Wacky words and photos: Steve 'The Butcher' Walker
Kate said, “What time are you going riding today?"
“Er, I don’t know whether I can be bothered" said I.
If, like me, you have ridden mountain bikes for a period of time long enough to remember suspension forks being 'daft', you know where I’m coming from. Everyone gets sick of doing ‘stuff’. Even if it’s the ‘stuff’ they love. I’ve tried reverting to the odd full rigid 26" and that kind of bike certainly spices things up and puts a new perspective on every trail usually ridden on a modern, bouncy bike. No longer is there suspension to aid traction through that off camber slippery root section or if you’re coming up short in your drop zone. All of a sudden you have to concentrate, dig into the depths of your riding knowledge, rely on a decent set of tyres (which have more influence on how a full rigid bike handles, over a bike with any sort of suspension) or sometimes just hold on and pray. That’s (for me anyway) how the limited number of full rigid 26" mountain bikes have always felt. Not a bad thing, if you’re looking to re-decorate your 20 year old XC trail with a fresh outlook, but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking how it’d feel on a full rigid with ‘family size’ (29") hula hoops.
Along came a spider (that was actually a rigid 29er)
After sending a few emails out, the odd carrier pigeon and an hour’s worth of morse code, Dickon from jungle imports stepped up to the mark and sent us a Niner E.M.D. 9 rigid with big wheels. Now this here spider is pretty good looking. It’s legs and lines are sleek and the bigger wheels complement the whole overall look of old incy wincy. Our black spider came with Niner own-brand bar and stem combo and deore finishing kit. The prettiest spider I’ve ever seen, as far as spiders with large wheels go anyway.
Not so much a spider (but more of a tarantula that’s gorged on fast food)
Our spider was a bit on the heavy side (for a full rigid bike). 26 pounds, in my opinion is too tarantula-like for a bike of this nature. The whole point of a ‘full rigid’ (apart from spicing your local trails up) is the fact that they are a lot lighter than a bike with suspension, which as we all know turns uphill slogs into sprints and flat sections into ‘power meter’ time trials. However if the rigid bike you’re on is about the same weight as a regular ‘dual’ suspension bike then it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Our spider went on a diet (for a couple of hours)
Here’s what I did. I took the bike into my local bike shop (two wheels in Amblecote, Stourbridge) and got them to XT up and Deore down the Niner. We also then placed some Hope XC race wheels (with tubeless Bontrager tyres) in our big, fat, spidy and re-dropped it on the scale; 22 pounds (with XT clipless trail pedals).
“Now that’s more like it" said Chris the mechanic.
“It is" said I.
“Now can you put it back to stock build please?"
Chris looked at me as though I was mental, but the fact is, that it had to be tested and ridden in its ‘fatter’ form, but at the same time, I needed to know if our tarantula could be turned into a spider that could wear sprinters’ running spikes (if we needed it to) and not grannies’ scholl’s.
So, how's this spider put together?
I’ve been criticised in the past (well quite recently actually). The criticism may be justified or it may not (but who gives a spider’s leg?). There has been the ‘problem’ of not giving a detailed enough description of how the bikes I ride and test are put together. How this bolt fits here or that nut goes there.
So here is what I’ve done: For this bike review (and hopefully every one to follow) I’ve have asked a fully trained and ‘meticulous’ mechanic to give you (the buying public) an insight to the build quality of each and every bike you read about. So whether you’re male or female, human or insect, I introduce to you Chris ‘the spanner monkey’ Morris. Now tell us what you really think of the build quality on our good looking spider please monkey man and we want the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The mechanic’s point of view:
People who know me call super bloody picky, but I’d consider myself to be thorough. Well, okay, I’m picky! I hate it when companies make bikes that look nice, but then miss the fine details. Then along came the Niner E.M.D. 9.
To me, a bike is only as good as what the parts hang off, which is of course, the frame - the heart of the bike. The Niner is a nicely made frame with good attention to detail and nice clean welds. The only small detail that is of a personal gripe is the top tube cable routing. They are a little messy and spoil a somewhat clean, well-made frame. They could do with being neater, possibly along the top-tube or the down-tube.
The frame has a neat head-tube, which is tapered and uses an easy to source 44mm upper headset cup and a 56mm lower. The rest of the frame has an international standard disc brake mount, which is already correctly faced and a screw-in bottom bracket (also faced), with nice clean threads. The mech hanger is neat, with two bolts holding it solidly to the frame and a minimal amount of hanger hanging below the dropout, possibly contributing to it having a clean, crisp shift. As for the rest of the kit, it’s all a basic affair.
The Shimano Deore spec is relatively basic, but if you buy this bike with the idea of it being more for the quality of the frame and fork, it results in a bike that can be upgraded as and when funds allow – like Butcher and his 22lb version. It does work well considering its Shimano’s budget offering. However, external BBs don’t like water, so make sure you occasionally drain your frame by removing your seatpost and flipping your bike upside down. The wheelset consists of Shimano’s basic, but good, Deore M525 hubs, which, as they are cup and cone bearings, need care to keep them running sweet and prevent them from damage. The rims are WTB Laserdisc and aren’t the strongest rims out there, but they are tubeless ready (need tapes) and are relatively straight and well built for an off-the-shelf wheelset. The brakes are from Avid and are their most basic model called the Elixir 1. These can be a powerful stopper, but feel a bit spongy and lack the solid feel of the more expensive 5. They are a budget brake, but it feels like it, if you get what I mean. These haven’t as yet suffered from their usual problem (fingers crossed) of the lever coming to the bars, something I personally have come across many times, as have many other mechanics I know.
So all in all, at £539 for frame only, it’s on par with similar niche brands and I genuinely think this is a classy frame that has the potential to build into a lovely light 29er bike, if you so wish.
Climbs like a spider
It does. This is where the Niner rigid really shines. Climbing hills on this bike is XC race like (even in fat form). There’s something special about going uphill on a full rigid bike, but when the said bike has BIG hulas on it, it’s even better. The traction you get from the Niner is very good and along with the rigid fork, well, it’s simply like a spider climbing a water spout.
Down came the rain and washer the spider out
The Niner descended down rain-washed, rutted hillsides with ease. Now don’t get me wrong it isn’t like descending on a full suspension trail bike, but it wasn’t anywhere as near difficult as I thought it would be. The big wheels rolled over log drops, rocks, roots and razzed around turns. The carbon bladed fork took the buzz from the trail which equated to a positive fun ride and the steering you get from the ‘big bladed’ niner fork is something every XC mountain bike rider should experience.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
Well actually that’s a lie. The Niner was mainly ridden in the wet and yet I never really had any particularly scary moments, which I’ve had on 26" full rigid bikes in the past. At the same time, when you’ve ridden the Niner for three hours non-stop your forearms certainly know about it. But surely that’s the point of riding a bike of this nature? If you want comfort and the feeling of being over biked you may as well just buy another 6" full susser. Zzzzzzzzz.
You've frightened Miss Muffet away
Niner products aren’t cheap to the point where Miss Muffet would rather be sat next to a black mamba than stood at the credit card machine next to a Niner. Our test bike with aluminium frame and deore finishing kit would set you back £1600. That’s a lot of little spiders for a rigid bike. However the Niner ‘stuff’ has the look and finish of the ‘haut-couture’ of the insect world. Think a spider that goes to ‘Vidal Sassoon’ for a cut and blow dry on a weekly basis, then has a spray tan after stepping out of the local Armani store.
So, do I like spiders or not?
Some people love spiders. They have them as pets. Some people are scared of spiders and can’t stand them (usually because they haven’t got the skills to ride them). Others (including myself) don’t really care about our eight legged friends, we can take them or leave them.
But picture this: You’re sat at your mother-in-law’s on a Sunday afternoon and everyone around you is talking about the same old business that they have done for the last twenty years. You have been visiting there for the last twenty years at the same time every Sunday (a bit like your regular Sunday riding spot) and have sat there and listened to the same old business over and over again until you’re that bored you just can’t take the same old business any longer. Just when you think you’re actually going to die from boredom, all of a sudden a big black spider, as big as a giant’s hand, suddenly charges across the floor at everyone in the room shouting FEE FI FO FUM!
There's a wild smile on your face, your eyes are wide open and you feel alive. Are you still bored?
Think about it.
Price: Frame only £539.00 Full builds from £1,599.00
More information: Niner E.M.D. 9