Opinion: Is Modern MTB Geometry Overhyped?

Ibis Ripley V4

Modern mountain bike geometry has highly evolved over the last few years to give us some super fun bikes that seem to do everything better.  In most situations, these improvements help make us better riders and mask our deficiencies.  Like much mountain bike evolution, the evolvement of modern geometry isn’t without those questioning it being overhyped.  I’m hearing a couple of common arguments against the newer angles so I wanted to try to clarify.  The two I overhear most are that wheelbases are getting too long and that the seattube angles are too steep.

What is modern MTB geometry?

The latest modern geometry is a longer wheelbase, slacker headtube angle, steeper seattube angle and longer reach.  Compared to a 120-140mm travel bike from 3 years ago things have changed a lot.  Reaches are 30-50mm longer, wheelbases are 50-100mm+ longer, headtube angles are 1-3 degrees slacker and seatube angles are 2-3 degrees steeper.  This geometry is found on many of the current mountain bikes but many of the larger brands are taking conservative approaches.

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Norco Fluid FS1 driveside
The Norco Fluid we tested earlier this year is a prime example of modern mtb geometry found even at the entry level 120mm travel full suspension price point.

Why are we seeing these changes?

Basically, these changes make mountain bikes more fun on a wider range of more aggressive terrain – both up and down. With gearing that now allows us to pedal up super steep trails, steeper seatubes help keep weight forward and centered.  Larger diameter (29) and wider wheels and tires and better suspension allow us to go faster.  So the need for more stability from slacker headtube angles and longer wheelbases gives us more stability at those faster speeds.

These geometry updates also reflect modern trail design – Flow trails, bike parks, enduro etc.  Increasingly the flowier open terrain is being preferred by more riders.

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Ibis Ripmo Scot Nicol
Ibis Cycles founder Scot Nicol proving the worthiness of the Ripmo on one of the burliest Sedona descents – Hiline!

What do I really think?

Until I started riding modern geometry bikes I was a bit skeptical of how the changes might affect my riding style.  I speculated the changes may affect how well the bike pedals and handles tight terrain.  To my surprise, these thoughts weren’t issues at all.

Most of my time aboard the latest modern geo bikes has been aboard a Transition Smuggler,  Norco Fluid, Ibis’s Ripmo and latest generation Ripley V4.  I’ve ridden these bikes on both flowy XC type trails as well as steep and rough Pisgah and Sedona.  What I’ve noticed most about these bikes is how much better control I have as things get more challenging.  This is true for me not only on the downhills but also on the steeper uphills.

The steeper seattube is something that I really notice while climbing. The additional traction and comfort just makes going up a little bit easier and more pleasant when shit gets really steep.  The longer reach, wheelbase and more slack headtube angles are noticeable going down when more precise control is needed.  The bikes practically beg to let the hell off their brakes more.

Even with wheelbases that are much longer I feel like I am able to corner better in tight terrain than on bikes from a few years ago.  I believe this is due to longer droppers letting you greatly lower your center of the gravity.  From technical steep climbing and cornering to steep and rough descents I do feel I am a better rider aboard modern geometry bikes.

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Transition Smuggler Sedona
The Transition Smuggler feels sure-footed on an ultra wide range of riding from slow speed tech to wide open and loose.

Who are Modern Geometry Bikes For?

There are those who may see a little less benefit especially from the extreme end of modern geometry.  Those with flatter and really tight terrain may find some of the new bikes not quite as agile. Or they may not notice much improvement. Modern MTB geometry benefits those with steeper and more technical terrain more in general.  That being said, I’ve found modern geometry fun even on milder terrain where I feel that my control of the bike is greater.  I’m having more fun since I feel I’m more in control of the bike.

Those with shorter legs or who ride flatter terrain may feel cramped with some of the really steep seattube geometries. Not to worry though, there are offset dropper posts that can move your buttocks an additional 25mm back if needed.

I think most people will find modern geometry bikes allow them to have more fun.  If greater bike control to ride a wider range of terrain is something that you desire I believe you’ll be happy to jump on the some of the newest geometry trends.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Opinion: Is Modern MTB Geometry Overhyped? – The Weekend Sender

    1. Bjorn Wijnands

      Chad name 3 setback droppers for that matter please..
      Its near impossible to find one that fits me 5,11 and my long legs (89cm inseam)on my L sized v4.

      Regards,Bjorn

      1. Chad Davis

        Hi Bjorn, There aren’t many choices for sure. 9 Point 8 probably makes the nicest, but there is also the Specialised Command and KS posts.

  2. Trevor Booz

    Hey Chad,
    I’ve been on a carbon Smuggler the past year now and it’s been a blast. I haven’t had a chance to try out the new Ripley v4 but from what I’ve read, its like an aggro XC bike while the Smuggler is a mini Enduro bike. Both have almost identical geometry, did you notice a big difference between the two performance wise? Our trails in Philly are pretty XC based with steep punchy ups and downs and I’ve been wondering if the Ripley v4 might be better suited than the Smuggler.
    Thanks!

  3. Chad Davis

    Hey Trevor! I would agree with your analogy of the Smuggler and RipleyV4 – but I believe its mostly due to how the two companies spec their bikes. Running the Ripley with a 140mm fork and more aggro rubber like the Smuggler puts them pretty close. I do think the Smuggler’s rear supension feels a little more forgiving but a little less efficient.

    I love both of these bikes but keep going back to the Ripley due to its pedaling efficiency and lightweight.
    Does that answer your question? Let me know if you have any others.

  4. Trevor Booz

    Thanks, Chad! I figure the tires/fork/spec would impact. Looking at just the suspension differences, did you notice a huge shift from the Horst Giddy Up suspension on the Smuggler to the DW Link on the Ibis? Was pedaling efficiency noticeably different between the two? I guess the Ibis frame is a bit lighter too. Were both pretty good shredders on the downhills?

  5. Chad Davis

    There are subtle but noticeable difference’s between the two rear suspension’s for sure.

    The smuggler feels plusher throughout its travel range and Transition dialed in the shock to get that feel.

    The Ripley has a little firmer ride even with the new lighter “Traction Tune” shock that started shipping on the Ripley the last few weeks. The Ripley definitely feels more efficient but not quite as plush. Like other choices Ibis made with this bike mentioned above, a bit more plush forgiving feel could be had with some simple shock tweaks – maybe just by running more sag and adding a larger volume spacer?

    I haven’t ridden the two bikes back to back so it’s hard for me to make direct comparisons on which would descend better but I couldn’t imagine they would be that different with the same forks and tires since the geometry is so close.

  6. Trevor Booz

    Awesome, thanks for the insight!

  7. Chad Davis

    For sure, hope that info helps and doesn’t over complicate your decision. I have been hearing some rumors of some new Transitions coming very soon too. ?.

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