I don’t own a 29er, for all of my life it has been 26ers when it came to mountain biking. I wasn't morally opposed to 29ers, I just didn't get the kool-aid. When people said “it will completely change everything” I was skeptical because I never had that experience on 29ers. Most of the ones that I rode were fine, but nothing that would make me drop everything and rush out to buy one.
I had the opportunity to borrow a Niner RIP recently and for the first time I can say that this is a 29er that I wouldn't mind owning.
Typically the problems that I have seen on 29ers are 1.) not “significantly” different to make me want to make the change, 2.) higher center of gravity made the bike more difficult to handle, 3.) bigger wheels are harder to get started (think of a trail like rattlesnake with starts and stops) and 4.)more difficult to handle in tight, twisty singletrack.
The Niner RIP does a great job of addressing these challenges. I had recently demoed a Santa Cruz Tallboy and that handled pretty close to my Blur, making me wonder why the change would be necessary. With the RIP I could clearly see a difference in the feel of the bike. It was easier to handle in certain circumstances and the bigger wheels were more pronounced than on some other 29ers, giving it a distinctly “better” feel. Most feel different than 26ers, but different doesn't always translate into better. For instance, shrimp flavored soda tastes different from cola, but….
The center of gravity on the RIP is higher than a 26er, but it does not feel as tall as some of the other 29ers. When bombing down New Cheesecake at City Park I was able to hit the drops at the same speed as a 26er that is lower to the ground. This was s significant difference over the other 29ers that had a feeling of “falling forward” on steeper drops. The KS LEV dropper post had an impact on this, but even without dropping the seat, the center of gravity was better.
I have been skeptical of bigger wheels. Yes, when you need to power through a rock garden or get up over obstacles, they can have an advantage. But getting up to speed quickly is usually their downfall. With the RIP (and the 2x10 drivetrain), the startup time on the wheels seemed much shorter. The pedal stroke was transferring the power efficiently to the wheels and startup lag seemed just under a 26er. From a speed perspective, I did a full City Park lap in 0:55:22 on a hot afternoon, which is my fastest lap of the year, riding a bike for the very first time. Once I had it dialed in, I could probably shave a few minutes off that time.
The handling in tight spaces was adequate, but still never as good as a 26er can deliver. In a full run at the Lakeway Trails, the bike performed well both on the switchbacks of the Canyonlands as well as the tight twisty trails of the Hamilton Greenbelt.
Manufacturer: Niner bikes
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Pros: Good geometry gives you the benefits of 29ers without the "big bike" feel, light weight
Cons: Not wild about the linkage down below, the cable routing and the lower bottom bracket
Configuration: Large frame, 2x10 drive train, Fox fork, Fox RP23 shock
Verdict: If I was in the market for a 29er, this would be the bike.
Website: Niner Bikes