Interbike: Niner offers the Air 9 carbon hardtail

Wagon-wheel skeptics take heed!

California-based Niner Bikes introduced its Air 9 Carbon hardtail at Interbike 2009, in both geared and singlespeed versions.

It’s the 29er specialists at Niner who’ve rolled out the star big wheeler of the show so far though. The new Air 9 Carbon comes hot on the heels of their gobsmackingly beautiful (not to mention light) carbon rigid fork. With it’s two-tone paint, sloping shoulders and triangular section legs, it not only made other tube and CNC crown units look dated overnight. It also taught Niner a lot about carbon fibre construction.

It might still be seen as a mainly US market niche, but most of the major players now feature at least one 29er in their range. The big brand 29ers we’ve ridden this year have also been impressively competent in terms of handling and overall performance.

These lessons are very clear to see in the all new Air 9 Carbon. Based on the Air 9 Scandium race frame it uses a complete new high modulus carbon fibre chassis. As the two bikes at the show were prototype, there are no confirmed weights or costs on them yet. We’ve already seen genuine sub 18lb on the Scandium bikes though so expect similarly silly lack of mass on the fibre bikes.

It’s not just about grams either as there are also some typically impressive Niner details that put the Air 9 right at the practical cutting edge. Tapered headtubes make even more of a difference with the extra leverage of long forks than on 26-inch wheeled bikes.

With many big wheelers we see being run as singlespeed Niner also use their latest CYA eccentric bottom bracket. This lets you adjust chain tension in single gear sets ups or micro adjust BB height and effective front centre/chainstay length on geared systems. Niner have also designed the eccentric to be upgradeable with BB30 and other future BB standards. Post style disc mounts on the seatstays also keep weight to a minimum and simplify brake mounting the same way post mounts have on forks. The lack of bridges across the stays mean huge mud clearances even with the biggest WTB rubber that the samples were wearing.

In short this is aesthetically, technically and practically a damn nice piece and we’re gutted that Niner didn’t have a booth at the outside demo so we could try it for real. There’s at least three of us already fighting to get the miles into the first sample we can though and at least one who we never thought would be into big wheels.

In fact we saw several surprising converts (or at least potential humble pie eaters) to the smoother rolling, more momentum cause during dirt demo too. We’ll certainly be watching with interest to see if big wheelers finally achieve the momentum they deserve in Europe for 2010.

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