Niner’s R.I.P 9 RDO
is the carbon-framed version of its do-everything trailbike. Niner only makes 29-inch-wheel mountain bikes, and the company is perfectly happy with having the R.I.P RDO, or any bike it makes, compared to those of any wheel-size in their respective categories. On paper, with 125-millimeters of rear-wheel travel and its standard-issue, 130-millimeter-stroke fork, the R.I.P 9 RDO appears to be a warmed up cross-country bike, but its ride is comparable to a 140-millimeter-travel trailbike with conventional-size wheels. Niner backs up this premise with a notably all-mountain component spec which revolves around a SRAM XX1 one-by-eleven drivetrain that powers wide, American Classic wheels shod with large Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires. A RockShox Reverb dropper post and ISCG-05 chainguide mounts further underscore the bike’s purpose, and if one needs any more reminders, the R.I.P 9 RDO’s 800-millimeter carbon handlebar and 50-millimeter alloy stem should be enough. Niner offers the carbon RDO in small, medium, large and X-large sizes. Our test bike, built with Niner’s Five-Star SRAM kit and upgraded with the Fox 34 TALAS 140 fork, retails for $6899 USD. Niner also offers a Five-Star Shimano XTR build for $7399 and a ‘more affordable’ $5499 Three-Star version based upon Shimano XT components. Colors options are Rally Blue (our test model)
and Licorice Black.
(From top) Niner uses large-diameter aluminum axles at each of
the suspension's main pivot locations. Splined nuts fit Shimano
cassette tools. An aluminum bash guard protects the lower link.
The upper link's pivot location prevents using an internally routed
dropper post cable. Note how close the 2.35-inch tire is to the
swingarm's reinforcing arch. The shift cables are routed through
Niner's cast-aluminum head badge. The plastic housing retainer
pulled out and caused a rattle.
R.I.P 9 RDO Highlights:
• Purpose: All-mountain/trailbike
• Carbon fiber frame and swingarm
• Carbon rocker links with oversized aluminum axles
• 125mm travel, CVA (Constantly Varying Arc) dual-link rear suspension,
• Shock: Custom-tuned Fox Float CTD, Kashima
• Fork: Fox 34 TALAS, 140mm stroke (RockShox Revelation 130mm is standard)
• Removable ISCG-05 chainguide mounts – frame is offset to clear DH guide mechs.
• 142/12mm ‘Maxle’ rear through-axle
• Frame clearance for tires up to 2.4 inches
• Accepts tapered-steerer forks with travel from 120 to 140-millimeters
• Weight: 12.24 KG (26.9 pounds) as tested
• MSRP: $6499 USD(with RockShox Revelation fork), $2899 (frame and shock)
R.I.P 9 RDO Construction
Niner builds the R.I.P 9 RDO chassis in Vietnam – which doesn’t surprise us, because Niner is a forward-thinking company that rarely follows the beaten path. Niner president Chris Sugai says that they opted to avoid the well-worn road to China’s composite factories when they had the opportunity to work with a new, state-of-the-art factory in Vietnam. The partnership gave them more control over its manufacturing process and the cooperative atmosphere there allowed Niner to open an independent quality control and testing facility there to further oversee their frame production. Sugai says the move took a measure of time to sort out, but the results were better than hoped for. Vietnam has been pressing for a share of the high-tech manufacturing market and, like Niner’s factory, new startup factories are investing in the latest machinery, revising their molding and adopting more effective manufacturing techniques which take advantage of lessons learned through China’s efforts to dominate the carbon fiber market. Witnessed by the quality of construction and the finish of Niner’s R.I.P 9 RDO, we expect to see more elite-level brands shift production to this rapidly developing nation.
Testing: Testing protocols are strict at Niner. The frames must pass both US and European standards, and are also put through rigorous stress and destruction testing at an independent laboratory in the US. In addition, Niner employs a staff of test ambassadors who thoroughly thrash the bikes in the real world. To eliminate the temptation of a premature product release, Niner long abandoned the traditional ‘model year’ marketing system. Without the pressure to have a ‘new and improved’ lineup every spring, Niner can release one bike at a time – and get the job done right.
Frame design: Fitting a frame between a pair of oversized wheels without growing the wheelbase to some outlandish proportion is tough to do when the design calls for five inches of rear-wheel travel. Niner’s CVA rear suspension allows for a surprisingly short 17.7-inch chainstay length because the lower rocker link swings beneath the bottom bracket shell. The same design aspect provides more room for big tires and, in the case of Shimano builds, clearance for a front derailleur. Stand-over height is minimized with a deep bend in the top tube, and while
our medium frame measured only 29.8 inches at the top tube’s lowest point, the steeply rising frame member is a potential nut crusher.
Clearing the rear wheel at full compression required Niner to trace the R.I.P 9 RDO’s seat tube around the arc of the tire – an exercise that results in a laid-back seat angle that effectively extends the bike’s top tube as the saddle is extended upwards. The theoretical seat tube angle is stated at 72.5 or 73.5 degrees, depending upon fork length, but those numbers will steepen or become slacker as the saddle height changes.
Cable routing of the R.I.P 9 RDO frame is both functional and fashionable, with most cables and hoses externally routed on a multitude of well-placed guide bosses that are bonded to the carbon chassis. The shift cables are routed internally, however, which cleans up the bike’s appearance somewhat, but seems to be more of a fashion statement, as the two cable housings, (or in the case of our SRAM XX1-equipped bike, one housing)
, conspicuously enter the frame through Niner’s cast-aluminum head badge. The rear derailleur housing pops out about a third of the length of the down tube, while the cable for the front mech exits between the bottom bracket and the suspension’s lower link where a plastic guide directs it to the proper angle.
Large aluminum axles at the suspension’s three most important pivot placements are retained by splined nuts which are designed to fit a Shimano Cassette tool. The rockers are carbon fiber and the lower one is protected by an aluminum bash plate. Because the lower and its bash guard extend below the circumference of the 32-tooth chainring, they also protect the very expensive sprocket from harm.
By Pacific Northwest standards, the Niner’s 69.5 degree head angle may seem too steep, but dedicated fork offsets for 29-inch wheels have relegated super-slack head angles for big-wheel bikes into the arena of fashion, as the naturally slower steering action of big wheels and the extended front center of a 29er chassis automatically create the necessary elements that super slack head angles imbue to small-wheel bikes. The R.I.P 9 RDO feels surprisingly well balanced when pressed hard in technical terrain.Niner R.I.P. 9 RDO GeometryStandout Components
Considering that the R.I.P 9 RDO weighs in under 27 pounds and is pegged as a capable AM/trailbike, most experienced riders will look for the ‘cheats.’ Where did Niner compromise reliability to cut weight? The answer is a little bit everywhere on the bike. We were skeptical about the R.I.P 9 RDO’s American Classic All Mountain 29 wheelset, which turned out to be up to the task. Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35-inch tires are as lightweight as a monster tire can get and still feature sidewall protection. SRAM’s XX1 ensemble is a weight saver as well, as is Niner’s RDO carbon handlebar. The message is that Niner achieves a surprisingly low weight for its showcase trailbike by carefully choosing the lighter side of capable on every component selection, rather than exposing a potential weakness by opting for one or three foolishly lightweight parts to achieve the same goal. View Niner's complete XX1 spec here.
Testing the R.I.P 9 RDO took place over nearly three months, while a small group of riders put the Niner through the wringer on everything from cross-country epics to jump sessions at the local DH trails. Two reviewers were DH racers who train on long-travel trailbikes – neither of whom had any time on a 29er, which proved to be key in assessing the R.I.P 9 RDO’s performance in comparison with popular 26 and 27.5-inch AM/trailbikes. Those who want the short version can rest knowing that Niner’s R.I.P 9 RDO comes awfully close to the fabled ‘one bike.’Dialing in the bike:
The medium size felt a bit long for our two, five-foot, nine-inch riders, but after a month of testing, nobody wanted to change it. I measure two inches shorter, but the raked-back seat tube effectively shortens the bike’s reach when the saddle is dropped, so with that and by pushing the saddle a centimeter forward on the RockShox Reverb seatpost, I also found a good fit. Even the best steering 29ers require a lot of input at the handlebar for low-speed corners, so as fashionably wide as its 800-millimeter carbon RDO bar is, we found it necessary to cut it down to 760 to speed up the steering response.
Harold Preston launches the R.I.P. 9 RDO out of a rock garden at
Mammoth Mountain. Preston was Pinkbike's Primary test rider
for our Niner review.
Suspension setup was remarkably insensitive. Which meant all we had to do was pressurized the fork and shock to achieve something close to 25-percent sag, dial in the rebound and go ride. Niner’s CVA rear suspension does not act to eliminate suspension movement while pedaling, but it does a great job of erasing any sense that the suspension has a negative effect on pedaling. The R.I.P 9 RDO’s fork and shock were both equipped with Fox’s CTD pedaling platform option, and most of us used the middle ‘Trail’ option on occasion to boost climbing performance, by rarely if ever, used the nearly locked out ‘Climb’ mode. It was not necessary. Interesting to note that both fork and shock felt balanced fore and aft, with no tendency to blow through the mid-stroke like Fox’s early CTD suspension did. CTD as intended:
Pedaling and Acceleration: Pedaling was a bit draggy at low speed, but once the pace was quickened, the R.I.P. 9 RDO felt very efficient in all pedaling modes. Beyond the first three pedal strokes from a near dead stop, acceleration feels crisp and its big wheels make is easy to maintain momentum over almost any surface. This, and the fact that the R.I.P. 9 RDO is a light weight bike, ease the task of extended climbing – much to the dismay of the local cross-country Strava boys who were pushed off their podium spots by PB’s DH riders throughout the review period.
Technical Climbing: Plenty of traction is afforded by Schwalbe’s larger-than-life 2.35-inch Nobby Nic tires, the short-for-29er 17.7-inch chainstays and the effects of the big-wheels, so topping a technical climb is solely up to the rider. That said, the high handlebar position and ergonomics of the R.I.P. 9 RDO can get in the way when attacking abrupt climbs, like Moab’s many flat-to-vertical step-ups, or in the case of PB’s Southern California test trails, a surprise boulder roll-up. In those cases, the front of the bike gets in your face in a hurry. We found that anticipating step-ups by jumping out of the saddle and exaggerating our body position well forward was the savior move.
TALAS or not to TALAS: Niner chose to outfit our review bike with Fox’s adjustable-stroke 2014 TALAS fork. We liked it. The 34-millimeter stanchions feel stiff and its damping was well balanced throughout the performance envelope. We used all three of the CTD settings, with the adjustable compression feature of ‘Trail’ mode set in either the number one or number two positions. The RDO could be ridden in the open mode for the duration of a ride without feeling mushy under power or under-damped when descending through the boulders. The travel adjustment, however, was rarely utilized.
We experimented with the shorter travel position, which reduces the stroke by 30-millimeters and steepens the frame’s geometry by a degree, and while the option creates a slightly more efficient feel when climbing or riding on the flats, collectively, we opted to ride the R.I.P. 9 RDO for the duration of the test with the fork at its full, 140 millimeter stroke. Our advice for riders who want a little steeper, XC feel would be to order the R.I.P. 9 RDO with the 130 or 120-millimeter fork option and ‘run what you brung.’
While it is probably too late for Fox to salvage CTD’s reputation, its 2014 suspension finally performs as promised. Niner’s CVA rear suspension eliminates most reasons for locking out the shock to firm up pedaling, so we only used ‘Climb’ mode for stints on pavement. ‘Trail’ mode, however, was quite useful, as it offers three choices for low-speed compression to tune the ride and pedal firmness. The benefit for using the Trail option with the Niner was that it caused the bike’s tail end to ride a little higher and freshened up the feel at the pedals when climbing, or when powering out of the saddle in any situation. Climbing irregular or loose sections, though, was always better with the suspension left wide open. We also used the Trail setting to add additional firmness to the suspension for mid-ride jump sessions. Fox finally got the high-speed damping fixed for CTD’s ‘Descend’ option. We could open the suspension up for DH runs and the bike would track beautifully. The R.I.P. 9 RDO has a balanced feel and retains its ride height when pressed hard.
| Like all big-wheel bikes, the R.I.P. 9 RDO needs to be leaned further than a 26-inch bike in nearly all cornering situations to scribe a similar arc around a corner.|
With a nod to Fox’s 29er-specific fork offset, Niner’s carbon AM/trailbike feels lighter and better balanced at the handlebar than some of the most touted 26-inch-wheel all-mountain bikes available today. The normally heavy and slow low-speed steering that we have come to expect from 29ers is not in the R.I.P. 9 RDO’s repertoire. It can deftly reverse direction in ridiculously small space, and it can be trusted to follow a tight line when threading around boulders and trees. At speed, the Niner drifts both tires evenly, scrubbing off speed in a very controlled manner. Its tail end can be pushed out when asked, but the chassis prefers to hold a line even in situations where traction is sketchy. Like all big-wheel bikes, the R.I.P. 9 RDO needs to be leaned further than a 26-inch bike in nearly all cornering situations to scribe a similar arc around a corner. In a berm-turn situation, however, where the effective lean angle is almost zero, there is no sense that the R.I.P. 9 RDO is a 29er.Technical riding:
The R.I.P. 9 RDO’s tallish front end, and its big front wheel and tire, make for an invincible descender in situations that would challenge everything but a big bike. The R.I.P. 9 RDO will roll improbable drops and rarely will drop into a hole that it can’t bounce out of. Its steeper-than-fashionable, 69.5-degree head angle does not erode from its descending skills and it may be a plus, because the RDO retains much of its steering qualities when it is pointed downwards, which can be a bacon saver when one’s initial line choice proves to be a fail.Slow Motion: Playing at Ted Williams
The mid-travel Niner coasted over rock gardens and bomb holes with confident ease that suggested that it had more suspension travel than its physical numbers. Large-volume tires and big wheels seemed to work miracles most everywhere on the trails, but we found its limitations when we skied the R.I.P. 9 RDO over some 35-foot jumps. Jumping the R.I.P. 9 RDO became a pastime because it flies straight and lands gracefully – but we did bottom the suspension landing the big stuff. There is no fudging the fact that the R.I.P. 9 RDO has only 125 millimeters of rear-wheel travel when there is more sky than dirt under the bike.
Braking in technical situations was predictable and its Avid/SRAM X0 Trail brakes were strong stoppers. That said; we noticed that the R.I.P. 9 RDO’s tail end would skip under braking – an effect that was most common at higher speeds and while descending DH tracks where chatter-bumps are typical at corner entries. We pinned those effects to the Niner’s chassis design, as we have ridden 2014 Fox suspension on different bikes that have remained significantly quieter down the same trails. Component Report
• RDO Carbon Chassis:
Good: Lightweight, laterally rigid under power and pedals efficiently. Its CVA suspension performs at the top of the AM/trailbike class. Bad: Some lateral flex in the rear end when pressed hard through rocks and deep ruts. Internal cable routing plugs came loose and rattled.
• American Classic AM 29 wheels:
Good: AC's wheels are lightweight, they stayed true, and the wide rims accelerate well and support the tires well. American Classic’s tubeless system never burped throughout the review. Bad: while AC’s innovative six-pawl freehub is bomb-proof, its ratchet points engage at 15-degree increments, which bothered some test riders.
• Avid X0 Trail Brakes:
Good: Very good modulation at high and low speeds and we never rode into a situation where we needed more stopping power. Both wheels remained drag free throughout the review period. Bad: Avid’s deep-section lever blades could be better shaped, as balancing the engagement point and lever reach for two-finger braking often caused the lever blade to contact the ring finger. The solution was to run the lever way inboard or deal with an engagement point that was adjusted farther out than optimal.
• SRAM XX1:
Good: You have XX1. Bad: You don’t have XX1. Niner spec’ed a 32-tooth chainring for the R.I.P. 9 RDO, which is fine for the most capable riders, but a 30-tooth chainring would have made this already good technical climber into an awesome one. The 29-inch wheels, boosted by Schwalbe’s high-volume tires, cover a lot of ground in one revolution, so the slightly smaller chainring would not steal much from the Niner’s top speed, while adding a useful bailout gear for tough climbs. Pinkbike's Take
|Niner's R.I.P. 9 RDO convinced two talented DH riders to shop for 29ers, but its magic is hidden in more places than its wheel diameter. Niner's elegant looking carbon trailbike may owe its balanced feel and capable handling to the fact that its designers did not overreach when they penned the RDO. Its moderate rear suspension travel allows for short chainstays and a stiffer linkage. Its carbon chassis follows Niner's proven lines and it uses suspension geometry that was time-tested by the RDO's aluminum predecessor. Perhaps the R.I.P. 9 RDO feels 'just right' because it is the ripened fruit of a long evolutionary cycle. Incremental improvements, like slightly modified frame numbers, proper fork offset and custom tuned suspension don't make headlines, but add them to a cross-country-weight carbon chassis and then wrap it in components just lightweight enough to fulfill the role of an all-mountain bike, and the resulting package makes the R.I.P. 9 RDO breaking news - especially for riders who want to dominate all of the mountain on one bike. -RC|