PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Niner Jet 9 RDO
Words by Henry Quinney, photography by Tom Richards
Niner are an American brand who certainly aren’t afraid to nail their colours to the mast. They are one of the few brands to build their identity around one particular dimension, even if they have somewhat reneged on that with the inclusion of bikes with smaller wheels in recent years. That said, every single bike on this Field Test had 29” wheels front and back, so their gut-judgements are something worth listening to.
This 120mm Jet 9 certainly goes a different way with its geometry too. It's interesting to see different flavours of the short travel trail bike, but Niner's approach will definitely suit those looking to do as much as possible with as little travel as possible. There are many subtle changes to enable this.
Jet 9 RDO Details
• Travel: 120mm rear / 130mm front
• Wheel size: 29"
• Head angle: 66 - 66.5°
• Seat tube angle: 76 - 76.5°
• Size tested: large
• Reach: 469mm (low)
• Chainstay length: 432mm (low)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 28 lb 5 oz (12.8 kg)
• Price: $8,399.00
Firstly, the spec on the bike is more about sensible parts for riding hard than they are about light weight. That, naturally, will add up but I don't think Niner ever intended this bike to be the lightest of the bunch. Instead, I think they wanted it to be the 120mm bike to open up the most amount of trail riding possibilities. To help with that, there are four piston brakes, wide rims, and a long drop post. The piggyback shock and high-ish rise bar are two other indicators of this bike's all-round intentions.
The parts on this bike only tell half the story though. Where are bikes such as the Canyon Lux Trail, Trek Top Fuel or Santa Cruz Blur TR are all about keeping your weight on the front wheel, which can aid fore and aft balance through flatter turns, the Jet 9 moves away from this. With its 35mm rise bar, short stem and shortest-on-test chainstays, this bike seems to be more about keeping your weight over the rear axle. This means it comes alive on steeper terrain, even if it feels somewhat muted on flatter trails.
There's so much about the Niner that suggests ease of use was at the forefront of their minds during the design process, and that's not just the ride quality, which we'll get to in a bit. On the frame itself, it's the only bike on test that comes with a built-in sag indicator. It's a small detail, but one that makes it easy to set sag accurately and consistently. It also features tidy brackets near the base of the seat tube to guide the cables. The fact they can flex and move here means they can be anchored down more tightly over the rest of the rear triangle. As the bike goes through its travel and it needs some wiggle room, and this seems like a simple yet effective solution.
That's not to say all the simple frame details were called in Niner's favour though. For instance, I don't personally like the "Pedal, damn it" writing in the paintwork that's under the lacquer. Honestly, it's a bit like seeing a "You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps!" motivational poster on somebody's office wall. I know I'm no thick-rimmed and bespectacled art critic, and it is personal taste, but it just seems to cheapen the look of what is a relatively expensive bike.
The bike features fully integrated cable guiding and a SRAM UDH. It has ample frame protection on the stay as well as a relatively thick layer of padding to protect the low-slung linkage of the CVA system. This system looks a bit different from the rest, but if you break it down to its bare components of a rear triangle connected with an upper link that drives the shock and a lower link that co-rotates in the same direction as the upper it doesn't sound so out there.
Our bike came with a Fox 34 with a GRIP2 damper. This seemed perfect for this bike's intentions and complemented the Fox Float X shock very well. The rear shock had a climb switch but we never felt the need to use it.Climbing
The climbing performance of the Jet 9 offered something very different from everything else on test and, come to think of it, most of the full suspension bikes I've ridden. It was definitely a tale of two halves though. Because it is just so different, it's almost not a case of good or bad but rather rider preference.
The bike gives a very firm platform underfoot. It's almost hardtail-like and it responds to accelerations very well. Blindfolded, the lack of pedal bob would have you thinking that this would be by far and away the most efficient bike on test. However, our efficiency test did not reflect that and it was the 5th fastest. This is slightly counterintuitive, but it is what it is. I think sometimes, despite how many times we're told that open shocks are just as efficient or that some movement under accelerations isn't the end of the world, it always feels
more efficient to have a bike that resembles something closer to the feel of the hardtail. The Niner is that bike. It feels faster than it is, which might suit the more data-skeptical very well.
On the trail, that trait did come back to roost somewhat. Its firm platform felt great but it did manifest in a slight lack of grip in some instances. If you were to hit uneven or technical terrain at pace it was fine, but it didn't seem to hug the ground the same way as the Santa Cruz Blur TR or the Rocky Mountain Element. All in all, it just felt far more reluctant to go into its stroke and when you tried to accelerate over rough ground it was slightly more prone to spinning out.
The seated position of the bike is very relaxed. The high front end makes it very comfortable, even if not particularly fast. On the technical climb, where it was also the 5th fastest, it wasn't hard to get the wheel where you wanted, but it didn't give you the same feeling of urgency. The relaxed position did mean that you volunteered your weight onto the front axle, instead of having it pulled there. This was great in tighter sections or for short blips of acceleration, but on long and steep climbs having to actively weight the front did being to feel slightly fatiguing after a while.
The Jet 9 is definitely a bike built for the descents, even if it does come in a lightweight, short travel package. In truth, it's a great bike if you want to go beyond the remit of a 120mm bike but, in a way, I wonder if that's at the cost of being good at what you want a 120mm bike to be good at.
It's almost, and I hate to say it, but a bit of a quiver killer style bike. There's nothing wrong with that, but the desire for that kind of bike tends to lead people to look at bikes with a bit more travel.
The bike was very easy to ride. It gave no nasty surprises and managed its 120mm of travel extremely well. It may not be as obviously radical as the Rocky Mountain Element, but it is radical in its own way. The Jet 9 excels on steeper trails that aren't that rough or fast, but that comes at the expense of how the bike feels when riding flatter or undulating terrain.
The way the bike places your weight far more rearward than some other bikes on test gives with one hand and takes away with another. If you've got the gradient on your local trails it will come alive, and I could imagine happily putting more aggressive tires on this bike.
I would like to have seen the Jet 9 require slightly less breakaway force to get moving and let it offer more grip on small bumps. Once you do get it moving it does feel very smooth throughout its stroke and didn't suffer from any harsh bottom outs or leave us wincing if we landed deep or hit a section too fast.
Thanks to its suspension design and geometry the Jet 9 feels like a bike that is about not giving you nasty shocks and keeping you looking up with your heels down, going fast. If you want to weight the front through flatter turns though it definitely lacks the precision you might want, although this could likely be counteracted by having a lower rise bar.
Who's the ideal candidate for the Jet 9 RDO? It's a good option for someone who wants a bike that's surefooted on the descents, with a firm suspension feel for the climbs. It's closer to a short travel trail bike than what I'd consider a true 'downcountry' bike, but that's going to be exactly what some riders are looking for.