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Hands-on Gear Review
Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX1 2017 Review
Cons: Slower handling, not so good in the turns
Bottom line: A great bike for straight lining speed, the Jet 9's slow steering makes hard work out of tech and turns.
A versatile trail bike, the Jet 9 is quite capable on rockier, higher speed trails without an abundance of tight turns. Riders in search of a confidence inspiring bike that's comfortable for all-day backcountry adventures will appreciate the efficient pedaling platform, ample travel, and sure-footedness of the Niner Jet 9. However, those in search of a quick, light and nimble bike in tight corners and a playful, fun-natured character should look elsewhere. As far as value, the Jet 9 is middle-of-the-pack, offering plush RockShox suspension but lacking a dropper post.
Best Applications — The Jet 9 is best suited for all-day epics and high speed, technical trails without a lot of tight corners. Because of the efficient pedaling platform of the CVA (Constant Varying Arc) suspension, the Jet 9 also works quite well on flatter, more rolling trails where inertia and momentum give an advantage to 29-inch wheels.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
Four of our professional testers spent six weeks ridding five short travel trail bikes — the Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX1 29, Specialized Camber Comp 29, Santa Cruz Tallboy D, Giant Anthem 2, and Trek Fuel EX 7 29. To find out what type of rider and what kinds of trails best match each bike, we rated them on fun factor, downhill skills, climbing prowess and build quality. The scores are in the table above, the details below. Read more about the process in our How We Tested article.
Frame Design and Suspension Overview
The 2017 Jet 9 has more travel and a slacker head tube angle than its predecessor. At 130mm front travel and 120mm rear, the Jet 9 boasts more travel than most bikes in the test, matching the Trek Fuel EX 7. The Jet 9's slackened 67.5-degree head tube angle, and 435mm long chainstays attempt to find a reasonable balance between high-speed stability and slower speed maneuverability, although we feel it leans towards the former. This bike also features Boost 15x110mm front and 12x148mm rear hub spacing to improve wheel and frame stiffness while accommodating 27.5+ tires as wide as 3.0 inches.
The CVA suspension features counteracting linkage forces, with a bottom link pulling downward when pedaling to prevent squat, and an upward rotating top linkage that adapts to changes in terrain, making for a noticeably efficient and fully active suspension platform.
Overall, the test riders did not rank the Jet 9 very high in the fun factor department. There are a number of reasons why, including a high seated position, large sizing, and long wheelbase. For these reasons, one of the riders simply couldn't get comfortable on the bike. While all riders feel that the bike is capable downhill, it is rather slow to react, and a few testers found it hard to wheelie the bike. One of the testers says the Jet 9 was "fun in the way driving a truck is fun." The rest agree.
Situations where the Jet 9 is most enjoyable, are on higher speed trails without a lot of tight corners. Thanks to its ample suspension, the Jet 9 is pleasant on faster, rockier downhills. On flatter trails that require a lot of rolling speed and momentum, the 29-inch wheels and efficient pedaling platform of the CVA suspension design makes the Jet 9 quite capable and comfortable.
Although the frame design itself limits the Jet 9's fun factor, adding a dropper post and a front tire with more bite would improve the bike's fun quotient. Compared to other bikes in the test, the Jet 9 consistently ranked the least fun with all test riders.
Overall, the Jet 9 is an accomplished descender so long as the trail is on the straight side and is not particularly steep. Because of its longer-travel design, slacker head tube angle and plush RockShox suspension, the Jet 9 is eager to attack chunky and more technical sections at higher speeds than most other bikes in the test. One rider called the Jet 9 a downhill bruiser in the category, more of a trail-oriented bike than cross country. But it doesn't quite edge into longer travel, more aggressive trail bike territory.
In a straight line, the Jet 9 is the most confidence inspiring test bike on the descent. The faster you go on the Jet 9, the more stable it gets, unless you have to scrub speed and make a turn. The CVA suspension design and RockShox platform have excellent mid-stroke support with a progressive shock rate, meaning that it provides plenty of subtle action on smaller hits without bottoming out on bigger ones. As a result, it rides like a bike with more suspension than it has. One of the testers mentioned that square edge hits unsettled the Jet 9 a bit, but overall, testers felt the Jet 9 was quite capable when the trail pointed downhill — its strongest attribute.
In more high-speed, sweeping corners, the 29-inch wheels, and ample suspension of the Jet 9 made it feel secure, although a front tire with more bite than the stock Maxxis Ardent would improve high-speed cornering significantly. When it came to tight downhill switchbacks, the tall seat position and longer wheelbase of the Jet 9 made it feel less quick and nimble in and out of turns than other bikes in the test. The "driving a truck" comparison was noticeable when trying to maneuver the Niner through tight corners.
While the Jet 9 is capable on descents, testers rated it the lowest of the five test bikes in this category, a 6 of 10. The other bikes are less of a chore to work around turns, which makes riding downhill much more fun. The Santa Cruz Tallboy D won the category with a 9 out of 10 for the best combination of confident handling and a playful nature.
All the testers agree that the Jet 9 feels like one of the slowest climbers in the test. This doesn't seem to be attributable to the CVA suspension though, as there is minimal pedal induced bob. Based on rider feedback, the lack of climbing prowess is more a matter of the bike's weight and body positioning. It's a workout trying to accelerate out of corners and steering into tight uphill switchbacks. One of the testers says, "I found myself in the granny gear on the Jet 9 more than any other bike."
The CVA suspension performs well, even with the RockShox Monarch in open mode when climbing. It shines in more technical situations where the active suspension design tracks well over rocks, helping the bike maintain rear tire grip and momentum. Although all three testers agree it feels like the slowest climber, the Jet 9 is not a bad climber. The pedaling platform feels quite efficient and capable over rocky sections.
The Jet 9 was a middle-of-the-road climber in our benchmark timed testing. The Niner was quicker uphill than the Trek Fuel EX and Specialized Camber but slower than the speedy **Santa Cruz Tallboy* and the fast-steering Giant Anthem. Find out how we got the times in our How We Test article.
One tester says the Jet 9 would benefit greatly in the climbing department by dropping a couple of pounds, starting by swapping to tubeless tires. Two of the testers do not like the stock Niner saddle that came on the Jet 9, citing that it makes climbing seated in the saddle a bit uncomfortable. Switching between rear shock settings is difficult on-the-fly, as the shock is mounted low, making the reach to the adjustment lever longer and more awkward.
The Jet 9 climbed its way to last place finish in our test. The Niner scored a 6 out of 10 for its bulky manners. The Jet 9 rolled in just behind the 27.5-inch wheeled Giant Anthem and the not-so-sharp handling Trek Fuel Ex. The 29er roll over skills, sharp handling and pedaling efficiency of the Santa Cruz Tallboy won the category with a 9 of 10.
Cornering, Handling and Body Language
As mentioned above, as long as corners are not tight, the Jet 9 performs well. It's especially confidence inspiring in higher speed corners where the momentum of the 29x2.4 inch Maxxis Ardent front tire carries the bike through with authority. However, all testers agree that for rockier, looser conditions, a front tire with more aggressive tread than the Ardent would be preferable.
Testers agree that the Jet 9 feels like a lot of mass to maneuver around into tight corners, and a lack of dropper post doesn't help the situation. Because of its longer wheelbase and the fact it's on the large side for a Medium bike, the Jet 9 struggles more than any of the other bikes in tight switchbacks. The measured 66.8-degree head tube angle improves steering confidence when cornering on the descent, but the bike certainly feels a bit lazy taking turns uphill.
One of the riders has to sit forward in the cockpit to keep the front end planted when negotiating tight uphill switchbacks. Another rider has to constantly move around to find comfortable positioning and use a lot of body English to get the Jet 9 to steer into tight corners. The Jet 9 is not on the quick side of the handling spectrum. It requires a rider comfortable with putting more effort into making the bike turn sharp and speedy.
Overall, the Jet 9 features some build highlights and lowlights, and comes in about average for build quality.
Fork and Shock — The 130mm travel RockShox Yari fork is one of the most capable in the test, with its 35mm thick upper stanchions resembling the Pike. However, despite its competent performance, the Yari is a rather heavy fork that makes the Jet 9's front end one of the heftiest in the test.
The RockShox Monarch RL Debonair works very well with the CVA suspension, making it descend like a bike that has more than 120mm of rear travel while still pedaling efficiently uphill.
Fit — The Jet 9 is a big bike and the Medium felt more comfortable to riders who typically ride a size large.
Jet 9 Sizing Guide — XS (5'0" - 5'5"), S (5'3" - 5'9"), M (5'8" - 6'0"), L (5'11" - 6'3"), XL (6'3" - 6'7")
Wheels and Tires — The Niner Alloy wheels feature boost spacing and stand up to the bike's intended uses. The Maxxis Ardent didn't have as much bite as testers would like up front but worked fine on the back of the bike.
Groupset — The Jet 9 came with SRAM NX 1x11 shifting, which all testers found serviceable, although one rider suggested going from a 32-tooth to a 30-tooth front chainring considering the bike's heavier weight. The Jet 9 features a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG 05 tabs for a chain guide and can only run 1x drivetrain, with no provision for a front derailleur. Although we think of them as lower grade, the performance of the SRAM Level brakes seemed adequate.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — The Niner-spec 780mm-wide alloy handlebar and stem are stout and work well. But two riders didn't care for the Niner saddle. The Jet 9 would especially benefit from a dropper post, as the angled seat tube prevents the traditional seatpost from lowering more than halfway into the frame. Although not equipped stock with a dropper, the Jet 9 can be set up with either an internal or external routed dropper post.
Notables — The Jet 9 accommodates one water bottle cage for an oversize water bottle inside the front triangle, which is nice. The unsecured, loose-hanging rear brake and rear derailleur cable at the midship of the bike sometimes interfered with the riders' legs and detracted from the design aesthetic of the bike.
The Niner tied the Santa Cruz Tallboy D in last place for our build metric, with a 6 of 10. The Santa Cruz sports a lackluster fork and rigid seatpost. The Giant Anthem 2 rates a 9 of 10 for a solid fork, functional dropper post, and well-considered tires.
The Niner Jet 9 is available in a range of build options with the 1 Star NX1 aluminum build at the bottom of the barrel. It's all carbon from there, starting with a $3,000 Jet 9 RDO frame.
Note: While the Jet 9 1 Star NX1 is 27.5+ compatible, Niner only sells a 29er complete build.
The Jet 9 RDO 2-Star SLX bike is available with either 27.5+ wheels for $4,800 or 29er hoops for $4,500. The 29er version is available online at Competitive Cyclist. Both bikes come with a Shimano SLX drivetrain, a KS LEV dropper post and a RockShox Pike RC, a 140mm for the 27.5+ version and a 130mm for the 29er. They share a rear shock with the 1 Star NX1 build, a RockShox Monarch. The 29er also rocks the Maxxis Ardent tires front and rear while the 27.5+ gets Maxxis Rekon tires front and rear.
For the retail price of $2,600, the Jet 9 comes in on the lower end of the value spectrum compared to other bikes in the test. Although it offers high-performance suspension, its drivetrain and brakes are lower grade than other bikes in the test, and it lacks a dropper post.
To improve the Jet 9's performance, we would like to see the Jet 9 outfitted with tubeless tires. This could drop nearly a pound of weight and is neither expensive nor time-consuming and is a highly recommended first modification for this bike. Installing an internally routed dropper post is second priority. Swapping out to a smaller 30-tooth front chainring would also help riders who live in more mountainous areas, improving the low gear climbing capability of the bike since it cannot accommodate a 2x drivetrain. A front tire with more aggressive tread than the stock Maxxis Ardent would be preferable for riders in rockier, looser conditions. Depending on comfort, you might want to replace the stock saddle.
Although riders have some criticisms for the Niner Jet 9, overall it is a capable and confidence-inspiring bike, so long as the terrain isn't too steep and doesn't have too many tight corners. The Jet 9 is well-suited for someone who primarily rides higher speed, straighter trails that are rockier and more technical than your average singletrack. Thanks to its efficient pedaling platform and larger size fit, the Jet 9 would be an ideal bike for all-day rides where stability and confidence matter more than maneuverability, especially when rider fatigue kicks in. Although it's not the best spec, the Jet 9 is solid and can run traditional 29-inch wheels or 27.5 wheels up to 3.0 inches wide; a nice perk that two bikes in the test lack.
— Kurt Gensheimer, Joshua Hutchens, Kate Blake, Clark Tate, Pat Donahue
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