Ibis Cycles celebrates its 40-year anniversary this year - about as long as the mountain bike has existed. I’d excuse any brand who could make such a claim for celebrating it with a six-figure “We were there before you were born” video production, along with commemorative graphics and a glitzy follow-up marketing campaign.
Hate to be the spoiler, but the folks at Ibis were too busy for any of that nonsense. To mark the occasion, Ibis worked in secret for three years: first, to develop a competitive dual-suspension cross-country race bike; and second, to build a factory near their Santa Cruz, California, headquarters where they could manufacture and assemble it. Those are awfully big checks to write for a small bike brand, but Ibis managed to cash both by their 40th birthday. Here’s the exclusive story. Meet Exie
Few industries are more overpopulated with clever marketing hacks than cycling. Compound that with a worldwide abundance of internet domain squatters and it seems inconceivable that the simplest name for a cross-country mountain bike escaped their nets. Exie, right?
Exie is first and foremost a 29-inch-wheel cross-country machine, but the natural-finish carbon frame’s minimal looking profile stops short of the more spindly designs on the World Cup Circuit, and that’s no accident. Ibis steered towards survivable design elements and away from cereal-box weight shavers like pencil-thin stays, press-in bottom brackets and pivotless suspension.
To their credit, a medium-sized Exie weighs only a fraction over 22 pounds (sans water bottle and pedals) - an impressive number, further sweetened by the fact that it comes with a dropper post and Ibis’ seven year frame warranty.
• Wheel size: 29"
• Travel: 100mm rear / 120mm front
• Carbon Frame / dw-link suspension
• Proportional geometry between sizes
• 67.2-degree head angle
• Price range: $7,999 to $12,799
• Frame only: $4,499 (with Fox DPS2 shock)
• Colors: Natural carbon
• Sizes: Small, medium large, X-large
• Weight: 22.2 lb / 10.1kg complete, 4.4 lb / 2kg frame & shock (size medium, claimed)
• Ibis Cycles
Ibis won’t be sponsoring a World Cup XC team in the near future and they understand that most Exies will be owned by privateers, many of whom pay retail prices and must train and race on the same bike. Its 100mm travel dw-Link rear suspension pivots on a combination of cartridge bearings and bushings that carry a lifetime replacement warranty. Using a low leverage ratio and a conventional-length 190 x 45mm shock ensures suspension support for a wide range of rider weights, and frames are available in four sizes, each with an adjusted seat tube angle and front center to keep racers in their climbing sweet spots.Features & Geometry
The Exie's internal cables and hoses are routed through molded-in pipes while, depending upon frame size, you’ll have room for two water bottles inside the frame. Molded chainstay padding keeps the Exie silent running and, paying homage to downcountry riders, Ibis kept the Exie’s seat tube low and arrow straight in case its owner opts for a maximum-stroke dropper post upgrade. Oh yeah, and there’s room for a 2.4-inch tire in the back.About the numbers:
Ibis chose to reel in some of the stem length that traditional XC racers prefer and make up that distance by lengthening the Exie’s front center. Reach begins at 413mm for small frames and increases across four size-options to 513mm for the X-large model. With only 100mm of rear-suspension travel, the Exie can get away with an intelligently low, 339mm bottom bracket height. Head tube angles are sit at a relatively neutral 67.2 degrees, while all sizes share the same, 435mm chainstay length.
Exie’s effective seat tube angle bucks contemporary “Steeper is better” logic, but not by much. Ibis’ reasoning is to conserve energy, especially during extended climbs. Today’s upright seat tube angles, combined with extended front centers are best suited for steeper and more technical climbs. That combination helps to maintain a more balanced position over the bike at extreme gradients and keeps the front wheel properly weighted. The tradeoff for that aggressive climbing stance, however, is two-fold. First, it transfers a measure of the rider’s weight from the saddle to the handlebars, which can be tiresome on flat sections and mild up-grades. Second, unless you happen to be tall, that forward weight shift tends to erode rear-wheel traction when the grades aren’t stupid steep.Exie Geometry
Ibis discovered through testing that a milder seat tube angle lets the saddle counter much of the rider’s leg power, which saves energy that the rider would have otherwise expended needlessly through upper body muscles. To balance the Exie fore and aft, Ibis gradually increases the seat tube angle as the frame sizes grow. In this way, short riders gain the rear-wheel traction they need, while taller riders, who typically suffer from too much weight transfer to the rear, are moved forward to keep their front wheels comfortably pinned to the ground. I spent two days riding the Exie on a variety of trails near Santa Cruz to test that theory. When you can get one:
Ibis will release the Exie this summer as a frame with a Fox Factory DPS Remote shock for $4,499 USD and in three builds, all suspended by Fox Factory DPS Remote shocks and Step-Cast 120mm forks: a $7,999 version based on Shimano Deore XT components, a SRAM X01 version for $9,199, and an all-in version for $12,799 that features SRAM XX1 AXS, Shimano XTR, Enve, Industry Nine and Cane Creek goodness.
Why Put So Much Effort Into a Niche Market?
The creation of Exie was inevitable. Ibis has always had one foot in the lightweight game. Hans Heim, the man who revitalized Ibis, is an unapologetic cross-country geek. His daughter Lili was a powerhouse among Northern California’s NICA high school racing leagues, of which Ibis has been a substantial supporter. (Some say that Ibis’ DV9 carbon hardtail was largely created for Lili and her NICA compatriots.)
It's also no secret that technical race tracks at the World Cup level have both rejuvenated interest in cross-country competition and challenged traditional
bike designs. In response, Hans initiated the Exie project with a short list of specifications: It had to be competitive at the highest level, reasonably priced, adept at handling technical terrain, and its frame (size medium with a real shock) had to weigh less than 4.4 pounds (2kg). Everything else was negotiable.The end of an era:
For decades, the evolution of World Cup XC race bikes was: take a pro road frame, widen the rear stays, slacken the head tube a couple of degrees and raise it high enough to clear a 100mm-stroke fork. Squeak it through testing and give it a weight limit – Boom! To add rear suspension, begin with your hardtail, minimize travel to 100 millimeters or less, eliminate swingarm pivots, overdrive the tiniest shock you can find, squeeze it through testing, and give it a weight limit – Done!
That’s great if your customer demographic fixates on blue-trail KOMs and thinks six raisins, three poached anchovies and a tablespoon of peas is dinner. As Ibis zeroed in on the Exie’s geometry, however, the new bike was becoming a capable descender – to the point where the staff were pushing test mules far beyond the bike’s original design envelope.
Future-proofing the Exie to survive in a much more aggressive environment meant increasing the frame’s strength without busting Hans' maximum weight goal. Solving that puzzle meant reshuffling three pounds of paper-thin unidirectional carbon fiber across nine feet of frame tubing until they found the razor’s edge between minimum weight and maximum strength.