but we didn’t feel like the Bronson would be at its best riding aggro, mountain bike park or downhill. It felt closer to an XC bike. Perhaps that’s the crowd Santa Cruz is aiming at, although the aggressive tires indicated otherwise.

The bike climbed better than a 26-er but not nearly as well as a 29er. It felt as you’d expect, a compromise between the two. Although to our mind it was closer to the 26-inch experience than the 29-inch.

On downhill stretches, particularly fast sections, we wanted more travel out of the Bronson. Weirdly — and this could be related to suspension, the geometry, the amount of travel or just our own head games — we’re wondering if the 27.5 category isn’t better suited to longer travel. Just throwing that out there. It’s not a theory we found support for among a few 27.5 riders we interviewed. But to a rider, they were in the 5-8 to 5-10 height range. We run 6-0 and have long monkey arms.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 7.41.04 PM

To confirm our theory, the Pivot Firebird 27.5 felt more comfortable to us. You sink down in the 6.6-inches of travel as with the conventional Firebird. But the bigger hoops and slacker angles (66 degrees via a Pivot custom angled headset on a Large, 71.5 seat angle) give you a new dimension of versatility, speed and handling. For a taller rider, the Firebird 27.5 actually adds a noticeable degree of stability and centered-ness.

This all held true despite the Firebird being heavier, at 31.5 pounds, and aluminum, not as responsive as carbon. But neither of those factors count for much when you point the rig downhill.

The caveat being that we only rode the thing briefly around the midway, doing mostly stutter stops and starts, wheelies and track stands. Having lots of fun, but hardly testing it. Pivot did not have a build ready to take out on the trails. (Pivot offers an extensive demo program and expects to have Firebird 27.5s ready to roll in mid-May.)

With all that said, we admit to not quite getting the 27.5 category. It feels like half a loaf. If you want the advantages of a larger platform, why not go to 29? The only rationale that makes sense to us is rider height. There may be a sweet spot where 27.5 is just right for the shorter among us who find 29ers too angular. For someone our height, it may not be dramatic enough to warrant the commitment to a whole platform.

For another view on the Bronson, check out Francis’ take on Francis found more plushness to the Bronson than we did. It’s also worth noting he’s 5-8. But he had considerable more time on the Bronson than we did, and puts it in the context of other 27.5 (650b) bikes. (It omits the Firebird, however, having been written before the 27.5’s release.)

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Schwalbe Hans Dampf Tire Tested at Whistler! Sun, 22 Apr 2012 15:31:42 +0000 In another of our On The Bike Reviews, we put you in the saddle as we test Schwalbe’s new Hans Dampfs on the rugged trails of Whistler, B.C.

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Pivot Mach 5.7 Carbon Test at Sea Otter Classic 2012! Sun, 22 Apr 2012 15:14:35 +0000 In another of our On The Bike Reviews, we put you in the saddle of a new Mach 5.7 Carbon cross country/all-mountain ride courtesy of the Pivot Cycles folks at Sea Otter. It was a gorgeous day, in the low 70s, the singletrack was tacky and packed, and we rode and rode and rode… Enjoy!

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Introducing the On The Bike Review: A new twist on bike reviews Mon, 19 Mar 2012 07:18:11 +0000 Digital video technology today offers a whole new approach for reviewing bike stuff. Armed with a GoPro Hero helmet cam, a reviewer can offer a running commentary while he or she rides the bike — providing observations and reactions as the ride progresses. The effect is to put the viewer right there on the bike with the rider, giving a real feel for how a bike or component is performing.

The concept occurred to us as we were doing a torture test of Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf all-mountain tire on the back side of Mount Tamalpais in the birthplace of mountain biking, Marin County.

Instead of writing up a review and attaching a video — as we’ve done for many BikeIntelligencer evaluations — we decided to just talk out loud about what we were feeling as we rode the bike…while all the time pointing out what the tire was going through on our test.

The result we dubbed OTBR — On The Bike Review.

Tires are tailor-made for On The Bike reviewing, but other components can be critiqued just as easily and effectively. Among them are suspension (droppable) seat posts, front and rear suspension systems, brakes, drive trains — in fact, just about anything worth reviewing can be adapted to the On The Bike review. The best fit of all may be evaluating a new bike itself — recording reactions as they occur to the reviewer in real time.

We wish we’d had this setup when we first rode the Crank Brothers Joplin suspension seat post back when. We could have dramatically illustrated the frustrations with trying to raise and lower the post using the Joplin’s under-the-saddle lever. Remote controls have since made the Joplin approach obsolete, and Crank Brothers itself has a new post called kronolog.

How does OTBR differ from conventional reviews?

The first thing to understand is that OTBR would not be possible without GoPro’s sound technology. You need a mike that can pick up voice in just about all conditions. The Hero gets the job done, offering amazingly adaptable audio pickup as the ride progresses. Combined with the camera’s visual feedback, the OTBR gives the listener/viewer a truly real sense of how the bike is performing. For the viewer, OTBR is quite literally the next best thing to being there — on the ride itself.

Contrast that with text reviews where the writer discusses reactions in the past tense, often leaving out key information and having no way to show exactly how a component behaved. There’s just nothing like being there.

We at BikeIntelligencer used helmet cams for nearly a decade before the GoPro. They were heavy, bulky, difficult to use and suffered from low video resolution (barely TV quality back when TVs were big heavy tube things with fuzzy pictures — you remember!) as well as short battery life.

When we did reviews with them, the best we could do was voice-overs during editing.

When we began using the Hero it immediately occurred to us that its versatility lent itself to bike reviewing. But we tended to use it the same old way we did pre-GoPro: With mostly dubbed-over commentary. The visuals — riding along a favorite singletrack — may have offered some sense of what the ride was like. But without real-time, simultaneous commentary, the “review” element was not as effective.

The model here might be those outdoors videos where adventurers whisper so as not to disturb the wildlife. The commentary imparts a greater sense of immediacy and participation. It puts you right there on the scene. It’s just plain more real.

Beyond being more real, OTBR is more spontaneous and honest. If a fork seal pops, it’s right there on pixels and you see the travel die. If a suspension post wobbles, you can show how and why right there in the saddle. If your brakes fade, it’ll show right there as you pin the lever to the handlebar on the next corner.

With the Dampfs we wanted to test traction, durability and stability. We picked the nastiest downhill around, Blithedale and Eldridge grades on the back side of Mount Tam, to just pound the stuffing out of the Dampfs and their Snakeskin sidewalls. If we so much as rolled a bead, chipped a knob, tore a sidewall or dented a rim, we’d have it all right there on video.

OTBR’ing is so effective we hope that Web reviewers and YouTube denizens will adopt it with time. It may even merit its own queue on our favorite review site, (it’s no coincidence that OTBR shares so many initials with MTBR).

To do the job right, OTBR does require a bit of thinking on the feet (or pedals), good audiovisual instincts and an articulate narrator. The reviewer has to be able to make observations beyond the American Bandstand approach — “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” But that’s true of reviewing in general.

We think OTBR would be a great tool for our favorite reviewers — folks like MTBR’s Francis Cebedo, PinkBike’s Richard Cunningham and BIKE mag’s Vernon Felton. With the resources of their supporting publications (far better than BikeIntelligencer‘s modest lot), they should be able to take OTBR to a much more sophisticated level.

In the meantime, here’s our humble OTBR offering, featuring the Hans Dampf on one of the nation’s most popular mountain bike rides.

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