What is it and who is it for?
Since Polygon and the UR Team joined forces, we’ve seen a number of different prototypes of this bike doing the rounds at World Cups and the like over the past three years. Not long ago we chatted with Mick Hannah and he was full of praise for the Polygon product team and their receptiveness to his feedback – the bike you see here now is the end result of that dialogue. While this is a downhill race bike at its heart, it’s also a serious freeride beast – Kurt Sorge hucked and flipped his DH9 to victory in the 2015 Red Bull Rampage, so don’t pigeonhole it.
Back in 2014 we reviewed this bike’s predecessor too (you can check out the full write up here) and it’s fair to say the new DH9 is a much more refined machine. It still uses the same basic frame and suspension architecture, but it has been improved in just about every regard, especially the geometry and suspension rate.
It’s amongst the weekend downhill warriors and occasional racers that this bike is really going to resonate, in part, it must be said, because the pricing is so damn good. For $5499 it offers truly pro-level spec at second-tier pricing; it’s dripping with the finest components, and you’ll still have enough cash left over to take a couple of weekends at Thredbo.
Of course, this pricing is achievable because the bike is sold direct to the consumer and is delivered requiring some assembly. At this price point, that’s something we feel pretty comfortable with – we’d argue that a person buying this style of bike for this kind of money will generally have fairly sound knowledge about bike mechanics. The other downside is that this sales model makes it hard to secure a test ride before you buy, but Australian distributor Bicycles Online offer a no-questions-asked 14 day ‘test ride’ period. If you don’t like the bike after two weeks, they’ll refund your cash and pick the bike up at no cost to you.
Polygon have gone for carbon out back, with alloy up front. While they’re not going to rule out a full carbon frame in the future, for now they feel the minimal weight savings they could achieve through a carbon front end don’t justify the increased costs, which would ultimately raise this bike’s unbelievable ticket price. Polygon also have some of the finest aluminium manufacturing facilities in the business, so we can appreciate that they’re eager to keep the construction in-house where possible. Having a lightweight carbon rear end does aid in suspension performance too, reducing the unsprung mass for more suspension sensitivity.
The two halves come together via the FS2 suspension linkage, which is a dual-link design that has variants throughout the Polygon dual suspension range. 203mm of travel (eight inches for the heathens) is dished out via a FOX DHX2 Factory shock (thumbs up for the colour matching of frame colour and shock spring, you tarts). Thanks to the location of the shock’s adjusters on the reservoir, it’s easy to make adjustments, and with independent low/high speed compression and rebound clickers, there’s plenty of tweaking to be done.
Both gear and brake lines are routed internally through the mainframe, but unlike many bikes, it’s not a fiddly, mechanic’s nightmare; the lines enter neatly alongside the head tube and both emerge from a generous window in front of the bottom bracket shell, so there’s no fishing about trying to thread lines through tiny little cable ports. Another win for practicality is the use of a threaded 83mm bottom bracket, rather than a pressfit arrangement. Hooray!
There is some geometry adjustability incorporated into the frame, which Polygon says also allows the use of 26-inch wheels. While the completed bike is sold with 650B wheels, it’s also available as a frameset, and so Polygon give the 26-inch diehards some love with a reversible chip at the shock mount that slackens the bike’s angles a smidgen to better work with smaller diameter wheels. Before you mock this idea, it’s worth noting that Kurt Sorge does exactly that, preferring the strength and manoeuvrability of the little wheels for his riding. So there.
Polygon’s FS2 system has undergone a real revision since we last tested a Polygon downhill bike. We previously criticised the older DHX for having excessive pedal feedback, and Polygon have addressed this with the new DH9. There’s now considerably less chain growth in the early stages of the suspension stroke. The bike still has a rearward axle path in the initial travel to help it carry momentum (a bit of a must for a downhill bike we think) but it’s less pronounced than in year’s past. Pedalling performance out of corners is still one of this bike’s real highlights, and on the typically flatter courses of Australia that’s a big tick.
Our medium-sized test bike came with a 350lb spring, which Polygon says is ideal for a 75kg rider. With our test rider weighing barely 65kg in full kit, we probably should have knocked the spring rate down by 50lbs to get a little more sag. Having said that, even with the 350lb spring we did still bottom out on a few occasions, seeing us reach for the high-speed compressions adjuster after a couple of runs. Interestingly, the Polygon UR team are often seen running BOS air shocks in their bikes, which would introduce some more progression into the end-stroke and help resist bottoming out.
In the complex arena of downhill suspension, we actually found the DH9 pretty easy to get come to grips with. This was our first experience with the FOX 40 Float Factory fork and it just rocked our world. Our initial setup was a little soft (around 45-50psi) and the front end became hung-up too easily on repeated roots. Upping the pressure to 55-57psi made all the difference, keeping us riding high, with more confidence to chuck the bike into corners or blind chutes.
The four clickers of the rear suspension took some more work to get sorted; the DHX2 shock is superbly sensitive, and just a click or two of any adjuster has a marked impact on the bike’s performance. This can work be a blessing or a curse, as it makes it easier to appreciate the effect of each adjustment, but it also means you can end up with a setting that’s not in the ballpark for your weight or riding style with only a few errant tweaks. We ran minimal amounts of low-speed compression adjustment, but we found ourselves quite reliant on the high-speed compression clicker to keep the rear end matched to the fork’s stable performance under big hits.
We know a bike is much more than the sum of its components, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the DH9’s spec. The fork and shock, as discussed above, are truly top drawer, and quality suspension is unarguably the most important element for any serious race bike.
Shimano’s Saint groupset is used throughout, with the exclusion of the hubs, those come from e13. It’s bombproof stuff with a reputation for consistency – read our full review of the Saint grouppo here. The brakes and shift quality are superb, but it’s not nearly as quiet running as SRAM’s new X01 DH drivetrain we’d have to say, and we were quite surprised by the level of drivetrain noise. Still, a bit of chain rattle is no big deal.
The e13 LG1R wheelset is light and tight, at a claimed weight of sub 1900g. These wheels are seriously stiff, and they provide plenty of support to allow the Schwalbe Magic Mary rubber to do its thing, angrily tearing at whatever trail surface you roll them across. They are superb tyre, just don’t expect a long life out of the rear tread if your trails are rocky.
If we had to find something to gripe about, it would be the Kore seat post, which made it a pain to adjust the seat angle.
A good downhill bike needs to strike a balance between isolation and engagement, and that’s something we feel the DH9 does really well. It’s got enough bulldozer in it for just about any situation, but even a lightweight pilot like our test rider doesn’t feel like a passenger.
It’s partly a product of the bike’s low weight, in the mid-16kg range, which makes it simple to place where you want it. The wheels aren’t overly heavy either, helping it all to ‘ride light’, and the insanely fast and positive engagement on the rear hub means every stab at the pedals out of a corner tops your speed up instantly.
Input from some of the fastest riders on the planet has ensured that the Polygon’s angles have evolved to be in line with the fastest bikes out there, whereas in the past we’d found it a tad upright and steep. The 63 degree head angle is pretty much standard now, and a wheebase of 1204mm in a size medium is on trend too. By way of comparison, it’s measurements are pretty much identical to a Trek Session, and a smidgen shorter than a Giant Glory, both of which are its logical opposition. Other brands, however, are starting to push the reach measurements a bit further and maybe it’s that we’ve become accustomed to the ever longer reach measurements on modern Enduro bikes, but we’d be tempted to jump up to a size large if this were our own bike.
The FOX 40 leads the charge ferociously when it gets rough, but we’d still place the bike as more playful than plough-ful in the arena of downhill bikes. Maybe a size large with its additional wheelbase would be more at home when heading down the fall-line. Dropping 50lbs in spring weight to get the correct sag would definitely have helped too, encouraging the rear to settle in a bit more.
We can see why Kurt Sorge gets along with this bike so well too, as it’s an awesome bike to jump. The chain stays are a healthy 441mm, but this doesn’t dampen the DH9’s willingness to get off the ground. Again, a low weight and light wheels helps, but the suspension offers good support in the first part of the stroke, which is key to getting the most out of a lip.
The DH9 is a shining example of what can be done when a company truly listens to the input of their sponsored riders, and doesn’t just teach them the marketing spiel. Polygon have created a seriously good downhill bike here, and they’ve done it at a price that no one can touch right now. If the direct to consumer model feels ok for you, then we think you’d be silly not to put the DH9 on the shortlist when you’re looking for your next downhill bike.