I spoke to Niner and asked if they could give me another couple of days with their gorgeous bikes as I wanted to try one. I particularly wanted to try the Air 9 Carbon. Now I’ve already ridden one, see my review here, but this demo version was special. First it was in Quest Adventure colours (as good a reason as any to want to own one) but this one was a single speed and, to top things of, was with a Niner Carbon fork.
My view on single speeds and rigid bikes is pretty poor. Of course I’ve ridden single speeds but only in races, the last was the European Champs held at one of the Cheddar Events. That was back in the day. We’d come 3rd in the Team Enduro the day before and then after copious amounts of alcohol (compulsory in those days to enter and get gridded) they held the Euros all organised by Chips Chippendale. I got a respectable 19th. I even downed a beer at the top of the climb on the last lap. But for me single speeds and rigids are for loonies and masochists.
I take great pleasure in trying different bikes and so, to add to my growing portfolio of experience (it helps to be old) I thought that I should try a 29er rigid single speed, to some a purist’s dream to me a harp back to ancient tiimes. After reading Jimbo’s review I left convinced that I’d be shaken to bits and not enjoy it.
The big wheels and 38 x 20 gearing worried me so I wanted to start easy and headed for the Mount Carvey climb. I do more road miles now than off-road and immediately I felt the benefit. I had spent the last two years trying to ride like Contador and the Schlecks. I can now ride out of the saddle for long distances, sometimes for the whole climb. Mount Carvey proved a relatively easy pound out of the saddle. The ride was beginning well and the lack of front suspension not a problem. Next came the Sheep Track which is in perfect condition apart from the loose stuff as is has been so dry. Running my favourite tyres, Maxxiss Crossmarks, the bike just railed every corner. A quick climb up to the top again and then down the North East single track. It began with a good bit of air followed by a safe but hard landing – no suspension fork. The down hill was awesome but I have to confess to taking the chicane cautiously as this part of the hill was wet and I hadn’t had any real experience of cornering with a rigid fork.
I didn’t want to be out for long but succumbed to the temptation of Strava. I thought that with this bike I had as good a chance as any to nail the Wiston Bostal in good time. I made my way to the bottom via some of the really steep sections in the woods. With the saddle high, no suspension fork and summer tyres this took me back to the early days. I made it all and can only put my lack of crashing down to the 29 inch wheel. There’s a big one looming as I have spent the last few months getting away with murder, relying entirely on that massive looking front hoop.
The climb up the Bostal was tough as the gear was so hard. It was really wet but I had to climb out of the saddle for virtually the entire climb. Wet and being out of the saddle don’t usually mix, again the 29 inch wheels got me out of trouble with such good grip – the Crossmark is a remarkable tyre. I was spurred on by the thought of a fellow rider who I hold in great respect but have never ridden with but have seen him on Strava.
At the top I was too puffed to speak but bumped into said rider as there was a group waiting at the top. I must have seemed rude and manic as my breath returned – sorry guys. I was a bit hyper and motor-mouthed. The journey back was typical single speed – manic pedalling and then free wheeling. The Sheep Track climb back was amazing and I really notice the effect of this svelte 18lbs dream machine. I flew up!
So, in conclusion, I can and did enjoy not having any gears and on a ride like that the Carbon fork offered just about enough shock absorption to make the ride fun. I am a good pedaller and so get away without being strong but felt that I could really benefit from riding a single speed as there are times when strength counts – what better way to get stronger. I also found this large frame far more comfortable than the very small medium that I tried last year despite only having a carbon fork. I would have one but it would have to be my third or fourth mountain bike and, to justify it I’d have to have sold the business and had the pension cashed in. No one ever said the Niners were budget bikes and you do get what you pay for, no one asks how much a Mercedes is, so if you want a Niner, don’t ask, but be assured that you’ve got something really special.
Here is the spec.
Niner Air 6 Carbon frame and forks, large and perfect to my 5’10” frame. American classic wheels with Maxxiss Crossmak tyres, e.thirteen crank set, Niner stem and Flat top bars and the ugliest looking Synchros saddle but very comfortable on top of a Hope seat post. Hope Race Carbon brakes. A concentric BB allows Niner to use vertical so you can run a QR which is good news if you don’t have tubeless tyres and change back to gears when the legs give up. Price approx £3,199. Weight 18lbs.
Upgrades I’d choose: YAWYD top cap and Carbon RDO bars and possibly a Rock Shox SID.
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