This my Niner Air 9 29er race bike. 29in-wheeled bikes are a relatively rare sight on UK trails, although the numbers are growing by the week so beware!
I was converted over the winter of 2006/7 by riding a singlespeed Gary Fisher Rig which I built up from a mixture of ebay purchases and parts bin bits. I was so convinced of the benefits of bigger wheels that I sold my Litespeed hardtail and built this bike for the 2007 season. It’s specifically put together as an light XC race bike as I predominantly race XC in Vets. The target was to build a 21lb bike and this required careful selection of components some of which were well proven on my old bike and others which were 29in specific.
The frame was imported by Sorted Cycles in London and is a 3.5lb Easton Scandium hardtail. The fork is a RockShox 29er Reba Race. Wheels were built by me using American Classic Hubs, Notubes rims and DT Super Comp spokes shod with Kenda small block Eight tyres. Brakes are Formula ORO Puro and there’s a smattering of Extralite parts who make great lightweight stuff.
I couldn’t resist a number of gold parts and titanium bolts to bling things up. The chain and I-link cables look great and make the bike look a little different while satisfying the obligatory ultralight criteria.
2007 XTR makes an appearance as well for the drivetrain /shifting duties, save for the crank – a Middleburn Duo gives the correct gearing options for the 29in format. The Speed Needle saddle is a personal favourite and weighs just 98 grams!
The benefits of 29in bikes have been discussed at length and are disputed by many, however for me as a 6ft+ rider the benefits are very real. The bike handles beautifully, and after some considerable experimentation I have it set up perfectly. The advantages of running 28psi pressure on tyres converted to tubeless using Notubes rims has been borne out already, with riders puncturing all around me at a recent race on the flinty twisty Pro-Cup course at Mapledurham while I floated over the rocks without a care.
Contrary to what you may read the bike is quite happy on tight twisty technical single track but really excels on swooping courses where you can maintain a good momentum, especially on the climbs. Downhill sections can also be taken at higher speeds and jumping the bike is a breeze. Durabability and reliability has not been an issue despite the ultralight spec, although from past experience the AC hub bearings will probably last only one season.
At 21.1lb I think the bike can be considered light, especially for a 29er. I compete with lots of enthusiasm rather than success but its nice to ride something that little bit different. At half the cost of an equivalent main brand top end XC race bike I consider the bike good value for money, and with parts sourced from seven different countries I personally researched and specced every last bolt which was great fun to do and very satisfying.