Let's start with the obvious: This Niner Jet 9 RDO is a 27.5-wheeled bike, which means everyone and their mother's aunt's best friend will insert a joke about Niner making bikes that are not, in fact, 29ers. Nomenclature matters less than whether the ride is worth it, and if you're into a quick-footed plus bike that's the dirt-laden lovechild of XC and Trail, then this Niner may be the 27.5+ bike you've been waiting for.
The Jet 9 has a long history as being a straight-up cross-country 29er, but like the scrawny kid who grew into a broad-shouldered beefcake over summer, the Jet 9 went through its own transformation this year with increased front and rear travel along with a full geometry overhaul. It still stands out as the shortest-travel frame in our 27.5+ category with 120-millimeter rear travel atop its simple-but-effective CVA linkage and a 140-millimeter Kashima-coated Fox 34 Factory fork. And that fork earns Niner high marks. When 29ers convert to 27.5+, they usually need a little lift up front. Instead of relying on a spacer like most brands, Niner opted for more travel. Nevertheless, the 67-degree headtube angle is still the steepest of the 27.5+ bikes we tested by nearly a full degree.
This harkens back to the Jet 9's XC upbringing, which isn't a bad thing for riders looking for a plus bike that still ascends like it has something to prove, especially when in pedal mode, never mind the seat tube is a hint slacker than its plus-size compatriots. As much as marketing departments everywhere would love to pretend trade-offs don't exist, they do. The shorter wheelbase and reach creates a tight little cockpit that is resoundingly flickable, but the tradeoff is that--unlike the slacker and longer-travel Rocky Mountain Pipeline--the Jet 9 RDO isn't the type of sled you can send down high-speed rocky chunder fests with your eyes closed while the bike does all the work.
One of our testers felt a little uncomfortable descending burly sections on this bike, but another pint-sized tester felt at home in those boulder-strewn sections likely due to the lighter weight and nimbleness proving more manageable for her size and riding style.
While the value of the 3-Star build still fits into what can be expected with more of a boutique customer-first brand, the GX Eagle, Fox Factory suspension complete with all the fixin's, and a light Stan's Baron wheelset with 2.8-inch Maxxis Rekons trim this bike out nicely. The end result is an efficient ride that walks the line between XC and trail, which is no easy feat for a plus-sized bike.
Q&A with Brad Cole, marketing manager for Niner Bikes
Niner is a company founded on a dedication to bikes designed around the 29er wheel size. Niner has taken some of its 29er frames and offered them with 27+ builds, which creates two very different experiences with the same frame. Why did you choose to expand beyond 29ers, and how often do you have to answer this question?
This has become a pretty common question for us. The easy answer is that the change in wheel size doesn’t fundamentally change the frame design, so why not. As a brand that was founded on a dedication to 29-inch wheels it does seem odd to have the bikes in the lineup, but our biggest priority is offering high quality bikes that give riders a great riding experience. As a part of that experience, we wanted to make sure that our 29-inch wheeled platform gave riders the opportunity to experience this new technology and the benefits it creates. It’s a great option for a lot of riders and we wanted to make sure that they had the opportunity to experience it on a Niner.
What type of rider do you see choosing the 27+ Jet 9 RDO over the 29er configuration?
To us, the 27.5+ setup is all about traction and confidence. The setup is great for riders that live in areas where traction is hard to come by, and in particular, loose over hard conditions. The setup is also great for monster trucking through loose thundery rock where traction and confidence limits can be tested. The 29-inch wheels are a great option for riders looking for a bit more speed and efficiency in their riding as well as a more playful, lively feel.
As a small rider who occasionally likes to go hydration-pack free, on behalf of all my people, I'd like to acknowledge how awesome it is to have a water bottle cage mount inside the triangle on your smaller bikes. Was this a priority for the designers or did us pocket-sized people just get lucky?
Thank you! This is definitely something we take into account when designing our frames. We understand that a lot of riders, of all sizes, don’t want to carry around a pack all of the time. In these cases, having easy access to a bottle inside the front triangle is essential and we make it a priority to have this feature on all our frames, from XS to XL.
The Jet 9 keeps slowly sneaking away from its XC roots. What has been the drive behind these changes and has the Jet 9 RDO reached its final form?
While the Jet 9 started its life with roots in XC, it’s always been the most versatile bike in our lineup. When the Jet was developed it was one of the only full suspension 29-inch bikes available, and at that time XC bikes were dominating the market place. As a result, that versatility was rooted in XC characteristics. As technology and bike design have evolved over the years, so have people’s riding styles and the trails that they ride. As a result, we’ve continually pushed the progression of the Jet to provide riders with a bike that strikes a balance between pedaling efficiency and descending capability and ultimately the versatility that riders are looking for in a one bike quiver. I doubt that we’ve seen the final form of the Jet 9 and anticipate it to continue evolving right along with riders.