Editor’s Note: Our Eurobike reports from “c_g” will continue, but now we present his Special Report on his brief ride impressions of Niner Bike’s Air 9 Carbon. Twenty Nine Inches and “c_g” would like to give our thanks to Steve, Chris, and Brett of Niner Bikes for allowing us this opportunity.
EUROBIKE Special – NINER AIR 9 Carbon ride report: By “c_g”
OK, I have decided to take a short break from reporting on the Eurobike news and fill you in with what , I am sure quite a few of you, have been waiting for:
The ride report on the NINER AIR 9 Carbon.
This bike that had been announced first here on twentynineninches.com and many have stood in awe and anticipation ever since. There were so many innovative details designed into this frame coupled with the refined NINER geometry: Back then tapered head tubes were still rare, the super versatile bottom bracket system still is looking for a rival, and the integrated routing through the magnesium head plate made the carbon look as clean as can be. I did (and still do have) little notion of the carbon technology that went into the frame but if I recall correctly it was one of the first of this new generation Carbon 29er that utilizes Carbon to its maximum potential to achieve stiffness, compliance and lightweight all in one package – not to speak of the unique two tone graphics of the bike – Carbon/White or Carbon/Tangerine are the options.
Then it became a bit silent around the bike, production and delivery were delayed. Big kudos to the folks of NINER for how they communicated this openly to the customers and tried to handle it in the best way possible. I was told by now sizes medium and large were available, but due to the huge demand they are selling fast. Look out for more info on the NINER site on the size small, which is to be announced later this year.
But how did it ride? First I want to remind you that I had the bike only for the duration of the EUROBIKE show (4 days total) so my riding time on it had been limited. Once again thanks to the NINER guys, (CHRIS, STEVE & BRETT), and the Italian NINER distributor RACEWARE, for spontaneously entrusting me with this bike. I admit that this review has been an unforeseen highlight of the show, and was worth it for me to skip one full day of the show to log some serious miles on the AIR 9 Carbon. This I did and with one full day and several early morning and late evening rides (good I brought my lights with me ;)) I have accumulated some good riding time on this beauty.
Here is a short rundown of the bike:
Frame: NINER AIR 9 CARBON (size Large, Carbon/Tangerine)
Fork: NINER Carbon fork (tapered, Carbon/Tangerine)
Drive train: SRAM XO 2011 (3 x 10, BB30 press fit BB)
Brakes: SRAM XO (180mm rotor front / 160 rear)
Wheels: EDGE Composite rims (28 h) on Hope Pro II hubs
Seating: EDGE seat post (31.6 mm) on WTB SILVERADO saddle (anniversary edition)
Cockpit: EDGE stem (0°, 100 mm), EDGE flat bar
Tires: WTB Bronson (standard folding with tubes)
I admit, I didn´t have a scale with me so I cannot provide you with a real weight, but by the specs alone you can guess that it must have been a sub 21 lbs built.
GEOMETRY and RIDE: Those that know NINER bikes know that all their hard tails share pretty much the same geometry. There are some minor differences but by numbers alone the AIR 9 Carbon shares exactly the dimensions (in terms of fit) as the SIR 9. The longish stem and large size frame put me on the longer end of what I usually ride but despite this, the bike rode nicely. I have ridden several NINER bikes before and to most it will come as no surprise that refinement and balance are the key words when talking about their geometry. The NINER AIR 9 Carbon is no different. It allows for almost anything; this bike can be ridden leisurely and aggressively, it can take you to podium finish as well as happily through an adventure trip, from tame fire roads to technical trails. Unlike many other bikes that I think do favor one way to ride or another – this bike does anything and it does everything really well. During my short test period I have ridden it on forest roads (flat and steep, seating and standing), lots of single track and tough trails – and it felt at home on all of it with no issue.
The super versatile bottom bracket set up allows for any bottom bracket standard currently existing, but also for an eccentric bottom bracket configuration for single speed use (or internal geared hubs if you desire). By the way the NINER AIR 9 Carbon rode, I would attest that the bike has my full single speed approval. For those of us who had hoped for a “spur-of-the-moment-swap-BB-system” – it isn´t. I was told the inserts also are a press fit type that require some tools, but in such a sensitive and much maltreated area, it probably is better to work with a tight fit.
My test bike was outfitted with the corresponding rigid fork but it was one of the most balanced rides I have ever had in a rigid configuration – I am avoiding to call it the most “compliant” ride for I have had bikes that were vertically softer – but in combination with the NINER Carbon fork I could ride it faster and harder in technical terrain than I would with many other rigid bikes (and that despite the super stiff EDGE components). I felt that its ride characteristics were a lucky compromise of the SIR 9´s vertical compliance and liveliness and the AIR 9´s torsional stiffness and power transfer – no sensation of a dull Carbon frame there.
The way the bike rode it gets my full thumbs up for XC, endurance and light trail riding (and more if you like); add a suspension fork and you can take it even further and faster.
Tire clearance was ample for most any tire, maybe not enough for the widest tire/rim combinations but enough for anything the bike was deigned for. The narrow but tall chain stays allowed for the lowest Q-factor cranks.
There were a few nit picks I had with the bike but they are minor. One was the EDGE Composite seat post that constantly slipped under my riding style, no matter how hard I torqued it down. The other was the use of a 31.6 mm seat post diameter – I would have opted for a 27,2 mm diameter but just like some team riders do, you can always insert a shim and benefit from the softer ride of a small diameter post. The chain suck protection device (a lovingly manufactured thing of steel plating and carbon) and the chain stay protection on my bike left a few vulnerable areas of carbon unprotected but when discussing with the NINER folks they confirmed that the bike I was riding was an early pre-production model and that exactly these changes had been made to the production frames. Last but not least it was the “in-your-face” appearance of the bike: the large and intensively sculptured and curved tubes really are BIG – the two tone graphics make it look more delicate than it really is. (no disadvantage without advantage – the large tubes and smooth transitions make portaging the bike a pleasure on your shoulders.
You can tell there really wasn´t that much I would have changed on the bike; a shorter stem maybe but there simply was no time.
Maybe a few more words on the COMPONENTS.
The Edge wheels with a 28 hole spoke count were surprisingly stiff and held up fine to all my attempts to put them to their limit.
As did the WTB BRONSON tires. From the beginning of the test with super muddy and wet conditions to technical riding on rocks and roots under mixed to dry conditions, the BRONSON did always feel very stable and safe while being rather fast footed. It sure is no XC race tire but for a light trail tire it provided excellent traction on everything (maybe wet grass wasn´t its favorite) and gave me all the cornering control I ever wanted. I didn’t encounter any sandy conditions but other than that it has seen everything else and showed me how versatile it is. Truly an impressive tread, perfect for the NINER AIR 9 Carbon, which fills exactly the same bill.
The SRAM XO once more shone with crisp and secure shifting, an easily tunable cockpit but was on the squeaky side in the rear when wet.
CONCLUSION & VERDICT: The NINER AIR 9 Carbon is a really refined and well executed Carbon bike. It may not be the superlative (as in the lightest, the strongest, or the stiffest, the most compliant) but it comes very close to being the best compromise of it all while sharing a really refined and versatile geometry. While by appearance, weight and stiffness you´d first think of a pure bread racer the NINER AIR Carbon is a much more versatile bike that handles a huge range of trails. It rides really well on any trail and at any riding style – with no exception that I could tell of.
For a company like NINER the design of the NINER AIR 9 Carbon has been a huge undertaking and its realization is a serious achievement. Talking to the guys you can tell they are really proud of this bike and the NINER logos (that can be read from any angle on the bike), do show it.
Just a shame the test was so short and under such always with covering the news of EUROBIKE in the back of my head. Stay tuned for more on this.