If you’re looking for a dramatic external change in the latest RDO version of Niner’s Jet 9 you’ll be disappointed. Get beneath the skin of its drop-dead-gorgeous curved frame though – or better yet hit the trail – and you'll find an even more honed version of an already rapid ride.
We originally tested the Niner Jet 9 RDO back in October 2014 and while many of our initial findings remain unchanged, we’ve now updated our review to reflect BikeRadar's Australian crew having spent a further five months putting a differently equipped Jet 9 RDO through its paces.
Speaking to Carla Huker from Niner, the RDO makeover is a significant one for the company. “We have two female racers riding our bikes," she told us. "Evelyn is a young gun with loads of talent who’s rapidly improving but still has a lot to learn. Meanwhile Chloe has been racing for years and is at the top of her game, looking for every tiny element she can improve to keep her ahead of the pack.
"It’s Niner’s tenth year this year, and with the new Jet we looked into every detail of an already extremely focused bike to find out what could give us that little bit more edge,” Huker added.
Frame and equipment: designed to climb
The company’s not joking about small advantages either. While switching to a new RDO layup based around solid rather than airbag formers gives better control of compaction pressure, wall thickness and squeezes out excess resin, it only nets a 70g weight loss for a medium frame. Niner then saves another 40-50g with a new paint treatment.
Using solid formers instead of bladders to shape the carbon helps save weight
Even with a longer 120mm fork up front, the angles are still more climb and XC-oriented than most bikes, capable of turning in very keenly to claw round climbing corners where more trail-oriented 29ers would run wide. The long back end keeps the front wheel pinned down while simultaneously improving rear wheel traction.
Niner’s CVA suspension, meanwhile, has been around for a long time and uses twin linkages that work in opposition. The lower link pivots from in front of and below the bottom bracket and the sag point sits at the longest chain stretch point. However, any chain torque that pulls the lower linkage forward and down from its sag point is directly opposed to the movement of the conventional upper linkage, so in theory the two balance out.
Don’t let the Pike fork fool you – the RDO is about flat-out racing not trail cruising
Aesthetically, a gorgeous angular top tube swoops into the seat tube for generous standover height and a frame that’s easily flicked around between riders’ legs on off-camber corners. The trade-off to this increased clearance means the inside triangle has space for just one bottle, and our medium frame required a side-access cage to host a larger bottle. There’s a second mount underneath, but the general spray off the front wheel and impossible reach makes this near useless. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re serious about your marathon racing.
Finishing kit detailing with the frame is excellent, with really smart machined anodised bearing caps, YourAreWhatYouDrink top cap, monogrammed seat clamp and even titanium chain guards near the crank. Buy a bike from Niner, and the Niner stem, RDO carbon bars and seatpost are all high quality pieces.
Ride and handling: gravity-defying action
The fact that the material change comes at no stiffness or strength cost is obvious as soon as you sling a leg over the Jet and give it some throttle. On the trail it feels as if the suspension’s lower linkage bites down into the ground slightly as it extends, and there’s a definite stiffening of the suspension in the early part of the stroke if you pedal hard. There’s no obvious pedal bob though and hits big enough to push past the sag point meet the pedal and brake neutral segment of the wheel arc. The result is accurate traction feedback under power but no torque related suspension choke when cranking up or over big steps and blocks.
CVA linkage sitiffens up noticeably under power, which aids race line power transfer
Push on upwards and you’re likely to conclude – as we did – that the Jet 9 is probably one of the best-ever technical climbing bikes, clawing up ridiculously steep ragged rock or dusty slopes without missing a beat.
While it adds a chunk of weight compared to the SID or FOX 32 (of our long-term frame build) fork you might expect in such a bike, the 35mm legs of the shortened Pike fork match the stiff, accurate feel of the frame well. They also suck up a lot of trouble for just 120mm of travel and Niner does an even smarter build kit including the radical new RockShox RS1 fork (which, we didn’t love). The CVA back end is generally firm and pedal-focused rather than smoothly flowing in feel but it can take decent hits when it needs to without getting blown off line.
If you're not ready to bust your lungs, you probably don't need to bother with this bike
Factor in a five-year warranty on the carbon that (unusually) includes race use, it’s ready to take several seasons worth of ‘fastest not smoothest’ lines on technical courses or day out epics. This tough guy tenacity does highlight the fact that Niner hasn’t included stealth or even external dropper post routing. When we asked about this we were told that sneaking the hose past the linkage pivot axle inside the seat tube would’ve caused weight and strength compromises. Compromises the company didn’t want to make on a bike that’s primarily designed to be ridden with your heart rate – and your seat – as high as possible.
If you are a time-served racer with calf muscles like roast chickens you’ll run into another issue with the Jet 9, namely that if you’re not careful the sharp ends of the cable guides securing the rear brake hose on the outer curve of the rear sub frame can really tear your legs up, and even smooth ties can rub irritatingly. The hose positioning is also really vulnerable to crash damage making the decision to use the outer, rather than inner, face of the swing arm a curious one.
Further qualms are seen when things get muddy, with the lower swing linkage playing the perfect role as a catcher. It’s not a major negative, but one that will likely put additional stress on the quality sealed Enduro bearings if constantly riding in mush.
Original specs as tested:
- Weight: 11.4kg (25.1lb)
- Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3, 120mm
- Shock: Fox Float CTD, 100mm
- Rims: Stan’s Arch EX29 rims
- Hubs: Stan’s No Tubes 330
- Tyres: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo Pacestar, 29x2.25in
- Cranks: SRAM X1 BB30 32T
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM X1
- Shifter: SRAM X1
- Brakes: Shimano Deore M615, 180/160mm rotors
- Bars: Niner Flat Top 710mm carbon
- Stem: Niner 70mm alloy
- Seatpost: Niner carbon
- Saddle: Niner custom cro mo
Long-term tester (built up from a frame)
- Weight: 10.83kg (23.83lb)
- Fork: Fox 32 Float CTD Factory, 120mm
- Shock: Fox Float CTD, 100mm
- Wheelset: Shimano XTR M9000
- Tyres: Specialized Fast Trak Control, 29x2.1in
- Cranks: Shimano M9000, 36/26T
- Rear derailleur: Shimano M9000
- Shifter: Shimano M9000
- Brakes: Shimano M9000, 160 rotors
- Bars: PRO Tharsis XC carbon
- Stem: PRO Tharsis XC carbon, 80mm
- Seatpost: PRO Tharsis XC carbon
- Saddle: PRO Turnix 142mm
Click or swipe through the gallery above for a closer look at this premium marathon racer.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.