I’m a lucky guy. Just check out how many tasty 29ers I’ve ridden since January. I’ve been riding and racing 26 inch mountain bikes in various forms for 27 years, yes I’m am old git…, but in 10 months I have had the pleasure of hammering, crashing, jumping and altogether having a blast on 10 (if you count prototypes) different top end 29ers on both medium and large sizes. What have I learned? Never prejudge and never fail to be surprised.
It’s thanks to Andy Brooker that I had this Niner Air 9 Carbon to try. Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit rough so I couldn’t take it on the same circuit that I have used for my previous 29er tests. The first thing that struck me about this bike was how well it climbed. This was in spite of the small cockpit size, only 603mm effective top tube! You’d expect about 620mm on a medium sized frame. I am sure that the bike and wheel weight really helped with the gravity battle. The 439mm chainstay length (1mm more than the Whyte & Scott) probably helped too. Looking down at the big Nobby Nic tyre added to the confidence that all 29ers give you so I felt safe on all the trails. Feeling secure is as important as being secure and its confidence that gets you through the difficult stuff. The Niner Air 9 Carbon feels like a race bike. It encourages out of the saddle climbs, the frame is really stiff and as a consequence it is not as comfortable as the Scott Scale 29er Pro/Expert or the Whyte 29 CS but this must not be taken out of context. I was still able to breeze over roots and rough terrain with way less judder and discomfort that you’d get from even the plushest of 26 inch hard tails. I’d imagine that this frame would be awesome in the Gorrick single track and would get any rider to, or close to, the podium. Whilst I wasn’t in race mode I did take the bike down and up some of the most technical and demanding trails that we have around here and never once felt out of control or likely to crash. I found the bike particularly good on off camber sections, the small frame probably helped with cranking the bike over. I was certainly confident but that caught me out in the end as I took a hit on the flat, looking behind for my buddy and on the completely safe place a vehicle must have been there recently creating a rut where none had existed. If I had fallen on any of the steep and technical stuff I’d had just rolled and bounced back up. Golden rule: don’t hit the deck if its flat. I still hurt.
This bike was equipped with Fox Float 100 FIT 29er RLC with Kashima coating – best Fox forks that I’ve used. Transmission was XTR shifters and mechs, FSA 386 carbon crank and an 11/36 Sram XX cassette. It was an odd mix but perfectly functional, my only gripe was the inability to shift from small to big unless virtually freewheeling. I never needed a lower gear even on the toughest of climbs, the grip and weight must have helped here. Brakes were Hope Tech 2.
The wheels are Bor XMD333 rims on DT Swiss 240 hubs, 1472 grams in total. The Bor rims trade mark is the bulbous weld and at 325 grams each I’d not hold their look against them. The rims I was using actually weigh a svelte 309 grams but might be too light for regular use. Awesome. These hoops where built by Darren our ex-mechanic now of Strada (known for carbon & custom road wheels and now 29er wheels).
This is the best spec’ced 29er that I’ve ridden and so, even with a tired and jaded engine to power it, it was difficult to criticise it at all. I was just damn good at everything.
A great ride in warm balmy conditions