Although the recently launched Air 9 RDO is arguably the pinnacle of Niner’s hardtail line, the newly designed E.M.D. 9 and Air 9 models are likely more important and relevant to both Niner and most riders.
The E.M.D. 9 (Eat My Dust) sits on Niner’s bottom rung costing just US$549 (£539), which makes it supremely attainable to most riders. Just because it’s Niner’s budget bike didn’t detract from their effort in designing it or the feature set it sports.
E.M.D. 9 also has an ace in the hole when it comes to small riders, offering a smaller XS size which Niner say fits riders down to 5ft.
The Air 9 — US$849 (£819) takes E.M.D. 9’s alloy design up another notch with the goal of shaving weight for the race course. It is a true race-performance rig, which benefits from cutting edge contemporary features, including a Press-fit30 bottom bracket and direct fit headset.
“Carbon is really about the intellectual property that you put into the bike,” Carla Hukee, Niner’s brand manager told BikeRadar. “Every one starts with these identical piles of carbon, and if you put a lot of research and time and effort into your carbon, you can come up with shapes that are really responsive, have great ride feel, and you can make the bike really light — it’s really about your R&D investment. Alloys are really moving this direction now.”
Start with 6000-series alloy: build to suit two different riders
We’ve said the new Air 9 builds upon the E.M.D. 9s more basic feature set, but it’s worth looking at the big picture of where both models start and end up: both start with hydro-formed 6000-series alloy tube sets; both use a tapered head, new larger top tube and hydro-formed down tube.
E.M.D. 9 shares its top and down tubes with the new Air 9
“There are so many things you can do with it and so many levels of hydro-forming,” says Hukee. “What we have found is that it’s really about the intellectual property that you’re putting into alloy now. So we moved from our scandium frame and our straight round-tubed E.M.D. frame to these hydro-formed and highly engineered tubes. The Air 9 and E.M.D. 9 share the same top tube and down tube now.”
It’s from here that the two models split. The E.M.D. 9 goes a more economical route with standard straight gauge tubes used in the rear triangle, a standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket, and more basic ZeroStack headset.
Air 9 incorporates an integrated headset (whereas the bearings sit directly in the head tube, without cups) and PF30 bottom bracket, both features that help shave weight. But the biggest difference between the two bikes — and reason for their considerable price differences — are their rear ends; Air 9 carries tuned, hydro-formed tubes right through to the rear dropouts.
Privateer racers will appreciate the new Air 9, as it's roughly 1/2lb lighter than the E.M.D. and 1/4lb lighter than the previous scandium model
Finally there’s the finish of the two bikes: E.M.D. 9 comes with two simple painted options, while Niner offer more costly anodized and two-tone paint options to the Air 9.
The difference between the two chassis is most apparent through this last feature — finish — and through the tangible measure of weight: E.M.D. 9 has a claimed weight of 1,690g (3.72lbs) versus Air 9’s 1,480g (3.26lb) weight claim, which is 70g lighter than the previous scandium edition, and 112g lighter if you factor in the weight savings associated to the headset and PF30 bottom bracket. “They’re lighter and stronger,” said Hukee. “The testing on the new frames is amazing.”
XS E.M.D. 9, a big deal for Niner
Niner’s new XS is considerably smaller than their current S model; they’ve shrunk the top tube by 0.5in, the seat tube by 1.5in, and lowered the stand over by 1.25in. Besides making it smaller, Niner say they paid special attention to the fit and ride of the bike.
They designed the bike to eliminate toe overlap, preserve ride quality for smaller riders by removing chain- and seatstay bridges, and fit a full sized water bottle within the front triangle — all attributes that larger riders are generally given and take for granted.
“We really worked hard to make sure the extra-small has the same quality ride as the medium, large, and extra-large,” said Hukee. “We have a really good crew of test riders for the extra-small project, and we’re really, really excited with the result.”
Metrics for the new XS E.M.D. 9, which is the smallest model Niner have made to date