Reviewed by Matt Thompson and Jess Pedersen // Written by Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
First introduced at Interbike 2012, the full-carbon Niner RIP 9 RDO is the next evolution of their popular and widely-loved aluminum RIP 9. Switching frame materials allowed Niner to tweak a few things and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Travel has been upped 5mm, chainstays shortened 5mm, tire clearance improved, cable routing revised and internalized, ISCG tabs added, stiffness boosted, and weight reduced… In short, they made it more capable of hauling ass and charging through the rough stuff. Lucky for them, because we were going to do that at our Southern Utah-based Test Sessions anyway.
After 2+ years of development, the 29er-only brand will officially make this rig available to the public in March of 2013, so consider this a special little preview of what to expect.
The RIP 9 RDO will be sold as a frame + shock only, or it's possible to customize a complete build. Niner seemed to have spared no expense on the bike they sent over for us, including Shimano XTR bits, FOX CTD Kashima suspenders, a Rock Shox Reverb Stealth, and Race Face NEXT Carbon Cranks. Snazzy and awesome.
RIP 9 RDO Highlights
- Full carbon construction
- 29-inch wheels
- 125mm (4.9-inches) of travel
- 44/56mm tapered headtube
- 69.5-degree head angle (with 140mm fork)
- 72.5-degree seat tube angle
- 22mm bottom bracket drop
- 450mm (17.7-inch) chainstays
- Standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket shell with removable ISCG-05 mounts
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 27-pounds, 13-ounces (12.6kg)
- $2,899 MSRP frame + shock only
- Estimated $7,000 MSRP for our test build
Niner says the frame's fluid-like carbon shape is the result of countless hours of design and analysis where the ultimate goal was to disperse energy throughout the structure, eliminate stress risers and hot spots, and use the natural damping of carbon to increase the fatigue life of the structure and decrease vibrations translated to the rider.
Even though they've proved their carbon to be tough (see the famous hammer vs carbon challenge), Niner includes a number of small measures to protect the investment. Each carbon frame comes with a large strip of anti-ballistic 3M tape for the downtube, a bolt-on skid plate linkage protector, and a titanium guard on the driveside of the bottom bracket to prevent chain abuse. Machined alloy interfaces for the bottom bracket, direct-mount front derailleur and brake caliper post mounts are co-molded into the frame.
Out back, the RIP 9 RDO relies on Niner's patented CVA suspension system, which capitalizes on the increased bottom bracket drop inherent in 29er frames. Claimed to be efficient in every chainring, CVA is said to isolate pedaling forces and remain fully active under all conditions. Niner describes the basics well in this paragraph:
"In order to isolate pedaling forces across a broader range of gearing, the CVA’s ‘instant center’ location is in front of the drivetrain. With the lower pivot under the bottom bracket, the force at the rear axle resulting from chain tension pulls the two linkages in opposite directions in all gear choices, effectively isolating the drivetrain from the rear triangle. In other words, when a rider cranks on the pedals, the chain is trying to pull the lower link down and away from the bottom bracket, and the upper link in its regular rotational path. Since the rear triangle is one piece, these opposing forces cancel each other out, leaving the only outlet for chain-induced torque being rotation of the rear wheel, where it’s most wanted. Past the rearward-most position at sag, the axle path moves in towards the bike at a gradual, constantly varying arc, which insures that there is minimal chain growth throughout the length of travel. This also means minimal pedal feedback in the drivetrain while cycling the suspension, essentially isolating it from the fully active movement of the suspension design."
Driving the CVA system is a set of full carbon rockers. To make the bike chainguide compatible, Niner had to nudge the lower linkage slightly to the non-driveside to provide additional clearance when compared to the original RIP 9.
Perhaps the most clever detail of the bike's design are the new oversized Angular Contact Bearings that hold everything together in three pivot locations. The right side linkage plate has an integrated hollow axle that connects to the other side, similar to a set of cranks. High-end Enduro Max Magnetite Black Coat bearings on both sides fit into co-molded cups. An adjustable cone removes any play in the system and the left side link is attached using a standard Shimano cassette tool. This integrated axle solution eliminates any pressed bearings, improves stiffness due to the larger diameter axles, and makes for a very free-moving linkage. We dig this.
Another nice touch is the semi-internal cable routing, although we have to wonder why only two of four cables were routed through the frame. The cables run cleanly through the headtube badge, inside the downtube and pop out near the bottom bracket.
On The Trail
The RIP 9 RDO really surprised us. From a far off perspective, it looked like just another company making another mid-travel carbon trail bike. Sure the frame looked nice and there was apparent attention to detail when the bike was designed, but what was going to set this bike apart from the rest? The gorgeous "Rally Blue" color and unique pivot hardware? After just 10 minutes on the trail, Jess and Matt were already beginning to change their minds…
When the boys first lined up their bikes for the day, they planned to ride two laps on the moderately challenging and varied Zen trail in Saint George, Utah. One lap in, the boys had a realization. The RIP 9 RDO was more than capable of going big. For lap two, they headed over to the neighboring Barrel Ride trail, which is littered with some sizable drops, jumps, and high-speed sections. A few days later, during an escape from the rain, Jess also rode the RIP 9 RDO on the Boy Scout and Girl Scout trails at Bootleg Canyon in nearby Boulder City, Nevada.
At over 6-feet tall with rather wide statures, both Jess and Matt prefer something with a bit wider feel than the stock 710mm Niner bars. Opting for something in the 780mm range, the cockpit became very comfortable. The top tube length was just right, offering a bit of room to move around and a perfect reach. Rider position was neutral, centered, and balanced. The geometry seemed dialed too, allowing the bike to climb well, descended very well, and also feel comfortable in the air. The head angle could be a tad slacker for our tastes, though. Luckily this can be accomplished with a Cane Creek Angleset since it's compatible with the frame.
For a 125mm trail bike, the RIP 9 RDO was remarkably confidence inspiring on downhill and technical terrain. It can be ridden casually without getting into trouble but loves to be pushed. Rest assured that the bike can handle anything you can dish out. The bike responds to inputs well, changes lines easily, and is very playful and stable.
There was slight lateral flex in the rear end which can likely be attributed to the American Classic All-Mountain 29 wheels. We wish they had been stiffer for a true test of the frame's performance.
The suspension was very well-rounded and active, making it perfectly suited to diverse trails. Small bump compliance was good, allowing it to power through small chunder like a champ. Square edge compliance was good. It could be pressed into and snapped out of corners and was very consistent when popping off jumps. G-outs were handled ably. It handled the big hits okay, too. Overall, the RIP 9 RDO was predictable and capable in almost every regard. It didn't suck anywhere, but we did find ourselves searching for a bit more support through the travel's mid-stroke. On bigger hits, it sometimes felt as tough it was using too much travel, too quickly. We're inclined to point to lack of proper damping in the FOX CTD Float shock, not the kinematics of the frame.
Perceived weight felt right on target for a carbon trail bike with 125mm of travel. It is relatively light, snappy, and boy oh boy does it roll… and roll… and roll…
The bike sprinted well, although we did notice a bit of bob when hammering out of the saddle. Again, this points back to our desire for a little more support through the mid-stroke of the travel.
Pointed uphill, the RIP 9 RDO is an efficient climber. It didn't feel like the suspension was robbing much pedal power and the weight of the bike didn't really feel like it had a negative impact. The geometry on this bike favors the descents but that doesn't adversely affect climbing. Even with the FOX Talas CTD fork set to full travel, we rarely found the front end wandering around. Body position felt good and traction was readily available. It's a playful ride and the front end can be picked up with ease when needed. Like most 29ers, when climbing at slower speeds over awkward terrain the bike felt a little off balance side-to-side. The steep-ish head angle did mean it handled slow-speed changes of direction well.
While there's no set-in-stone "stock" component spec for the RIP 9 RDO, what we received was outstanding. Save the Ergon grips and relatively narrow bars, we didn't feel the urgent need to swap anything out. These two were personal choices, mind you.
Schwable's Nobby Nic tires provided good traction while climbing on hard pack, rock, and loose terrain. They did well cornering in all conditions, rolled fairly fast, and were all-around consistent. The larger tire up front kept things in check when things got rowdy.
As mentioned previously, the American Classic All-Mountain 29 wheels were a little flexible, but then again most 29-inch wheels are.
Given how well the bike rode in the tallest fork travel mode, Niner could save a bit of weight and improve the ride even more by swapping out the FOX Talas CTD fork with a 140mm FOX Float CTD. We've found the Float to provide better performance.
Shimano's XTR Brakes worked extremely well. They had plenty of power, great modulation, weren't too grabby, and showed no signs of fade whatsoever. The levers were the perfect length and bend, and the ribbed for your pleasure tips were very nice, too!
Aside from a snapped XTR chain, the drivetrain worked almost flawlessly. In conjunction with the MRP dual guide up front, the clutch mechanism did a great job of keeping things quiet.
Long Term Durability
On several occasions, we noticed some creaking coming from the linkage while under really heavy loads - out of the saddle sprinting, for example. We don't see this as a long term concern though. It was likely a simple fix given Niner's impressive Angular Contact Bearing pivot system. The Enduro Max bearings used throughout the linkage are among the best available and provide great corrosion, water, and impact resistance.
Niner also generously stands behind the RIP 9 RDO with their C5 Warranty program, covering most issues for five years. Not bad.
What's The Bottom Line?
We've got to admit, we were pleasantly surprised by the RIP 9 RDO. Niner succeeded in creating a very playful, very comfortable, and very capable bike. It pedaled well, sprinted well, climbed well, jumped well (rare for 29ers), and soaked up all types of hits well. Bottom line? It rides really nicely and we had a hard time finding things not to like about it.
This bike is for someone who's not afraid to look different, but demands a spirited, high-end, compliant ride - someone who likes to climb up to blast their way back down. Niner advertises it as a "Quiver Killer," and for the most part, we've got to agree. It will work well on just about any trail save some really steep descents.
Dig what you see? Roll over to www.ninerbikes.com for more details.
About The Reviewers
Matt Thompson - Humble enough not to claim his Master's Downhill World Champ status when we asked him what his accomplishments were, Matt has over 20 years on a bike and likes to go fast. Really fast. At 210-pounds of trail building muscle, he can put the hurt on a bike in little to no time.
Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...