Ibis Bicycles are one of those few highly acclaimed bike brands that are still around since launching way back in the early days of the sport. My earliest recollection of Ibis was reading about them in American mountain bike mags, where their beautiful and sometimes mad looking bikes popped out of the pages with such clarity that I can still remember them to this day.
Today Ibis are still doing their unique thing, though the designs are a little less exploratory (remember the Szazbo), and a recent move into carbon fibre has seen them keep abreast of a rapidly developing sport. The Ripley 29er is their latest development, keeping them in the changing wheel size game.
And who is behind the company? The same guy who started it up all those years ago in 1981, Scot Nicol. We caught up with him recently and picked his brain on a few of the hottest issues in mountain biking right now.
There’s a huge debate playing out in mountain biking now about the best wheel size. What do you think of this situation?
Change and innovation will continue to drive our sport as long as we have places to ride mountain bikes. Which I hope is a good long time.
Embracing all the different wheel sizes is difficult for manufacturers and retailers, but it’s a win win situation for the consumer. All the wheel sizes excel at certain tasks. Each has its own place where it works better than the other two. We see a place in the world for all three.
Do you think 29ers are the future? Are 26in wheel bikes dead and buried?
I don’t think 29ers are the future, I think they’re the now. In the States, half the mountain bikes sold are 29ers. Half! That’s a pretty amazing growth curve, since they were just a blip on the radar a few years ago.
26in wheels are definitely not dead. We had our best year ever last year, and are on track to have another big growth year, and we haven’t sold a single 29er yet (the Ripley 29 will come to market later this year).
We have huge waiting lists for our Mojo SL-R (26in wheels) and we haven’t seen a slowdown in 26in sales at all. Once we have a 29in bike, we’ll probably see a huge spike in revenue, but we don’t anticipate 26in wheel sales will fall off the cliff.
A 650b won a world cup at the weekend, how do you view this impacting on the sport?
It will serve to legitimize the wheel size. What is ironic is that the second largest high end bike manufacturer in the world send out a memo to their dealers the day before Nino won the World Cup and completely wrote off the wheel size, saying they will not be supporting it.
For the average mountain biker, is this whole wheel size debate a good thing? There’s now a lot of choice, and people aren’t exactly flush with cash?
It’s a great thing. Your 26in bike is still a great bike. Now you have three choices next time you buy a bike. A lot of people are complaining about the extra inventory that you need to carry, but this is a fact of life if you’re going to offer the consumer the lastest innovations.
If we didn’t embrace change, innovation would stagnate. We are all very fortunate to be living in an extremely innovative time in the bike industry.
When designing a mountain bike, what are the main criteria? What’s the starting point?
We like to design bikes that we thing would be a blast to ride. Simple as that.
How much is a bike designed by what the industry wants to offer the public, and how much is based on feedback from what riders out in the woods are actually doing?
Since we are those guys out in the woods riding, we think that what we want to ride is in many cases what others will want to ride. And that’s what we offer the public. We have some pretty excellent athletes riding for us (Lopes, Chausson to name two).
We get feedback on the bikes from them, and we have some local honch riders who provide us product advice too. We don’t ever try to push anything on the consumer. There have always been a lot of people who have wanted to ride the bikes we’ve made. We’re very lucky this way.
What are your predictions for the future of mountain biking? Any trends to look out for?
I’m pretty bad at these sorts of predictions. It’s obvious that bikes will continue to get lighter, stronger, more reliable and more efficient. The way innovation has been going for the last couple of decades is by constant incremental change. When you back up and look at what has happened in the last decade, it’s amazing. On a year to year basis there are great improvements but they tend to less earth shattering.
All the great companies out there are continuing to experiment and improve their products, and it’s a win win for the consumer.