Staff Bike Test | Commencal, Ibis, Juliana, and Stooge

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This article was first published in Issue 129 of Singletrack Magazine.

Chipps and the Singletrack test crew get the enviable, but surprisingly difficult, job of reviewing the bikes that they’ve chosen as long termers for the next (or last) few months. 

One of the cardinal rules here at Singletrack is to never lose sight of the fact that we have great jobs, with unparalleled access to the bicycle industry, pro riders and an audience of hundreds of thousands of keen mountain bikers. We get to see fancy new components before they’re announced and we get to ride new, state-of-the-art mountain bikes as a matter of course.

Obviously, it’s not like this every day and most Singletrack working days take place inside a relatively small office full of computer monitors, or an unheated photo and video studio above a car garage. But the good days of riding bikes, while relatively rare, are very good. We’re lucky to have a great network of trails outside the door here and we’re centrally situated a short drive from a ‘best of’ the UK’s trails. 

So, it stands to reason then, that the bikes we reach for when we have a spare minute of ‘me time’ are the bikes that we really want to ride. If you have to walk past a row of fancy test bikes to get to your own bike, it’s going to be something special. Sometimes these are our own bikes, bought with actual money, and sometimes they’re a bike we’ve managed to borrow from a bike company for the year. Despite the protestations of the demo bike fleet manager, we’ve kept hold of this one bike because it has that special something: that connection you feel after trying every demo bike you can, which has you coming back to the one bike that makes you feel like a superhero. 

Normally those bikes get a Supporting Actor role in our tyre reviews, or as a test bed for a multiple brake system test, so we thought it might be interesting for you to see what bikes the Singletrack staff reach for when we just want to get out and ride for no other reason than to ride. 

Amanda’s Juliana Maverick

Juliana

As I pushed back up a certain (pretty large, for me at least) feature on a huge loop in the Peaks, I caught the eye of two young lads riding an adjacent trail.

“It’s just a Santa Cruz in a girly colour.”

“It’s red, what’s girly about that? I’d WELL buy one.”

Juliana Bicycles is the female division to Santa Cruz and, since its launch in 1999, it has continually grown to ensure all our mountain bike needs can be met without being limited to unisex bikes that don’t necessarily fit everyone. By combining smaller frame sizing and lighter suspension tuning, and adding female specific contact points for comfort, Juliana has a bike for almost every terrain….

Read the whole review here.

Andi’s Commencal Meta AM

Commencal’s Meta has been around for quite a while now, but every so often the bike receives an update to keep it in line with what the rest of the industry has on sale. 

The first time I rode a Meta AM it had 27.5in wheels and non-Boost hub spacing, but over the years the frame has evolved to fit new standards, bigger wheels and split to cover both trail and all-mountain styles of riding, not to mention a couple of e-bikes too.

Although the current Commencal Meta frame looks like the original I rode all those years ago on a dusty Spanish mountain, this Meta and the current 2020 range are very different. They all feature an updated frame construction including a single piece top tube. The updated bike has a new suspension linkage, and the rear triangle has been beefed up to aid stiffness, but not by too much. 

As much as I loved the original bike, I had been put off picking up a more modern version of the Meta AM as I had heard comments that the longer travel, more gravity focused update had lost some of its agility, spark and climbing ability, but I finally figured I should jump on board and see if the Meta magic was still there or if the bike I had fallen in love with all those years ago had ceased to exist…

Read the whole review here.

Chipps’ Ibis Ripley MK4

  • Price: £3,099.00 frame only. Approx £8,000 as built
  • From: Ibis UK, ibiscycles.co.uk
Ibis Ripley

The first Ibis Ripley, back in 2001 or so, was an alloy softail, a pretty advanced bike for the time. The Ripleys that followed were equally innovative: the MK2 was the company’s first carbon full suspension 29er. The LS MK3 introduced ‘Long and Slack’ to the range. 

The Ripley MK4 was launched back in spring 2019 and I was lucky enough to be on the launch. During a day of hard riding, both up and downhill, we put this new bike through its paces. It challenged what I had felt about many 29ers, that they were lumbering beasts that steamrollered through the trails. With more and more capable, long travel 29ers out there, it was good to see that shorter travel bikes were also getting the love. After my April test ride, I started enquiring about getting hold of one and was told ‘October’. In the end it was November before it turned up – obviously everyone else had had the same idea…

Read the whole review here.

Hannah’s Stooge MK4

  • Price: £550.00, frame and fork. Approx £1,300.00 as built
  • From: Stooge

Sometime during high school I had an epiphany: the cool kids were always going to think I was a freak – so I may as well give up trying to fit in and just do whatever the hell I wanted. While this attitude may have led to some interesting fashion choices over the years, it also leads to a whole lot of ‘why the hell not?’ shenanigans. In a world of full suspension, slack hardtails and battery-powered everything, this rigid steel twin top tubed named-after-a-punk-band Stooge MK4 seemed like a perfectly perverse option. To seal the deal, I have eschewed gears – a choice cemented when Chipps told me that single speeding was a very, very bad idea for any Calder Valley rider.

Would dancing to my own beat have me on cloud nine, or in a fug of doom? I girded my loins, packed my hip flask, and prepared to find out…

Read the whole review here.

The Verdict

Dare we draw a parallel with the room full of monkeys eventually writing Shakespeare? It seems that if you put a bunch of bike journalists in a room with free rein to choose a dream bike for a year, they’re all going to come up with a completely different solution that’s particular to them, even if it’s puzzling to the rest of us. That’s free will for you. 

The more choice you have and the wider your riding experience, the more often you’re going to find bikes and components that don’t match your idea of ‘perfect’. Even if those bikes are actually perfect for other riders, they’re just not what does it for you as an individual. 

Here, we have four riders with very different views of what constitutes, not only a perfect bike, but a perfect ride, perfect terrain, perfect weather… They can’t even reach a consensus of which pub or café to go to at the end of the ride – how are they ever going to agree on which bike is ‘best’?

Luckily, for this, we don’t have to agree. We can agree to disagree. Hannah can tut knowingly as Chipps has to charge up his gears before a ride, Andi can stare, bemused as Hannah struggles up another 25% climb on her singlespeed and we can all stare as Amanda clears a drop first time that had most of us going back for a second look. 

They’re all great bikes. And they’re all perfect for the rider that rides them. 

Vive la difference! 


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