Last week I got a chance to check out a couple of the newest bikes from Niner–a cyclocross bike called the BSB 9 RDO and a fat bike (sorta) called the ROS 9+. And while both are slight departures for the company, each stays true to 29-inch wheels while offering all the high-end touches we’ve come to expect from Niner.
BSB 9 RDO Cyclocross Bike
Niner makes some of the best 29er mountain bikes on the planet and as it turns out, 29er wheels are also (basically) 700c, the same size wheel used on road and cyclocross bikes. It’s not cheating if both girls look the same, right?
Looking at this bike from the ground up, many of the parts will be familiar to mountain bikers: Racing Ralph tires, disc brakes (SRAM Rivals on the 3-star build I tested), and the same feather-light Niner full carbon fork the company specs on the Air 9 mountain bike. Where things start to get a little weird is at the cockpit where drop bars and road-style brake levers greet the rider.
As you can probably tell from the photos, this is a super lightweight bike. The “RDO” in the name stands for Race Day Optimized, which is good because riding a cyclocross bike outside of a race is really just mountain biking IMO. Still, in a nod to the role that beer hand-ups play in cyclocross, Niner has included a bottle cap stem cap on the BSB 9. You know, just to remind you not to take your ride too seriously.
I took the full carbon BSB 9 out on the test loop at Bootleg Canyon to see what this skinny-tire machine could do. On the gravel road climb up to the start, I was passing everyone and even keeping up with the e-bikes whining their way to the top.
Once on the singletrack, I slowed up considerably, picking my lines through jagged rocks and trying to keep my momentum through sandy washes. If you’ve ever been to Outdoor Demo at Interbike, you know the test loops are jammed with a constant stream of riders, all of varying abilities and all riding different types of mountain bikes. I started feeling the pressure of the guys on trail bikes and fatties behind me so I decided to speed up. And that’s when disaster struck! Flat tire.
Ok, so I wasn’t surprised at all, though I was a bit embarrassed to be the mountain biker who tried to ride a cyclocross bike on a trail and got a flat tire. So maybe I’m not ready to ride ‘cross yet but when/if I am, you can bet I’ll be eyeing the Niner BSB 9 RDO. MSRP for the 3-star version I tested is $3,499. A frame + fork is $2,299.
Niner ROS 9+
We reported on the ROS 9+ last month when it was announced and I was stoked to throw a leg over this fat-ish 29er mountain bike. Sadly, Niner only brought a couple bikes along (they’re still in production) and none were available for demo. However, I did get a chance to chat with Niner founder and President Chris Sugai briefly about the possibility of adding suspension to the ROS 9+.
While right now there are no commercially available suspension forks designed for 29+ bikes (those with 3-inch tires), Chris seemed confident we would see something soon. In fact, he said matter-of-factly that the ROS was actually designed to be paired with a suspension fork, though for now the ROS 9+ is rigid. I guess this shouldn’t be much of a surprise–the original ROS 9 is offered with a suspension fork and the ROS 9+ features a tapered head tube which most suspension fork steerers are utilizing these days.
I saw at least one company with a 29+ bike running the RockShox Bluto at Interbike, but honestly it looked a little weird (and perhaps dangerous) so don’t expect Niner to go that route. Greg also spotted a modified RockShox RS-1 fork with a 29+ setup at a different booth, but that fork needed to be jury rigged with an internal suspension limiter to make the system work. With Niner offering a 29+ mountain bike, we shouldn’t be surprised to see one or more of the suspension companies taking a serious look at producing a suspension fork specifically for these beasts. Stay tuned!
Greg’s 2 Cents: Niner’s Other New Trends
I got a chance to chat with Carla from Niner about two of Niner’s trends that are a bit more subtle than their new bikes: their new carbon compaction system and their more affordable build kits.
Carbon Compaction was announced in conjunction with the latest iteration of the RIP 9 RDO. Carbon Compaction essentially allows Niner to achieve incremental gains in the quality of their carbon layup by reducing pooling inside the frame, thus reducing weight. They attain these gains by molding the carbon around a foam core. This core minimizes excess carbon in the frame and creates a perfectly round carbon tube every single time. However, once the hot carbon hits the foam and begins to cool, the foam shrinks from the size of a downtube into the size of a pencil, which is easily removed from the frame via the headtube. No excess foam in the frame + no excess carbon = the lightest weight possible!
Affordable Build Kits
Niner is committed to growing their clan of Ninerds by making quality bikes that convert riders into lifelong customers. And for new riders just joining the sport, this conversion happens on the lower end of the price spectrum–not at the $7,000 level. To this end, Niner recently announced a wider range of build kits that make Niner bikes more attainable to entry level riders.
While I personally thought this was a very smart move, it was great to chat with Carla and hear about Niner’s passion behind creating quality bikes for beginner riders. As Carla astutely noted, it’s easy to create a 5-star build: just slap on an RS-1 fork, XTR brakes, and an XX1 drivetrain (check out the Jet 9 pictured above). And creating a budget-basement build is easy: just spec the cheapest parts. But creating a bike that still rides great and gives the rider an awesome, enjoyable experience, but doesn’t break the bank–now that’s more difficult to do. But even with their 1-star builds, Niner still strives to create great-riding bikes that riders will have a blast on, but without incurring automobile-level costs.