I’ve written a lot of words about this bike, most of them glowing words. There’s not much bad to say about the bike, so let’s get right to the summary of it all.
As a former English teacher, I often find comfort in the grading system, so that’s how I’ll do the breakdown. This is the assessment of the Niner after several months of beating on it, so this should give you a good idea as to what to expect if you were to buy this particular bike.
Grades will be given on a scale of 1 to 5 Spores. 1 spore is bad; 5 spores kicks ass.
Frame: 4.5 Spores— Yes, yes, yes! The One9 rocks. It rides awesome, fits perfect, and the headtube is at just the right angle to give you maneuverability without feeling too slack. The orange paint job is also killer! I dock it half a point for one small annoyance: Niner says this frame is perfect for wide tires, but I beg to differ. The tires I was rolling gave me about one or two millimeters of clearance between the tread and the chainstays…hardly a lot of clearance at all. But I also felt like the tires I was rolling were a bit too wide, so it wouldn’t matter much to me if I had bought the bike. Otherwise, the frame rocks. I never thought I’d say this about an aluminum frame, but it’s so comfortable you forget it’s made of aluminum at all.
BB system: 4 spores—I’ve never been a big fan of the biocentric (e-centric, whatever) style BB shells because I know they have a tendency to creep and creak. I didn’t get any creeping with this one, however, so I give Niner points for that. I did get some creaking, though. Whether that creaking would lead to issues in the long term is tough to say, but I generally don’t trust these things if they creak. That said, this biocentric BB didn’t move, and I always felt confident mashing on the pedals. This is especially important when you’re torquing on a singlespeed. 4 spores is perhaps being generous considering the long-term potential for problems, but in the several months I rode the bike, the slight creaking was the only issue.
Cranks: 5 spores—Let me say right off the bat that I’m not a huge fan of Shimano in general, but their cranks have always been reliable. These XTs are no exception. Good workhorse cranks.
Wheels: 5 spores—Wow! What a surprise these wheels were. I saw Sun on the rims and hubs and thought, cheap, crappy, sloppy, and heavy. I was wrong. These SUn Ringle Black Flag wheels needed no truing after several months of riding. The hubs did not develop any play, and the wheels themselves did not flex a lot under load. They’re affordable and damn stiff. Sun Ringle hit the nail on the head with these guys.
Tires: 3.5 spores—Schwalbe tires are good. They’re not great, and they simply aren’t worth the high price tag. That said, I liked these tires well enough. Would I run right out and buy them? No, not necessarily. But if they were given to me, I’d ride them. A small gripe: the treads are spaced just perfectly enough that they pick up small rocks and pebbles, which then get stuck and hit my seatstays as the wheel rotates. Kind of drove me crazy on a few rides. But otherwise, they haven’t worn a ton after some serious miles, and they never slipped on steep stuff.
Drivetrain: 5 spores—Good gearing. Good rings. Niner’s chainring and cog were both stout, not to mention attractive. I’ve heard good things about them in the past, and they were reliable on this ride.
Headset: 5 spores—Integrated, tapered…stiff and attractive. Not much to say here except that this area of the frame/fork integration worked seamlessly and seemed to help with stiffness up front.
Fork: 1 spore—This is the real downfall of this bike. The Manitou Tower fork, or as I like to call it, my indexed suspension, really sucked hard and got worse over time. It feels clunky; stiction is the name of the game here. I was hoping to give this fork higher marks, because at first it didn’t feel too bad; it wasn’t like the limp dick Manitou forks of old. But out of the box, this fork just felt awful. I give it one star instead of zero because it didn’t turn into a rigid fork, but if you remember the early Judy forks from Rock Shox, the ones with the elastomers inside, you know exactly how this fork feels. (Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but you get the idea). If I bought this bike, I’d immediately swap out the fork for a Rock Shox Reba…or if I was a rich man, a Fox fork. Back to the drawing board, Manitou.
handlebars/stem: 4 spores—Carbon bars? Comfy, if not slightly too wide. I’d probably cut them down just a bit if I owned the bike. I would also think about getting riser bars, though I wasn’t often thinking about this while riding. The stem was fine. Nothing much to speak of there. Reliable, fairly lightweight…dependable.
Grips: 5 spores—I love the Ergon grips. It took a while to get adjusted to them, but now I won’t ride without them. Buy these. White gets you style points…
Seatpost: 2 spores—Well, I broke the first one, so I had to knock this down to 2 spores. I don’t like carbon seatposts because of their tendency to crack (see my post HERE for a tale of almost-carbon-up-the-bum), but I know this post probably added to the plush feel of the frame. I’d be curious to see how this bike rides with an alloy post…
Saddle: 5 spores—Love the Selle Italia C2. Fits my ass perfectly. Saddles are always a persona choice, though, so choose yours carefully. I’ve been riding this saddle or one similar to it for years and have avoided monkey butt most of the time.
Brakes: 3 spores—The big surprise of the entire bike. These brakes weren’t bad. They weren’t exactly good, but they weren’t bad. The Hayes Prime brakes certainly look pretty cool, but in terms of performance, I did experience some brake fade. They needed to be bled right out of the box, too, which was annoying but not altogether surprising. I like the lever feel, and I think Hayes is on the right track with these brakes…a bit more tinkering and they might be onto something. If I was on a budget and needed brakes in a pinch, I’d buy these, but compared to XT disc brakes, they’re still lacking.
Performance on descents: 4 spores—I rolled down some pretty steep terrain with the One9 and only ate shit hard once. I didn’t find myself under-steering during fast descents, which was something I was expecting because every 29er I’ve ridden has done that. The only reason I don’t give this 5 spores is because I found it hard to wheelie-drop off stuff with this bike. I think that’s a matter of getting used to the geometry, but I almost ate shit a few times trying to wheelie drop, only to find my front wheel diving. Otherwise, I always felt confident and in control, especially on technical descents.
Performance while climbing: 4 spores—As I said earlier, I’m new to the singlespeed thing, so climbing on the One9 was a challenge from the start. That said, it climbed a lot better than other 29ers I’ve ridden, and I never felt like it was the big wheels holding me back. Fat ass? Yeah. Wimpy legs? You betcha. But the bike itself? Nope. It felt solid and quick on long, steady climbs, but was a little sluggish up steep stuff.
Overall performance: 4 spores—I love this bike. Let me say that unabashedly. The fork brings this bike down to 4 spores though. Put a Reba or a Fox on there and I’ll give it 5 spores easy. While the price tag may be a touch high, I think for a 23 pound singlespeed that rides like a motherfucker this is a helluva investment.
The BOTTOM LINE: I was a tough sell on the 29er craze. I resisted for many years, though I tried a lot of 29er bikes. None of them fit me well, and the loss of steering ability never seemed like a good trade off for the big wheels. This Niner One9 has changed my mind. Since I have been riding this Niner, I’ve tried other 29er bikes, and they all feel clunky to me. I’ve never felt more comfortable on a 29er than I have on this Niner. I think it’s a well designed frame that is both comfortable and stiff, and I think the overall feel of this bike will change the naysayers’ minds about big wheels.
It’s important to pair a good frame with good components, so I was skeptical when I saw the Hayes/Manitou stuff on it. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised (aside from the limp dick fork, of course); perhaps this brand has turned a corner. I’m still a little hesitant to give the brakes a full endorsement, especially since there are so many other brakes out there that work more reliably, but if you’re looking for a decently priced set of brakes that will work most of the time, go for the Hayes.
That said, invest in this bike. It’s a solid singlespeed from a rapidly growing company that has their shit together. I have never been much of a singlespeeder, and I always swore if I had to own just one bike, it would never be a one gear…call me a convert. I’d take this as my one bike, and I’d ride the hell out of it.
Next up on the block for review is the Civilian Luddite, a rigid singlespeed with a carbon fork. Check it.
Oh, and don’t forget to order your DRUNKCYCLIST.COM POSTER. Your garage wall will thank you for it.
Until next time, keep the rubber on the ground, and one in your wallet.by