By Kevin Rouse
Niner E.M.D. 9 $550 (frame only)
First things first, basketball's not exactly my forte, I rely on stepstools quite a bit and, freshly shaven with a beanie and sunglasses on, I was able to get youth lift passes well into my late teens.
Accordingly, when 29ers hit the scene, I was relatively unimpressed—although that was mainly due to the fact that I couldn't even get a leg over any of them. It took awhile before more sizing options started trickling down to the smaller end of the spectrum, so my 29er break-in period came a bit later than most. Even then, it was pretty hard to replicate my position from my 26-inch bikes, and the geometry was often far from dialed.
So when Niner announced their plans to offer the E.M.D in an extra-small size—with promising geometry figures, claims of zero toe-overlap and plenty of heel clearance—I was on the phone straightaway to request one for testing.
The XS Niner E.M.D. nixes chain and seatstay bridges in order to preserve the ride characteristics of the larger-sized frames.
Seeing as how the E.M.D. 9 is built around either an 80- or 100-millimeter fork, it seemed that “testing” should probably include at least a race or two, which meant I finally had the perfect excuse to sign up for the Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona. Planning to do boatloads of training aboard the E.M.D. and subsequently mopping up the floor with the competition, it’s funny how life seems to get in the way of such things.
Well, two training rides later saw me and the E.M.D. at the start line with the E.M.D. exhibiting considerably more poise than myself. I got more than a few compliments on the bike’s scintillating Hot Tamale paint job from folks, while in their eyes I could also see them relegating me in their mental matchup to pack fill. To make a long story a little less long, I ended up spending more time than initially planned perched upon the E.M.D.
The frame’s new tapered headtube affords plenty of surface area upon which to mate some massive down and toptube shapes in order to keep stiffness high and weight low.
Thankfully, that wasn’t an unpleasant experience. The Niner’s handling was nimble without being too twitchy—which is a very welcome trait when your fatigue-riddled brain isn’t moving quite as fast as the rest of your body. The ride, was also better than expected from an aluminum hardtail—something Niner attributes to the frame’s recent redesign that includes new hydroformed tube shapes that allow for careful tuning of the frame’s ride qualities.
Even if you tack that up as pure marketing, which I’m disinclined to do in this case, that seems like some solid bang for your buck for a frame that’s priced below most higher-end wheelsets. Throw in the fact that the frame weighs a respectable 3.72 pounds and its hard to go wrong with the Niner E.M.D 9.
For those looking for a few more features, and slightly lower weight Niner offers the Air 9, which offers modern amenities like a PressFit bottom bracket (the E.M.D. sports a standard threaded BB) an integrated headset and more aggressive hydroforming (to shave weight). But, those features will set you back a cool $300.
The E.M.D. forgoes it’s higher-priced sibling’s integrated headset, opting for a more economical zero-stack option. It still sports the same burly tapered headtube though.
With such a low price tag, the E.M.D. opens up the doors to some serious performance for the journeyman racers among us, and leaves plenty of coin to spare for some higher-end race bits. Fo my setup, I chose to go with SRAM’s new GripShift X0 which seemed tailor-made for race situations (and everyday riding too for that matter). I’m pleased to see it come back to life, improved and better than ever. More to come on that later, so be sure to check back in a few weeks.
The XX-level SID feaures the Xloc remote, which came in handy for the Whiskey 50’s infamous fire road climbs while the Sun Ringlé Black Flag XC wheel set adds a bit of punk-rock flair and keeps the overall build cost down yet still offers great performance for the price.
SRAM’s GripShift makes for quite the tidy cockpit—even with the Xloc remote installed.
I’ll still be riding the E.M.D. for a full test period, though it’s hard to foresee my verdict changing—that being that the E.M.D. 9 is is one hell of a bargain, and for shorter riders, a low-cost chance to enter into the world of the wagon wheel. The E.M.D.’s low-cost, high-performance equation is one that’s pretty tough to beat.