Canfield Brothers Nimble 9 Frame

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The Hardtail for those seeking Maximum Party

Rating: Featured Member Review
The Good:

- Unique - Progressive Geo - Sturdy - Sensible features - Affordable - Good karma for supporting a rad company

The Bad:

Large footed individuals might clip the stays with their heels a bit

Overall Review:

Perhaps we should start at the beginning: why a hardtail? Just the other day, my Nimble 9 was resting against a fence alongside my friend's 6" full-sus über bike. I considered them a while. The fully, hewn in fibres and decked out with state of the art gear, made the Nimble 9 look positively agricultural.

Every point was a juxtaposition. His bike was plastic, mine steel. His aesthetic was stealthy black, mine modelled on some sort of exotic gutter slime. His tyre choice made sense together, mine was whatever chewed out tread I'd dragged out of the shed to give its coup de grâce. His internally routed post was a slick continuation of the seat tube; my Gravity Dropper looked like exactly the kind of home-spun mechanism that might house a trampoline spring to hoist the seat.

And that got me

Overall Review:

Perhaps we should start at the beginning: why a hardtail? Just the other day, my Nimble 9 was resting against a fence alongside my friend's 6" full-sus über bike. I considered them a while. The fully, hewn in fibres and decked out with state of the art gear, made the Nimble 9 look positively agricultural.

Every point was a juxtaposition. His bike was plastic, mine steel. His aesthetic was stealthy black, mine modelled on some sort of exotic gutter slime. His tyre choice made sense together, mine was whatever chewed out tread I'd dragged out of the shed to give its coup de grâce. His internally routed post was a slick continuation of the seat tube; my Gravity Dropper looked like exactly the kind of home-spun mechanism that might house a trampoline spring to hoist the seat.

And that got me thinking. Objectively, aside obviously from cost, there was really no reason to favour the Canfield over the fully. The fully was lighter, more modern, and it went both up and down hills quicker. That's what I chewed on in my mind: unquestionably, the full-sus was faster. Everywhere. But you know what? I didn't care. And that's the take home point of this review.

All of us are looking for something in particular when we fork over the cash for a new bike. It's an emotional decision, not a rational one. I believe that. When you encounter a dyed-in-the-wool hardtail rider, they're often uninterested in explaining themselves. This is because their choice didn't follow a cost/benefit analysis. It's not a decision that can easily be related to someone else. Rather, it was probably the aggregate of a few specific riding experiences, an intuition and a dose of certain place, certain time.

So if you, the reader, are considering this bike, you'll fall into one of two camps. Either you're after a complementary bike to go with a fully - a winter hack or similar - or you're after a hardtail as your go-to rad bike for all occasions. Either way, over one year's riding on the N9 has led me to the conclusion that my money was well spent.

The Frame [details reflect the forthcoming 2016 version]

The N9 is a steel 29er designed by downhill riders. It has a threaded BB. Sliding 142x12 dropouts. A 44mm headtube. 30.9 seatpost. Stealth routing and a removable direct mount front derailleur block. In short, it's ready to go for a hassle free and simple, aggressive build.

The N9 is a nice looking frameset that reveals charming design flourishes the longer you look at it. It looks to be a hardtail that was designed rather than cobbled together out of straight tubes. The seat and chain stays move along sculpted lines. The staunch cut of the chainstay plate sits behind the chainring and offers good clearance. And that beer can headtube is adorned with one of the better badges available from any manufacturer anywhere.

We should probably address the weight here. My N9 is the 2014 model and it is not light. I like light bikes. I like climbing on them, and I'm thankful for them when I have to push or carry. However, I only found the weight of the bike onerous on longer (1hr+) carries in the backcountry. On the trail, I can't say I've ever noticed it. I ran the bike with a 34t front ring and an 11-36 rear cassette for a long time, and cleaned plenty of steep, shitty climbs. You've gotta have some legs, sure, but that's the point - the bike won't be holding you back as much as your legs.

For 2016, the Bros have shaved 3/4 lb from the frame weight. Unfortunately, this meant swapping out the mechanically shaped top tube (which was one of my favourite design aspects) for a lighter round tube. But the Bros say hard decisions had to be made, and the ride is both lighter and more compliant thanks to the changes. Of course, to those for whom weight is a sticking point, Canfield also offer the EPO, a bike bred from the same philosophy as the N9 but carbon.

The Geo

Here's the geo chart for the '16 model. I'm 186cm when I'm being a good boy first thing in the morning and opted for the Large (at times I do wish I'd gone XL):

This combination of numbers is looking more familiar on a hardtail these days, but it's worth noting that when the Bros designed the N9, it was ahead of its time. Back then, a 29er hardtail was a steep, efficiency-orientated XC machine. To ride aggressively on one, you basically had to be a shredder, and even then the bike hardly did you any favours. I've always loved the way 29ers ride, but once you got up around 120mm they became fairly bad mannered. The Bros basically took the trite opinion of "29ers might be quick, but they're no fun" and designed a bike to answer it.

Because they were designing from their own desires, rather than just trying to put another 29er on the market, they hit upon a winning concept. The N9, and its alloy sister the Yelli Screamy, were pretty visionary. Standout numbers on the current iteration should be the 66.7* head tube angle (with a 140mm fork), 53mm BB drop, and the possibility to slam the dropouts forward for a ludicrous 413mm chainstay length. Considering that par for the 650b fully course these days seems to be in the order of 430mm, you can appreciate that back in 2011 or so, the Bros were operating with a bit of disregard for the rule book.

The finished result is dialled. When you stand back the posture is spot on. The rear wheel is tucked tightly in and the front looks like it could square off against pretty much anything. It stands ready to do exactly what it was built for: getting the rider into and back out of trouble in beautifully ugly terrain.

The Ride

By way of background, my pedigree lies in XC - specifically single speed XC. I was a competent descender, but not dominant by any means. It's important to bear that in mind. I've chased World Cup DH riders down trails and I can promise you that they see a different trail to the one I see. So what they think of how a bike rides is less applicable to me, and the same might go for what I think of a bike, for you.

What I look for is something that performs well everywhere, not a specialist. Technical climbs; steep descents; rooty, natural ridges and buff flow trails - they all have their charms and I like to be able to enjoy them all. The trails I've tended to sniff out on this bike have been varied, which is a testament to its capabilities. As soon as I saddled it, it felt familiar. I broke it in on a rainy day on a steep descent with plenty of ruts, ledges and tight dropping corners and immediately it felt composed and manoeuvrable.

[Side note: I highly recommend having your fork running optimally for these sorts of aggressive hard tails. I had a fork Jedi friend service my Pike and it really extracts the most from the bike's abilities.]

However, the playful nature of the bike throws up a unique problem. If you've ever rocked up to a banger buffet and been hit by immediate indecision, you'll empathise. When you hit a tasty undulation on the N9, it's hard to decide whether to pop it or rock back on the rear wheel and pump through it. Both are equally delightful, and it inspires multiple runs of the same trail just to try different approaches. It's a delicious dilemma to have.

Where the N9 really gets cooking though is where the big wheels meet the geo. I've usually found this to be a nice natural native forest ridge, just as the gradient begins to drop away. The big wheels let you skip over the little obstacles and line up the track's larger contours and it lets the geo come alive. During one moment of absolute zen in North Canterbury, NZ this culminated in a root jump that lofted me straight into the catch of a dropping corner littered with beech leaves. I felt like Connor Fearon as I blew the beech flakes off the edge of the track and into the still air. Just sublime. That kind of intuitive riding style where you stuff the bike through tight corners at the crest of your comfort levels feels like the natural state of the N9. It would be amazing to watch what a super skilled rider could do with it.

I've found that the composure of the front end worked a little bit against me when climbing, though. When the gradient kicks up severely the front end can flop about a little, and it feels like it wants to rear up on you due to the short stays. The bike also suffers from the usual hindrance of hardtails in that big obstacles can snag the rear wheel and arrest your momentum. While the short stays let you change lines quickly, you've got to get it right or it takes a lot of muscling to move it on. However, the N9 never claimed to be a technical climbing beast, and for seated winching the position is solid.

In terms of descending, I've only really found myself out of my depth when it gets super rowdy. The biggest pucker moments I've had seem to be on sections of high speed chunk that reward holding your line firm and wide. The downside of having a bike that happily changes direction on a dime is that the chunder can deflect you onto a less ideal path. For me, this simply forces me to back off and rework my line choice. I might be 10-15 sec slower at the bottom, but I doubt I have less fun. Everywhere else - the bread and butter trails - the bike is a lot of fun. It jumps well, it holds its line over most ground and, notwithstanding the fact that you have to be vigilant with weighting the front end, it corners very well too.

I've tried to be impartial and objective but obviously I'm smitten. I think what happened was I lucked upon a transformative frame at an influential time in my riding career. When I built it up, I was a freshly reformed XC diehard, and I'd been resisting the charms of gravity-orientated riding for a long time. But contrary to my expectations, introducing a good dose of less urgent trail riding did wonders. A bike of this ilk is an excellent complement to an XC rig. Among gravity folks, there are plenty of keeners who are willing to disappear into the boonies for some hard hitouts. And there is immense satisfaction to be had in all day rambles that tour the more technical trails of a region.

In sum, the Nimble 9 didn't change my life or anything dramatic like that, but it did open up some seriously fun riding opportunities for me. If you're after a capable trail machine at an accessible price, and you want to support a small company that's in touch with its customer base and dedicated to the radder things in life, I recommend you check this bike out. It may do more for you than you expect.

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Build list:

Rockshox Pike RC at 140mm with numerous tokens.

Straitline 50mm stem and 765 RF Atlas bars, ODI Troy Lee grips (I'll be trying something else next, but these grips were okay).

Shimano componentry: SLX brakes, Saint shifter, Zee derailleur, polished SLX cranks and XT chain and cassette (11-36). Revolution Components 32t ring (the best N/W I've come across so far).

Spank Subrosa 30AL EVO rims laced to Hope Pro II Evo hubs w/ DT Swiss Prolock nipples, WTB tyres (Vigilante Light front, Trail Boss Tough rear, tubeless. Great combo).

Gravity Dropper taint-threatening two position post

Charge Spoon taint-rejuvenating wondersaddle (seriously, get one)


Specifications

Product Canfield Brothers Nimble 9 Frame
Riding Type Cross Country, Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
Small, Medium, Large, X-Large View Geometry
Size Small Medium Large X-Large
Top Tube Length 569mm 597mm 625mm 650mm
Head Tube Angle 66.5° 66.5° 66.5° 66.5°
Head Tube Length 100mm 115mm 120mm 125mm
Seat Tube Angle 72.8º 72.8º 72.8º 72.8º
Seat Tube Length 394mm 418mm 457mm 507mm
Bottom Bracket Height 323mm 323mm 323mm 323mm
Chainstay Length 412.75mm - 429.3mm 412.75mm - 429.3mm 412.75mm - 429.3mm 412.75mm - 429.3mm
Wheelbase 1130mm 1160mm 1189mm 1214mm
Standover
Reach 399mm 423mm 450mm 473mm
Stack 648mm 661mm 667mm 671mm
* Additional Info Head tube angle with a 140mm fork
Wheel Size 29", 27.5+
Frame Material Chromoly, Steel
Frame Material Details 4130 Cromoly Steel
Rear Travel Hardtail
Rear Shock N/A
Head Tube Diameter Straight, 44mm upper and lower headset cups
Bottom Bracket 73mm, threaded
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions Boost 148mm x 12mm, Canfield axle included
Front Derailleur Size Shimano direct mount, top pull/single bolt, or SRAM HO series
Seatpost Diameter 30.9mm, Stealth dropper compatible, 35.0mm clamp
Max Tire Size 29" x 2.5", 27.5+ x 2.8"
ISCG Tabs N/A
Bottle Cage Mounts 2 water bottle mounts
Colors Black, blue, green, or bronze sparkle metallic painted finish
Warranty 2 year
Weight 6 lb 1 oz (2,750 g)
Miscellaneous Increased reach and shorter seat tube
Recommend fork lengths: 120mm/140mm
650b+ compatible up to 35i rim/2.8 tire
Custom sliding 148mm x 12mm rear dropouts, axle included
Singlespeed-able
ED black treated for superior anti-corrosion resistance
Removable direct mount front derailleur block
Chainline: 52mm/3mm chainring offset recommended for SRAM cranks
Brake mount: IS (international standard)
Price $749
More Info

Canfield Brothers Website

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