-120-millimeter rear travel, 130 front
-Same suspension and ride characteristics of higher-end models
-Good parts package for the money
-Can be loud
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It’s a strange time to be reviewing bikes. They’re practically selling themselves, solely based on the fact that they’re there, wherever there is. Add to that scenario the introduction of a sub- $3,000 version of a wildly popular model from a coveted brand, and well, it doesn’t exactly feel like any combination of words here will bear much impact on someone’s buying decision. In today’s crazy seller’s market, if a well-priced, well-known bike is actually available, it won’t be for long.
But when Ibis released the AF or ‘Aluminum Frame’ version of its Ripley 130/120mm-travel 29er back in January—a trend it started with the Ripmo AF in 2019—it felt worth weighing in on. I mean, someday the market will regulate, and buyers might actually go back to making decisions based on considerations like carbon vs. aluminum, parts spec, overall value and ride quality, not strictly availability. Right?
Plus, I’d already been riding the carbon Ripley for the better part of a year, so I had a solid baseline for a comparison.
The biggest difference in the two frames, besides material, is geometry; the aluminum V5 Ripley has a slightly more aggressive slant, with a 65.5-degree head angle, a degree slacker than the carbon version. The standover is also 9mm lower on the aluminum version—703 mm versus 712 mm—and, at 1,188mm, the wheelbase is 10mm longer. The seat angle (76 degrees), chainstays (432mm) and reach (450mm, size medium) are the same on both bikes.
The most important detail, the DW-Link suspension platform the Ripley runs on, remains constant. Because of that, this version of the Ripley shares the same ride characteristics of any modern Ibis, striking a balance between climbing efficiency and a descending prowess akin to floating atop the trail. The kinematics are what make the Ripley one of the best short-travel trail bikes on the market, and that lofty designation isn’t diminished by different frame material. The aluminum is definitely noticeable—it’s not as quiet of a ride experience during descents, or as forgiving—you’ll feel the trail more with a metal bike, especially in fast, rough terrain, where the chatter is already loud; but that’s also the beauty of aluminum. Not everyone wants the muted feel of a carbon bike. It also doesn’t feel quite as lively in the corners as the carbon Ripley does, it’ll dive into the turns, it just doesn’t whip out of them with the same snappy fervor. It’s the same fast, playful ride, with a slight sacrifice in the spunk factor.
And at 32.7 pounds (without pedals), you wouldn’t exactly expect it to have the same demeanor as a bike nearly three pounds lighter. Still, its weight surprisingly wasn’t at all a drag, even on the climbs where I expected to really feel the added pounds. It certainly didn’t accelerate as urgently, but I anticipated more of a struggle with the front end on steep bits, given its slacker head angle came without a commensurate steepening of the seat angle. But if I was in a less advantageous position on the bike, it wasn’t noticeable enough to bother me. The AF is also equally as efficient as its carbon counterpart; it may be in less of a rush to get there, but no power is wasted on the way. Thanks to that DW-Link, you continually get back what you put into this bike. Climbing with the shock open was the norm, rather than the exception, and I rarely felt the need for extra pedaling platform. I tested the carbon Pivot Trail 429 120-mm-travel 29er immediately following my time on the Ripley AF, and admittedly, it felt like a rocketship comparatively, but you can’t get into that bike for under $5,900, and there’s no aluminum option. Very few brands in Ibis’ realm, in fact, bother with aluminum—although Santa Cruz Bicycles has a few metal bikes back in its line—and it’s nice to see a niche brand like Ibis invest in making its bikes more accessible to more riders, instead of dumping all its dollars into developing more high-end carbon bikes that only the wealthiest riders can afford. Yes, $3,000 is still a healthy chunk of change for a recreational tool, but it’s an amazing value for what you’re getting in this package.
The AF comes in just two models. Deore, which I tested, is priced $3,000, and comes with a full Deore group (my tester had SLX cranks because of pandemic-induced supply chain issues), including Deore 2-piston brakes, though it’d be nice to see the 4-piston option selected here instead, Fox Performance suspension, Ibis 35 aluminum rims wrapped in Maxxis Aggressor 2.5 tires (mine had Schwalbe Hans Dampf. Again, COVID), an Ibis 780-mm aluminum bar and the KS Rage-i dropper (I had trouble with mine relentlessly ghost-dropping and if I had budget for an upgrade, that’s where I’d spend it).
The NGX build runs $3,300 and exchanges the Shimano parts for a mix of SRAM GX and NX (this version does get you SRAM’s G2 4-piston brakes). The frame and shock on their own go for $1,800, and the frame carries Ibis’ standard seven-year warranty.
The entry point for the AF is $1,200 less than the Deore carbon version, so the value on both builds is pretty strong. And even though you probably didn’t need to read this to know you want a Ripley AF, here’s the final word anyway: If you can find one of these in the wild, consider yourself lucky AF and snap it up.
Photos: Satchel Cronk