Engineering the Most Obsessive Grand Prize

by Zach April 07, 2014

There’s only one week left to win the most obsessive gear collection in mountain biking. And since we’ve already explored the origins and inspirations of the Kitsbow apparel included in the package, it’s only fitting that we visit the centerpiece of this contest just one more time: the award-winning Ibis Ripley — a bike as obsessively designed as it was worth the wait. To learn more about the origins of the Ripley, we went straight to the source — to the Ibis headquarters, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and a gummy bear factory in Santa Cruz, California. There, we’d meet the design team and ride the nearby trails upon which the bike was conceived.

Meet Colin Hughes. This soft-spoken California Polytech grad is the lead Ibis engineer, and the man behind the countless hours of engineering and refinement that ultimately lent the critically-lauded Ripley its stupendous climbing prowess and terrain-gobbling capability. Though it’s no secret that the Ripley languished in development for much longer than Ibis would have liked, it was a process and a timeline now fully embraced by Ibis — even the bike’s name is a sly nod to Ripley’s “believe-it-or-not,” because “it’s-finally-here” journey of development. Or perhaps it could be the fact that Ibis founder Scot Nicol rides past the final resting place of Ripley, himself up in Santa Rosa, California. Coincidence? Probably not. Either way, after one ride on the Ripley, you’ll agree that the time Ibis spent developing this 29er was very much put to good use.

Colin’s goal with the Ripley was always to make the lightest, stiffest, and best-handling full-suspension 29er possible. To achieve this, one of his main engineering and design challenges was to utilize a linkage system that incorporated bearings in the eccentric links — a system that yielded the stiffness Ibis was seeking. In its early iterations (also when George W. Bush was still in office), the bike was actually spec’d as a 26er in its Small and Medium sizes, as Ibis couldn’t get the head tube short enough to accommodate bigger wheels, given industry standards for tapered steerer tubes at the time. Just like the steerer tube conundrum, the bike evolved with each new CAD rendering and prototype, from a 100mm cross-country 29er to a hugely versatile 120mm all-mountain trail bike. As Ibis solved each design and engineering puzzle with their marquee bike, they were also adapting its development right alongside the demands of the industry.

The finished Ripley requires over 300 process steps in the carbon fiber layup and construction of each frame – some of which, with impressively tight clearances and razor-tight tolerances. All of this, to yield the bike’s signature short rear-center, a low standover, low handlebar height, and a low bottom bracket. Together, these elements yield a snappy, playful ride quality that belies the bike’s size and capable rolling prowess. No aspect of the bike was overlooked with regards to its impact on the Ripley’s handling or ride quality. Even with the bike’s first year on the trail, Colin continues to obsess over continuing to refine the heralded Ripley platform — one that will someday join the rest of Ibis’ contributions to the annuls of mountain biking history.

Because an obsessive’s work is never finished, Colin was recently joined by former pro cyclist Andy Jacques-Maynes — effectively doubling the Ibis engineering department along with its capability for researching and quickly developing further refinements to the Ripley platform. These prototypes and developments can be made in-house, thanks to a small machine shop tucked neatly away in the corner of the Ibis facility. One of the first refinements born expressly for the Ripley was the GnarCore — a beefed-up lower eccentric bearing core with a new titanium bolt, which increase the lateral stiffness of the Ripley by an impressive 10%. It’s also where Andy designed the new Ripley Cable Dice – a unique cable management solution that hides just in front of the Ripley shock, locking in the brake, shifter, and dropper post cables.

Once we’d seen enough of where the Ripley was born, it was time to check out the Ripley’s first testing grounds — the easy-access trails at Wilder Ranch State Park, just a short ride from Ibis HQ. We were escorted to the trails by Kirk — Ibis veteran road warrior who manages the company’s coast-to-coast demo bike program. If you’ve demoed an Ibis at any point in the last three years between Oregon, New Mexico, or Massachusetts, chances are it was Kirk who got your bike dialed and rolling. And since he’s ridden his personal Ripley all across the United States, he’s well acclimated to getting the most out of this super-capable trail bike — flicking it over basketball-sized rocks, scrambling up tight switchbacks out of the saddle, and taking loose corners at full speed. There are precious few trails, and even fewer people that the Ripley isn’t tailor-made for. This is the direct result of Ibis’ passion for mountain biking, and a truly obsessive nature to get it right, no matter how long it takes. [zp]

We couldn’t be more proud to partner with fellow obsessives at Ibis for our Join the Obsessives giveaway. So if you haven’t already, click here to enter to win the Ibis Ripley, a closet full of Kitsbow gear, and much more.

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