Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas
At the end of March, I was offered the opportunity to race the BC Bike Race. This 7 day XC stage race is advertised as the ‘ultimate single track experience’. Being that my little bike falls on the burly end of the spectrum I wanted to get my hands on a capable, durable XC whippet to train and race on. The ideal marathon XC bike has to be light and efficient enough to allow a rider to conserve energy as much as possible, but it also needs to be confidence inspiring for whatever one might come across while on the trail.
Enter the Niner Jet 9 RDO Limited Edition.
Jet 9 RDO Highlights
- New RDO carbon layup for no-compromise stiffness, strength and ride quality
- RDO Full Suspension
- 100mm of patented CVA suspension is efficient in every chainring
- Compatible with 100 - 120mm tapered forks
- Tuned for CVA – Fox float CTD shock with Kashima coating
- Carbon suspension linkage and unique Niner hardware
- 142x12mm Maxle rear spacing
- Available in XS- XL sizes
- Colors: Carbon/Niner Red,Niner Green,Licorice Black
- Weight: 22.5 pounds
- Geometry:44.2” wheelbase, 70.5⁰ head tube, 1.1” BB drop, 73.5⁰ seat tube, 16.3” reach, 24.3” stack (medium frame with 120mm fork)
- MSRP: $9,999 USD
The Jet 9 RDO is Niner’s flagship cross country dually. RDO stands for ‘race day optimized’, but don’t let that fool you into believing that this bike is fragile or that it can’t be a great daily driver. Basically, the RDO acronym is used across all of Niner's top shelf frames. The new Carbon Compaction System improves strength, stiffness and durability, reduces frame weight, and is used throughout the RDO lineup going forward. The business end of the Jet 9 RDO features Niner’s patented CVA suspension. This dual link design was created in order to maximize the benefits of 29” hoops and increased BB drop.
Out of the box, the attention to detail is evident. I have always found the Jet 9 RDO to be aesthetically pleasing and was impressed to learn that the frame design was actually created with strength, stiffness and damping characteristics in mind. That said, the bike looks fast sitting still. Gorgeous finish (Niner claims to have shaved grams with a new paint process), top shelf components, internal cable routing, integrated chainstay protection, and Enduro Magnetite Black sealed bearings - it is clear that Niner spared no expense when creating the Jet 9 RDO. The bike looks like it has one purpose: riding at a high rate of speed.
The frame arrived with a Float RP23 Kashima shock rather than the Float CTD shock listed on the website. I found the ideal setup was with the propedal set to 2 and sag around 15%. This setting allowed efficient climbing, with plenty of mid-stroke support when things got rough. The Rockshox RS-1 was also set up with the same amount of sag and one bottomless token installed.
On The Trail
Throughout the test period the bike was ridden primarily in Squamish, BC. Those who have ridden the area would likely agree that advanced XC descents here look more like DH tracks of yesteryear and that the technical climbs are littered with roots, rocks and punchy efforts. As mentioned, the bike was also used for the BC Bike Race. 7 days, approximately 310km, 10,000m of climbing and about 75% singletrack means that any bike weaknesses would be exposed. Beginning on Vancouver’s iconic North Shore, stages were also held in Cumberland, Powell River, two on the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and finally Whistler.
With a longer stem and narrow bars I was concerned that I would not be comfortable with the stock setup. While it did take some adjustment in terms of steering input, I quickly found myself pushing harder than I would have thought possible with a 100mm XC bike. The Jet 9 RDO has neutral geometry with the 120mm RS-1. Niner hasn’t gone too far in terms of the use of unique geometry numbers for the sake of it. They have found a happy medium between climbing efficiency and descending prowess.
With such low weight, 29” wheels, and climb-friendly angles I expected the bike to ascend better than any other dual suspension bike I had ridden. In this regard it did not disappoint. Fire roads, technical singletrack, seated, standing, whatever… this bike is a rocket ship when climbing. This didn’t really come as a surprise. At less than 24 pounds, it should be. It was nice to have a bike that compensated for lack of fitness. It allowed for more enjoyment while descending, and made hanging with leg-shaving fitness mutants possible.
One would also expect the Jet 9 RDO to rally through flat sections of trail. Doubles, manuals, good cornering technique and smooth line choice all resulted in free speed. Cases, skids, bunnyhucks, and poor line choice were all compensated for by efficient suspension. From a racing perspective this allowed a little bit of energy savings. From a fun-to-ride perspective this allowed more time laughing and less time gasping for air. Again, the RDO acronym and price tag would suggest that riders should expect this bike to carry momentum better than most.
What was a little surprising was how well the Niner descended. The 100mm of rear suspension is well utilized and predictable. The bike inspires confidence on all types of descending terrain. It jumps, pumps, and monster trucks as well as, or better than many XC/trail bikes, including many with markedly more travel. There were plenty of opportunities to expose any descending weaknesses. A small, mid-stage creek gap and a lap in the Whistler Bike Park on the final day were more than enough to flex, abuse, and even break a few frames. One cannot expect a XC race bike to descend with the same comfort and confidence as a 6” bike; however the Jet 9 RDO is certainly no slouch. I did manage to find my speed limit in the bike park and also on a couple of high-speed, rough, and sustained descents, but anything except the burliest of trails can be ridden confidently, and one should not hesitate to use this bike as an all-around trail shredder. The Jet 9 RDO’s descending prowess is a product of the CVA suspension, comfortable geometry, and wagon wheels. As a side note, a medium frame was used for this test. At 5’11”, a 50mm stem resulted in too tight of a cockpit. It is probable, that with a large frame, short stem, and a little more wheelbase, even less regard for body or bike would have been required.
The bike featured the 5-Star build “filled with top of the line components for the cycling connoisseur or athlete who refuses to compromise”.
- Frame: Jet 9 RDO
- Fork: Rock Shox RS-1 Solo Air 120mm
- Shock: Fox Float RP23 Kashima
- Wheels: Stan’s 3.30/ZTR Valor carbon, 15mm Sram XO, 142 x 12MM Rear Sram XO
- Tires: Schwalbe Rapid Rob EVO TL 2.40/Racing Ralph EVO TL 2.25, Niner Graphic
- Brakes & Rotors : Shimano XTR M985, 180/160mm Ice Tech
- Brake Levers: Shimano XTR M988 Trail
- R/ Shifter: Sram XX1
- R/ Derailleur: Sram XX1
- Cassette: Sram XG 1199 11sp 10-42T
- Chain: Sram PC XX1
- Crank Set: Sram XX1 PF30 32T
- Bottom Bracket: Sram PF30
- Saddle: WTB Volt Team with Ni-Cro Rails, Niner Graphic
- Seat Post: Niner RDO Seat Post, 400MM, Red Niner Graphic
- Handlebar: Niner Flat Top RDO, 710MM, Red Niner Graphic
- Stem: Niner RDO Stem, 90mm, Red Niner Graphic
- Grips: Niner Grrrips L/O
A few changes were made from the stock setup. The 32T chainring was swapped for a 34T for obvious reasons. Next, a Rock Shox Reverb seatpost was exchanged for the carbon post that comes standard in order to add descending confidence. Finally, the Schwalbe tires were exchanged for Maxxis Ikon EXO 2.2. While the Schwalbe tires rolled well and offered great traction for their intended use, the sidewalls were quite thin.
The SRAM drivetrain was fairly solid. A chain fell victim to phantom shifting, however once repaired no additional issues arose. The bottom bracket initially dragged noticeably. The bearing pre-load and spacers were somewhat finicky, and regardless of the setting there was always room for improvement. Eventually, the stock spacers were replaced which resulted in a noticeable reduction in drag.
The Shimano XTR brakes did their job without complaint. No fade or loss of power was experienced throughout the test. For hard braking efforts the small rotors weren’t as powerful as one might like, but overall braking was limited more by tire traction, not pure power. The finned brake pads rattle a little bit from time to time, however this doesn’t affect performance nor was it overly irritating.
The Rock Shox RS-1 fork lives up to the hype. While it may cost more than many used vehicles, those looking for every possible advantage on the trail need to consider the RS-1. The stiffness, damping, and traction are all superb.
The sub-1400 gram Valor wheelset may worry aggressive riders. Previous experience with XC wheelsets has generally ended with disappointment. Not the case here. The wheels remained straight, stiff, and did not see a spoke key or truing stand regardless of the abuse from a 185 pound rider. The wheels also added to the overall stiffness of the bike, and no doubt the carbon rims helped to absorb trail chatter along the way.
Things That Could Be Improved
Cable routing options were limited on the Jet 9 RDO. The combination of internal and external routing worked well for the brakes and shifting, however the inclusion of additional cables resulted in less than ideal routing. The lack of an internal option for a dropper post was also disappointing. The assumption that few XC racers would choose to run a dropper post was quickly proven false at local XC races. The vast majority of BC Bike Race participants also had dropper posts on their bikes, including the elites. Improved internal cable routing options would be a definite asset.
Niner has done a solid job of creating in house components. The bar, stem, and seat post were great. Unfortunately, Niner’s grips failed to meet the standard set by the rest of the bike. Regardless of install technique, the grips moved and twisted until tie-wire was employed. In addition, the rubber compound used for the grips seemed too firm: once saturated by sweat or rain, they were dang slippery. The custom WTB Volt saddle with Niner graphic was comfortable, but on a $10K bike most buyers would expect titanium or carbon rails to shave a few grams.
Long Term Durability
Throughout the test period the Jet 9 RDO saw quite a bit of abuse. In addition to regular rides, it was subjected to one of the more demanding stage races in North America. Most riders would agree that once they reach the redline, their bike takes more punishment than usual. 7 consecutive days of racing, with nothing more than a 5 minute bolt check between stages and zero issues to be seen other than a couple of drivetrain quibbles. Many bikes did not survive the race and do not survive BC in general. There were no unexpected issues with durability. The Jet 9 RDO is capable of coping with frequent beatings.
What's The Bottom Line?
Throughout the test period more time was spent rat-bagging the bike on local terrain than racing. It is refreshing to see that a 100mm XC bike is capable of shredding confidently, and that six inches of travel, a 63⁰ head angle, and a 50mm stem are not mandatory for getting wild. Unless riding mega-gnar constantly, some riders might even get more out of riding a lighter, faster, more efficient bike such as the Jet 9 RDO. This rig is more than an XC race machine. Although it compensated for a certain lack of fitness admirably, it did not take away from the reason most of us ride in the first place - blasting trails. Unless you’re the local anesthesiologist or a competitive racer, it is tough to justify a $10,000 bike, but no doubt that the more affordable Jet 9 RDO options are pretty much just as rad. If you’re after a no compromise, highly efficient, and fun short travel bike, the Jet Niner RDO should be considered.
For more information, head on over to www.ninerbikes.com.
About The Reviewer
Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 8 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.