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Fun fact: There’s a functioning nuclear reactor on the campus of MIT. Students study, train and eventually run the reactor to gain a practical understanding of the mechanics and physics behind nuclear power generation. But the thing is, it doesn’t actually generate any power. There is no steam and no turbines. And anyway, it operates at a far cooler temperature than a “real” reactor would. But when you can do it in-house, you can learn things you couldn’t through models, simulations, or field trips. That’s why many bike brands have small-scale carbon development labs in their headquarters. They’re a way for engineers to experiment with new processes and new designs, maybe even make something custom like the trials frame Santa Cruz produced for Danny MacAskill. But none are used for production frames… except for Ibis. Three years ago, about four years after first building their in-house carbon lab, Ibis Cycles started commercially producing a size-small front triangle for the Ibis Ripley. During that time, much of the lab was dedicated to finding ways to make carbon frame production faster and more efficient. For example, that generation of Ripley front triangle needed about 350 individual pieces of carbon to produce. The one Ibis made in house took about 100. And the mold was a slimmed down shape made of aluminum instead of a block of steel. That made it easier to move around and far quicker to heat and cool, and required less energy to do so. The more careful production process allowed Ibis to speed up the finishing process, and for the waning days of that Ripley’s generation, you could actually buy one. But of course, that was not the goal of Ibis’ carbon lab. At least right now, that would be the Ibis Exie.
Instead of a few tables and a couple machines in the corner of their warehouse and assembly shop (not exaggerating, I’ve been there, and that’s what the “lab” was) the new Ibis carbon facility is a building outside of Santa Cruz. The minimal time and energy it takes to heat the molds allowed Ibis to run the factory completely on solar, with a claimed 60% surplus at their current production levels.
The new production method happens to excel in stiffness and light weight, so the logical inaugural model would be a dedicated cross-country bike. The Ibis Exie is a 100mm rear travel, 120mm front race machine that still features a true DW-link suspension design. No flex stays here, though the stays certainly are pretty thin. Ibis claims the Exie frame weighs less than 2,000 grams, pretty impressive for a full-featured linkage design. Speaking of features, the Exie offers full tube-in-tube internal routing, room for two in-triangle water bottles on all frame sizes, and 2.4-inch tire clearance. There’s a 7-year warranty on the frame, and a lifetime warranty on the IGUS bushings that the lower link rotates on.
The geometry is, unsurprisingly, what you’d call progressive XC. Steep-ish head tube, low-ish stack height. But it’s definitely long. 478mm reach on a size large is on par with plenty of enduro bikes. Doesn’t really mean anything for the fit, but it does mean nobody’s sneaking a 70mm stem on this thing. On the other end of that geometry, though, is a sign that we may be on the verge of yet another revolution in how we understand effective seat tube angles. Like Norco, Nukeproof and Forbidden, Ibis is designing larger bikes around steeper seat tubes. Reason being, when taller people go uphill, their weight gets cantilevered further back because they’re … taller. So, to keep the experience consistent when climbing, the Exie builds the size large with a degree steeper seat tube angle than the small and medium, and the XL is yet another degree steeper than that.
There are three build options, an XT, an X01 and an XX1 AXS. No GX or SLX build in sight. It seems the Exie frame is meant to be a premium offering. The frame-only option, which is expected to be available in 2022, goes for $4,500 with rear shock. Compare that to the carbon Ripley, which goes for $3,200. Apples and oranges, maybe, but pretty significant. Even though the narrative around the Ibis Exie frame is how fast and efficient it is to produce, there may be some elements that, by themselves, help justify a higher price. And it’s not unheard of for brands to have multiple tiers of boutique-ness in their lineup. Ibis is already there with high-value bikes like the Ripley AF. But it’s also likely that this is simply what we’ll be seeing if we get what we asked for, and carbon manufacturing comes back to the U.S.. Until the scale of production ramps up drastically, it will probably be more expensive.
So, the experiment has moved on to its next phase. Ibis has successfully optimized carbon manufacturing until it’s now at least reasonable to do it domestically. And everything we’ve seen indicates that the quality is top notch. Plus, the Exie will get a bit of a boost from the clout that comes with being made in the US.. But now, the experiment has shifted. Will people pay a premium for it? Only time will tell.
Find out more at ibiscycles.com/exie