Final Review: Niner AIR 9- with Grannygear and Jeff J
The Niner AIR 9 is on its way back home now and the Grannygear garage is a bit poorer for it, well actually, the JeffJ garage is the one lacking a great scoot as the last 70% of the time he had it in his bear like paws. And I have his impression here for all to read, but first, I need to sum up my thoughts. So to understand where we left things, here is the Mid Term for the AIR 9. The Out of the Box is here.
The last few rides on the AIR 9 before I abdicated the aluminum throne, so to speak, to JeffJ, were great times. I was finding that I could move very well down the rocky trails of home as long as I did not expect much coddling while in the process. The frame is definitely stiff and this is no powder puff “I am looking for a compliant ride” 100 miler bike in my opinion. But knowing that going in, I was able to stick that stout chassis, fork, and wheels on a line through a hard turn and it would just go there, no questions asked. Pedal it hard and it just went forward. Very rewarding. Yes, sometimes it would skip and buck a bit when it got choppy, but keep on the gas and it railed things. It was a very ‘dialed’…to use a reviewer’s trite word…handling bike.
I would not pick it for my own bike as I tend to lean toward long, drawn out adventures and multi hour stuff and there the AIR 9 would be too much for this older body. But that is very much at the riders discretion…how much is too much. I would sacrifice some of that chassis stiffness for some give. Remember, compliance is flex…somewhere. I don’t want that to be my body all the time. Yes, the RDO seat post was quite good for a 31.6mm post…very good, but not enough. However, if you are big, powerful, fast, or just could not care less about what the bike rides like, you just want snappy, solid performance and are done with noodle bikes, look here.
I know that Niner has the AIR 9 Carbon and that is the primo racing/fast XC frame. It costs $1899.00 suggested retail (frame cost). It will be lighter and I have heard it called out as very stiff, almost too much. Racing bike. The Air 9 aluminum version retails for $899.00. Notice the missing $1000.00? You may not on the trail, especially if you are not carrying a big wallet or or you are looking for a less than full on racing bike. One grand is a lot of savings and would buy some really nice wheels, etc, if that savings was applied to the project bike you were assembling.
The AIR 9 Carbon is a Porsche Carrera S. But the AIR 9 alloy is a Corvette Z06. Choose your weapon accordingly.
When Grannygear told me he was interested to get some feedback from me on the new Niner Air 9, I thought I faintly detected a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye. I gathered that he didn’t want me to have any preconceived notions about what to expect, but just the fact that he wanted my thoughts is generally a good sign. It was an even better sign that it didn’t take long for us to dial in the fit of the XL hard tail, and I was pleased that I felt right at home on the AIR 9 in that regard.
The Niner Flat Top handlebar looked to have a fair bit of back sweep, so that was a plus for me, but I knew right away that the grips diameter would yield some unwelcome annular space between them and my oversize meat-hooks that would need to be accounted for, but this was a minor detail that was easily rectified with a pair of ergo type grips I had stored in the man-cave. I also slid the shifter pods inward a half inch or so to make it easier for me to access the levers, especially the downshift lever that I use my thumb on.
The saddle is a WTB Volt that looked to me like it was suited for a greyhound. I was once told that I resembled a greyhound, but unfortunately, the word ‘greyhound’ was immediately followed by the word ‘bus’ which paints a completely different picture. I am normally a WTB Pure V type rider these days, but decided I would give the Volt a ride or two before swapping it out for the remainder of the test period. Grannygear also mentioned the seat post, a good looking carbon fiber unit with Niner graphics, that has supposedly been engineered (as I understand it) to have some compliance compared to a typical 31.6mm seat post. A typical 31.6mm seat post in a hard tail frame can feel like someone is pounding against your bottom of your spine with a 2×4 and a sledge hammer after climbing rocky trails for a while. I usually prefer to use a 27.2mm seat post with a shim on a hard tail just for that reason, but to my surprise, the 31.6mm Niner carbon seat post does feel less harsh than expected.
The other thing that is always a concern for us he-beasts, is the fork, in this case it’s a Manitou Tower Pro. It took a few times for me to get the hang of operating Manitou’s take on 15mm through axle, and now that I have it down, it’s really slick and easy. Since we are generally riding either up or down, and many rides end with a screaming descent, rotors can turn into branding irons, so I appreciate them putting the quick release lever on the opposite side from the brake rotor. There will be more on the Tower Pro a bit later.
Fast forward to my first chance ride, and it doesn’t take long to realize that this rolls right along. Apparently, the new 2.3” Purgatory on the front is a decidedly better rolling tire than previous versions. I have the same Ground Control rear tire and an old style Purgatory up front on the Anthem X 29″er, and the tire combo on the Air 9 is noticeably faster rolling.
And speaking of faster rolling, this thing motors right along. Sometimes lightweight aluminum, steel, and titanium frames get kind of bouncy-bouncy-bouncy under my hulking girth when the rpm’s get cranked up and the bottom bracket gets to swaying back and forth like it’s made from a wet washcloth. Well, I got no such feeling from the Air 9. Several regular riding friends made comments to me about how much faster I ride with the Air 9 under me, and I know it by the gear combos I’m pushing, and my cadence. I mash, it moves, I like!
The Tower Pro is very smooth rolling over small trail chatter, and really worked well in any situation I could throw it’s way. In fact, I think it’s as good as any 100mm fork I have tried. I’d rate it right up there with the Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti, maybe better simply because it’s not as complicated to get it dialed in (although it could necessitate a coil spring change), and in my humble opinion is better than anything I have tried from Fox or Rock Shox. If I were to buy a 100mm fork today, the Tower Pro would get the nod without hesitation. The Shimano drive train and XT brake set supplied on this test bike were simply excellent and worked perfectly for the time I had them.
So, enough with all of the details, let’s move on to the “how did it ride” part of this exercise. The word ‘superlatives’ comes to mind, which in the case of the Air 9 are well deserved from my perspective. I usually try not to gush when giving my thoughts on riding the various (awesome) test bikes TNI reviews. I feel like it would be somewhat undignified to be so openly effusive. But if I am being honest, I can’t recall ever feeling so naturally connected to a bike in all of the years I have been riding two-wheeled contraptions. Whether it was shifting my weight back to float the front wheel over a rough patch or deep sand, horsing the front end around a rock and then back onto my line in a high speed sweeper, navigating a decreasing radius turn, boosting off of small kickers, j-hopping water bars, rolling through g-outs, or layin’ down the power in a sprint, the manner in which the Air 9 responded to my input was downright intuitive. Yeah, I guess you could say that I liked it. . . . I liked it a lot.
Note: Niner bikes sent over the AIR 9 to Twenty Nine Inches at no charge. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review. We will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.