Tapered head tube
At the front end is a tapered head tube, the now de rigueur standard for most new mountain bikes, allowing for a stiffer front end and better tracking. While this was initially touted as a carbon only improvement it is being carried over to aluminum bikes in particular as new techniques allow for better tube shaping. Whether it makes a noticeable difference is debatable (I think a thru-axle design is much more important in this regard) but the companies who utilize it would have us believe it makes a big difference. Either way, if you are buying a frame and already have a fork with a standard inch-and-an-eighth steerer, fear not, as Niner makes a headset adapter that works perfectly. The headset is integrated into the mold making the bearing cups part of the frame, saving weight.
Internal cable routing
Another use of those big carbon tubes is for internal cable routing. There are two reasons why you would select to use internal cable routing — aesthetic and practical. It provides a much cleaner frame, but more importantly it protects your cables from all the crud that the trail kicks up, which is especially handy if you live in a wet climate.
The cables thread inside the frame and only emerge at crucial points. Although this is great, it does present a problem when it comes to replacing the cables. Here let me refer you to the official Niner Air 9 Carbon cable fitting video where one of the first instructions is to open a bottle of beer. … It is an excruciating process to fit the cables, although there is an excellent video featuring team rider Fuzzy Mylne which shows a number of tricks of the trade and saves loads of time. You have to remove both the cranks and bottom bracket, although I have managed to change the cables three times without removing the BB shell inserts. However, on the plus side my initial cables lasted a whole six months of winter riding, and even then I only changed them because I was fitting another shifter design. I am on the fence with this one. The extra hassle when it comes to changing cables is a pain, but then again you don’t need to do it as often.
The bike is loaded with quirky features such as the ‘Pedal damn it’ line on the top tube for motivation. On the underside of the down tube there is a kind of plastic armor, aimed at reducing the potential damage from rocks, not that we have ever encountered any in nearly five years of riding carbon bikes. Handily Niner also includes a 5-year unlimited warranty which includes racing, something that is quite unusual and to be commended.
The Air 9 Carbon is my current weapon of choice and the full-suspension bike is weeping in a corner, having lost favor to this fun and capable all-rounder.
Ben combines work as a qualified mountain bike guide with reviewing and rating products for Singletrack.com as well as Outsider magazine and Spoke.ie and is also working on a PhD in tourism and entrepreneurship. With 20 years of mountain biking behind him, Ben remembers the Girven Flexstem, U-brakes and the first time he saw a suspension fork with a 1-inch piece of elastomer in it. He has ridden bikes on four continents and has covered events as diverse as the 2007 mountain bike world championships, the Giro D’Italia and the Single Speed World Champs and lives in Dublin, Ireland. He is happiest riding technical singletrack and was an early adopter of the 29er… for a European. Find him on Twitter: #spoketweets. Check out all of Ben’s stories.