By Josh Patterson,
This bike has been a long time in the making. It lived in a cobweb-filled corner of company co-founder Chris Sugai’s mind—and on many scraps of paper covered in doodles of a new and striking frame—before development began several years ago. The Jet 9 RDO is the company’s second carbon bike and its first carbon full suspension. RDO stands for Race Day Optimized; this acronym is not to be confused with Race Day Only, as the bikes that will share this designation are bred for racing but are capable of much more.
When I look at the Jet 9 RDO’s carbon frame, I see a killer whale. The black-and-white livery, the swoopy lines, and the seat tube brace—which is clearly a dorsal fin—make me think of an orca, breaching the water’s surface. I could spend the rest of this review making dim-witted analogies to killer whales, maybe even give the bike four out of five mackerels… I’ll spare you that indignity.
Compared to its aluminum sibling, the Jet 9, the RDO is slightly slacker with a slightly longer rear end, which sports a full 100mm of travel. The Jet 9 RDO is designed to accommodate 100mm to 120mm suspension forks, while the Jet 9 was designed around 80mm to 100mm forks. Other refinements to the carbon model include internal cable routing through the head tube, a Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket, and a direct mount front derailleur. Niner would neither confirm nor deny my suspicion that the aluminum Jet 9 will be updated to match the Jet 9 RDO, though I consider it a safe bet that this more-afford- able bike will benefit from some high-end trickle-down.
Niner’s recently patented CVA design, short for Constantly Varying Arc, uses two links that move in series through the suspension’s travel. The upper link, mounted to the seat tube, is of the rocker variety and actuates the Kashima-coated RP23 shock. The lower link is what makes Niner’s design different from many other dual-link bikes on the market: the link is located under and in front of the bottom bracket.
My test bike came equipped with a full Shimano XT group, Sun-Ringle wheels, and a 100mm RockShox SID fork with a remote lockout. With a solid selection of parts that left me with nothing to complain about, I was free to focus my attention on the frame and suspension.
I first rode the Jet 9 RDO last summer at a press camp in Park City, Utah. The bike rode well, but if anyone had asked me what I thought of the handling, I would have said “slightly old-school.”
When compared to many other 29-inch cross-country race bikes released in the past two seasons, the Niner has a steeper head angle, at 71.5-degrees, and chainstays that are on the longer end of the spectrum, measuring 455mm. This makes for a bike that feels very responsive in front but that also requires the rider to swing the rear around when things get tight.
I tested the RDO with the stock head angle and fork, swapped the 100mm RockShox SID for a 120mm Fox F29, and finally, tested the bike with the stock SID fork but with Cane Creek’s AngleSet installed and the head angle set at a more relaxed 70.5-degrees. The verdict? I prefer 70.5-degrees regardless of what gets me there—be it more travel or an adjustable-angle headset. I found the Jet 9 RDO to handle much better in high-speed situations with the slightly slacker head angle. If this were my personal XC/ endurance race bike, I would run a 120mm fork simply because it makes this bike that much more capable while giving up nothing in terms of race-day performance.
Once I had the handling sorted out to my liking, I turned my attention to the rest of the bike. Niner’s CVA suspension is noticeably more active than many other dual-link designs I’ve ridden. One criticism often leveled at bikes that use the suspension’s links to resist pedal-induced movement is that they never feel plush. This is not the case with the Jet 9 RDO—turn the ProPedal off and you have a very supple rear suspension that tracks well and absorbs square-edged bumps with poise. I rode the Jet 9 RDO through terrain that was well outside the realm of dainty XC bikes, and it never let me down. For all-around riding I kept the ProPedal in the “1” position and felt it suited the bike’s personality well. For smoother courses, and for pure XC racing, I would opt for the “2” position.
Niner chose to use the tried-and-true 135mm rear spacing with a quick-release, citing its desire to save weight. I have nothing to complain about in the stiffness department. The short links kept the front and rear triangles moving as one. Speaking of those links, the lower one is very exposed; it would be nice to have the ability to purge those bearings with grease for the sake of longevity.
As a “tweener” in Niner’s sizing I found the medium with a 90mm stem to be a perfect fit, and my only quibble is that the tall seat tube/ top tube junction prevented me from running a dropper post—the “RDO” vibe is the reason Niner chose not to include guides for a dropper remote.
My advice to fellow riders is to look beyond the “RDO” branding. Yes, Niner’s Jet 9 RDO is perfectly suited to XC and endurance racing. But even if you are a rider who has no desire to put a number plate on your bikes, you will find a very capable bike in the Jet 9 RDO. Some riders may find the stock geometry suits them just fine. If, like me, you want a bike that can perform well over a wider range of trail conditions, run a 120mm fork and take the harder line.
- Wheelbase: 43.9-inches/1116mm
- Head Angle: 71.5-degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 74-degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 13.0-inches /330mm
- Chainstay Length: 17.9-inches /455mm
- Frame Weight: 5.2lbs./2.36kg
- Complete: 26lbs./11.79kg
- Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL (specs based on size tested)
- Price: $2,600 (frame only), $5,570 (complete)
- Made in Taiwan
- Age: 30
- Height: 5’7”
- Weight: 145lbs.
- Inseam: 30”
Since this review was first published in Issue #163, Niner has tweaked the Jet 9 RDO slightly. Read about those changes here.
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