After taking a couple years off of doing a full schedule of races, I’m feeling the itch of competition again. Or maybe the itch is from the poison ivy that seems to grow almost as fast as the kudzu around here. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling reenergized to race.
To that end, I signed up for the Transylvania Epic. It’s a seven-day stage race in Pennsylvania that covers some classic East Coast terrain: rocky, technical, and steep. Now, I just needed a bike. The closest thing I have to an “XC” bike in my personal stable is a Niner SIR 9 steel hard tail. While that’s a great bike, the idea of riding 220+ miles of rugged trail on a hardtail wasn’t very appealing.
I wanted a full suspension 29er with 100-120mm of travel. Why a 29er? In my experience, there is no more efficient option for gobbling up the miles than a 29er. That’s what racing is about, after all. I put out a call to Niner, and they sent over their recently updated JET 9 Alloy.
The updated JET 9 is certainly prettier than the previous edition, with aesthetics closer to the carbon-framed model. The tubes aren’t quite as “swoopy” as their carbon counterparts, but it’s a sharp-looking bike… at least in my opinion.
The welds are tidy, and when you really start to inspect the frame closely you’ll notice some very nice details. For instance, the pivot hardware is anodized to match the paint, in this case it’s Niner’s “Hot Tamale” red. The hardware has also been machined, likely to save a few grams here and there. Even the rocker link connecting the seat stays to the shock has the Niner name molded into it. It’s good to see someone at Niner is sweating the small stuff.
And speaking of grams, all the revisions to the frame (new tubes and shaping, revised suspension, new hardware, etc.) save nearly a pound over the previous alloy JET 9 frame.
The JET 9 is available as a frame (with shock) for $1,849 or with 1-, 2-, or 3-Star build kits. At the 3-Star level you actually have two options: SRAM’s X1 drivetrain or Shimano’s XT. Both cost the same at $3,699 MSRP. This particular bike is the 3-Star XT build.
When Niner calls this an XT build, they mean it. They didn’t sneak an SLX cassette or a Deore front derailleur in there to cut costs. It’s XT all the way: shifters, derailleurs, brakes, rotors, cassette, chain, crank. Everything.
The fork is a 100mm-travel RockShox SiD RL with a tapered steerer and a 15mm thru axle. Adjustments are pretty simple with a 20-click range for rebound and just 5 for compression. I prefer to get all my suspension fiddling out of the way early and then just adjust air pressure as needed, so that’s fine with me.
Niner also spec’d RockShox for the rear suspension with the Monarch RT HV (high volume) shock. Again, adjustments here are basic, with a knob for rebound and a two-position switch for the compression (open and locked out).
The cockpit is an all-Niner affair, but they’re known for their high-quality components, so I doubt there’s anything to worry about there. Both the seatpost and the handlebar are carbon, while the stem is aluminum. At 710mm wide, the bars are a touch narrow for my tastes–we’ll see if I can get used to them. The grips are from Niner as well and are a bit chunkier than I prefer, so those may get swapped out if my hands disagree with the shape. A Niner-branded WTB Volt saddle tops the post.
Wheels from Stan’s NoTubes (Arch EX) and tires from Schwalbe (Racing Ralph) complete the build. The wheels came setup tubeless with sealant out of the box, which was a very nice touch. However, when I aired the tires up I could hear air leaking from the sidewalls and I could see sealant weeping through. With sidewalls that thin, I have serious doubts regarding durability. I certainly won’t be racing on them.
Weight as pictured (sans pedals) is 26.4lbs / 12kg. For a large-framed, aluminum, full-suspension 29er, that’s pretty damn good.
Stay tuned for my coverage of the Transylvania Epic and the performance of the JET 9 during the race.