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First Impressions: Niner RIP 9 vs JET 9

We were pleasantly surprised when Niner released the revamped JET 9 RDO and RIP 9 RDO earlier this year. While both models have been longstanding favorites, they were admittedly getting a little long in the tooth, especially in light of some of the current trends in mountain bike design. Suffice it to say that the new versions of both the RIP and the JET are thoroughly modern beasts; however, they’re something of a departure from the previous models for a handful of reasons. I had the opportunity to ride both bikes back-to-back at the fall edition of Outerbike in Moab, and while this quick test was far from conclusive, we were able to glean some interesting lessons about the updates of these two esteemed trail bikes.

Plus Compatibility

niner plus tire
The new RIP and JET are both compatible with 27.5 Plus tires, in addition to large volume 29in tires. Moab’s rocky terrain highlighted many of the potential advantages offered by Plus tires. At 180 lbs, the author found that 25-27 psi in the 2.8in Maxxis tires offered ample stability and grip, despite the fact that many Plus advocates recommend far lower pressures.

Before diving into a discussion of the bikes, it seems appropriate to address the elephant in the room—wheel size. While it could be seen as odd in light of Niner’s evangelism of 29-inch wheels, both the JET and RIP are 27.5 Plus compatible, with clearance for tires up to three inches in width. I tested both bikes in the 27.5 Plus configuration in hopes of garnering a more precise comparison, and despite many of my previous hangups regarding Plus tires, the larger tires were downright inspiring in Moab’s rocky terrain. I may be forced to eat my words regarding my initial distaste for Plus tires, or this could simply be a result of the fact that the 2.8 Maxxis tires mounted to a narrower 35mm rim is a different beast than the earlier generations of Plus setups. Regardless, both bikes handled remarkably well with the larger rubber, although I’d be interested to do some back-to-back testing on a traditional 29er setup to provide a more nuanced insight.

RIP 9 RDO

Niner 2017 RIP
Longer travel, lengthened reach, and a slightly longer wheelbase haven’t sacrificed the poised, delicate handling that earned the previous RIP its loyal fanbase.

The previous iteration of the RIP 9 RDO is a bike that I genuinely wanted to love. It possessed delicate handling and excellent suspension, but the sizing just didn’t work for me, which was ultimately a deal-breaker. So naturally, the more modern sizing had me extremely excited to throw a leg over the new RIP 9, and it did not disappoint in the least. Pointing it down the rocky trails in Moab’s Mag 7 trail network revealed that the attributes that I so enjoyed in the previous iteration hadn’t changed. As ever, the suspension was firm under pedaling and tended to ride high in the travel, in spite of gaining 25mm of travel, which helped it to maintain an ample reserve for the square-edged impacts that litter the area. The feel at the handlebars possessed a similar lightness to the previous generation, requiring minimal effort to change direction, yet it maintained a straight line through rough sections with minimal fuss.

Niner group ride
With a handful of representatives from Competitive Cyclist’s customer service team on hand, there was no shortage of good times to be had. The author leads the charge.

With 150mm of travel at both ends, a lengthened reach measurement, and a burly Rock Shox Lyric up front, the RIP 9 RDO falls into a category occupied by 29er enduro race bikes like the Yeti SB5.5c, or the Evil Wreckoning. However similar the aforementioned may appear on paper, the on-trail character is miles apart. As compared to others in this travel bracket, the RIP’s lighter touch at the handlebars is more reminiscent of the trail bikes of years past, albeit in a much more capable package. Those looking for a mini-DH feel would be better suited by other options, but for those wanting to split the difference between all-out capability and a responsive, sprightly ride, the RIP continues to be an obvious class leader.

JET 9 RDO

Niner 2017 Jet
While its outstanding pedaling efficiency remains, the new JET’s added travel and more relaxed handling bears much in common with the previous RIP. Those lamenting the changes would be wise to consider the new RKT 9 RDO.

If the RIP 9 RDO continues on the path blazed by its predecessor, the new JET 9 RDO represents something of a departure. The JET retains the efficiency at the pedals of its predecessor, but the increased travel and more aggressive geometry move it from the trail-capable XC racer bracket squarely into the realm of new-school trail bikes. For reference, the new JET’s 120mm of travel is only 5mm shy of the previous RIP, which should underscore its noticeable change in focus. Diehard fans of the previous JET will be relieved to find that the new RKT 9 RDO is an outstanding replacement, while those looking for a bit more than the previous JET offered will find the newest iteration is a perfect match.

Niner Jet RDO in action
The new JET retains its firm pedaling and readiness to drop the hammer, but it’s far more versatile as well, thanks to the extra travel and more modern handling. The author taking advantage of the added fun factor afforded by the updates.

I’ll be the first to admit that the previous JET was not much to my liking, what with my personal tendency to prioritize descending prowess over all else. In contrast, the new JET 9 RDO felt like a revelation, with a poised, responsive feel in corners that never crossed the boundary into “twitchy.” In spite of gaining nearly an inch of travel, I found that the new JET offered outstanding pedaling efficiency both seated and standing, with enough travel left in reserve to deal with rocky obstructions on the ups and unexpected impacts when pointed down. While my personal preferences favor the RIP, I will readily admit that the JET will be an outstanding partner for many trail riders in a wide variety of locales.

Wes’s Take

Competitive Cyclist’s Customer Account Manager Wes Branham was on hand to ride the JET 9 as well. He opted for 29-inch wheels on his test bike. In his words, “I was always a fan of the previous generation, as it was the fastest and stiffest XC race bike out there, but it could beat the heck out of you over rides of 2+ hours. I found the new model to have very similar qualities as far as stiffness and agility but the longer suspension really helped to soften the ride, yet it was still a very stiff bike as far as power transfer. I spent about three and a half hours on it over some moderately technical trails and found the bike to still have very impressive agility. The bike was very efficient at climbing even though it’s a lot slacker than the previous version. The handling of the bike downhill was impressive as well. A very fast descender that maintains control throughout the plunge. Overall, this bike was very fun to ride and Niner did a great job of keeping that race ready 29er reputation in mind while creating a sweet epic trail bike for more technical trails.”

Niner on Competitive Cyclist
Wes Branham immediately took a liking to the new JET, noting that it felt more confident, without sacrificing his favorite traits of the previous version. If you’d like to speak with Wes about his experience on the new JET, don’t hesitate shoot him an email at wbranham@competitivecyclist.com.

A Tough Choice

It seems likely that anyone considering one would be wise to consider the other as well. For those individuals, there is a factor that could complicate the choice, or make it easier, depending on one’s perspective. You see, when companies offer two bikes that appear so similar, and are differentiated most obviously by travel, riders are typically forced to choose between a shorter-travel option which is much nimbler, and a longer-travel option that’s a fair bit more capable. That is not the case with the RIP 9 RDO and the JET 9 RDO. In fact, I was most struck by the nearly identical handling and characteristics of both bikes.

So if your terrain is mostly rough and rocky, or primarily smooth and fast, you’re safe in choosing the model whose travel best suits your needs, without fear that you’re losing out on the best attributes of the model you passed up. Regardless of what you choose, the JET 9 RDO and RIP 9 RDO represent many of the best attributes of modern trail bikes, with precise handling that will appeal to traditionalists as well.

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