Ribble mixes online ‘direct-sale’ value and customisation with a number of UK showrooms, and while it’s better known for its drop-bar bikes, its mountain bike range includes an alloy 29er and 650b hardtails in steel, titanium and aluminium, all sharing the same geometry. This Ribble HT AL is the brand’s alloy 650b offering and I put it to the test on a variety of trails local to me as well as the tracks of BikePark Wales and loam of High Burnside in Scotland.
Ribble HT AL details
- Harsh criticism: Handlebars with a 35mm clamp diameter – like the upgraded Hope bar here – generally have a better strength-to-weight ratio than those that use the older 31.8mm standard, but can feel overly stiff.
- Top stoppers: SRAM’s Guide RE brakes pair their mid-weight Guide lever with their burly Code caliper. They’re among the best-value high-power anchors available.
- Stay swap: Mounting the rear brake on the chainstay, not the seatstay, means less material is needed on the latter, potentially introducing a bit of ‘give’ for improved comfort.
Ribble HT AL frame and geometry
Heavily sculpted, smooth-welded 6061-T6 alloy tubes give the HT AL a long, low-slung shape, with the top tube dropping down to give plenty of standover room. The 64-degree head angle and 473mm reach (large) are bang up to date, although the 74-degree seat tube angle is slack, and was the slackest on test.
|Seat angle (degrees)||74||74||74|
|Head angle (degrees)||64||64||64|
|Seat tube (mm)||426||457||508|
|Top tube (mm)||630||650||670|
|Head tube (mm)||110||120||130|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||43||43||43|
Braces on the seat tube bolster stiffness, while the slim, arcing seatstays look like they’re designed to provide some comfort-enhancing ‘compliance’ (engineered flex). The brake caliper is mounted on the chainstay instead, and there’s plenty of mud room out back. Internal cable routing adds to the bike’s clean lines and you get a single bottle cage mount. For £299 more you can customise the frame colour (hand-painted in the UK) and finish. The 64-degree head angle and 473mm reach (large) are bang up to date.
Ribble HT AL kit
Ribble offers three set builds along with a custom bike builder that lets you upgrade many of the components. Using the SRAM GX Eagle-equipped Pro bike as a base, I swapped the RockShox Revelation fork for a Pike Select+ with the new Charger 2.1 damper and updated DebonAir spring. I also upgraded the own-brand Level wheels to Hope Fortus 30s, and opted for a carbon bar and alloy stem from the same brand. However, I stuck with the stock 2.6in Maxxis Minion tyres, rather than opting for harder-compound Schwalbe Nobby Nics. My bike had Guide RE brakes – these aren’t SRAM’s latest stoppers, but pair a Guide lever with the (old) Code caliper. They’re cheap but exceptionally powerful.
How we tested
We put four hard-hitting hardtail frames, which can be built up into complete bikes for around £3,000, to the test on some of the UK’s toughest and steepest tracks. These UK-designed frames were ridden at our proving grounds in the South West, on the varied tracks of BikePark Wales and in the steep loam of High Burnside, near Aviemore in Scotland. Smooth, stable handling is a must, but so is pin-sharp accuracy, so you can thread your way between trail features that might otherwise throw you off-line.
Also on test
- Cotic BFeMAX
- Pipedream Moxie Mx3
- Bird Forge
Ribble HT AL ride impressions
One-and-a-bit inches doesn’t sound like a big difference in wheel (plus tyre) diameter, but it makes a palpable difference to how a bike rides. The HT AL has a 650b setup (aka 27.5in, although really closer to 28in) and compared to the other bikes on test with their 29er wheels it feels the most riotous – you can slip and slap the back end around, it’s easy to loft off natural lips, and a hint of brake gets the rear wheel sliding into a cheeky Scandi flick, if you give it half a chance. Weaving between corners is easy, with the bike quick to change direction. This helps when navigating a tricky course between lumps and bumps – hardtails are a lot less forgiving of poor line choice than full-sussers.
The Ribble rolls fast, accelerating through trail-centre berms and staying perky on smoother climbs. In the rough and loose stuff, though, I found I had to let some air out of the tyres to match the smoother rolling afforded by the bigger-wheeled bikes. During my BikePark Wales laps, this made me more puncture-prone, but did help to keep the smaller wheels rolling over chunder; finding the best tyre pressures is a tricky balancing act.
The HT AL feels the most riotous – you can slap the back end around, loft off lips and get the rear wheel sliding into a cheeky scandi flick. On the climbs, the HT AL loses out to the competition. Bigger wheels simply roll over steps and edges better, and its slacker seat tube angle doesn’t put you in the most efficient pedalling position. Aside from that, I’ve few complaints with the geometry. The reach is on par with what I’d expect from a capable hardtail and the 64-degree head angle is slack enough that when you get deep into the fork’s travel, the front end doesn’t become squirrelly or nervous.
The Pike’s damper and spring do a good job of propping the fork up in its mid-stroke, so it doesn’t tend to dive into its travel and remains smooth. The plush fork and wide rubber would suggest a comfortable ride for your hands. However, I’ve found over the years that Hope’s 35mm-diameter bar, paired with the broad clamping face of its stem, can feel relatively harsh. I’d probably stick with the stock Level kit and save a few pennies.