Mid Term: Niner Bikes RIP 9 Airformed- by Grannygear
In the OOB article, we unboxed a pretty nicely set-up black RIP-9 with X01 drivetrain and a Fox 110-140mm Talas fork. To say that I was pretty curious and very excited to get out on it would be a bit of an understatement. It would be a couple of firsts for me, those being a Talas fork and 1×11 for although I had ridden 1×11 for short periods (like a quick demo), I had not been on it for any real length of time.
The ride mix has been a sampling of typical So Cal trails: A mix of fire road climbs, double tracks and single tracks with nothing too steep or technical. I would have liked to have widened that out a bit to include something more challenging for the RIP, but between the weather and a battle with the plague in the Grannygear household, it is what it is. Still, I think I have a pretty good idea of what this bike is about, at least in the build I have it in.
To set the stage for where my mind was when I began this, I had expected the RIP to be a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades full suspension 29″er trail bike. I have a lot of respect for the CVA rear suspension and how it has performed for me across a few Niners I have ridden. Only some of the DW link bikes have eclipsed CVA for me and even then, only by shades of the same color. So I see the RIP, with its 125mm of rear travel, moderately shallow head tube angles, and good performing CVA rear end as a bike that can work for a wide group of riders depending on the parts build.
This RIP-9 is tilted toward a more All Mountain application with that Talas fork and significant wheel/tire combo. X01 can be applied to all kinds of bikes, but I think the group of riders that most appreciates 1×11 are those who ride hard and rough enough trails to struggle with keeping the chain in place. Also, many riders simply do not need the wide range of gearing that a 2x drivetrain can offer, and can well afford to do away with the front derailleur. I just am not in an environment, (nor do I seek it out), that requires a lot of chain retention. Our trails can be fast and rough, but seldom are they mixed with big drops and hard, repeated impacts, or at least it has not been a problem for me over the years. So, for me a clutch type rear derailleur and careful gear selection is quite adequate to avoid issues with tossed chains. The Talas is another thing since we do have long, long climbs that lead to rapid descents. Would the Talas be worth the extra cost and weight?
Pedaling out on the RIP, one wonders as to whether you need the Monarch rear shock to be in platform mode or not. It does not bob or weave just because you are moving the pedals in a circle. However, having the rear shock in platform mode does reduce rise and fall due to your bodies motion on the bike as you pedal, especially standing and climbing, so I most often had the rear shock in platform mode when I was doing anything other than descending. It adds a tiny amount of firmness that might feel harsh if you left it there all day, but for shorter, smoother sections of trail I just left it there in platform and never really cared. I set it up with 25% sag as marked on the shock and a fairly fast rebound. I really never found any bad habits with CVA and I did not expect to. In the open mode, it was supple and sucked up bumps while still remaining composed. It feels nearly as good as the Ellsworth Evolve for tracking the trail and landing from air, but the CVA comes out of corners when you are on the gas much better than the ICT I rode on the Ellsworth (well, as good as you might expect a nearly 30lb bike to do).
The waaay older RIPs were not the stiffest beasties, but this new one here, (and the RDO version), are a fine example of engineering execution in chassis rigidity. Grabbing the frame and twisting wheels and such does not show any noodliness and out on the trail the bike never felt like I was getting anything other than go-where-I-point-it performance. Tire clearance with the 2.35 Nobby Nics is quite good and that is on a Flow rim. At nearly 200 lbs all geared up, I am not a Clyde, but not a greyhound either. The size Large fits me very well at 6’2″, although I could have ridden an XL. The caveat here is that I had a 100mm stem on there, and if I had been running a shorter one, it would have begun to encroach on the cockpit length for me. An XL would have let me run a 70mm stem or so and I still would not have been crowded. On the other hand, this type of bike tends to feel better with a shortened reach to the bars so, as always, it is often up to the rider’s preference as to how they want the bike to feel. In this case, I would not have changed a thing and I liked how the longer stem weights the front wheel.
With a 69.5° head tube angle unsagged with a 140mm fork, the RIP-9 is hardly digging deeply into All Mountain territory but keep in mind that on a 29″er, head tube angles do not need to be as slack to get a high level of rough trail performance compared to a 26″ wheel. I took the RIP on a few fast descents where I was using all 140mmF/125mmR of travel and I never felt like I was hearing warning buzzers. But I never got it into really steep, loose terrain where having that front wheel way out there (like a really slack head tube angle would do) feels so reassuring. But if you are riding that stuff all the time, then you should be looking at a Niner WFO-9 anyway. The longish, (by today’s standards), chain stays of 17.9″ might seem out of step, but what you do gain is a lot of stability at speed in steeper, looser sections. What you lose is a bit of playfulness in the tightest sections. If you like to ride with the front wheel off the ground a lot, it is harder to pop it up there, but not by a lot. It takes a bit more effort to get it to turn fast and sharp, (say, compared to a Ibis Ripley), but once you dial in to that and what the 140mm fork is doing up front, you can come in hard and fast and pin the apex, letting the tires drift a bit before you rocket out the corner. In the end the almost 18″ chain stays were a non-issue on this bike. Wheelies were dead simple, likely due to the slightly rearward weight distribution of the bike. Remember, one number all by itself does not define a bike but neither can it be ignored. Balance is key.
I never took a plumb line to the seat tube/bottom bracket distance to see where I was in relation to the bottom bracket center (or in regards to KOPS), but I did feel like I was pretty far behind the bottom bracket as I pedaled. That works against me uphill, but sure feels good down hill. It was not a real issue though, especially for this type of trail bike. If it were a racy hard tail or full suspension bike, then it would have been less OK.
The Talas was interesting to play with. I understand the older versions of a Talas fork were less than great, but this one felt smooth, quiet, and got all its travel. Fox forks have just been getting better and better of late and this one is maybe the best yet as far as trail feel. I typically ran it open unless I was climbing then it went into Trail mode. At first I would drop the Talas into the 110mm mode when I was riding to the trail head and even on all climbs and it did change the pedaling dynamic of the bike a bit. I was lower and more forward at the handlebar and I seemed to get less cycling of the fork when climbing out of the saddle in whatever mode the CTD was set to. I would open it up to 140mm for all the descents. I tried it a few times at 110mm while on trail and did not like that at all. The bike just did not feel balanced to me end to end and it meant that I had to re-learn how the bike would turn at speed every time, depending on where the fork was set. No likey. Near the end of the test period, I simply stopped using the Talas function all together and just left it in 140mm mode all the time. If it were left up to me, I would pass on the Talas and go with a straight-up 130mm fork and run it that way all the time. The moderate head tube angle of the RIP-9 does not really need this feature to climb techy singletrack well and I do not really require a full 140mm travel fork. But that is me. That said, it did do what it said it would do and never gave me any issues. I ran the fork at around 25%-30% sag as well and was getting full travel without too much brake dive, even in the open setting.
1×11 is pretty cool and I sure can see the appeal but you give up some things, namely a truly wide gear ratio. This 32T front ring, even with that pie-plate rear 42T cog, is just not deep enough to get me up something that was steep and extended. There was one trail ride that has s section of fire road that turns upwards to a crazy grade for just about 30 feet. It was all I could do to stay in the saddle and get the 29 lb RIP up that grade, nearly running out of pure horsepower to keep moving before I stalled out. If I dropped to a smaller front ring, (30T is the limit), then I will be shedding top end gearing. You cannot truly have it all. That said, it shifted really well, even under power, and it is pretty cool not having to do anything with your left thumb other than activate the dropper post. Another niggly thing about 1×11…you come over a rise in the trail that had you in a lower gear to get over the hill, then the trail rolls over the other side and picks up speed quickly. On 2×10, you just run up into the ‘big’ ring and get a taller gear right now. On 1×11, it is ”tick-ticky-tick-ticky-clicky-click” as you move down one rear cog at a time. Tedious. I have read of higher than expected rates of wear on parts and the cost of 1×11 is still high enough to be scary to the pocketbook. Regardless of all this and despite the limits and idiosyncrasies I see in it, 1×11 is here to stay.
The rest of the parts:
The Avid Elixir 9 brakes stopped with enough power and brake feel but developed a pulse in the braking like a warped rotor. they were not warped, but I suspect they were out of tolerance for thickness, something I have encountered a few times before with Avid rotors (I took them to a machinist buddy to mic and they were quite beyond the tolerances you would expect). The Reverb dropper post is superb and the WTB Volt Race saddle was a bit narrow for me, but otherwise just fine. The Stan’s Flow EX wheels stayed true and held air better than most other tubeless set-ups I have had lately. the Schwalbe Nobby Nics were a mixed bag. When the soil was dry as dust and hard baked, they kinda sucked. I could feel and hear the side knobs peeling away and they let go on me few times on the sides of ruts, letting the back wheel go ‘ziiippp‘ down into the bottom. I never fully trusted them to hang in there on fast corners. Then it rained a bit and with some moisture in the soil, they got much, much better, handling the loose but moist soil with aplomb. Two wheel drifts in fast corners felt fun now, not scary. They are quite light at a claimed 725g, especially at this casing volume. They roll well enough and all, like on pavement, but they hardly are commuter tires. Still, they lay down a lot of rubber on the soil and if conditions are right, they work well. The 780mm wide Niner bar was a good match for the effort t took to get the RIP to turn fast. Big bars, though, and I cannot imagine threading these through tight, forested trails.
Here is an odd surprise…the grips. Simple, foam grips that I really came to enjoy. I would run these on my single speed if I had some. Comfy and the right diameter, although they felt bigger than some more down hill oriented items. I never got them wet, so I am not sure what would happen then.
The sum of it all:
If hanging with a faster XC crowd of Strava-ists is important to you, and you still want a RIP-9, then budget for the RDO and run light parts. It still would not be optimum, but it would not suck either. I went out on one ride with a group of fit riders on lighter, faster bikes and I was working very hard to keep in the front group on the climbs and flats. 29 lbs is 29 lbs. And those big-ol puppy dog wheels and tires are not in a hurry to get anywhere that gravity is not egging them on. This is not and will never be a threat to the XC race group unless you are just a monster and then think how fast you would be on a JET 9, hmmmm? However, slow down just a tic and settle in and the RIP is a fine partner for multi hour trail rides, all day adventures and after work sessions.
There is a time in a test period, as long as we have it for a decent amount of time, where you stop thinking about the way something is working or how it did this or that thing and you just go riding. I look forward to that moment most of all as it lets you see the bike, not as a rolling petrie dish, but as something to go out and have fun on. And the last few rides on the RIP-9 Airformed were those kind of rides. The last one saw me on a rolling, diving section of trail that required a bike that could turn with confidence, hang the back end out in some air-time whoops, yet still climb well enough to get you there to begin with. It was a bike I came to enjoy riding very much, and although I would go for something like the 3 Star spec from Niner for myself, the basic bike is better than it has ever been and I would have to be very well funded to pop for the RDO carbon version over this Airformed alloy one. The RIP 9 has been around long enough to be refined to where it is now…a capable and wide ranging 29″er full suspension trail bike that can ride up to the horizon and then drop off the other side, all in a day’s work. $4799.00 as you see it here (excluding the dropper post) and $1849.00 for a frame set and assorted bits.
Note: Niner Bikes provided the bike for this test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed nor paid for this review. We will strive to be honest with our thoughts and opinions throughout.