The 2012 Niner JET9 carbon, the bike formerly known as JET9 RDO, has been with us for 4 ½ months. Recently, Niner redesigned the JET 9 RDO to make it a racing hot rod. The bike we have been testing shares the frame with last year’s RDO, and is now called the JET9 carbon. The geometry and suspension has remained the same. The JET 9 we have will be referred to as the JET 9 carbon just to distinguish the older style frame with the new JET 9 RDO. Our test model has a full SRAM XO kit , a Fox TALAS fork, Niner’s excellent RDO handlebars, stem and seatpost and SunRingle Black Flag wheels. Basically, Niner is spoiling us!
Niner builds this bike as an XC and light trail bike. During our time on the bike, it has been ridden as both a trail bike and a race bike. There is little doubt that riders who race like the JET 9 carbon as a race bike, but how does the 4 inch travel JET9 handle as an all around bike for the fast guys?
Climbing: Extremely well mannered. The front end stays planted, allowing you to pick lines and easily change lines when needed. If you pedal with any sort of finesse, the suspension feels solid at the pedals, with no perceptible movement. Niner’s CVA suspension allows the wheel to follow the contours of the ground, while still pedaling solidly and efficiently. The JET9 excels on terrain with small rocks and roots. Another notable climbing feature is that the suspension offers a little resistance for step ups and up and over maneuvers. Climbing while standing is a job done with a light stroke. If you stand and hammer, the JET9 will go into its stroke. In other words, it still rides like a suspension bike. It is noteworthy that, even standing and hammering, is very manageable and the Niner’s CVA suspension never felt sloppy, just not hardtail firm. Overall, the Niner strikes a perfect balance of comfort and efficiency.
Descending: It is a solid descender for a 4 inch travel bike. Still, it is a 4 inch travel bike. Because it doesn’t have the deep travel that a longer travel bike has, it requires you to use your legs and body more than you would on a true Trail or All Mountain bike. Moreover, compared to a Trail bike or All Mountain bike, it is not as confident or capable. That said, compared to true XC bikes, the JET9 is a great descender. Under the right rider, the JET9 can handle a large variety of terrain, up or down, except for the most extreme. For an average rider, the JET 9 is competent, but won't take you through technical terrain as quickly or confidently as longer travel bikes. My personal feeling is that the JET9 carbon sits a little tall, especially with a 120mm fork. With the lower front end, the steering is quick and a bit of a handful at top speeds. If you are using the JET 9 as a trail bike, the 120mm fork makes the JET9 carbon more of an all around bike instead of a comfortable XC bike.
Cornering. Great traction in corners. While it does feel a little tall, if you can get your weight centered and low, the JET9 carbon sticks a corner with a sure footed feel. The front end stays planted with no discernible over steer, especially with the fork set at 4 inches of travel. With a 120mm fork, the taller front end requires the centered and low positioned mentioned above, but slightly more forward and it requires added diligence to keep the wheel planted. Learn to trust the JET9 and it will reward you. Here is where we should also note that the frame is awesomely stiff laterally. The fork and wheels twisted and whined long before the frame even hinted at yielding. This characteristic not only helps while cornering but everywhere else on the trail as well. This is without a 12x 142 rear axle. I originally thought I would miss the oversized rear axle, but, in truth, Niner did such an excellent job, besides peace of mind of a bomb proof interface, the lack of 12x142 wasn’t even noticed.
Air Time? Not my favorite but it is respectable. It is fairly balanced, but slower to react to mid air adjustments. I recommend keeping this bike low and staying light on it. Remember the intention; XC, light trail. On smaller drops that should be easily within the realm of what this bike can handle, it feels very progressive when the shock is at high velocity. It ramps up stiff at the end. My body felt the pressure of the suspension’s limited travel ramping up. The bottom out was very light. This tells me the suspension is very efficient with its stroke. This is a great feature of the JET9’s suspension because it manages to do this without sacrificing small bump compliance. While I would not say it was super plush, it is as comfortable as any 4 inch travel bike I have ever ridden.
Strength: The Niner JET9 strikes an excellent balance between efficiency and comfort, leaning more towards comfort then hyper efficiency. The Niner JET 9, as all Niners I have ridden, steers from the center of the bike and it is very rare that your riding position needs to be exaggerated. It stays planted on downhills and climbs without being nose heavy for log overs or when getting a little air. It has a responsive steering feel, especially when in the 4 inch travel mode, without feeling twitchy. The suspension hits a perfect space of connected with the trail but comfortable enough to ride all day long.
Weaknesses: Sometimes the neutral steering doesn't allow me to get as aggressive as a more use-specific bike. What I mean by this is that descending isn't as playful or aggressive as bikes I favor. Hammering the pedals doesn’t yield acceleration as responsive as on other bikes. The good news is, once it gets up to speed, it takes more to slow it down. It seems to split the middle between climbing and descending, with the edge going to climbing. The bike feels tall and a little bulky to me. Other bikes in its category feel a bit more svelte.
We had a problem with one bolt backing out of the drive side pivot into the crankset. The torque value on the bolt was incorrect and was actually under torqued. Niner has fixed this and the updated website should reflect this in the bike’s service manual. The impressive part about this is that I rode the bike off the trail and it wasn't till I got home and in the light that I noticed. There was a lot of resistance pedaling the bike into the shop. If it wasn't for that, I would have never looked. The bike’s suspension and structural integrity seemed fine for however long the pivot had loosened up. I know it was for some time, as the bolt was ground down and scarred. The fix was easy. I did 3 more rides and the bolt has stayed tight. Just be aware. It may be worth it to extract the bolts while the bike is new, loctite the pivot bolts and torque them to the new torque spec.
Who should buy this bike? Ultra endurance riders looking for as much comfort as possible, while still having a fast, efficient, and durable bike. The handling is fast enough to respond in a race situation, while not requiring micro managing. Really, anyone who races will benefit from the JET9 carbon/RDO, as the increase in traction and technical ability over a hardtail race bike could be a real advantage.
The other types of riders I could see really loving the JET9 carbon are a racer who wants a very capable trail bike, or the trail rider looking for a bike that could be raced competitively. The trail rider who likes to go fast and wants to feel the terrain under him/her but doesn't want to feel beat up. The emphasis would be speed and distance.