What’s better than riding mountain bikes in the back country? Apparently riding mountain bikes to a yurt in the back country to spend the night, then riding back into town the next morning. Such was the opportunity given to us in order to test the latest rigs from Niner. Two days. Two bikes. Two different wheel sizes. If you haven’t seen the news yet, Niner is now on the 29/27.5+ bandwagon with two new bikes. For the ride up to the Sun Valley Trekking yurt we would be on the new JET 9 RDO. The ride down? That was reserved for the new RIP 9 RDO.
With the Ride Sun Valley bike festival done and dusted, it was time to pack an overnight bag and head out on the trails high above Ketchum, ID…
Even though the trail we were to set out on was just part of the weekend’s Fox Trot 40 XC race, our plans were a little less ambitious. With our overnight bags headed up to the Coyote yurt with part of the SV Trekking crew, we were able to ride with only the gear we needed to get a true impression of the bikes. Starting out a hair under 8,000 feet, Osberg ridge would lead us up and over the highest point of the ride at 9,600 feet with a total of more than 3,000 feet of total climbing to get to the yurt. Given that the first day would involve a lot more pedaling than the second, we were outfitted with the new Niner JET 9 RDO fitted with 27.5 x 2.8″ Plus tires.
After an abrupt introduction to sustained climbing 8k feet up, my heart rate finally stabilized enough to start thinking about what the bike was doing underneath. Like a lot of places out west, the Sun Valley area is known for its “anti-grip.” The combination of loose, sandy, and rocky terrain adds a unique level of difficulty to climbs that otherwise would be smooth sailing. That is, until you throw Plus tires into the mix. Running a fairly typical mix of treads with a Maxxis Rekon+ up front and an Ikon+ out back, the JET 9 had grip for days.
In spite of the big tires or maybe because of them, the CVA suspension was able to do its thing offering a drama free ride that had me feeling right at home almost instantly. It was clear that Niner has done their homework when it comes to the new geometry. Not only did the medium fit me incredibly well, but the changes to the reach, and chainstay length were noticeable in a good way.
As we continued to climb we were constantly rewarded with epic views and unbelievable wild flowers.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at the yurt situated at just under 9,000 feet in Idaho’s Smoky Mountains. Day one had flown by, but it was also fairly eye opening. I can’t say that I would have voluntarily chosen a Plus bike for a ride with a lot of climbing, especially for those of us from sea level. But rather than a hindrance, the bigger tires seemed to be a savior offering extra traction when fatigue (or taking in the scenery) caused you to wander from your line onto the loose shoulder of the trail. While we didn’t have the opportunity to ride the JET 9 in 29″ mode, my time on it in Plus left me wanting for more. The balance of 140/120mm travel in Plus mode (130/120mm in 29″) was a perfect blend of climbing prowess and descending fun which will likely be the case for many riders across the globe.
I’ve done a lot of camping and backpacking in my life, but riding out to a yurt in the middle of nowhere to stay the night is a new one for me. To make the experience even more memorable, Niner lined up an all star crew with expert guiding by Joe St. Onge and Sun Valley Trekking and incredible food whipped up by Zander and Heidi of the Cyclist’s Menu. Sun Valley Trekking offers hut rentals in both the winter and summer as well as guiding, shuttling, and food services. This trip was a bit special though as we had Longmont, CO based Chef Z and sous chef Heidi on hand to whip up delicacies that would rival any restaurant in town. The best part about this is that the food isn’t exclusive to press events like this – you can join the Cyclist’s Menu for a multi-day riding adventure of your own with all of the details once you arrive (including the amazing food) handled by their staff and guides. That includes trips on gravel, dirt, road, Belgian cobbles, even winter fat biking. If you’re thinking of taking a cycling vacation, I highly suggest looking them up.
Soon, we had refueled with Vietnamese grilled pork & cauliflower lettuce wraps and Joe’s margaritas (we were totally roughing it), and it was time for the presentation of the bikes. Niner had left it to this point to allow us to form some of our own opinions before drinking the Kool-Aid so to speak. Admittedly it was a little difficult to focus on the bikes with such an incredible backdrop, but what a location to learn about a new bike. Nightfall brought with it an incredible tapestry of stars, both impossibly bright and numerous. If it wasn’t for the big day ahead of us, I would have been perfectly content to stay out all night staring at the sky.
Morning was upon us all too early, but after a surprisingly good sleep on the yurt’s bunk beds and another fantastic meal by Chef Z, we were ready to get the day’s trail intel from Joe. Day 2 would have us riding back into town on the new RIP 9, though this time with 29″ wheels and tires.
Riding straight out of the yurt, we headed for Upper Oregon Gulch, otherwise known as the Edge of the World trail. This trail was also part of the Ride Sun Valley festivities, though this time as part of the Enduro. One thing was almost instantly apparent though – after a day of riding Plus tires, the combination of anti-grip and the narrower 29ers gave the bike a nervous edge. In addition to having more difficulty perfectly dialing in the longer suspension, I suspect some of this was also a direct result of my injury last year. While my riding abilities have returned amazingly well, there still seems to be a mental block keeping me from cornering like Niner’s Nate Adams above (though he was riding the bike in the Plus configuration).
To be honest though, few of the trails we rode in Sun Valley would warrant a big bike like the RIP 9. There were a few sections where the slack angles and monster travel allowed you to really open it up, but more often than not it felt like we were simply fighting for grip. There were some important takeaways from the RIP however. First, for such a long travel 29er, Niner really nailed the fit. Both the RIP and the JET mediums fit me quite well and each seems like it would even have enough room for me to run a 150mm dropper post – our test bikes were fitted with 125mm externally routed droppers, while production bikes will use 150mm internally routed posts. Also, for such a big bike it climbs incredibly well. Even though there was far more down than up the second day, there were enough climbs to test the bikes and legs. As it often goes, single rides on new bikes like this usually give the opportunity for a decent first impression, but this is by no means a full review.
Sun Valley’s trails may not have ideally suited the RIP 9, but they certainly highlighted the new JET 9’s abilities. To get a true picture of the RIP we’d have to spend some time on it on different terrain, however the biggest takeaway here aside from the attention to detail on each bike, seems to be the performance of the Plus tires and how well Niner has integrated them into both bikes. The more we ride Plus, the more we come away surprised, especially in low grip situations. I’m still not ready to give up regular mountain bike tires for good, but the fact that Niner’s new bikes offer you the option is a step in the right direction – for the bikes, and for the brand.