niner ROS 9

Niner ROS 9 – First Impressions- by Grannygear

The parts for the ROS 9 build were basically what I had sitting around after stripping a donor bike.  So that meant a full Shimano SLX group, 2×10, a White Bros Loop fork set at 130mm, some 780mm wide Niner Flat Top carbon bars, a set of Specialized Control 29 Carbons wearing a 2.3 Purgatory front and a 2.3″ Ground Control rear tire, and a Rock Shox Reverb dropper post.  Shimano SPDs and a WTB saddle rounded that out.

This is an 18″ size frame, so I installed a 100mm stem, flipped for all it was worth, to get the bar low and forward enough to keep it out of my lap.  I also set the eccentric bottom bracket to the forward most position and then slightly below that to get the effective chain stays at 17″ or so.  That is as long as they will go, but obviously they can be shorter too.  Why set the bike this way?

I had a plan in mind.  I still had a fond remembrance of the Trek Stache 8 we reviewed.  I knew that the ROS 9 was not ‘that’ bike, but I was wondering if I could get it to be an in between-er of sorts.I knew that the ROS 9 would most likely be a fun trail bike and a technical trail demon, but I was hoping, what with killer wheels and not so huge tires, to see if it could be a XC bike, or at least enough of one to invite on longer rides with long climbs and a faster group pace.  After riding it a bit, I have come to a conclusion on the XC bike potential.  More on that later.

The build, what with solid but not super light SLX parts came to 31lbs and change.  OOOOff.  That is a beast of a hard tail.  I had hoped for under 30 lbs and my plan was unraveling a bit.  Still, off to the trails we went.  There is no hiding that you are on a heavy bike, but it rolled along well enough…hard tail you know…and scooted forward with enough pop to feel like you are ready to go.  At least until you begin to climb and then reality takes hold and gravity knocks on the door.  OK, so what would you expect from a 31 pound bike?  That, pretty much.  But sit and spin along and it was happy to get there, just not in a hurry.  The position I am in with this set up puts me a bit more forward than I expect many ROS 9 riders will find themselves and at 6’2″, that 18″ frame was the right move for me.  Even if I was running a shorter stem, I still would have stayed with this size frame.

niner ROS 9niner ROS 9

Running down the first section of fast, rough double track, the ROS 9 has a really interesting vibe to it.  That rear wheel is right underneath you, especially if you are a tall person.  It feels like every other 29″er I have ridden with 17″ or under stays…it loses some stability over rough ground and during hard braking.  But think pure thoughts, hang on, and it will run down fast single track like a crazed cat.  You can turn the ROS 9 so fast around a quick corner on trail that your breath stops for a second.  FUN!  The ride of the bike seems to be decently compliant.  You know that you are on a stout frame, that much is for sure.  I have not found any flex yet that bothered me at all, and yet, I would in no way call it harsh.  Even with the short back end and the wheel right under your butt, it still is quite decent and I have no complaints there.

It does take some getting used to as the dynamic of the bike is really different.  Even with the moderate touch of a 130mm fork (you can run a 140mm fork), I still feel like I can run through technical trails at enough of a pace to ‘write checks with the front end that the back end cannot cash’.  But once I adjusted for that, I was going pretty fast as long as I was not going uphill.  What I am quickly coming to realize though, is that my plan is taking some big hits as to the reality of the ROS 9.  It is really being wasted on the trails I am riding it on.  The fairly open, somewhat rocky and rutted, but typically moderate SO Cal trails I ride for most testing is not really where the ROS 9 is happy.  I am dragging around a lot of weight and burly-ness and yet I still do not have rear suspension.  If I am going to have a 31 pound bike for this type of riding, then I better have some parts in the back end that go boing.

niner ROS 9niner ROS 9

So I re-thought my plan and came to some conclusions.  First off, ditch the light wheels and semi-light tires.  Niner gets this part right when they spec the ROS 9 in the build kits I have seen.  Flow EXs and 2.35 tires are about right for this beast.  In fact, I would even run a beefier tire than a Knobby Nic.  You are going to be slow anyway, at least uphill, so why not take this thing to a happy place wheel/tire wise?  Big, wide rims deserve big wide tires.  I also realized that I needed to get this bike into a environment that was more in line with the bike’s attributes.  Recently I was on the Scott Genius review bike on a trail in the area near Palm Springs, California.  The trail had a lot of hike-a-bike, steep climbs, tons of rocks to go up and down, and swtichbacks galore.  Overall speed was slow, and I remember thinking that the ROS 9 would be great for that type of trail.  I also reflected back on last year’s trip to Sedona, Arizona.  I bet the ROS 9 would be a great choice there.

To get closer to that type of trail experience, I took the ROS 9 over to a semi-local area that has a trail network with a big step up in techy-ness over most areas I ride.  But before I did that, I swapped wheels and tires.  I had run the 2.3 WTB Vigilante tires before and really liked them.  I also needed to begin to test the American Classic Wide Lightning wheels.  Although they are a very light wheel, they are also a very wide rim, wider than a Flow EX.  In fact, I came to have a nearly 2.4″ tire with a tall profile.  It was so tall that it would not fit on the rear of the ROS 9 without rubbing on the arm of the front derailleur.  BUMMER!  So I tossed on a Bontrager 29-4 and that gave me the clearance I needed.  I sure did miss that huge tire presence though.  That would have been awesome on the ROS 9.

To get to the trail head, I rode a few miles of paved  road, mostly uphill, before I hit dirt (my way of self shuttling).  Even with the beefy tires, the ROS 9 just rolled along happy enough.  Up the rocky fire road, often consisting of more sand stone than dirt, the steep grade and rock obstacles had me up onto the middle of the saddle to keep the front end weighted.  It was not all that bad really, but it does point out the compromises that short chain stays bring to the dance.  If I had a 50mm stem on there, I bet it would have been a battle, what with the rearward weight shift of the shorter stem.

IMG_1724The downhill trail was full of switchbacks with rocks placed there like a mine field.  There were no big drops, but plenty of line options to keep you paying attention.  At slow to medium speeds, the ROS 9 just grinned and ate it all up.  When speeds came up, dancing a bike with all that front travel and no real rear travel made for some tense moments.  But aside from that, I felt like I had gotten the ROS 9 where it belonged.  It was like bringing home a truck full of sheep for your Border Collie to play with…it found it’s purpose in life.  if you could get the front wheel around and over anything, the rear would follow and pulling up the front wheel for trail gymnastics was simple.  The bike felt balanced, in control, and fun.

So I have come to the conclusion that XC is not what the ROS 9 is happy doing unless your version of XC is up and down, rooty and rocky, twisty and turny.  If it is, than the ROS 9 will be a willing and happy sheep dog.  I am not sure if I get the appeal of an AM hard tail.  Yes, I do appreciate the ‘direct’ connection you get with a hard tail bike, but really, there is a reason that full suspension is so popular.  I cannot imagine running higher speed trails over rough, choppy terrain on a bike like this and finding it worth it.  But maybe that is just me.

I would also run 1×9 or 1×10 or 1×11 on this bike and plan around not having a front derailleur.  There was plenty of room for that huge wheel/tire combo and the derailleur was the issue.  I would gear the ROS 9 down enough to get it at least decent for any climbs I might need to do and live with the compromise.  This bike deserves a fatty combo of rubber front and rear.

niner ROS 9So the ROS 9 has been very interesting so far.  It is not even close to the Trek Stache, both in intent and execution.  In that sense, it is becoming obvious that this type of bike may not be for me and my needs.  I cannot help but think what a lighter version of this might be like.  But there must be happy place where the bike will still hold up to the abuse it is likely to see and not be a 8lb frame either (I exaggerate).  Is the ROS 9 as close to that mythical ‘happy place’ as it can get?  I do not know.  The details of the frame and the good looks do, in my opinion, separate it from the crowd of players in this AM hard tail game.  But it is not a cheap frame at $899.00 so one should expect good touches like the swappable dropouts and Stealth post routing.

I plan on riding the ROS 9 a bit more and enjoying it before it moves on.  But I found out some things about this bike, the genre, the geometry, the limitations, and the benefits of a long travel hard tail with big wheels and a bruiser attitude.  And while I may not be liking all the things I am finding out, I cannot argue with the facts, for good or bad.  It is what it is and once I came to that realization, I smiled a lot more on the ROS 9.

Note: This frame was purchased at a discount from Niner Bikes for this test/review at a reduced cost 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.