I had a chance to attend the first two days of Outerbike in Moab this year and was able to hook up with schlim (Ben) who's been doing some very insightful Outerbike reviews here for the past few years and his buddy Dietrich. We had a great time on some really amazing trails and on some very impressive bikes. Here's what I thought. I think schlim will post up his own reviews separately so watch for those as well.

The same disclaimers apply here as in the Interbike reviews, 2013 All Mountain Bike Tests at Interbike - Part 1 and 2013 All Mountain Bike Tests at Interbike - Part 2. Enjoy.

Be sure to read KRob's Outerbike 2013 Bike Demo Reviews - Part 2.

Ibis Ripley

This is one of the bikes that was tops on the list as a Chili complement bike for me. All reports seemed to point to a fun, nimble, and fast 29er XC/Trail bike so I elbowed and pushed my way to the Ibis booth when they released the cattle gate shortly after 9:00 to score a size large first thing this morning.

The Ripley is a very unique feeling bike. When you sit on it, it doesn't feel like a 29er. The wheel base is short and I kept looking down to make sure it actually had big wheels. Once on the trail proper I noticed that it climbed efficiently and the seated climbing position was comfortable and fairly upright. The front end felt tucked in just looking down at the wheel, but most xc/trail bikes feel that way after stepping off the Knolly. It always takes me a few minutes to get used to the taller stack height on 29ers compared to my Chilcotin but in short order it started to feel pretty good. Where it really felt great was standing. It just felt natural with a purposeful attack position without feeling stooped over. And speaking of standing… it just loved to hammer and climb from a standing position. Despite having ridden 6 hours on Wednesday and doing a TWE ride plus a Amasa/Cap'n Ahab ride yesterday, I just kept wanting to stand and torque up steep climbs in too big of gear. Traction was exceptional as well. Of course it had rained overnight and all the dirt was super packed and tacky…. But other bikes slipped a little in similar situations so it wasn't just the perfect dirt speaking.

Weaving in and out of rocks on the twisty North 40 trail displayed its astounding nimbleness (for a twenty-niner) and it was easy to lift its front wheel up onto ledges and manual over small drops and little dips and gaps in the trail. Fun stuff. I also purposely left the trail to roll up onto larger boulders and off the back side to test its technical and steep roller chops and was very impressed with how it handled those situations. I don't know what its bottom bracket height is but after countless pedal strikes on my Chili over the past two days (I never bothered to change it into its steeper/higher BB mode while here) I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pedal strikes on the Ripley. The frame was stiff, light, and quiet.

But here's the (minor) rub. I didn't really notice any of the typical 29 "advantages". It felt like many of the light weight, short travel 27.5" bikes I've tried over the past couple weeks but wasn't quite as nimble as some of those. Roll over and that big-wheels-keep-on-rolling feel I've had on other 29ers didn't seem to be there as much. It sounds odd to say, but it felt like it was a 29er just for the sake of being a 29er. In fact if I'd been blind folded I don't think I would've guessed it was a 29er. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it was just a different feel than what I've come to expect from a 29er. Make of that what you want.

Despite that observation, I still really liked the Ripley. It does break the mold and works very well while doing it. I'd be interested in riding it with a 140 34mm Fox or Pike fork sometime to see how well it stretches into the more trail/am territory.

A look at the very clean built in mini-link dw system.

The Ripley is a very compact looking and feeling 29er.

Next Bike: Yeti SB95 Carbon »

Yeti SB95 Carbon

I stepped off the Ripley directly onto the Yeti SB95 and immediately felt those typical 29er characteristics that I remember. Big wheels definitely kept on rolling. Rocks seemed to disappear underneath the steam roller wheels and cornering was a little more work (though still not bad). I also liked the fit of this size large while seated or standing. Maybe I just like a higher stack height but both of these first two bikes just felt right. I loved standing and pushing bigger gears on the Yeti as well and it responded favorably to this type of riding. Suspension was a bit firm but acceptable for this amount of travel. Some of this was due to set up as most booths set up their bikes with too much air in the forks, shocks, and tires for me. On some of the bikes I took the time to adjust it on the trail and on some, like the Yeti, it wasn't off so far that I couldn't imagine how it would've felt a bit softer. The frame was well crafted and fit and finish was top shelf. Overall it's a very nice looking, light frame and well-functioning bike as a whole, just very different feeling than the Ripley. Not worse necessarily, just different.

The Yeti was a looker. Lots of black bikes with neon accents this year. Ardent and Ikon tire front and rear worked ok but didn't stick as well as some with their short tread.

Nice wide Haven carbon bars.

Diggin the Yeti sticker.

A closer look at the frame and the "Switch Link" technology.

Next Bike: Intense Spyder Comp 29er Carbon »

Intense Spyder Comp 29er Carbon

I'm still surprised at how different each of these first three bikes felt. This one fell in between the Ripley and SB95 but closer to the Yeti than the Ibis. That shouldn't be too surprising as it is aimed more at the XC/trail end of things with its 4.5-5" adjustable travel. I'm not sure which setting this bike was in though. Maybe someone with some Intense knowledge can tell from the photos. If I had to guess I would say it was in the shorter travel setting. It had a lower stack height and felt more compact than the Yeti when standing, but while seated it felt more stretched out even though it had a fairly short stem and the seat was pushed pretty far forward on the rails. The frame was beautiful as are all of Jeff Steber's creations and super light at 5.5 lbs. The ride was good overall and suspension was fine. It was a little harder to manual and pop over things mostly due to the lower stack and more stretched out feel, but good rollover seemed to make up for that pretty well. It all depends on what you're looking for and comes down to fit and preference, but overall I think I'd rank this one slightly behind the Yeti.

I didn't spend as much time on this one, so hopefully Ben or Dietrich will chime in with their impressions.

Next Bike: Ibis HDR 650b »

Ibis HDR 650b

When I returned the Ripley to the Ibis tent Scott Nicol (the founder and CEO of Ibis) was setting up bikes and there was just one or two bikes in the tent and it happened that one was the HDR….in a size large. Score. I've always been partial to smaller, boutique brands partly because I like having something that isn't as common, but also partly because of the personal attention and passion that a hands on bike company owner like Scott Nicol, Dave Turner, or Noel Buckley have. He's a very nice guy and worries the details. It was cool to meet him and chat with him a minute about the Ripley and the HDR.

The ride only added to my desire to own an Ibis at some point. They have really done an amazing job on this bike. Like the Mojo HD I rode a few years ago, the frame shape is beautiful, stiff, and efficient. People have griped that the frame is heavy for this short of travel (130mm) but it felt plenty light to me and it felt like it had enough travel for me.

I did a bigger solo loop on this one that had a good mix of fast and swoopy, and slower and techy/chunky with a few higher speed descents mixed it. It was a very well rounded bike and like the Mach 6 I rode at Interbike felt like it could do both the lighter XC trail days and the nasty chunk fest days equally as well. It carved and cut much like the Ripley but felt like it extended into the rough realm very competently as well. Plus you can easily convert it back into a 160mm 26" bike to really extend its range without too much trouble making it a very versatile bike.

It looked good in black with the green highlights, although this particular demo looked like it had been around the block a few times. The fit was good and I felt the same thing that I did at I-bike when I stepped off a bunch of 29ers and got on a 27.5". It felt like a small wheeled 26er. Nothing wrong with that. I've been more than mildly positive about the in-between wheel size for a few years now but after riding a ton of them the effect has kinda been watered down some. I still like them, think they offer some advantages over 26", I have no problem with the industry going all googoo over them, have no problem buying one, just don't notice the differences over the 26 as much as I did. I suppose if I had been riding mostly 26 inch bikes then stepped onto a 27.5 I would notice the difference more.

Whatever. All I know is this is one rocking good bike. Does it topple the Mach 6 off its 'Favorite Bike' throne? Not quite but it sure makes for a crowd there at the top of the heap.

Scot took some extra time to get this CCDBA set up for me. More bikes were showing up with this shock this year and it certainly adds to the bling factor, but it is so hard to get it set up just right that a quick test ride may leave you unimpressed. I've spent 6 months tweaking mine and it's still not shock nirvana but it's better than when I started. Knowing this, I tried not to let it flavor my overall impression of the bike. None of the CCDBA's felt appreciably better than a standard RP23 at the show…. Some felt worse.

Looks like there's pretty good tire clearance for these Pacenti 2.3 Neomotos but this tire looks like it's fairly worn.

Next Bike: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt »

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt

This is RM's new short travel 27.5 built for speed and fun. It sounds like RM was reading my mind when it built the Thunderbolt…. or at least when they wrote the ad copy for its description. "When XC gets rowdy, the agile and playful Thunderbolt shines. Standing on 120mm of travel and equipped with 27.5" wheels, the Thunderbolt delivers a great mix of intuitive XC capabilities and pure playful trail fun." That's pretty much just what I've been looking for.

But did it live up to the ad copy and my expectations? You bet! This was one of the few bikes I rode where the tech got the suspension almost perfectly set for me right out of the tent. It felt surprisingly plush for a 120mm bike and you can tell the AM/FR/DH guys at RM like Thomas Vanderham had a lot to say about how it felt. It wasn't sloppy feeling or sluggish though. It accelerated smartly while standing without much lost energy and ramped up nicely at the limits of travel without bottoming.

Weaving in and out of boulders and popping over rocks was intuitive and fun. I finally just dropped the seat post an inch or two and just left it there preferring to have it out of the way for attacking the rowdier stuff and railing the corners, then just standing for the small punchy climbs that accentuated the trail I took it on as the dropper post was inexplicably deleted from the option menu :). The short chain stays combined with a longish top tube combined to make for easy manualing and excellent cornering, yet still maintained good steadiness and unflappability on the rougher descents.

Despite not being carbon, the Thunderbolt still felt quite light and fairly stiff. It's like the DH rider's XC bike. I liked it. It's definitely up there on my short travel Chili complement list.

I loved the lime green ano accents against the black frame. Very cool.

X-King mounted on ZTR Crest rims were light, stiff, and fast rolling. Grip was pretty good but I had to be a little more judicious in how I leaned them into corners as the trails were starting to dry out and loosen up by this late in the day.

Next Bike: GT Force »

GT Force

I was really more interested in the Sensor, GT's shorter travel 27.5 brother, but this is the one we were able to obtain. On the trails we were riding today it felt like a big bike-bigger tires, heavier weight and a bit sluggish. Despite its "bigness" it didn't feel overly plush either. Another seeming paradox for the Force was that it was one of the better bikes in regards to one particular short choppy, semi-fast, standing climb that caused most bikes' rear wheels to skip and lose traction while pedaling hard over this section. The GT's rear end seemed to stay glued to the ground through this same section pretty well. (The other bike that did well on this section was the Turner Flux). However on similar surfaces while the Force was headed downhill it seemed to skip around some.

Overall it was not a bad bike we may have just been riding it on the wrong trails, feeling somewhat cumbersome and slow on the tighter, twistier stuff. I think it would've come alive a bit more on steeper, chunkier terrain. We did get it out on Deadmans Ridge trail that had some of this kind of stuff, where it was able to show its strengths more, but I'm thinking The Whole Enchilada would've been more to its liking. Having said all that, I rode some other bikes that did well in both situations.

These were the only Formula brakes we rode…. And I didn't like them as well as my XT's. The overall power is down compared to others and they hiss when applied.

There's a lot of beefy carbon and aluminum parts stuffed in and around the bottom bracket area. I have no idea how all that works.

Next Bike: Giant Trance 27.5 »

Giant Trance 27.5

I rode the Anthem 27.5 at Interbike a few weeks ago and took some heat for marking it down for not feeling "trail" enough for me. So I wanted to try the Trance which is Giant's 140 travel trail/am 27.5" offering for 2014 and should be more like what I was expecting from the Anthem. This was the top shelf advance version with carbon front and top bling parts which pushes $8K msrp (insert low incredulous whistle).

The Trance felt light and efficient and the fit and geometry still felt a bit too "XC" for this application with a longish top tube and narrowish bars, but overall the large fit pretty well and the bike felt the part. Like the Anthem it felt very light and efficient and I definitely felt more comfortable on it in rougher, more technical terrain. It also stretched back into the XC territory better than the Anthem stretched into the trail category feeling playful and flickable in the tighter, twisty, smoother stuff. This one was much more my style of bike than the Anthem and it worked really well, but there were three or four others in this same category that I liked better. I would love to try the SX version (160 fork, wider bars, bigger tires). I bet it would be more up my alley.

A note on XX1: This particular bike was the best shifting bike of the day but only one out of every three or so bikes set up with 1x11 drivetrains shifted really well. If I'd only ridden the ones that didn't I would've said it was crap and would've not recommended it. But there were a couple, like this one and the Norco that I got from the SRAM booth, that shifted really well and totally won me over to 1x11. Not sure what the difference is, but I'm assuming it has to be adjusted just right to shift just right. With professional mechanics setting up all these bikes, I have to assume it's not easy to get it just right?

I liked these Nobby Nicks and the Giant branded carbon wheels seem to work well.

KRob's Outerbike 2013 Bike Demo Reviews - Part 2 Coming Soon!