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Teton Tested: Ibis’ Ultra-Wide Carbon and Aluminum Wheels

Ibis' rims are some of the widest out there, and damn if they don't work great. Ryan Dunfee photo.

We had the good fortune to have a couple sets of Ibis wheels in Big Sky, MT—and were very impressed with their au-courant 35mm inner rim width, light weight, and strength. So we arranged to keep riding them for a deeper dive review.

A Wide Rim Primer

Brand spankin' new. GW photo.

You may have noticed many of today’s rims have gotten WAY wider. Not just to accommodate the plus-tire tsunami, but also for regular width rubber. A few years ago, you’d run 22mm-ish internal for your regular all-mountain tires, and now it’s around 30. Of course, different manufacturers have different theories on optimum internal width, but the main idea is to make bike tires seat more like car or motorcycle tires. And Ibis was certainly one of the first players in this newer, wider game. 

Tires mounted on wider rims have a wider tread profile, which increases traction (for braking, climbing and acceleration), and offers greater sidewall support for stability in corners—which is something I particularly notice.

Of course, you can get too nuts with it; if you mount a very narrow or very flat-profile tire on a wide rim, the tire will be too flat across the top and its critical cornering knobs, positioned along the outside-sloping edge to grab when you lean a bike over, are rendered useless. So don’t do that. Mount wider or rounder profile tires on these babies.

Wider rims also get you slightly more air volume. So you can run a few pounds less pressure, if you’re so inclined. The video below illustrates a few of the wide rim benefits.

Ibis, as well as other companies', wide tires feature hookless bead rims, which are supposedly 30%-500% stronger at the tire bead area. And they mount up pretty easy. Ibis’ site claims hookless designs form a tighter bond between rim and tire bead, meaning less burping and better flat protection (not to mention tires on a wider rim burp less anyway).

But WAIT; there’s more! As an added bonus, depending on bike frame and fork, you could also swap between regular and plus tires on a 30-35mm-ish wide rim.

Yes: they sing, they dance, and they cook you breakfast.

IBIS Wheels

Ibis wheels come in carbon or aluminum, and use either Ibis hubs, with 10 degrees of engagement, or industry 9's with an outrageous 3 degrees of engagement. They feature inner widths of: 35mm (34 for aluminum) for 2.4-3.0" tires, 29mm for 2.1-2.5" tires and one XC 22mm wheel. Ibis wheels that start with a “7”, like 738 and 742, are 27.5” and “9”, like 938 and 942, are 29'er wheels. See the full chart below:

Download the PDF version this chart here. All models feature asymmetrical rim design to balance spoke tension.

Tested: The Aluminum 738

Aluminum 738 rims with a 34mm internal width. GW photo.

I mounted Ibex's Onza 2.4" tires—a beefy all-around AM/eduro tire—on Ibis’ 738 aluminum wheels. And the whole shebang on a BMC SpeedFox Trailcrew—a fun, beefy all around all-mountain enduro bike.

Talk about your mud flaps: my girl's got 'em. GW photo.

The suggested retail price is an incredibly reasonable $549 for a pair. Wheelset weight is 1880g. So, for comparison, 738's are 6mm wider and $100 cheaper than the new 1807g Stan’s Flow Mk3 wheels (which are very solid, I rode them on the REEB Sqweeb). And the original wheels on the BMC were decent 1840g DT Swiss E1700 Spline 2 (though $300 more expensive and 10mm narrower).

I could immediately see the difference in the tire's profile. It had a much wider footprint, a straighter tire sidewall, and was much flatter across the top.

The first thing I noticed riding is the added cornering stability, even more than the added climbing traction. I never really had a problem with braking before, as the XT brakes and the meaty Onza tires weren’t dainty. But I felt the I had a slightly bigger turning weapon on the front of the bike. Dropping a pound or two psi overall is nice, too, as it gives just a little more cush. The overall ride quiets down and feels much smoother.

The respectable 10-degree IBIS hubs with 32 black, traditional steel spokes. GW photo.

Of course, the rim is wide enough to throw a 2.8" tire on it. I didn’t try that on the BMC, though using the eyeball test, it looks like I might have had room on the frame. I certainly could have gone with a Maxxis 2.5" Minion Wide Trail, or some other almost-plus-tire-sized all-mountain rubber.

The wheel wasn’t remarkably more or less vertically flexy or rigid than the DT, though it did feel more laterally planted, which could be a combination of the added sidewall support and the wide, shallow rim profile. They don’t bend on turns, and I imagine it would be harder to taco them.

TESTED: The 938

The shallow-draw on the aluminum 938. Ryan Dunfee photo.

We rode the 938 aluminum wheel on the IBIS Ripley with a set of Nobby Nic 2.3's—an all-around, all-mountain tire. The MSRP of the 938 is $549, with wheelset weight sitting at 1935g. This is a larger version of the 738. Perhaps the wheel was a contributing factor to the Ripley being such a favorite at the Big Sky Bike Test. The wheel/tire width gave the 120mm travel trail rocket an added bit of platform and punch. The bike never lost traction, and I always felt bananas in control on these. And I’m very sensitive to sidewall push. Sidewall push puts you in the bush.

Grab-n-go traction. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Aluminum wheels are generally more vertically compliant than carbon. The school of thought is that if a wheel is a bit compliant on this axis, it deflects less than a stiffer wheel and maintains a straighter path. Though, another bonus of wider rims for 29'ers is added lateral rigidity, which has been something that was always a detracting factor in older 29'er wheels and bikes.

Again, 1935g is very respectable weight for aluminum rim 29'er wheels, and you’re getting more width and a better price than many comparable rims on the market.

Tested: The 741

There's just something about a big ol' plus tire that looks unbeatable. Ryan Dunfee photo.

I tested the 741 carbons on the Mojo3 with Nobby Nic 2.8's. It’s 1mm bigger in its internal width (35 versus 34) than the two above aluminum tires, but it had a plus tire on it. The Nobby Nic 2.8" has the same knob profile as the 2.3", but in plus width, obviously. MSRP for a pair is $1099.00 with the weight sitting at 1734g.

These were just perfect for a 2.8" tire. The carbon rim shaved away the weight gain from the extra rubber that made up the wider tire. They were very stiff, and held the profile perfectly.

Just a millimeter wider than their rims meant for "normal" tires, the Mojo 3 was unstoppable with its 2.8" Nobby Nic/Ibis wheel combo. Ryan Dunfee photo.

And oh, my, the traction. I can see why plus wheels are such an unstoppable force in the mountain bike market right now. I’ll spare you any attempt at a Dove skin-care joke. Tire pressures in the low to mid teens allow you to charge at, and grab, rocks with impunity.

I mean, 1734g wheels with gobs of grip. What’s not to like? Of course, with about 15mm of squish in plus tires, it’s hard to discern any vertical flex in the rims, as well as small chatter from trail features. The Nobby Nic has a decent sidewall, and the tires held just fine in corners.

$1099 for carbon wheels are a pretty good deal nowadays (some wheels are topping out at $2500). If you wanted to upgrade to the quicker engaging i9 hub, you’ll be in for a few more dollars, but still worth it.

The Bottom Line

Wide and stout, this is the kind of move where you can really tell you're running Ibis wheels. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The 938 and 738 feature a relatively shallow 19mm depth, which is also very hip nowadays. The 741's depth is 29.5mm, with the 742 (slightly different carbon layup) at 19.5. It seems like this design helps to reduce damage from rock strikes, just because of the lower profile I guess. A shallow draw is not exclusive to Ibis, of course, but it's worth mentioning.

Also, if you’re going to run ONLY plus tires, you could think about a 40mm rim wheel, but I’m kind of geeking out on using one set of wheels for two types of tires, and and I'm especially sold on a much wider rim for regular 2.3-2.5" rubber. You could throw on a regular tire for racing enduros, and swap to a lower profile plus tire for everyday trail riding.

The Ibis rims are ideal for the ultra low pressures (12-18 psi) of plus tires, and can run real low pressures of around 18-25psi for 2.3" - 2.5" tires.

Also, a lot of tire companies, like Maxxis with their Wide Trail profiles, are now making 2.4" and 2.5" tires that are specifically designed to be mounted on wider rims, featuring a slightly more rounded profile.

Regardless, the low weight of Ibis’ wheels combined with the monstrous traction advantage has been a revelation for those who have ridden them. If you’re in the market for a great wheelset that delivers modern design, functionality and a solid value, throw Ibis into the mix.

From The Column: TGR Tested

About The Author

stash member Gunnar Waldman

Editor-at-Large, IMBA instructor and east-coaster. Raced Trans-Savoie in France, SoCal Enduro and Endurance in Temecula and is psyched for all the great new races in the east. Article Ideas: