When rumors began percolating that Ibis would soon release the Mojo 3-essentially, a plus-size version of Ibis’ departed Mojo SL-R model-I was skeptical. Adding massive tires to a pinpoint-precise trail bike didn’t strike me as an instant homerun. Yes, 2.8 to 3.2-inch tires to a bike will add stability and traction to the mix, but on some models, this has come at the expense of the deft, nimble handling that many of us love.
By the way, if you’re wondering what this whole “plus size” trend is all about, it’s only been “a thing” for about a year now. This story here will bring you up to speed.
But let’s get back to the new bike in question. The Mojo 3 arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago along with some basic background information on the bike. I purposefully ignored the data-I didn’t want my sense of the bike to be colored in any way by my knowledge of its travel, geometry and vitals. Instead, I bolted it together, hit the trail and let the bike speak for itself.
As a tester, your job is to be objective. If you approach a product review with preconceptions, you’re blowing it right out of the gate. I know this, but I have to admit I harbored some prejudices about the Mojo 3; I know that because this odd bike shattered them.
You look at those big tires and you think “pig.” Or at least I did. Then you stomp on the pedals and your preconceptions get left back there in the dust. Yeah, the Mojo 3 is stable and controlled, but this thing absolutely rips. The bike’s lack of heft helps here, no doubt. The Mojo 3, as ridden with the X01 Werx build kit, tips the scales at a feathery 27 pounds. Frame weight? A mere 5.5 pounds.
But there’s more here than just the lack of frame fat. As with the Mojo HD3, which debuted last season, this new Ibis utilizes the fifth iteration of Dave Weagle’s DW-Link-a design that makes (and largely delivers on) that age-old promise of providing great traction without bobbing about on climbs and crushing your soul. The rear suspension on this bike is stellar. Acceleration is decidedly brisk, even with the shock run wide open. Between the pillowy tires and the well-tuned suspension, small to mid-size hits nearly disappear beneath this thing.
And then there’s the nimble factor. On tight switchbacks, the bike is like a switchblade covered in Velcro. Razor-sharp handling meets ridiculous levels of traction and control. It’s dumbfounding, actually. Tight corners that stymie you on the best of days are suddenly dead simple to thread the bike through. There’s a good reason for that-the Mojo 3 sports 16.7-inch chainstays. In plain English, that’s crazy short. Overall geometry is of the “long, low, and slack” school, which lends a confident, centered feel to the cockpit. Paired with the bike’s short, flickable rear end, it’s a winning combination.
And the grip…good lord. Every plus-size tire that I’ve ridden has felt glued to the trail when the bike is being ridden straight up the hill. That’s a given with the extra wide footprint. Some of those big tires, however, suddenly give up the ghost when you lean the bike over in a corner. These 2.8-inch Nobby Nics, however, have very good cornering bite. It takes a few minutes to completely let go and trust the tires, but once you do, you soon find yourself entering and exiting corners at much higher speeds because the bike just holds its line like, well, like few bikes ever. Yes, I realize how gushing that sounds, but it’s true.
How do you make a 2.8-inch tire weigh nearly the same as a 2.4-inch tire? It generally requires using lightweight sidewalls. Lightweight sidewalls, in turn, don’t often play nicely with rocks. Though I didn’t experience any tire failures this time around, I have seen 2.8-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nics (on other test bikes) develop sidewall tears this season. We’ll see how they fare over the long haul.
FIVE INCHES FEELS LIKE SIX…MOST OF THE TIME
For the record, the Mojo 3 offers up five inches (130 millimeters) of rear suspension. Thanks to the larger-volume tires (which you run at between 13 and 16 psi), the bike feels like it harbors at least another inch of squish as you’re plowing through roots and baby heads. When you get the Mojo 3 in the air and come back down, however, the suspension ramps up and you realize, nope there’s less travel than you thought.
If you are all about big jumps and drops, a longer-travel model, such as the Mojo HD3, is still the better choice. For a lot of riders, however, this nimbler, quicker Ibis is going to be the better match.
IT ALSO WORKS WITH “NORMAL” TIRES
The Mojo 3 actually started out as a “normal” trail bike-you know, the kind that wears 2.3 or 2.4-inch tires. And, yes, you can run those tires on this bike if the whole plus-size tire thing isn’t speaking to you-no need to swap forks. Just slap on a conventional set of tires and off you go.
I rode the Mojo 3 with both plus-size and conventional tires. For the first time, I definitely preferred the larger 2.8-inch tires. The bike is nearly as fast off the mark with the 2.8 Schwalbe Nobby Nics and offers the same playful feel, but gives you a significantly larger margin for error in chunky terrain and while cornering. The only time the skinnier tire proved the superior choice was when conditions were exceptionally muddy.
It’s worth noting that not all plus-size tires are going to make sweet love to this bike. Ibis is very particular about tire choice here, noting that most 3.0-inch plus-size tires are nearly a half inch taller than the 2.8 Nobby Nic and 2.8 Maxxis tires that Ibis recommends for the Mojo 3. The taller tires tend to bounce a good deal more, reducing your control at high speeds… In short, bolt the wrong extra-fat tires on this bike and you could quickly turn it into a bit of an uncontrollable pig.
Choosing the right tire has always been important, but with plus-size bikes, it’s more critical than ever. I mention this to Ibis engineer, Colin Hughes.
“We’ve reached a point where frames, suspension, and drivetrains have become so good that tires and rims have become the new frontier of innovation,” says Hughes. “About two years ago most people in the industry had a pretty good idea that plus-size was going to be the next big thing, but nobody really knew what it was for. Consequently, there were many different takes on this plus-size thing and all the tire options ended up being very different from one other. The 3.0 tires really are a lot bigger than the 2.8s and have a totally different purpose.”
WHY NOT 29?
As I was riding the Mojo 3, one thing kept bothering me: It’s not compatible with 29er wheels. How cool would it have been to have that extra versatility, a la Santa Cruz Bicycles’ new Hightower model, which can wear both 27-plus and regular 29er wheels and tires? It seems like a massive missed opportunity. Couldn’t Ibis have outfitted this thing with a flip chip in the suspension linkage (the way Santa Cruz did) and made the Mojo 3 even more versatile?
Ibis founder Scot Nicol said, “We were originally looking at making our Ripley model both a 29er and 27.5-plus bike, because plus tires were supposed to be about the same size as 29er tires. But when we got our early samples and started measuring the tires, we found that all of the plus-size tires measured smaller than what the tire companies said they would. And when we rode a bunch of the plus tires, all the ones we liked were the shorter [2.8] ones.
“When we realized this real-world scenario, we decided not to convert the Ripley and looked at the Mojo 3 frame instead,” says Nicol. “It’s also worth noting that the 2.8s are an inch shorter than the 29er tires. In order to fit 29er tires into this frame, the chainstays would have to get longer. The bottom line is that the Mojo 3 is a better 27-plus bike because it’s not also a 29er.”
The Mojo 3 is also configured around the wider Boost 148 rear wheel spacing (the previous “standard” was 142). Boost 148 is touted as a means of stiffening both rear wheels and frames, but obviously requires that riders considering purchasing the frame alone must also cough up the cash for a new rear wheel. Why did Ibis go that route?
“We had started down the road with this bike as a non-Boost bike, before there was any traction for yet another standard,” says Nicol. “But by going to Boost, we’ve shortened the chainstays to 16.7 inches. Boost may only add three millimeters of space per side, but it’s three millimeters in the best possible place, between the tire and chainring. 2.8-inch tires would not have been possible without it, unless we used some less stiff, unconventional chainstay design. On that note, the stiffness of the swingarm is 20 percent greater than it was without Boost, yet we only gained six grams in the switch to Boost 148. Conversely, getting that stiffness back with a non-Boost swingarm would have cost us 80 grams…There are tangible benefits to Boost 148.”
Plus size bikes are fat, sluggardly sleds for riders with no skills, right? Well, the Mojo 3 just kicked sand in the face of that conventional wisdom. Yeah, it’s a forgiving bike, but this new Ibis is also nimble and fast as hell. It’s not the only interesting plus-size model on the market (Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie models merit a test ride as well), but the Mojo 3 is the best balanced of them all to date. And then there’s this: If you don’t give a damn about this whole plus-size thing, it also makes for a ripping “normal” trail bike with regular tires. In other words, it gives you options-never a bad thing.
Ibis is offering the Mojo 3 as a frame only option ($2,999), which while painful is also par for the course for a full carbon bike these days. Complete bikes vary in price from $3,999 to $8,899, depending on the build kits, of which there are several.
IBIS MOJO 3 AT A GLANCE
– 130 millimeters of rear wheel travel
– dw-link version 5
– Standard or Plus tire compatible with one wheel set.
– 27.5 B+ compatible with Schwalbe or Maxxis 2.8″
– Boost 148 rear/Boost 110 front
– Frame weight 5.5 pounds with shock
– 66.8º head angle with 140-millimeter Pike Boost fork
– BB height at sag is the same with either tire
– 1x or 2x