MRP Ribbon Review
It’s not very often when you can use a component on your bike whose namesake trail you’ve ridden and whose originators you’ve met, but such is my connection with MRP’s Ribbon fork. But that’s not enough to make it a great fork, and now that I’ve ridden a couple hundred miles on it, let’s find out how it stacks up.
I’ve got the 160mm 29er model (which is the longest travel configuration for a 29er) mounted on a 2018 Norco Range. Travel can be adjusted from 120mm to 160mm on a 29er chassis and 140mm to 170mm for a 27.5 chassis simply by adding or removing internal spacers (in 5mm increments so you can have that 155mm travel fork you’ve always wanted). This generous range of travel adjustability effectively future proofs your investment by allowing you to take it to a new bike that might want more or less travel.
Setting up the Ribbon is a little more involved than most forks, and this can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Expect to spend your first few rides getting it dialed in. Luckily the included tuning guide paints a clear picture of how to tune for your riding style. The advantage to all these levers, however, is that you can tune it exactly how you like it. It has the standard rebound and low speed compression adjustments, but unlike most forks you also get a negative air spring to control the suppleness off the top, as well as the ramp control dial to control how the spring ramps at the end of travel, a.k.a. bottoming out.
Adding air is not as simple as most forks where you just pump it up and check the sag. With the Ribbon you have to pump up the positive air chamber first, then you have to pump up the negative air chamber (you cannot accurately gauge your sag until both chambers are pressurized). The negative air chamber pressure should be within +/- 10% of your positive air chamber pressure. Adding more air makes the fork more supple off the top and eager to enter into its travel; less pressure has the opposite effect, giving the fork a firmer feel. I’m using just a few psi more than the recommended positive spring pressure for my weight, and I settled on pretty close to the same pressure in both springs with just a little more in the negative chamber.
The negative air chamber is much smaller in volume, so when you attach a shock pump the initial pressure will show significantly less than what you previously pumped it up to. Initially I was concerned that I was losing a lot of pressure when detaching the hose which would result in an unpredictable balance between the two chambers. But after some research I learned that you don’t really lose air pressure when detaching. The loss of air pressure occurs when you attach the hose and the air from the chamber fills the body of the pump. So just pump to the desired pressure, detach and trust that it’s what the gauge said. However, getting the pressure you want within the 10% range requires a degree of accuracy which most cheap shock pumps don’t provide, so it might be worth getting a shock with a digital gauge for use with the Ribbon. I am, however, still using a cheap pump with good results, albeit with a little squinting.
The Ramp Control dial removes the need to add or remove spacers to control your spring curve and bottom out characteristics. This is incredibly convenient because this adjustment no longer requires tools, and you can play with it while you’re out on a ride. You also have 16 clicks of adjustability so you can fine tune it to a greater degree than you could with the optional one or two spacers you get with other forks. You can also quickly retune your fork for whatever trail you’re riding. If it’s more of an XC trail you can make your fork more linear to use more travel, but if you’re rampaging, dial up that progressivity for big hits. This is a huge benefit of the Ribbon, but luckily MRP has made Ramp Control top caps that you can install on Fox or Rockshox forks.
I’ve been riding Rockshox Pikes and Lyrics for the past several years, so I have a pretty good benchmark for how a fork should perform. As a rider I would consider myself pretty far on the enduro/aggressive spectrum, but not quite extreme DH.
The first time I saw an MRP Ribbon in the flesh was when I was racing the inaugural Grand Enduro in Grand Junction, CO last year. Given that MRP is based in Grand Junction, it’s not surprising that they were mounted on a lot of bikes there, and seeing the way these locals dominated the Lunch Loops trails (which are quite demanding) made me think that these riders must know what they’re doing.
So I decided to try this new fork from a company known more for their simple but high quality chain guides. I expected the fork to perform well, but I didn’t expect to completely reset my expectation on how a good fork should perform. The Pikes and Lyrics are known for their stiction-free performance, but when the trail would get really chunky, it seemed like they weren’t able to keep up with the hits, and in those moments I was distinctly aware of what the fork was doing. With the Ribbon, especially after I had it dialed in, I completely forgot it was there because its performance over rough stuff is so flawless. I attribute this to the twin tube damper design, which until now has not been widely used in MTB forks because of its complexity (it is used by high performance shocks like the Fox Float X2). The twin tube reduces pressure and friction allowing the damper to react more quickly to rapid hits. The low speed compression adjustment also works quite well. I run with 2-3 clicks from open, and it provides just enough support to prevent brake drive, but there seems to be no delay for the fork to activate the high speed circuit when hitting bigger bumps. I’m also impressed with how plush and supple the fork is while still being supportive in the last bit of travel. I’ve done some pretty big drops and hits expecting the to find the end of the stroke, but it never comes. When I look at the my O-ring it’s just shy of full travel.
With my RockShox forks I often noticed inconsistency with their performance, either from temperature or pressure changes. The Ribbon comes with pressure release valves on the lowers to address this (a common feature on moto forks). Ironically, I’ve never felt the need to use them because I’ve never felt like the fork wasn’t performing at 100%.
The Ribbon uses 35mm stanchions (same as the Pike and Lyric), and I can’t say that I’ve noticed any significant difference in stiffness on the trail (granted I’m only 150lbs so I might not be the best judge), but a side-by-side unscientific twisting of the handlebars torsional rigidity test suggest that the Ribbon is not quite as stiff as the Lyric, but this should not be a surprise because it’s a couple hundred grams lighter.
The only downside to the design is that the “outcast” arch with the weight relief cutouts facing forward will result in
some of your riding buddies endlessly telling you that “your fork is on backwards,” but this design is really an example of function before form because your spinning tires will no longer be packing those reliefs with mud and dirt as has been done for decades with every other fork. I also like how the wiper seals sit above the lowers, eliminating the well of water and mud you get around the seals with the Rockshox.
It’s been years since I’ve used a fork that seemed like a significant upgrade over what I was using before, but the MRP Ribbon has just set the benchmark for how a good fork should perform. Its twin tube damper is a significant upgrade over anything I’ve ridden before from Rockshox or Fox, and factor in the fact that you can finely tune how the fork works at both ends of the travel, its light weight, and overall performance, there’s little doubt that this fork will have a permanent place on the front of my bikes for seasons to come.
As for downsides, there are potentially riders for whom this fork may not work as well. If you’re not one to fiddle with adjustments, the marginally more complex setup may be off-putting (but I can assure you that the extra effort is worth it). If you’re a heavier, aggressive rider running the fork at max travel, you might find that it’s not as stiff as some burlier options out there, but this fork is designed to be used on everything from trail bikes to enduro bikes, so they wanted to keep the weight down.
For everyone else I can’t recommend the MRP Ribbon highly enough. The fact that MRP is a small company in Grand Junction full of great people, who ride great trails and also help put on a great race (The Grand Enduro runs again in June), and who are known for their excellent customer service certainly doesn’t hurt either.