While other manufacturers may consider their aluminum models to be “entry-level” or “pricepoint” bikes, Niner looks at them differently. Yes, the nature of the material makes them less expensive, but the aluminum Niner Jet 9 is every bit a Niner and is obsessed over in the same way they do the high-zoot Jet 9 RDO.
2014 Niner Jet 9 Al 3-Star Build Features:
- Airformed alloy tube shapes for consistent performance and weight reduction
- 100mm travel via CVA Suspension
- Suspension-tuned RockShox Monarch RT3 HV
- Enduro sealed cartridge pivot bearings
- RockShox SID RL 100mm travel fork
- Shimano XT group
- Shimano XT brakes
- Stan’s ZTR Arch EX-built wheels
- Schwalbe Rapid Rob EVO TL 2.40/Racing Ralph EVO TL 2.25
- Niner carbon 710mm flat bars
- Niner carbon seatpost
- 142×12 rear axle
- Integrated post-mount rear brake
- External cable routing with standard dropper post capability
- Colors: Arctic White (tested) or Tamale Red
- Weight: 26.1 lbs (no pedals or bottle cage)
- MSRP: $4199, as tested
Jet 9 is Relevant, Modern Aluminum Frame
When Niner re-designed the Jet 9 a year ago, they did so with amazing attention to detail. The launch video with footage from Pisgah and official reveal put the now-airformed Jet 9 into a class of its own. Yes, Niner focuses much of its time and effort on their carbon program, but their aluminum models are killer performers that are no slouches when it comes to a weigh-in. I chucked heaps of praise on the RIP 9 Al and the Jet 9 Al is no less praiseworthy.
As an XC racer, the Jet 9 Al can hang with the best of them. At just over 26 lbs., the $4199 3-Star build is not a flyweight machine, but it’s certainly not tanky either — it’s only 2 lbs heavier than the Jet 9 RDO and $1100 cheaper at a similar spec. The parts spec is top-shelf with a workhorse drivetrain that’s easy for the masses to love (though the growing masses would wish for 1×11).
Using Niner’s patented CVA Suspension, the Jet 9 Al provides predictable squish that remains active on all terrain and conditions. The frame itself — with its unique tube shapes — is a beautiful work of art. And, as mentioned, the use of air forming takes the level of exactness to a higher level with ultimately less material and less weight, but increased rigidity and compliance in the right spots.
The Jet 9 is Efficient and Fun
I’ve now reviewed each Jet 9 Al since inception (Gen 1 Review / Gen 2 Review) and each one has gotten incrementally better. The current model is lighter, more agile and more capable than ever before — and looks flat-out fantastic to boot.
Since I have a few miles under my belt on Niner’s, I know from the outset just how I like them set up. While the CVA Suspension is active and efficient, I don’t find it as plush as I’d like it until I get it into the 30-35% sag. Niner recommends 25%, but I’ve just found it a more pleasant ride with a bit less air pressure. The RockShox Monarch RT3 settles into the CVA’s platform in wide-open mode and adds a little more artificial platform when switched into pedal mode (which I did on long ascents or extended undulating ascents).
While the Jet 9 Al is built as an XC race bike, Niner equips it with trail-worthy tires that make this bike fast, fun and nimble while giving it gobs of traction. Set up tubeless from the get-go, the Schwalbe tire combination offered traction aplenty all over the mountain. I can’t say enough about how these tires performed in concert with the CVA Suspension. Standing and seated climbs were met with consistent traction and forward motion.
As far s climbing performance goes, the Jet 9 Al held its own. I could hammer out extended climbs on nearly every type of trail without so much as a fuss. While I actually appreciated the 2×10 drivetrain on occasion, I did find that the front end wandered a bit when things got really steep and technical — perhaps partially due to pushing a lower gear than I’m used to. As mentioned, standing up was always met with consistent trail purchase and this bike has a wide sweet spot in that regard. Some bikes require that you stand exactly in the right spot for efficiency — the Jet 9 isn’t so finicky. Obviously, bigger wheels naturally roll over obstacles and increase the speed at which I can climb, but the standing sweet spot is especially forgiving on the Jet.
One of the noteworthy traits of the Jet 9 is its ability to carve up singletrack and stay on target. The handling is spot-on and predictable. It holds a line well and reacts when nudged. Similar to the RockShox Monarch, I found that the SID also rides a bit better with more sag. I appreciate the stout nature of the SID and found it to be as smooth as the competition while being stiffer as well.
That stiffness and efficient travel does bring out the limits of the Jet 9 when the terrain gets technical. A 100mm travel bike naturally has its limits when it comes to nasty, rock-filled descents. The Jet performs admirably — no doubt helped in some regard by the carbon bars and seatpost for both pinpoint accuracy and chatter reduction. You will get beat up, but the bike will take the abuse and be ready for more.
The SID is naturally-tuned for XC efficiency, so it does get overwhelmed a bit more than the CVA rear when the trails get really technical. Again, it’s what I would expect from a 100mm race fork. Luckily, you can put a 120mm fork on the Jet 9 if you want more of a marathon bike.
Quibbles and Such — Not All is Perfect
The debate over chainstay length is always a hot topic. When it comes to that measurement, the Jet 9 Al is on the long-ish side (at 17.9 in). After riding the Ibis Ripley with its 17.4 in stays, the Jet 9 is noticeably less nimble and more “old school” geometry. Don’t get me wrong, you can still flick it around, but it’s not as nimble as the best models on the market. It sure is stable at speed tough.
I’m decidedly a 1×11 fan, so hopping aboard the full Shimano XT kit felt like going backwards. I will say that it does offer predictable performance, but lacks the cripsness of SRAM’s XX1 or X01 kits. That said, I did appreciate the wide range of gears on more than one occasion, but was underwhelmed by the rear derailleur’s shifting. I also had a lot of friction in the rear derailleur cable (not sure why), so pushing the thumb paddle required considerably more effort than it should have. The front derailleur shifted just dandy every time, so no issues there.
I will call out that Shimano has done a great job with the Shadow Plus clutch design on their derailleurs. I was concerned that the white frame didn’t ship with a chainstay protector (just a thin, clear film). After all these miles, there’s not a single bit of chain slap — absolutely nothing. I’m loving the quiet drivetrain even when plunging through rock gardens.
For the majority of the review, I appreciated the XT brakes. They stopped consistently well and offered nice modulation. Near the end of the test, the rear brake squealed so loud that I could hardly hear myself think. Somehow the pads must have gotten contaminated, but I didn’t have time to completely remedy the situation before my Jet 9 review bike was sent back to Niner.
A Note on Sizing: I’m 5’11” and 170 lbs with normal proportions and was very comfortable on the size Medium. I prefer a 23.5-24″ top tube and this one is just a smidge under that, but the Large would be too big.
- Love the new airformed frameset
- Stan’s ZTR Arch EX wheels are tubeless superstars
- Niner carbon bars and seatpost offer extra dose of smoothness and comfort
- CVA suspension once again proves its worth (I prefer a bit more sag)
- Really stiff frame/fork combo made for excellent tracking
- Very stable at speed
- Loved the traction the tires provided — particularly the 2.4 up front
- Water bottle placement is outstanding and can fit a 24 oz with side-loading cage
- External cable routing makes maintenance a breeze
- 2×10 gave extended range, but 1×11 would have been better and lighter (personal preference)
- Lots of cable friction in the rear derailleur — not sure why
- XT brakes developed a ghastly squeal somhow near the end of testing
- Schwalbe Rapid Rob has porous sidewalls — lots of sealant bubbles when I added more
- Long-ish chainstays limits flickability
The Bottom Line: 2014 Niner Jet 9 Al
Niner, once again, proves that aluminum is not dead. The Jet 9 Al is a beautiful bike that performs well as an XC racer or an all-day marathon machine. The XT 2×10 drivetrain was a bit underwhelming, but look for more 1x options once the 2015 builds are live.
Buy Now: Available at JensonUSA.com
Niner is dedicated to both carbon and aluminum bikes. And, when it comes to the Niner Jet 9 Al, this bike still has chutzpah. It is a fun bike all around the mountain and can be a dedicated XC racer at only 26 lbs. Yes, it does yield to the pricier Jet 9 RDO, but this bike remains durable and fun at a much lower cost of entry.