29ers are simple beasts at heart. Big wheels go fast, especially on technical terrain, or at least this one does. The skeptics would tell us that a 29-inch wheel is slower to get up to speed and not good on tight twisty terrain, but no one told Chris Sugai of Niner, who designed a frame that reacts incredibly well on tight twisting rooty singletrack. The steering is precise, the handling is immediate and the power transfer is fantastic. Add in its light weight and you have an amazing hardtail, be you a racer or trail rider.
While 29ers have become the norm in North America they have been really slow to take off in Europe, with sluggish speed and bad handling most often cited as the main problems. The Air 9 Carbon is the reply to all of these criticisms, as Niner has produced a bike with exceptional acceleration and crisp, fast handling that really excels on twisty, rocky, rooty, singletrack. This was really brought home to me the first time I rode it on a group ride. Despite having a summer tire on the back and riding at night in the winter, I dropped the group by over 45 seconds on one short section of wooded singletrack. This is not usual for me, but this bike has made it the norm.
The front end is high, which serves to keep the rider’s head up and weight back. I normally ride with a riser bar but the high front end has me back riding a flat bar for the first time in years. I did ride a low riser with the stem flipped over, but have reverted back to a wide flat bar recently. This works in tandem with the 73-degree head angle (100mm forks) and is confidence inspiring, allowing you to really attack the terrain.
Most carbon hardtails follow an all too predictable design, but Niner has introduced a number of interesting quirky featured such as the CYA bottom bracket design and the massive down tube. It is a complete package that marks something that really stands out in the market.
After eleven months of testing the biggest problem I have had with this bike is that all of my other ones have become redundant and are sitting in the shed gathering dust. In terms of fun factor, this bike is a blast, is as home on a cross country race course as it is on backcountry singletrack. In fact whilst it has a great racing base, this is perhaps the ultimate trail bike. The carbon does just enough to absorb the trail chatter and yet the acceleration is unbelievable. Lay it over in corners and it positively sings with precise handling and a chuckability that just brings a smile to your face. Don’t believe me? Try it!