By Josh Patterson
Canfield is a small, Utah-based company that has been building downhill and freeride bikes since 1999. Lance and Chris Canfield have four bikes in their current line, two of which are 29er hardtails with short chainstays and slack head angles.
The Nimble 9 and its aluminum counterpart, the Yelli-Screamy, were built because the Canfield brothers needed bikes to train on when they were not able to ride downhill. “As much as we love riding downhill, we can’t do it every day. Basically all our bikes are built for downhillers,” says Lance.
Making it fit
Lance Canfield designed the Nimble 9 to address some of the shortcomings of other 29ers. “All the products we build are things we want to ride. I liked 29ers, but the geometry of most is terrible,” says Lance.
He wanted the Nimble 9 to have short chainstays, ample tire clearance, and the ability to run a front derailleur. Choose two of these three things and one can design a 29er without much fuss. The designer must get creative when building a bike with all three elements.
Canfield’s solution was to weld the downtube 35mm forward of the bottom bracket. This provides enough tire clearance to run a direct-mount front derailleur without running into clearance issues that result from big tires and short chainstays. (The sliding dropouts will change the chainstay length from 412mm to 429mm.) As for tire clearance, my test bike was spec’d with Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35” tires and there was room to spare between the stays.
To the trail!
I’ll get right to it, the Nimble 9 lives up to its name. I immediately noticed how easy it was to navigate tight switchbacks. Pedal kicking over obstacles was also a breeze. The frame is extremely playful and really comes alive as your speed increases.
I was underwhelmed by the performance of the Marzocchi fork that came with the bike and promptly swapped it for the Fox TALAS 29 reviewed in issue #150. (The Nimble 9 can accommodate 80-120mm suspension forks.) The Fox TALAS gave me a chance to test the bike with the fork in the 120mm and 95mm settings, which gave the Nimble 9 unsagged head angles of roughly 68° and 69° respectively. Even with 120mm of travel, the bike never felt sluggish nor did the front end wander excessively while climbing. Though I did find myself weighting the front end more than usual to get the front wheel to bite while cornering.
Canfield Brothers incorporated gracefully curved seatstays to act as leaf springs, taking the edge off. Despite this, my impression was that the rear end was stiffer than most other steel hardtails I’ve ridden. Perhaps this is due to seat and chainstays that are shorter than the norm, and therefore flex less along their length. The frame as a whole was appreciably stiff. No bottom bracket sway while hammering up climbs and no awkward front and rear yaw under hard cornering.
The Nimble 9 rode well, but there are design elements I took issue with. This is the only bike I’ve ridden that my heels routinely clipped the chainstays—a byproduct of trying to maximize rear tire clearance with remarkably short chainstays—more shaping of the chainstays could solve this. The junction of the bottom bracket and chainstays acts as a shelf to collect mud and debris, something to keep in mind if you live in a wet climate. A 44mm headtube would have been a nice addition, giving riders the option to run forks with tapered steerers. Finally, the Nimble 9 is only offered in three sizes. Thankfully, this will be remedied with the introduction of an extra large size this spring.
The Nimble 9 is versatile enough to suit riders of many different backgrounds. It offers excellent handling characteristics in an affordable package. If you’re looking for a versatile 29er without cookie-cutter geometry, throw a leg over the Nimble 9.
- Price: $650 (frame only)
- Weight: 5.5lbs (frame only) 24.5lbs. (as built)
- Sizes Available: S (tested), M, L
- Country of Origin: Taiwan