By way of introduction then, I first dipped my toe into the 29er waters with the Singular Swift and recently moved onto the Niner Sir9. Ostensibly the same type of product – steel hardtails – they are as alike as chalk and cheese. Although by no way ‘cheap’ the Singular Swift is the budget bike of the two, costing a mere £440.00 for frame and fork delivered. The Niner was getting on for twice the price frame only and to be honest, was a bit of an indulgence.
Anyone following this blog will have read about my struggles with the Swift, how I tried time after time to make it work for me and how, time after time, I failed. On reflection, the reason for this failure was down to my trying to make a 29er work as a 26 inch bike, with riser bars, too long a stem etc etc. Despite being advised by Kurt (29ermeister) to the contrary, I persisted with my attempts to make round components fit into square holes until I gave up, took his advice on board and found the hinterland of 29er joy lying spread out before me. When I got to build up the Niner, this knowledge was already in the data banks so the same struggle was avoided. This, and only this, is the reason why the preceding pages have not been filled with lamentation about the Niner not working well!
I like both of these bikes a lot, and would be hard pressed if made to choose between one or the other. The 29er format really works well for me, all I am annoyed about is that no one made me buy one years ago!
Shared characteristics – both bikes eat rough ground, they climb well (very well) they sprint well, they are real mile munchers and make riding long distances at a decent sustained pace relatively easy. The 1×9 format is ideal for all of these disciplines but I find it really hard to get either bike up to speed quite as quickly as riders on 26 inch wheel bikes particularly in short course races. The time lag is minimal but makes the difference between hanging onto the bunch and losing them. As I do not excel at this format of race anyway, I can live with it. I am not sure whether running a 2×9 (and a pair of younger legs) would sort this deficiency out but I suspect it might.
So what are the differences between them? I will go through all the technical gubbins later but, as you will see from the build details, I have tried to keep them as similar as possible, with the exception of the forks…the Swift is rigid whereas the Niner is a hardtail.
As soon as you throw your leg over the saddle you can feel just how different these bikes are. Even on the road their basic characteristics shine through. The best way I can think of describing the ‘feel’ is to draw an analogy between the bikes and cars. The Swift immediately makes you think of a stripped down, purposeful race machine, a little like a full on rally car, short on frills but workmanlike and built with a purpose in mind….going fast. The Niner feels soft, like the top of the range road going equivalent of said rally car. It just gives you the impression that it will float over anything you put in its way whereas the Swift might ping off it. The paradox is that stiff as it may be, the Swift does not beat you up and it holds a line remarkably well and, while the Niner feels more refined, it does not really go any slower. So, what else marks them apart?
The big one for me is the way they deal with singletrack; I appreciate this may a function of the different types of fork, I have had neither the time nor the inclination to swap forks over yet but I really don’t think it is all down to the fork. Once you have got your head dialled in to the way a 29er rides, and have worked out when you need to start steering, it becomes almost as natural as with a 26 inch wheel bike. Riding one of my favourite single track circuits which combines fast, flowing sections with slow, tight, technical bends is a great test. The Swift piles in to the tight stuff and delivers you out the other side carrying most of your speed intact. To achieve this, you really need to commit to the bend, trust your tyres and stay focused but keep faith and the The Force will carry you through. On the Niner you can approach the same bend with the same amount of gusto, only to find the steering is much, much slower. To get round the tight bends early steering and heavy braking is required, throw in lots of lean and a dollop of muscle, then you will force it through the turn. Once out the other side, it is like a collie puppy, eager to get up and going so you can get back up to speed pretty fast. The trouble is, getting back up to speed requires more energy than simply carrying it through, this in turn will generate a bit more fatigue and you may end up being slower by the end of an extended session. Of the two bikes, the Swift has to win on handling.
Finish, another important factor when buying a frame you intend to keep. I am sorry to say that the paint on the Niner looks a bit thin and it is soft – witness a chunk coming off when I dropped a 4mm allen key on it (much the same as the Reba forks) and several pin hole chips where small stones have been thrown up and onto the frame. The Swift paintwork is thick and tough, I have had a few potential (heavy duty) scratching scenarios and it seems to have shrugged off the offending objects with no ill effects. A year on, and there is hardly a mark on the Swift. Another win for Singular then.
Eccentric Bottom Brackets. The Swift has a Phil Wood EBB which looks like a huge chunk of shiny steel. Secured by two allen bolts, it is easy to adjust but I have had issues with creaking. I may have cured it now but it was very annoying (EDIT: I tracked the creak down and isolated it to slightly loose pedal bearings). The Niner has a proprietary EBB which looks much more expensive, lighter and pretty much what you would expect on a frame twice the price of the Swift. No creaking thus far, so a marginal win for the Niner.
Welds…magazines sometimes go mad about welds and the finishes thereof. Now I am no engineer but I know when I see some rubbish welding, ask the guys at Massi who bodged a repair on one of my frames a few years back! Having owned a Fuquay, I know what a good weld ought to look like but whether it is good or not is still a mystery to me. Let’s just say, the welding on both frames looks tidy and neat. The only way I am going to find out if either frame is deficient is if I manage to break it.
A bug bear for me is the seat clamp. A functional but entirely necessary piece of metal. For the record, I hate seat clamps with weedy little bolts. The Niner comes without a clamp but the Swift has a nice, sturdy one with a 6mm bolt. A massive thumbs up for this, from someone who needs clamps to do up tight and has a track record of over tightening weedy little bolts.
Cable routing works well on both bikes and I really have no comments, positive or negative, about either.
The big win for the Niner is the gear hanger. A neat aluminium hanger that can be swapped over allowing you to run geared or a single speed option (just a vertical dropout sans hanger) is a fantastic touch and I love it. The Swift has a standard hanger which is fine but not quite so flashy! Purists will point out that the EBB will allow you to run single speed on the Swift just as easily as the Niner with its little gizmo. Agreed, but it is such a nice touch, I have to give this one to Niner.
On balance, I have been nit picking. Despite the Niner being new (and therefore fantastic in every regard) the Singular edges this one. It was a very close run thing, it is not deficient in any area and surpasses the Niner in one or two important aspects. Alone, they would not be sufficient to win, the other qualities of the Niner are that good but, at half the price the Swift comes out on top every time.
I will continue to ride and enjoy both bikes but I get the feeling that they will both satisfy different requirements – the Niner will be for longer, epic type rides or maybe endurance races whereas the Swift will be the tool for short blasts of up to 30 miles.
Steel Frame (trying to find out what type of tubing)
Reynolds 520 rigid fork
1 1/8th inch steerer
Phil Woods EBB
30mm seat tube (27.2 seat post)
Disc Brake only
28.6 front mech bottom pull.
Single speed or geared.
Paint – baby blue – as tough as old boots.
Frame saver included in price
Fully prepped and ready to build.
£440 delivered (including fork).
Own EBB (Niner Biocentric) weighing in at 100g
853 Front triangle
Geared or single speed – bolt on gear hanger or vertical drop out.
Paint – Kermit Green or Root Beer (poo brown!)
30mm seat tube (27.2 seat post)
Built around an 80mm or 100 mm fork
Own brand rigid fork available at about £125
No seat clamp.
Both frames are in XL flavour.
Effective Top Tube Swift 642mm Sir9 641mm
Seat Tube Swift 550mm Sir9 546mm
Chainstay Swift 450mm Sir9 439mm
Front to centre Swift 672mm Sir9 692mm (80mm fork)
Wheelbase Swift 1158mm Sir9 1124mm
Headtube Swift 140mm Sir9 130mm
Seat Tube Angle Swift 72 degrees Sir9 74 degrees (80mm fork)
Standover Swift 863mm Sir9 832mm
Saddle and seatpost – SDG Bel Air and Thomson Elite in line post (both bikes)
Salsa Moto Pro Bars (both bikes)
Ritchey WCS 90mm stem (Swift) Salsa moto Pro 90mm Stem Sir9
Shiano LX brakes (both bikes)
LX shifter (Swift), XT shifter (Sir9)
Woodman Carbon Stubby bar ends (Swift) Tioga stuby bar ends (Sir9)
XT chainset and BB (Swift) SLX chainset and BB (Sir9)
MRP 34 tooth chainring and MRP chain device (both bikes)
SRAM chain (both bikes)
XT Rear mech – both bikes
Superleggera Hubs (Swift) DT 240 Hubs (Sir9)
Stans Crest 29er rims (both bikes)
Racing Ralph tubeless (2.25 rear and 2.4 front) both bikes
On One Carbon Rigid Fork (Swift) and Reba RLT (Sir90)