Story by Vernon Felton
Action photography by Anthony Smith
Today Ibis publicly unveiled the Mojo HDR—an updated version of their Mojo HD model. The new version of Ibis' all-mountain/enduro machine is:
*Half a pound lighter (frame and shock now tip the scales at six pounds)
*Just as stiff
*A little stronger
*Capable of running ISCG 05-compatible chainguides
*Can be run in both 26-inch wheel/160-millimeters of rear travel (HDR) mode AND 27.5-inch (650b) wheel/130-millimeters of rear travel (HDR 650b) mode
A few of us editors at Bike have been riding the HDR, shod with 650b wheels, these past few weeks and will fork over our two cents on the new bike in just a second—but first, here's our interview with Scot Nicol, founder of Ibis Cycles.
Bike: So does the HD sort of ride off into the sunset now that the HDR has hit the scene?
Scot Nicol: The HDR and the HD in 160-millimeter mode have identical travel, suspension, behavior and stiffness. The HD lives on! It’s just called the HDR 160 now, and we made it better. Here are the super brief changes to the HDR 160, compared to the good, old HD: The HDR is slightly lighter, same stiffness, slightly stronger. We added ISCG mounts to the HDR. The HDR has extra clearance added in the rear end for 11 Speed and for the new XV and Float X shocks. And, of course, you can convert the HDR from 26-inch wheels to 650b or vice versa.
Bike: I've heard some engineers argue that frames which allow you to go from 26-inch to 650b wheels via simple dropout swaps, only do so by compromising the bike's geometry/handling in the 650b mode. In other words, the drop outs allow for sufficient room to run the larger wheel size, but don't do enough to alter the bottom bracket drop, head and seat tube angles. Such folks argue that if you are going to do 650b right, you need to go with a frame specifically designed around those wheels.
What's your take on this whole thing?
Scot Nicol: If we were trying to make both versions of the frame 160 travel, they would be right. One of the versions would be compromised. Since we enable you to convert the bike by swapping the rear shock and mounting hardware, the only “compromise” is the travel. Most “2 in one designs” probably don’t change the fork and rear shock length and attachment points.
Another consideration is strength. If you did both wheel sizes in the same travel, one would be overbuilt (or worse, one would be under built). Since the length of a 130 to 140-millimeter travel 650b fork and wheel is about the same as a 160-millimeter 26-inch fork and wheel, the frame has to be about the same strength so the construction of the two is similar. A dedicated 160 frame for 650b would be heavier.
Bike: What's the geometry amount to once you swap the Limbo chips and shock to put the HDR into 650b/130-millimeter travel mode?
Scot Nicol: Head tube is 67.1-degree. Bottom bracket height is 13.5 inches with a 140mm (34) fork, and 13.4 inches with a 130mm (34) fork—both measured with Pacenti 2.3 Neo Moto.
As with the HD 140, we use a shorter shock and new mounting chips to drop the bike. Chainstay length is the same. By the way, if you want to run this bike in 130-travel mode with 26-inch wheels, that works fine too, you'll get 68-degree head angle and a 13-inch bottom bracket.
Bike: Why 650b?
Scot Nicol: There was a lot of enthusiasm for it [Ed. a 650b version] from our customers with many of them already running 650b on the HD. The forums are positively lit up with 650b conversion chatter. We tried it out, and everybody here liked it too, so we studied our options. With the history of travel change we already had with the HD/HD140 behind us, we looked at that option. Colin put all the dimensions into the CAD model and we knew right away we could make a really good bike with minimal changes to the proven HD platform.
We tried 650b first about a year ago on a converted HD 140 and liked it. We all felt the BB was too high in the old, non-dropped 140 configuration, but was surprisingly good anyways. One thing that we’ve figured out, only recently, is that the five inches of change in center of gravity allowed by dropper posts makes a half-inch of change in BB height much less significant. That’s why all these forums with people adapting 650 wheels into their bikes are so popular. Five years ago, before everyone and their grandmother had a dropper, I bet the popularity would not have been there, the bikes would have been too tall.
By the way, in the pet peeve department, we keep hearing that the industry is shoving this 650b thing down consumers' throats to be able to sell more bikes. I think this is a totally misleading statement, we were totally influenced by our customers on this development. There was no “shoving” anything.
Bike: I imagine you've spent a shitload (I use that word to convey discrete, quantifiable units) of time riding both iterations (26-inch and 650b) of this bike—which do you personally prefer and why?
Scot Nicol: Like all questions related to wheel size it comes down to terrain, riding style and size of the rider. Around our shop 650b seems to be winning. Many of the guys in the shop were constantly switching back and forth last summer, but if you look at their HD’s right now they’re all 650b. We don’t need all the travel for the trails that we ride, but we do appreciate the added traction of 650b wheels. If we take a trip to Northstar to do lift riding this summer most of them will be putting the 26″ wheels back on.
Bike: How long was this bike in the works? Was the re-design prompted by the desire to work with 650b wheels or were you already engaged in a Mojo HD overhaul?
Scot Nicol: We've been working on it for about 18 months. We wanted to incorporate some improvements in molding technology, improve clearances for current componentry (including front derailleurs, rear shocks and 11 speeds), add ISCG tabs and dial in the 130 version for the bigger wheels. All these things added up to the HDR, lighter, and legitimately a 650b chassis. At about the same time we were experimenting with 650b conversion, our factory was experimenting with new molding technologies that they wanted us to help them develop.
Bike: Most consumers are over the moon about this whole 650b thing, despite never having ridden one…go figure. Anyhoo, if someone came to you and said they were going to buy the Mojo HD but now they see this HDR version and, heck, now they are wondering which way should they configure this thing: 26er? 650b?
Scot Nicol: It really depends on what kind of riding you do. They are pretty different set ups, not directly competitive with each other. Some people will use it both ways, set it up big for jumps and drops, trips to very rough areas etc. keep it low and fast for the home turf etc. It was similar with the HD 140/160. You could do lift descents one day on the 160 bike, and XC the next on an efficient 140mm bike. We think some people will go for both setups, but most will go one way or the other, again, they’re different segments of the market.
Bike: How would you answer the question, "Who is 650b 'right' for? Who is 26er 'right' for?" I feel like it’s tough to parse out the difference, really. It’s not like the immediately obvious change in ride quality going from 26 to 29.
Scot Nicol: It’s a much finer line for sure than 26 to 29. My hunch is that you won’t need to ask that question in a couple years because there won’t be much available in 26-inch. 650b will cannibalize both sizes, but will squash 26. That’s just my opinion obviously, we’ll have to wait to see if my balls are made of crystal or made of coal.
Hans thinks that for a given travel 650b and 26 address the same rider, it’s just a progression in the equipment. Colin thinks the 26er 160-travel rider prioritizes travel, the 650b 130-travel rider prioritizes traction.
Bike: Tell me more about the molding technology adopted from the SLR—how is the carbon fabrication process different than on past HD models?
Scot Nicol: Before the layup was done in pieces but molded together to form a monocoque. Now the layup is done all at once allowing for longer continuous fibers. We are now able to mold the cross-brace hollow where it had been foam filled before (like the SL-R). Both of those things save weight and add strength. The third bit of weight savings came from molding in the right dropout. Since we were modifying the tooling in that area anyway to open up some XX1 cog clearance we decided to mold it as one piece to save the weight of the over previous way we molded the joint.
Bike: The new frame is a half-pound lighter than the HD, right?
Scot Nicol: Yes, the HD crept up in weight a bit during its life and we were able to get it under its original weight with the HDR. Clear coated frames are about six pounds even, about 6.2-pounds for color-coated ones.
Bike: How, in particular, did the new molding process enable you to drop the weight of the frame?
Scot Nicol: The continuous fibers remove anything even resembling a joint in the frame, making the layup more efficient giving lower weight at the same stiffness. Also the improved molding quality made a frame that was actually stronger, even though the stiffness is the same and the weight is lower.
Bike: Material-wise (the actual carbon plys and the resin) how does the HDR compare/differ from the HD that people already know?
Scot Nicol: We are using the same carbon, but with the new molding technology. Again, same stiffness, stronger, lighter.
Bike: There are going to be a lot of happy people when news leaks out about the ISCG compatibility on this model. I was of the understanding that it just wasn't possible to fit them in due to the way the DW-Link is married to the Ibis frame design. What, specifically, has changed in the frame design that allows for ISCG tabs now?
Scot Nicol: In order to solve some front derailleur compatibility issues we decided to shift the whole lower link over two millimeters to the non-drive side. By doing this it also allowed us to fit the ISCG adapters. We didn’t do this originally because we wanted to make the bike as stiff as possible, but with the new molding techniques we were able to achieve the same stiffness.
Bike: How is the rear end different on the HDR (than on the HD)?
Scot Nicol: In addition to being shifted over two millimeters, we have greater clearance at the chainstay bridge for the tire and added clearance for the chain path to fit 11 speed. And the dropout changes we mentioned. Oh, and we added an R on the inside of the chainstay.
Bike: What's this thing going to sell for and is there any difference between the price of the frame in 26 (HDR) and 650b (HDR 650b) modes?
Scot Nicol: The frame price (with Kashima shock) is $2,699, same price as the HD. Pricing is the same on the 26 and 650b configurations.
MOJO HDR PRICING
Full XTR Kit: $7,000.00
Full XX1 Kit $6,500.00
Full XT Kit $5,600.00
Full X01 Kit $5,600.00
Full SLX Kit: $4,700.00
RIDING THE MOJO HDR
I got my hands on an HDR frame a ways back and built it up with Shimano XT, Sun Ringle Charger Pro 650b wheels and a KindShock LEV dropper post. Total weight with this very real-world build kit: 28.8 pounds. Impressive.
More impressive, however, was the ride, which is dialed. The Mojo HD was one of my favorite bikes from our Bible of Bike Tests sessions in Fruita this past October–I was impressed with its very balanced feel. It’s one of those bikes that climbs as well as many shorter-travel trail bikes, yet slays it on the descents. The fact that you can run a big fork up front or go the other direction and dial the travel down in the rear (by swapping out the Limbo Chips and rear shock) made the Mojo HD a very versatile beast.
You get all that and more with this updated version, the HDR. In 650b mode, you’re running 130-millimeters in the back, though I never missed the inch of squish–even when ploughing through root and rock sections. One reason for that could be the improved roll over of the slightly larger wheels. Another, more plausible explanation is that, after several years of playing with Dave Weagle’s DW-Link, Ibis knows how to wring a hell of a lot of performance out of their suspension no matter how long or short that travel is.
I can’t say that I noticed a huge difference in roll over with the new wheels–and that’s been true of the six or seven 650b bike I’ve tested to date. If I could ride with my eyes closed and not impale myself on a cedar stump, I’d be hard pressed to tell you if I was on a 26er or a 650b bike. That said, there’s also no obvious downside to 650b wheels on the Mojo HDR–I can bungle the entrance to a switchback turn and still blast through with ease, which is something I can’t always manage on a 29er. What’s more, the bike feels better in the air and has a more deft feel in tight conditions than most 29ers.
The HDR, to be more exact, has several advantages over its predecessor. First, it’s a bit lighter without losing any stiffness. That’s always a plus. It’s stronger too, but the HD was already pretty damn tough, so it wasn’t as if I ever feared busting one of these things. My sole complaint with the HD of the past was the lack of ISCG tabs. MRP made a chainguide that would work on those older Mojo HDs, but having the option to run any ISCG05-compatible guide is a huge plus.
The Mojo HDR uses a threaded bottom bracket (sweet) and a splined ISCG adaptor to make it happen. It sounds like a little detail, but this bike is capable of charging the downhills and deserves some kind of chain-security.
Of course, single-ring, 11-speed systems are gaining traction (look for a more affordable version of XX1–X01–in the very near future) and its cool to see that Ibis designed the HDR rear end with those spacing requirements in mind.
And then there’s this–if you, for whatever reason, hate the notion of coughing up the dough to buy a new 650b fork and wheels, you can run the HDR in 26er mode, which gives you the same ride geometry and feel as the previous HD….just lighter and now with ISCG tabs. Oh, and the sticker price hasn’t budged despite the improvements. Nice.
True, $2,700 for a frame and shock ain’t chump change, but it’s also on par with the sticker price on most carbon full-suspension bikes today. Built up with an SLX kit, the Mojo HDR sells for $4,700. As the bling factor goes up, so does the charge on your credit card.
The Mojo HDR has to be reckoned–along with the Yeti SB66c and the Specialized Enduro–as one of the best, all-mountain bikes on the market at the moment. Admittedly, that’s a niche that’s constantly evolving and improving, but the HDR has the goods to stay in the elite for some time.