I've been wanting to try a Canfield Nimble 9 for some time now. There's a lovefest going on for this bike over at mtbr, where everyone seems to like the quick acting short chainstays and tough steel frame. However, by the time I decided to pony up for one, the gen 1 frames were all gone, and the gen 2 frames have traveled a bit too far in the all mountain direction for me: more weight, more cost, tapered here, oversized there... no thanks.
Nimble 9s aren't exactly Treks--they don't come up for sale very often. When a size Large popped on the mtbr.com classifieds, I went for it, even though an XL would be a better fit for me. Here's how I built mine up:
32/20 singlespeed gearing, X Fusion Slide fork (set to 100mm travel), Bontrager Duster wheels, and some brakes and stuff.
My first ride on the N9 really didn't go well. I've been mostly riding either a 26er full sus bike (a Specialized FSR 120) or a rigid 29er single speed (Soma Juice). So having just a front fork felt strange: I couldn't blast through stuff, like on the full sus bike, and I didn't have the accurate steering to pick my way through things. I think I may be done with hardtails. I also think I was a little sick on that ride, and not feeling my usual self.
For ride two, I was more prepared. I was feeling better. Unfortunately, lap 1 with the sus fork didn't really go any better. At the trailhead, I pulled out my tools and in less than 10 minutes, I was ready to ride this:
The Fargo V2 fork is about 25mm shorter than what the N9 is designed for. That should increase the head angle by about a degree. This definitely improved the steering, but only to a marginally acceptable level. If it handled like a milk truck before, now it handled like a pickup truck. But I want it to handle like a rally car. Or something.
It was also a bit small. The ETT is only 618mm, I need more like 630~640. Even with a 100mm stem, I was feeling cramped on this frame.
What are the signature elements of the Nimble 9 and what did I think about them?
1. Short Chainstays
These are the magic of the N9. I had mine set at about 422mm (measured along the chainstay) They make it quite easy to loft the front wheel, giving the bike a very playful feel. Some people have commented that the wide chainstays cause heel strikes, but this was never an issue for my size 10.5 feet.
2. Slack Head Angle
Probably about 69 degrees with my fork. Unfortunately, the fun at the rear end was brought to a stop at the front. With the slack front end, the handling was butter knife dull on normal single track. I found myself going wide around many corners. Theoretically, this would pay dividends on the downhills, but a) there aren't many downhills where I ride, and b) I didn't notice any significant difference.
3. Curved Seat Stays
These look cool. They don't offer any comfort benefit. These stays, and the frame in general, are pretty beefy and don't offer much in the way of flex.
4. Sliding Dropouts
These worked great, no squeaks or slips
5. Glow in the Dark Paint
Alright, this is just this color, not a general attribute on the N9, but it was my favorite aspect of the bike. Even in shadowy woods, it gives off a cool glow.
Nimble 9 Verdict:
Drumroll please: sold. I'm not sold on the bike, I've already sold it! I couldn't come to terms with the front end. Being able to easily launch off the occasional root or lip didn't make up the other 98% of the riding I do, where I want to enjoy pinpoint handling. I think my replacement frame will be an interesting contrast to study this contrast.
What I learned from the Nimble 9:
I go through a lot of frames. I'm going to try to analyze what I think of each one, hopefully moving me closer and closer to an unattainable mountain bike perfection. Here's what I need to think about for the next one:
1. slack head angles aren't for me, no matter what a bunch of guys on mtbr.com say. I live in Ohio, not Colorado, and single track handling is vastly more important to me than downhill capability.
2. front suspension only is a compromise that I don't want to make right now. Go rigid or go full boing.
3. short chainstays are more fun
4. get the right size: 618mm top tube was too short, but the 120mm head tube is about as short as I want to go (mostly for appearance). I'm mostly noting this to reflect on if I come across a size Large Karate Monkey for sale.