|Niner Air9 RDO photo courtesy of http://www.ninerbikes.com/|
|Salsa El Mariachi photo robbed from SalsaCycles.com|
It may seem strange to even put these two bikes in a comparison together, but when I saw that Niner was having a demo just down the road I was eager to test their bikes. They had several different models to choose from, but I prefer to ride hard-tail so they only had one model for me.
I didn't buy my mariachi as a complete bike. I started with a used bike that I got for 200, then sold that frame for 250 and kept all the parts for the mariachi frame ($599). The used parts are pretty lame, but functional and I have upgraded several items since the original build. I would value the Salsa at $1200 as it is built today. The Niner on the other hand was $5713 as tested. So for price the Salsa wins hands down.
After the sticker shock the next thing I noticed was the weight difference. The Niner is crazy light and it was noticeable the first time I bunny hopped a log. I pulled up and was probably 6 inches higher than I needed to be to clear it. The weight difference wasn't as noticeable in corners but the Niner did seem to turn more quickly and respond to steering corrections better. For weight the Niner wins.
The Niner is smooth. This could have more to do with the nicer fork and tubeless tire setup, but it accelerates faster and rides smoother over everything. Every aspect of riding requires less effort with the Niner. I was surprised by this because the Salsa El Mariachi with its steel frame is known for being smooth/all day comfortable. The Niner wins in the ride quality category.
Actual Lap Times
This is where it gets kinda fuzzy. I have put about 1700 miles on my Salsa Mariachi this year and I am very comfortable on it. So that familiarity gives advantage to the Salsa since I have never ridden the Niner. And as it turns out the Salsa was faster 22:52 per lap and the Niner 23:10. Thanks to Strava I can see how each bike did in specific segments and the Niner was 9 seconds faster on "Heart Attack Hill." So for now the winner in this category was the Salsa but with more riding and setup adjustments I think the Niner would kill it.
I mainly ride for fun. What makes riding fun for me is the challenge. I can honestly say the Salsa is much more fun to ride. I have taken it places that I would cringe at the thought of taking a $5700 bike. I beat on it, and it doesn't care. Even though the Niner is lighter, a little faster, and way more expensive, the Salsa is simply more fun to ride.
In the end I will not be buying a new Niner anytime soon. It was nice, fast, and light, but the price tag would keep me working overtime instead of riding. That's what makes cycling so great too, you could throw as much money as you want at your bike, but you need the legs to make it go fast.
If I were to win the lottery though...