Isn't it odd how our brain can store a brief, one-time conversation forever, yet that same brain can't recall the reason why we sprinted upstairs from the kitchen to the bedroom?
It was conservatively 10 years ago, but I clearly recall Niner bikes founder Chris Sugai telling me he believed that, in the near future, all performance mountain bikes would have 29-inch wheels. At the time, there were a dozen reasons to snicker at such a statement: anemic 29er wheel and tire options and awkward-handling geometries being two major big hoop hurdles. Niner wasn't the only brand keen to reap the benefits of this 700c-originated wheel size, and as more companies began investing into 29er R&D, frame geometries evolved to be more capable, and components simultaneously became lighter weight and more durable. Now, as production 29er downhill bikes have appeared on the World Cup circuit, is the once-jeered wheel size getting the last laugh? Maybe. Niner doesn't currently offer a downhill bike, but its freshly redesigned Rip 9 all-mountain machine is certainly snickering.
Niner offers the 150-millimeter-travel Rip 9 in a dizzying array of frame and complete bike offerings, including some with a Push coil-sprung rear shock. They range in price from the $3,500 base alloy version to a $10,200 carbon option with an even wordier name than the $8,800 Rip 9 RDO 4-Star XT 29 Enve model tested here. Niner ranks its Rip 9 builds from two to five stars, and the more one shoots for the stars, the more wallet fuel they're going to need. Our Rip 9 test bike features top-shelf Fox Factory suspension in the form of a 36 Float Fit HSC/LSC fork and a Float X DPS Evol shock. My only beef with my Niner's spec was its rear rotor. Big-wheeled bikes with such lengthy suspension can carry a ton of momentum, so I'd suggest swapping from 160 millimeters to 180.
Riders like options, and many brands are marketing their 29ers as compatible with 27.5-inch plus-size wheels and tires. And now Niner, which has literally built its name on the benefits of 29-inch wheels, offers plus-size compatibility. Virtually the same Rip 9 tested here with Enve's 32-spoke M70 HV 29er wheelset is available with Enve's 27.5-inch M60+ HV plus-size wheels. The Rip 9s are compatible with 29 x 2.6-inch tires or 27.5-inch plus tires up to 3 inches wide. The 29er versions feature a 160-millimeter-travel fork resulting in a 66.5-degree head angle. To offset the slight difference in effective wheel diameter and maintain the intended geometry, the 27.5 plus fork gets stretched to 170 millimeters.
A few subtle, yet notable, carbon Rip 9 frame details include a threaded bottom bracket and ISCG 05 tabs, plus integrated battery storage in the downtube, should one prefer an aftermarket electronic drivetrain.
The new Rip 9 RDO frame still utilizes Niner's dual-link, CVA suspension, and it may be the best pedaling all-mountain 29er I've ridden. It certainly feels like more of an all-day adventure machine than comparable bikes like the Specialized Enduro 29 and the Trek Slash. It hides its travel on the climbs. In its 'open 2' setting, the Fox Float X shock’s mid-stroke support does a great job maintaining traction and not zapping momentum. I did try the rear shock's climb settings for reference, however I never felt they were necessary.
As impressive as the Rip 9 is under pedal force, it was equally as capable on tight and twisty singletrack. And its generous rear travel and even more generous front travel made easy work of jagged, technical, terrain. The open 2 setting also allowed the bike to absorb harsh impacts at speed while not blowing through the travel. But as I opened the throttle wider, my comfort zone got narrower.
I'm 5 feet 9 inches, which Niner claims would put me on the short end of candidates for the medium-sized test bike I chose. But if I were to line up for an enduro race on the Rip 9 I'd be inclined to go with the large for more high-speed stability. In our month together, I learned that this bike wasn't intended to be the single-crown, big-wheeled downhill bike that the Evil Wreckoning or Trek Slash unmistakably are. Those bikes keep it deep and soft, while the Rip felt more natural when ridden high and firm. I eventually added a volume spacer to the fork, which kept the behavior of the fork and shock balanced. Make no mistake: the RIP will get you out of trouble should you get yourself into it, and riders who choose aggression over finesse will appreciate its endless appetite for hard hits. But it has the attitude of a long-legged trail bike that keeps an enduro bike hidden up its sleeve in case you need it.
The RIP 9 makes a strong claim as a premier do-it-all bike, and just as Sagai predicted, the future is now.
Niner's Two Cents
We designed the Rip 9 for the rider who wants a bike with geometry that keeps them centered, balanced and in control at speed, especially in the rough. This rider lives to push hard downhill and dreams of a long-travel bike with a stout suspension set up—a bike that can handle the toughest enduro courses as well as a Saturday at the bike park. But, and here's the key, this rider also wants a bike that can be pointed uphill, ridden all day. There are several dual-link suspension designs on the market, but what separates our Constantly Varying Arc (CVA) system from the others is how it works independently of chainring size and isolates pedaling forces by creating an 'instant center' location in front of the drivetrain. This isolates the drivetrain from the rear triangle, which means the only outlet for pedal force is turning the rear wheel. CVA also manages chain growth to further isolate pedaling forces from suspension performance. This ensures that there is minimal chain growth throughout the length of travel, which reduces pedal feedback while cycling the suspension, essentially isolating it from the fully active movement of the suspension design. —Brad Cole, Marketing Manager, Niner