When it comes to product hype and unfulfilled performance claims, besides fuel injector cleaners and the ski industry, there are few places where it’s more prevalent than the bike industry. In the last ten years, there’s really only been a handful of innovations that have truly made a huge difference in the way we ride. A few of these include tubeless tires, clutch rear derailleurs that have enabled 1x drivetrains, dropper posts and thru-axles.
There’s one more that should be added to the list of innovations that matter – “wide boy” wheels. Like dropper posts, wheels with wide rims have been around for a while, but for whatever reason, they’ve taken time to gain universal adoption. The benefit of wide rims is pretty compelling – improved cornering and braking traction, reduced risk of tubeless burping, the ability to run lower tire pressure for less rolling resistance and greater impact strength. And thanks to the advancement of composites, carbon fiber wide rim hoops weigh nearly the same as narrower aluminum hoops that are far less resilient and laterally stiff – especially in 29er guise.
Ibis 941 wheels are just one of several examples on the market today, but what makes the Ibis hoops stand out is their impressive 41mm outer width (the 41 in 941), their 1770 gram weight in 29-inch diameter (the 9 in 941) and their approachable $1450 retail price. Yes, for some this number might still be insane for just a set of wheels, but in the world of composite wheels, the asking price is quite reasonable.
In addition to 41mm outer width measurement, the 941 also features 35mm inner width. These numbers are approaching fat bike-specific numbers, where wheels measure 50mm in outer width and up. Except with the 941, each hoop only weighs 488 grams as opposed to 700-plus. Provided you have the frame clearance, slapping on a pair of 3.0-inch 29+ tires can make for one seriously buoyant, lightweight and fast machine. Not quite a fatbike; more like a slightly obese bike, which in this author’s opinion is far more fun.
All fatbikes aside, the Ibis 941 wheels have far more practical use than just being a wheelset for a quick and nimble slightly obese bike. In fact, the 941s can be used on any 29-inch mountain bike from a rigid hardtail to a dual-suspension trail bike. And with a tweener variant in the Ibis 741 wheels, those with 27.5-inch rigs can get in on the wide boy fun for the same price.
This review is not focused on explaining the “whys” of running wider rims, Ibis does a thorough and informative job of that on the Ibis Wheels page. This review instead focuses on the actual real world functionality of the wheels. Do they live up to the claims that Ibis and other wide rim manufacturers are touting, or are wide rims just another ploy that gets consumers to empty their wallets?
Since August I’ve been running a set of Ibis 941s on my Ripley, and all I can say is that these wheels absolutely live up to the hype. My first real ride on them was at Mammoth Mountain, a place that’s notorious for having among the loosest and sketchiest riding conditions anywhere in North America. Most riders agree that if you can ride the volcanic ash of Mammoth, you can ride anywhere.
Since Mammoth is just a giant volcano, most trails at the resort are laden with pumice moon dust that locals lovingly refer to as “kitty litter”. Within a day of arriving in Mammoth, the two-wheel slide becomes a new skill in your riding repertoire because nearly every corner requires it.
Needless to say, Mammoth was the perfect place to test out all the reported claims that wide rims dramatically improve traction. And within 10 minutes of pointing the Ripley downhill, I discovered the claims weren’t hype, wide boy rims are for real. The 941s took both my Geax Goma 2.4 front tire and Maxxis High Roller II 2.35 tires and widened them by about 5 millimeters each to not only improve my straight-line footprint and braking control, but more importantly, allow the side knobs to have more bite in corners.
Suddenly the corners that I used to two-wheel drift through at the ragged edge of control became tame, giving both wheels enough bite that sliding was an option, not a requirement. Even more impressive was how low I could run the tires before I could feel them bottoming out over rocks. After a few good punts, I decided to check the tire pressure and was amazed to see my rear tire was only holding 15 psi. At 180 pounds on a good day, I typically pinch flat at anything below 25 psi with traditional-width rims. The 941s were holding me just fine even at 15 psi, but to play it safe, I upped the pressure to 20 psi.
Ibis 941s also feature a hookless bead design, making them even more durable and pinch-flat resistant than their hook bead competitors. In three months of mixed-terrain riding and two California Enduro Series events, I have not suffered a single flat tire with the Ibis 941s. I’ve hit some rocks hard enough to emit noises I’ve never heard from other wheels, but despite the hard hits, the 941s remain as true as the day the UPS man dropped them on my doorstep.