- Niner RIP9
- £1,729 (frame and shock)
- Second-generation big-wheeled all-mountain bike
- Redesigned frame aims for greater stiffness without adding weight
All dimensions based on Large frame
|Effective top tube length (TT)||622mm (24.5in)|
|Chainstay (CS)||455mm (17.9in)|
|BB height (BB)||340mm (13.4in)|
Niner Bikes is probably the highest-profile 29in-only bike brand out there. We certainly can’t think of another big-wheel specialist with quite such an extensive and diverse range – it’s like a regular bike company only with added circumference. Amazingly, Niner’s only been around since 2004 – it’s come a long way in that time.
Possibly uniquely, Niner has three different 29in FS bikes in its range. The 120mm travel RIP9 sits in the middle of the spectrum, with the 80mm JET9 doing the lightweight XC thing and the 140mm WFO9 doing more bigness. Niner pitches the RIP9 as an all-mountain bike, so how does it stack up?
This is the second generation of RIP9, with added stiffness being Niner’s primary goal with the redesign – weight and travel are unchanged. The full arsenal of contemporary bike manufacturing technology has been brought to bear here, with hydroforming, forging and extruding all contributing. Starting at the front, there’s a huge tapered head tube that could only be more like a Russian doll if it were painted and had another one inside it. It accommodates a 1.125/1.5in tapered steerer via an integrated headset.
Top and down tubes are both hydroformed. Both have a generally triangular cross-section, with the downtube being flat across the bottom and having a subtle curve at the top end to clear to top of the forks, and the top tube being flat across the top and having a less-subtle curve at the back end to clear the rider’s genitals. The curved top tube is becoming something of a bike-design cliche, but it makes a lot of sense – the sloping top tube is good for standover, but a longer seat tube is good for seatpost support and adjustment range. Niner’s used a curved seat tube to accommodate its rear suspension packaging, which would otherwise limit seat height adjustment.
At the back is Niner’s own Constantly Varying Arc suspension design. It’s a short-link suspension, with forged upper and lower linkages and well-shielded bearings. Niner has spent a lot of time figuring out the packaging of the suspension to keep the chainstay length short – while 17.9in sounds quite long, it’s pretty impressive given that it has to accommodate a bigger wheel and suspension. To put it into perspective, the RIP9′s chainstays are 3.4in longer than the radius of the wheel. That’s like a 26in bike with 16.4in chainstays, which would be shorter than most.
The rear end takes a 2.35in tyre with adequate, if not startling, clearance. The whole frame is very neatly done – Niner has taken advantage of hydroforming to do away with welded-on gussets and struts, giving the frame as clean a look as you can expect from a short-link FS bike.
While other influential names in 29erland are pushing bigger fork offsets and slacker head angles as the best solution to the interesting packaging/handling dilemma posed by bigger wheels, Niner is sticking with what might be thought of as “old school” 29er geometry, using steeper head angles to compensate for the change in trail resulting from the large hoops. Clearly the brains behind Niner have given this a lot of thought – there’s much pontification on the topic on the Niner website. In a nutshell, Niner believes that the longer wheelbase that slacker head angles and longer offsets give you is undesirable, so they’d rather keep things steeper and shorter. We’re not totally convinced by this argument – the steep angle/short offset geometry generally forces a longer top tube (24.5in effective on the Large RIP9) to avoid tripping over your own front wheel, so it’s all a bit swings and roundabouts really. The acid test is, of course, whether it works or not.
Frame weight is a claimed 3.26kg (7.19lb), which demonstrates that you can’t make a frame to accommodate bigger wheels without using more material. RIP9s are available in a selection of painted or anodised colours, but they all have an endearing “pedal, damn it” graphic on the top tube.
Importer Jungle Products distributes frames only, so the build of your Niner is up to you. We’ll briefly mention a few of the bits on the demo bike, though, as they’re quite interesting. We’ll get the more familiar stuff out of the way first – Shimano XT transmission, Avid Elixir CR brakes, Syncros stem and seatpost, WTB saddle.
The remaining parts are mainly interesting for their 29in specificity. Up front there’s a Fox F29 fork at Niner’s recommended 120mm travel and taking advantage of the RIP9′s flared head tube with a tapered 1.5/1.125in steerer. The F29 has slightly more rake than its 26in brothers (44mm rather than 39mm) and obviously it’s somewhat longer, but it’s otherwise identical to an F32. Which is clearly no bad thing.
With the bigger wheels and leaving space for the fork travel, 29ers can easily end up with somewhat vertiginous bar height. Niner’s own 26in flat handlebar deals with that – if you’re struggling with an over-tall front end on any bike, this is the bar you need.
Then there’s the wheels. Striking a balance between light weight and robustness is always a challenge, but for 29in wheels it’s even trickier – there’s always going to be a weight penalty with a bigger circumference. Our RIP9 came equipped with Mavic C29ssmax Disc wheels, the 29in version of the popular Crossmax ST wheels. STs weigh a claimed 1,630g a pair, while C29ssmaxes come in at 1,750. That’s a 120g difference, which isn’t all that much, but add in the 100g extra for each Panaracer Rampage 2.35in tyre (700g in 26in, 800g in 29in) and it starts to mount up – that’s 320g (0.7lb) in the wheels.
The whole lot came in at 13.7kg (30.2lb). That’s pretty hefty by high-end 120mm standards, but entirely acceptable by the all-mountain standards to which Niner is working here – it’s pitching the RIP9 against 140/150mm 26in bikes. The weight does serve to highlight a fundamental 29er drawback, though – big wheels (and the extra lengths of frame to accommodate them) are always going to be heavier than small ones. Light weight isn’t everything, though. If it were, we’d all be riding rigid, carbon fibre singlespeeds with 1.8in semi-slicks and V-brakes. And we’re not. Suspension, disc brakes and fat tyres are just three examples of more weight giving a better ride. The question is, are larger-diameter wheels another one?
If you’re not used to them, big-wheeled bikes throw all sorts of perceptual weirdness at you until your brain recalibrates. Hop on a mountain bike and most people are expecting the wheels to be a certain size, so when the top of the wheel is considerably closer to your face than you’re expecting, you assume that the bars are low. But then your body’s telling you that it’s sat in pretty much the same position as ever and then the penny drops that actually it’s the wheel that’s high. The bigger wheels also make tyres look thinner than they are – at first glance you’d take the 2.35in Panaracer Rampages on this bike for 2.1, but they really are properly wide.
Similarly, the fact that all the gears are a bit higher (a corollary of the larger wheels) is psychologically a bit weird – having to run a gear or two lower than you’re used to makes you think it’s hard work, but it doesn’t make much practical difference (except that you run out of low gears slightly sooner when it gets steep).
Niner’s front-end geometry leads to somewhat less trail, and hence quicker steering, than most comparable 26in bikes. This could become something of a handful as speeds rise, but Niner’s approach is to rely on the gyroscopic effect of the spinning wheels for stability. Obviously spinning wheels help stability at speed on all bikes, but bigger wheels are always going to be heavier, so for a given speed the effect is more pronounced on a 29er. In some ways, it’s a bit like a modern fighter plane – they’re inherently unstable, which means that they can change direction very easily but rely on computers to keep them going in a straight line. It’s certainly a novel sensation when you start going fast, with the bike feeling slightly like it wants to veer off into the undergrowth but never actually doing it. That’s not anything like as disconcerting as it sounds, though. Or rather, it isn’t once you’ve got used to it.
On the subject of wheels, while the Mavic C29ssmax Disc wheels are impressively light, they’re not the stiffest wheels we’ve ever encountered. In fact, even the Crossmax Disc 26in equivalent can be a little twangy, and with the 29er version constructionally identical but with a bigger rim and longer spokes, it’s flexier again. In a straight line you’d never notice, but you don’t have to push too hard to detect somewhat of a mid-corner deflection. It doesn’t feel like the wheels are going to fold up or anything, but it’s a little distracting. It’d be easy to spec stiffer wheels, but again there’d be a weight penalty. There’s no shortage of stiffness in the rest of the bike, though, which is reassuring as this was Niner’s main goal in redesigning the RIP9.
It’s in the tight stuff that, according to conventional wisdom, 29ers struggle. As is so often the way, conventional wisdom is only partially right. Niner’s geometry ensures suitably brisk reactions – you certainly don’t have to work at low-speed tight turns. But the sheer size of the thing proves its ultimate limitation. Even with Niner’s best efforts to keep the wheelbase under control, this is still a long bike. Between the axles it’s as long as a slack-angled, long-travel 26in bike, and there’s an extra 3in of wheel at each end too. So while the handling works for you, you do occasionally feel like you’re trying to get a quart-sized bike down a pint-sized trail.
During our time with the RIP9 we found ourselves thinking a lot about the handling and not vry much about the suspension. That’s very much to Niner’s credit – the CVA back end just deals with stuff without fuss and generally gives no particular cause to notice it, which is what we like in a suspension design. It’s at least as effective as pretty much anything else out there on the usual bump/pedalling/braking response axes.
Despite its size and weight, the RIP9 is still something of a finesse bike. Despite being marketed as an all-mountain bike, it’s not what you’d expect if your experience of “all-mountain” is a 140-150mm travel 26in bike. While bigger wheels roll straight over trail imperfections that 26in bikes would rely on suspension to deal with, when it comes to drops and jumps there’s no substitute for travel. The RIP9 is also considerably lighter on the helm than you’d expect – 26in AM bikes generally have a strong sense of the point-and-shoot about them, while here you’re definitely riding. The handling takes a little getting used to, but that just means greater rewards when you do.
Don’t imagine that any of this is a bad thing, though. Yes, if you like to chuck your bike around and hit every launch on the trail, the RIP9 may not be your cup of tea. If you’re into shifting your weight around and manualling all over the place then the amount of bike sticking out each end will hamper your efforts. The optimum riding style seems to be a kind of “aggressive wheels-on-ground”, with fast, rough trails feeling like the RIP9′s natural habitat – the combination of big wheels and sorted suspension is a real winner.
Ups and downs
Positives: Excellent suspension performance, unique handling, well put together
Negatives: Requires familiarisation, inevitable weight penalty, can feel a little unwieldy in the tight stuff
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Niner RIP9. Even if you find the idea of 29ers, or full suspension, or the combination thereof repellent, the mere fact that a company as young as Niner has produced a bike as unique and yet polished as this is startling. Clearly the Niner designers have more hours in their days than the rest of us.
Clearly the RIP9 is something of a niche bike, but “covering lots of rough ground at speed” could well prove to be a pretty popular niche. A great deal of work has gone into the design and construction of the RIP9, and while the results won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s worthy of serious consideration. The bottom line is that we had a lot of fun on it, and that’s what counts…