Gear Review: i9 MatchStix

Industry Nine is constantly setting the standard for domestically made bike parts. Simple, elegant presentation with deceptively complex design are the first things that come to mind when thinking of i9. We've always loved their wheels (there are at least 7 sets of wheels or hubs owned by our employees), and now there's something new to love from them: MatchStix.

Simply put, MatchStix replace the thru axle on your Fox or RockShox suspension fork and hide tools in the otherwise wasted space of the hollowed out axle. I'm not just talking about sliding a 4mm allen key into your axle and calling it a day, I'm talking about 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, and T25 keys (you can add a T30 or flat blade screw driver if you remove one of the others), a chain breaker, a spoke wrench, and a valve core tool all integrated into the axle or lever. There's also storage for a spare chain link, too. The chain breaker, spoke wrench, and 5mm bit are build into the handle, which is what is used to install the axle and is held in place with an o-ring. The handle also has a spot to insert any of the other bits. A plug in the other end of the axle has the valve tool, a second bit holder, and the spot for the chain link machined into it, as well as a sleeve that houses 4 of the 6 provided stainless steel bits. Little slits in the sleeve allow one bit to be removed without removing all the ones that went in after it.

Now you're probably thinking, "Man, with all those tools, that thing must weigh a ton!" But you see, that's where you're wrong. It actually only weighs 25 grams more than a RockShox Maxle Ultimate to Fox axle. The cams on those levers add a lot of unnecessary bulk. For perspective, most multi tools with chain breakers are closer to 150 grams. Shoot, most multi tools without chain breakers are still over 100 grams.

The axles currently are available in 15x100mm and 15x110mm RockShox and Fox configurations. More axle standard options, including rear axles, are in the works. The handles are available in all 11 of Industry Nine's anodized colors (Black, Silver, Red, Blue, Gold, Orange, Pink, Purple, Green, Lime and Turquoise). 100% made in Ashville, North Carolina. Cost is $160 for the complete thing, [edited] $50 for just the axle, and $110 for just the handle (with integrated tools mentioned above).

So there's all the information, now onto the review part. I think it's great. I think the best way to prevent a problem on the trail is to be prepared to fix it. And now this is one less thing to get lost in the bottom of my pack or one less thing to forget at home. It doesn't make any noise, either, which is really nice. I opted to leave the flat blade screw driver and the T30 bits out of the sleeve because my current bike setup doesn't require either. BTW, I really appreciate these bits being stainless steel so they don't rust if any moisture makes it's way past the rubber o-rings sealing either end and get's trapped in there.

I did have a couple issues with it: first, the valve core tool was just a tiny bit too small to fit easily over the valve core itself. I've never needed this on the trail and I could make it work if I jammed it on there really hard, I guess. The second issue I had was that the YBN 11-speed chain link was ever so slightly too wide. It was a tight fit into the axle. So tight, in fact, that it cut the o-ring that holds it in place. The o-ring isn't needed to keep it quiet; just to keep it in place. I had the same issue when I tried a SRAM 11-speed link. I contacted them about these issues and had a response within minutes: they had a new, updated plug piece on the way to me with wider valve tool interface and better clearance for the chain link. Wow, these guys are great. They still only recommend KMC 9, 10, and 11 speed, and SRAM 9 and 10 speed links, though. Note: no 12 speed link option at this point.

So there you have it: quality product from a quality company. Call, email, or stop in if you want to get one.