First Look! Niner RLT9 Gravel Road Bike – Big Wheels Take the Road Less Traveled!
When your brand is seemingly built around mountain bikes of a particular wheel size, how do you grow beyond that? Sure, Niner’s teased a downhill program during the launch of the new WFO9, but otherwise they have a bike that fits virtually every major category.
The answer is to simply turn left. To take a new road. One that may be less traveled but is becoming more and more popular. All of us continue to seek new adventures (or at least I hope you do), and sometimes you’ve got to stretch your perceptions of yourself a bit to cover new ground.
I asked what led the decision to branch off from mountain bikes, and Niner’s cofounder Chris Sugai had this to say:
“Not every rider has access to perfect singletrack, but many people have vast networks of dirt roads to explore and train on. We want to contribute to making that experience great. Niner is about making the best off road bikes available – we’ve applied our experience making great carbon forks and high end alloy frames directly to the RLT 9 project – we think riders are going to be very pleased with the ride quality and functionality as well as the Niner signature touches such as the geared and singlespeed functionality.”
What he left out was that everyone at their office (and ours) totally wanted one. Grind past the break to see why…
The RLT9 is quite simply an “all road mountain bike” that’s designed to tackle epic cyclocross races like the Iron Cross and Southern Cross as well as endurance gravel grinders and monster cross showdowns. The hydroformed frame uses a tubeset similar to the AIR9, giving it aesthetically pleasing structural shaping.
Shift cables run internally, entering the frame through new entry port grommets that’ll work with mechanical and electronic drivetrains. There’s an auxiliary port on the seat tube near the front derailleur for Di2/EPS systems, otherwise the front shift cable pops out just under the BB and comes around to meet the front derailleur.
The rear shift cable pops out at the same spot and runs housing all the way back to the derailleur. The design offers reasonably easy installation and safekeeping from mud and grit. If you’re running Di2/EPS, wires will run internally to the rear derailleur, and frames ship with plugs installed on all wiring holes not shared with mechanical drivetrains.
Rear brake housing runs externally along the bottom of the downtube.
Fender mounts are built into the frame and fork, letting the bike double as an aggressive commuter…assuming you commute without racks.
The frame uses a Pressfit 30 bottom bracket. What’s not shown here is a new BioCentric 30 bottom bracket. Built similar to their two-bolt BioCentric II EBB, it allows you to run a standard 24mm or 24/22mm GXP crankset in the PressFit BB30 frame and adjust chain tension when set up as a singlespeed bike. That keeps the rear dropouts much cleaner:
The dropouts are custom forged pieces with hollowed out sections to save weight. The non-drive side integrates a minimalist brake mount. Note the fender mounts set back and above the rear axle. Speaking of which, the frame is built around a standard 135mm QR rear axle.
The new full carbon rigid fork is also built around standard quick release axles. It, too, builds in fender mounts just above the dropouts and behind the crown. Both the fork and frame have a max clearance for 700×45 tires, meaning you should be able to cram a 29×1.8 semi-slick in there…that’s something we’ll have to test when we get a demo bike in for review (Dear Niner, please go ahead and put us down for one!).
Tube shapes and wall thicknesses are all designed to provide a fast but lively ride. It’s also designed to use a 27.2 seatpost for a bit extra compliance, and they recommend using their own RDO carbon seatpost for maximum comfort since it has intentional aft flex to soak up the bumps. We’ve ridden them and they work.
It’ll be available as a frameset or complete bike in two colors. Mint, shown above, and…
…Industry Gray, which has a slightly bluish tint. Claimed frame weight is 1395g for a 53. Available sizes are 47, 50, 53, 56, 59, and 62cm. Framesets include the fork and will retail for $1,049 (we’re double checking on whether that includes the headset and seatpost collar, stay tuned).
Complete bikes will come in two specs:
Click image to enlarge. The 4-star build uses SRAM Rival 10-speed with the S-700 series hydraulic disc brakes and retails for $2,999. The 2-star build uses Shimano 105 and comes in at just $1,999. Both include a new Niner drop road bar and logo’d foam bar tape.
Geometry is explained similarly to how we’ve heard other gravel grinders are put together. Compared to a true cyclocross bike, the chainstays are a bit longer and the headtube’s a bit slacker (better stability), and the bottom bracket’s a bit lower so you’re more “in” the bike rather than “on top of it”. In other words, they’re designed to let you power through the rough sections but not feel skittish on the loose stuff.
Ready to take the road less traveled with Niner? Get your order in now, they start shipping at the end of the year.