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When it comes to 26in full suspension bikes in this price bracket, you're not going to find one that can match the potential of Niner's E.M.D. 9 1-Star Complete Bike. That may seem like a bold statement, but there are key factors that make the 29er hardtail platform superior when it comes to pure quality on the trail.

A price ceiling causes manufacturers to make compromises. When you try to package bearings, links, and a rear shock into a frame, production and design costs increase quickly -- and those components are moving parts, or high-wear items. Niner's E.M.D. 9 forgoes that complexity, added weight, and future maintenance hassles, enabling it to focus on frame tuning, while allowing budget room to spec' the E.M.D. 9 1-Star Complete a notch above what a comparable 26in FS can permit.

As its name suggests, Niner has a head start when it comes to 29er technology. And while the E.M.D. lacks some of the bells and whistles of Niner’s top-tier bikes, it still rolls with the same hydroformed tubing, attention to detail, and trail-oriented geometry as its more expensive stablemates. In fact, the E.M.D. 9 relies on the AIR 9’s proven geometry in order to give the E.M.D. 9 quick handling, stability at speed, and plenty of stand-over clearance.

Sharing the general design of the Air 9, the E.M.D. 9 uses a lightweight, hydroformed alloy tube set that provides a compliant ride,while a tapered head tube ensures strength and steering precision. Niner used extensive computer-aided finite element analysis, as well as a mess of real-world testing, to perfect the E.M.D. 9's tube shapes. These tubes, when combined with widespread forging and CNC machining, ensure an optimum balance of strength to weight. The development investment on the E.M.D. 9 frame is ensures that the advantages of a hardtail really shine. Unlike full-suspension bikes, where pedal energy is lost to flex and suspension compression, the wide, swooping stays and sturdy bottom bracket junction allow the E.M.D. 9 to transfer all of your efforts into forward momentum.

That brings us to another reason why a 29er hardtail trumps bouncy bikes -- the larger volume tires. The higher volume rubber allows you to run a lower tire pressure for a smooth ride. This means that there's no need for a rear shock in order to level trail imperfections. In the case of the E.M.D. 1-Star build, low rolling resistance, 2.25in-wide Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires provide the traction and velvety ride quality that's expected of 29ers. The tires are mounted to fast-engaging American Classic Terrain wheels.

Driving the rear wheel is a SRAM S1000 crankset with 38/24 chainrings. It spins a 10-speed, PG1030 11-36t cassette via a KMC X10 chain. Gear selection is handled by SRAM X7 shifters, a X7 rear derailleur, and a X5 front derailleur. Keeping speed in check is a set of Avid Elixir 1 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors.

At the front of the E.M.D. 9 Star-1 build is a 100mm travel RockShox Recon Gold fork. It features RockShox's proven dual air spring and Motion Control dampening, along with a 15mm Maxel for excellent responsiveness. Finishing off this E.M.D. 9 is a handful of alloy Niner components. This includes the handlebar, stem, and a seatpost with a WTB Volt Sport saddle.

The Niner E.M.D. 9 Star-1 Complete Bike is available in the color Red and in five sizes from X-Small to X-large.

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Such a solid bike

  • Familiarity:I've used it several times

I built an XS up for my girlfriend. Such an awesome bike for a beginner/intermediate rider. The frame is bomb proof and very nice to look at. If she was a little taller and had a little more upper body it would have worked perfect (5'-1"). We sold it to her friend who's a little taller and she loves it. Niner did a great job with this frame.

Is the bike assembled - how much assembl...

Is the bike assembled - how much assembled?