Niner EMD 9 1-Star review£1,399.00

Affordable race bike with real premium appeal

BikeRadar score3.5/5

Niner has one of the strongest brand images and swag ranges in the business, and a line-up of eye-wateringly expensive but drop dead gorgeous and achingly aspirational frames. The good news is that this complete bike offers trademark aesthetics and insatiably rapid charisma for a fraction of what those top-line rides will set you back.

Hey, good looking

Because opinions on how a bike should look differ dramatically between different people we hardly ever comment on aesthetics, but the EMD 9 definitely looks like a top-class chassis. The matt black anodised alloy frame gets red flash highlights and signature statement decals like the “Pedal dammit” slogan on the top tube, and all the fixtures and welds are particularly neat and tidy.

Niner is a bit cagey about butting and other aspects of the 7005 alloy tubeset but there’s plenty of external hydroforming going on to align strength and stiffness in the right places. The narrow chainstays are nipped in at the bottom bracket but there’s still plenty of room for bigger rubber than the 2.0in WTBs fitted.

The well-matched kit choices make for a nimble and predictable ride:
The well-matched kit choices make for a nimble and predictable ride:

Well-matched kit choices make for a nimble and predictable ride

The cowled QR dropouts out back lack the security and stiffness of a thru-axle setup and the rear brake attaches to an IS mount rather than the more modern post mount standard but it’s all neatly executed nonetheless.

The conventional screw-in bottom bracket offers better guarantees of fitting accuracy and reliability than a press-fit design and the frame has internal routing for a 31.6mm dropper post. Unlike most 29ers it’s available in an XS frame size too (though that only has one bottle cage mount).

Co-ordinated kit

If looks are a lot of the immediate appeal of the Niner then the matching component collar and cuffs certainly capitalise on that visual traction. Niner’s own 710mm Flat Top bar may sound narrow on paper but it works well with the old-skool racer geometry and logo/red-band matched stem. The ultra-light foam Niner grips are a classic race choice too, and you even get their YAWYD (You Are What You Drink) beer bottle top compatible stem cap included.

The seatpost, seat clamp and saddle are similarly matched in appearance. Even the mid-section rims are Niner-logoed to complete a standout synced package.

While it’s not a custom model, the RockShox Recon fork is a naturally good match colour-wise, and the thru-axle stiffened ride represents reasonable value for the price. We’ve no complaints about the dependably durable Shimano Deore stop and go equipment either, and the fast, narrow WTB treads are a good choice for a race-focused 29er.

Need for speed

With its narrow bar and tyres and foam grips, the EMD 9 makes no secret that it’s a bike prioritised for XC speed – and that’s fine. It’s what 29er hardtails are really good at, after all.

The 710mm bar and 90mm stem are also totally appropriate to the frame angles and tyres. Anything wider would exceed the grip of the WTB rubber too easily and a short stem/big bar combo on top of a steep head angle is a horrible thing to have in your hands. The frame will cope with a 120mm fork (and the geometry will be fine) if you want a bit more travel too.

The EMD 9 backs up its “Pedal dammit” slogan with very impressive crank-to-ground connection, and while the wheels aren’t light it surges forwards and/or upwards very satisfyingly once you’ve heaved the first few pedal strokes out of the way. The laterally stiff frame means there’s no problem with adding your upper body strength to the propulsion process either, and it’s a bike that loves to gain as much speed as possible at every opportunity.

Niner's emd 9 1-star has an appealingly upmarket aesthetic:
Niner's emd 9 1-star has an appealingly upmarket aesthetic:

The EMD 9 1-Star has an appealingly upmarket aesthetic

Despite the solid drive feel and those low-volume WTBs the frame is still smooth enough to keep revs smooth and traction consistent through rough sections too. While there are obvious limits with what an XC geometry, 100mm travel big-wheeler can cope with in terms of size and severity of terrain, the precise frame and fork let you make the best choices for every section of trail (presuming you have the skill).

Crucially, the well balanced package of bar, tyres and geometry also means the whole bike tends to hit its traction and control limits simultaneously and consistently rather than being tripped up by an unexpected or underperforming weak link somewhere in the system.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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