Faster than a scalded cat on speed, sure-footed and precise like the cat before the burning and substance abuse, but not long or slack.

‘LS’ STANDS FOR LONG AND SLACK, BUT THAT’S SORT OF LIKE NAMING a fat guy Tiny. Believe it or not, the Ripley LS has the shortest reach in the test, and is the second steepest. Even the XL, which we tested, with its reach of 448 millimeters, is still shorter than the majority of our size-large bikes this year. The wheelbase is one of the shortest as well. Maybe LS should stand for light and speedy. It would be a lot more accurate. After all, the Ripley feels lighter and accelerates quicker than most bikes operating outside World Cup XC course tape. It makes sense, since the blueprint for what became the Ripley was a race bike with 100 millimeters of travel and 26-inch wheels. The dual eccentric links were utilized specifically to pull off the most lightweight and compact version of a dw-link platform.

When the Ripley wound up being a 120-millimeter 29er, it was always intended as a trail bike with cross-country speed, and it’s owned that identity better than nearly anything else on the market. With each update, the Ripley finds its way onto rowdier terrain while constantly straddling the course tape. The latest version got two main improvements: wider, stiffer, more reliable eccentrics and increased tire clearance to fit the new breed of 2.6-inch rubber.

The Ripley still rips up climbs the way it always has, but now with improved traction thanks to Schwalbe’s 2.6-inch tires. We upgraded our build with a pair of Ibis 942 carbon hoops, a worthwhile investment for those looking to maximize acceleration. Testers especially appreciated the upgrade on the multiple punchy, technical climbs on our test loops. This is where the Ripley’s hover-board effect shines as well, allowing the rider to go full-gas through junk with no noticeable bob, squatting or loss of suspension activity under power.

The tires offer increased traction and reduced trail noise, but the Schwalbes flatted easily under our testers, who’d be better off with a tougher offering. Aggressive riders might also consider Ibis’ 800-millimeter-wide bar, though that won’t make the Ripley duck the tape. With a skilled pilot, the Ripley will descend just as fast as other bikes in the category, but if you’re looking for point-and-shoot, this isn’t it. The Ripley is agile and precise—point it toward a line and it’ll go there, but lose focus and it’ll bite you in the ass. If you’re looking at the Ripley, it’s worth throwing a leg over the Trek Fuel EX as well. It has a similar XC-rooted feel, but is a touch less efficient on climbs and a touch more confident when gravity takes over.—Ryan Palmer

TREK FUEL EX 9.9 $8,400

The Fuel may not be the fieriest in its category, but its flame will burn brightly for most riders on most trails.

IF THE RIDE CHARACTERISTICS OF A BIKE CAN BE TRACED DIRECTLY to the region in which it was developed, then the traits of the Trek Fuel EX 9.9 should come as little surprise given its Midwestern roots—it’s dead-reliable and consistent, if not a touch conservative.

Bred south of Marquette in Waterloo, Wisconsin, the 130-millimeter-travel 29er is an adept, modern trail bike, delivering dependable ride quality on a variety of terrain, the result of Trek’s quick-responding ABP suspension platform coupled with its RE:aktiv shock. The EX 9.9 is the only Fuel model currently available with Trek’s new Thru Shaft shock technology, designed with Penske Racing to reduce lag by eliminating the oil volume displacement that occurs when the shock compresses. The effects of Thru Shaft were most evident in the chunky rocks on the inaptly named Flow trail, where the shock’s ability to recover from impacts is paramount to maintaining speed and control.

The Fuel’s

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