Vital MTB Test Sessions: Five Slack, Short-Travel 29er Mountain Bikes Reviewed

Want a bike that can pedal like crazy and maximize fun on smoother terrain? In true Vital MTB style, here's an in-depth look at a handful of 2020 bikes helping lead the charge - the Banshee Phantom, Norco Optic, Ibis Ripley, Marin Rift Zone, and Santa Cruz Tallboy.

The bikes in this test had to have 115 to 125mm rear travel. Upfront we were looking for 130 to 140mm to soak up some hits. They needed to be nice and slack, in that sub 66-degree headtube angle realm. We gave them a bonus for a short offset fork. They also had to have a lengthy reach, 29-inch wheels, and a nice steep seat angle.

We tried to keep the builds close to $5,000, and to level the playing field we swapped the tires to a tried-and-true combination of Maxxis front and rear. You can learn more about the bikes and how they compare below.


Comparative Suspension Analysis

Using the bike industry's leading linkage analysis software, André Santos was able to determine a close approximation of each bike's kinematics for the purpose of this comparison. Though they don't always tell the full story, these charts provide great insight into several key factors that impact how the bikes ride. 



Looking at progressivity we can find significant differences in the group. The Ibis Ripley is quite linear with only 4% of progression, suiting less aggressive riders better since it allows use of the travel quite easily. On the other hand, the Santa Cruz Tallboy has very progressive suspension for a short-travel bike. In this case, the Tallboy will fit an aggressive riding style better since it provides a great amount of bottom-out resistance on bigger impacts. The Marin Rift Zone and Norco Optic are also quite progressive for short-travel bikes.

Interestingly, but without a surprise, the average anti-squat of all five bikes together is 100%, which confirms that these bikes are optimized to be efficient while pedaling. The Norco Optic has the lowest anti-squat value in the group at 80% and the Ibis Ripley has the highest value at 125%. As a consequence, the Optic has the lowest chain extension and pedal kickback in the group while the Ripley has the highest chain extension of the bikes tested.

Regarding braking, the Norco Optic has the lowest anti-rise at 50%, meaning the rear suspension is relatively independent from the braking forces but the bike has a slight tendency to pitch forward under rear braking. The Ibis Ripley and Marin Rift Zone have higher anti-rises near 100%, meaning that the rear braking forces fully counteract the extension of the rear suspension and won’t cause any forward pitching.


Vital MTB's Verdict on the Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2:

Aside from the cranks, it is hard to find a true weakness with the Rift Zone. This is a bike many riders could enjoy for a long time. It offers the ability and confidence to point-and-shoot, aim the bike and go. It’s a capable climber and descender that feels controlled in both roles. For those who enjoy popping and pumping the trail however, it can feel a little ho-hum.


Read the full comparison at Vital MTB

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