Imagine you’re lost deep in the mountains and you choose one person, living or dead, to help you find civilization. Fictional characters don't count, nor does anyone you just want to murder and bury in the woods. Next, you can choose a bike to carry you home. If you picked Sacagewea and the Niner Jet 9 RDO, congratulations. You'll survive.
Soon after it was born, the XC-oriented Jet 9 RDO was kidnapped and raised in the wilderness by trail riders. It seemed content to remain their 100-millimeter-travel whipping boy until this year when it spontaneously evolved into a 120 rear/130 front, bona fide trail bike. In addition to the longer travel, the new Jet got some significantly burlier geometry. Niner gave it 10 millimeters more reach, 20 millimeters less chainstay and a head angle that's a full 3 degrees slacker. Though downright revolutionary for the Jet platform, the new numbers are about on par with most modern, aggressive trail 29ers. While Niner was modernizing, it also steepened the seat angle, threw in Boost 148 spacing and ditched the PF30 for a good ol' 73-millimeter BSA threaded bottom bracket. And in a bit of a head-scratcher from a brand called Niner, it's also offered in a 27.5+ option with a slightly longer fork.
We tested the mostly spot-on, mostly Shimano XT 3-Star build. The newly widened Stans Arch MK3s felt remarkably quick and lively, even compared to the feathery carbon hoops I'm used to. And the Pike Solo Air is still my personal favorite mid-travel fork. Then, soon after our test bike passed from our photographer's hands to mine, a minor spec update from Niner swapped the rear Maxxis Ikon tire for an Ardent and the externally routed KS Dropzone for an internally routed LEV SI Integra.
But soon after that, I personally opted to swap the 160-millimeter rear rotor for a 180, the 760-millimeter bar for a 780 and the Jagwire cable housing for something a little smoother. While I'm splitting hairs, the cable and hose routings could be tidier, but some extra attention and stronger zip ties will keep everything quiet and out of harm's way.
Niner's CVA linkage is of course carried over to the new Jet. Although it was conceived with multi-ring functionality in mind, and the Jet does happen to have a front derailleur and ISCG 05 mount, CVA's principals work just as well on a single-ring setup. During the climbs on my lunch-loop first date with the Jet, it was clear that there's still a lot of cross-country quickness in its bones.
Even though I ran relatively deep sag, there was always an eager pedaling platform. When you push it, the Jet will push back, and noticeably harder than most 120-millimeter 29ers. This came at a very moderate cost to its comfort on rough climbs, but it was a cost worth paying. It stays precisely active enough to keep you from hanging up in the chatter while still squeezing every drop out of each watt you pour into it. And for the climbs with less debris to deal with, the Monarch RL on the 3- and 2-Star builds offers a rock-hard, old-school lockout that will power through smooth terrain like a hardtail. I could sense that the new Jet had the makings of an all-day adventure machine, so I spent most of my rides finding out which would hit the wall first: me or the bike.
If anywhere, I expected to find its limits on the seldom-groomed hidden gems that weave through Los Angeles' San Gabriel Mountains. Most of the technical trails get a little extra bump in difficulty thanks to the frequent moments of rocky, steep exposure. Making it down certain features can be life or death, and I learned to trust the Jet through every one I encountered.
It required a little more care and less speed to point this mid-travel trail bike down sections that really called for a long-travel enduro bike, but it was a small sacrifice given the extra range and speed a bike like this offers. And it's when that speed is aimed downhill that the Jet's mixed genres most perfectly collide. Every rock-strewn traverse and canyon became a canvas waiting for interpretation.
The firm-feeling rear travel and capable geometry invited creative lines, stylish airs and last-minute decisions. I could predictably break traction and slide into a pocket without flex or chatter, and easily pump out of it into the next one. When there was no other option but to straightline through a minefield, the Jet would hold its own. The ultra-capable fork and, of course, 29-inch wheels help it fight above its weight class, and the mild progressivity in the rear helps soften blows that are out of its league.
It's not the most bottomless, marshmallowy 120/130 bike ever produced, but it's not trying to be. The new Jet has one foot standing in the trail category, one foot standing in XC, one hand chopping through the jungle with a machete and one hand playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
MSRP: $5,500 (3-Star Build) / ninerbikes.com
NINER'S TWO CENTS
When you hear a great song, you know it's a great song because you can feel it deep in your soul. But sometimes a great song can get played too many times. So when folks around headquarters started bolting longer forks on the previous Jet, shortening its chainstays and drilling holes for dropper posts, we knew we had to play our tune differently but hold onto the characteristics of the original. It climbed well. It was versatile. It was plush when it needed to be. For riders who liked to earn their climbs and make the descents count, the Jet was the right tune—almost. But following the original is never easy. We couldn't be some cheap, lounge-act cover. We had to be Hendrix playing Dylan, not Spears playing the Stones. So, we're happy to hear that the redesigned JET 9 RDO plays our tune just as we intended it—a bike better than the original and good at almost everything including putting a smile on your face. —Barrett James, Product Manager, Niner Bikes