All-new Niner RLT 9 Steel takes adventure road bikes down a new path

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

The original alloy Niner RLT gravel road bike hit the road in fall 2013, and we reviewed it last summer after some great rides exploring our hometown’s back roads, trails and access roads.

Now, it’s getting a bit more adventurous by becoming one of few mass produced modern bikes to use steel. Seamless Reynolds 853 tubes to be exact, air hardened, heat treated and tested to mountain bike standards so it’ll handle any surface you steer it down. Other than very few minor differences in head tube length and standover on a the smallest and largest frame sizes, the geometry is exactly like the alloy RLT 9. The big difference is taking that proven geometry and adding the magical steel ride quality…

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

The frame gets a proper tapered headtube, PFBB30, low profile inset rear brake mount and a 12×142 Maxle rear thru axle. The fork’s dropouts are still QR, and its all external brake and shift cable routing. Di2 wiring runs internally, though, heading to the seatpost battery. While many steel bikes stick with a threaded BSA bottom bracket, the PFBB30 was used here to work with Niner’s BioCentric II eccentric bottom bracket to allow the bike to run as a singlespeed without a chain tensioner or other adapters.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

It keeps the full carbon RLT fork, and the top level build gets Ultegra Di2 Hydro with the excellent Thomson carbon handlebar.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

Top- and down tubes are triple butted Reynolds 853DZB (double zone butted), which is a super hard steel that’s difficult to shape so they’re left as straight tubes. The rest of the tubes are standard chromoly steel, which allows them to get more creative with the shaping to “Gravel Tune” the frame. In particular,that’s done with the shaping and size of the seat stays to take advantage of steel’s properties. The seat tube is externally butted, which they say you can feel, and is capped off with a butt-friendly 27.2 seatpost.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

Tire clearance is a healthy 1.75″ (44mm).

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

Where the alloy model uses larger dropout sections to push the bottom of the seatstays upward and make room for the rear brake caliper, the steel frame simply bends the stays a bit and builds the rearward mount into the frame/dropout section.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

All frame sizes have two water bottle mounts inside the front triangle and one on the bottom of the downtube. A full complement of rack and fender mounts let you take the bike on multi-day adventures.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

Colors are Forge Gray/Safety Orange or Dirty White/Red Ringer.

niner-rlt-steel-gravel-road-bike-build-models

Five complete bikes will be offered alongside a frameset. Claimed weight is 6.6lbs (2.99kg) for the package of frame, fork, Maxle and hanger.

niner-rlt-steel-gravel-road-bike-geometry

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

It’s available now. Everything arrived in their warehouse last week and some distributors have already taken receipt. So, here are a few lifestyle shots to get you ready to ride.

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

Niner RLT Steel gravel road bike

NinerBikes.com

Comments

57 thoughts on “All-new Niner RLT 9 Steel takes adventure road bikes down a new path

  1. Lots of things to like about this bike, but what’s with the qr fork? The front end benefits from a thru axle more so than the rear end…I’m assuming that they had a few forks left over from previous manufacturing runs.

  2. Overall it looks great, and I really like the idea of a steel gravel bike and I wish Niner success in pursuing this venue.
    I still have some concerns though… (1) 2.99kg is a bit heavy, how well does the increased ride quality offset the weight? (2) Why QR and not through axles for this disc specific bike, why settle for the compromise?

  3. As aspiring bikepacker, can someone tell me what that pack setup on the right in the last pic is? looks like a possibly nice option for a FS bike.

  4. I second the comment of not using a TA at the front. It should be at least an option, considering Niner has a TA fork for the BSB already.

    The 4 & 5 star builds are nice, but seems a bit overpriced for a 1499 frameset…

    Other than that, I really like the overall package. The grey / gunmetal finish is gorgeous.

  5. No idea why they stuck with a QR fork but went thru-axle in the rear. I’d rather they have just kept the rear QR if they weren’t willing to put their already in production BSB thru-axle fork on the bike. And I can understand the price given the tubing selection, but I, being a slightly cheap individual, would have liked a cheaper frameset price.

  6. Niner makes some of the best looking bikes. I am a huge fan of the BSB and the RLT, mainly from how they look. I agree with @wall @Andre, that forge grey and safety orange is seriously awesome. I also agree that the upper builds are a bit on the pricey size. However, for a bike I would be riding on the beat up dirt roads of Brasil, the 105 version is perfect. I can always upgrade components at a latter date and that steel frame should last for decades. I think I just talked myself into buying this bike!

  7. gorgeous bike. They had me almost ready with the alum version, but this one is exactly what I want.

    Two gripes:

    To echo everyone else, why not thru-axles
    but also, why a cx crank? Seems like 50/34T would be better for distance/adventure

    Oh about $500 of the MSRP – seems a little pricey…

    Norco search is essentially the same spec for a good bit less. am i missing something?

  8. Those prices are insane (outside the 105 I guess, even then its a production steel frame, not custom). And I agree TA on the rear and not front is dumb.

    Anyway, I don’t care about price. My questions
    1. Where are the rear rack mounts? Are the for/aft stabilizers run to a seatstay clamp? This seems like a weird overlook. Why save the few grams this would take on a steel version of an alloy bike.
    2. Where are the front rack mounts? Why does nobody make a carbon fork with rack mounts. Its fully possible and even easy with CF.

  9. If you look closely at the very first picture, you can see rack is mounted to the chain stays with rubber tube clamps. I would say that the frame is not really designed with racks in mind if it has no actual dedicated rack mounts

  10. I saw one of these at the Niner office last week. There is a threaded piece hidden inside the seat stay bridge. Not sure why they didnt use it for the photos. But its how one of the employees there had a rack mounted. Do people even use front racks anymore? Certainly not offroad I hope. Seems like frame bags are not only the best choice but the safest as well.

  11. @Frippolini:

    Tell me you’re joking. You’re fooling yourself if you think a couple of pounds really matters. Keep in mind 2 pounds is still probably well under 2% of the total bike/rider weight which you have to power. Want more proof that it doesn’t matter? Go look at the average speeds for the 1982 and 2012 Tour de France. In that 30 year span bikes went from being steel with 32 spoke box section rim wheels and aero nothing to what we have today. Most bikes in the ’82 Tour weighed 20-22 pounds versus 15 in 2012. So what massive increase have lighter, stiffer and more aero bikes had? Well the average speed for the Tour has only gone up by a whopping 1 mph! Realistically that time can probably be more properly attributed to improvements in training and the fact that guys don’t race nearly as many days now as they did in 1982.

  12. I have a new RLT9 frame that I picked up cheap as a shop pro-deal. It is Vietnamese made and is covered by some of the poorest quality paintwork I have ever seen on a bike shop level frame (you can feel the transitions between colors and see where the painter cut the masking with a razor knife as well as thin spots in the white portions of the frame). I cannot see paying $1500 for one in steel if they are built with the same shoddy attention to detail. The RLT9 fork is stiff in a way that is more reminiscent of aluminum than carbon. The geometry is that of an all-roads bike, not CX, and it does rip along pretty nicely on single track.

    This new steel model needs to offer a thru-axle for the money and drop at least $200 from the MSRP. There is a good bit of competition in this market segment and SWOBO, All City, and Civilian offer similar bikes for less money. The magic of 853 Reynolds is lost when paired with that fork.

  13. Chris L –
    Just to play devils advocate, “the Tour” is probably a poor place to track average speed given much of the race is pacing, which may be done at high or low efforts depending on the needs of the day. Any increases in speed may be damped by this fact.
    A better test may be some of the classics.

    Now that said, classics average speeds haven’t jumped a ton, and they won’t because the difference in resistance, handling of a good steel bike weight 20 lbs is small compared to a modern bike weighing 15 lbs. And the added weight only tacks on meaningful “extra watts” when your climbing at the limit on steep grades (not a long feature of any race)

    But, in terms of feel, all things being equal, I’d take a 15 lb bike over a 20 lb bike.

  14. Looks like Niner responded to a few people asking why they stuck with a QR fork. From their Facebook:

    We wanted to offer fender mounts on the fork, and our current thru axle fork (found on the BSB 9 RDO) is not fender compatible, so we used the existing RLT 9 fork which uses a QR. All of our steel bikes use a thru axle on the rear to resist twisting of the smaller diameter stays.

  15. want to add – speeds have increased (at the tour and at classics). But as speeds increase it gets exponentially harder to increase them further.

  16. Hey guys, no one makes a generator front hub with a thru-axle… which is an important thing on a bike packing bike for running lights or charging things, IMO.

  17. @ Chris L.

    To make it crystal clear, no, I’m not joking, are you? 🙂

    A two pound difference is a two pound difference, which in the bike industry can spell the difference between a good selling frame and a sunk cost in terms of a non-moving stock items in some suckers warehouse. For me two pounds is a significant difference, and I’m sure that I’m far from the only one in the cycling community to share this view. Niner might have a good brand and nice image, but a hefty frame can easily offset any such advantages when it comes to the buying decision of a Niner vs. anything-else.

    As for the argument of average speed at TdF… if we ignore the doping effect and stricter / better doping controls as they have evolved over time, AND ignore the different routes of the races throughout time, AND only look at the average speed; let us then stick to facts instead of ventilating opinions. Starting at Wikipedia we see that the average km/h in 1980 was 35.1, and in 39.5km/h in 2014, an increase with more than 10%. Worth mentioning is that 1980 was not the slowest year, nor was 2014 the fastest year. With this in mind, most likely technical innovation (and weight) DOES make a difference.

    Furthermore, what makes you believe they trained less in 1982 vs. today; or perhaps the prevailed use of doping at that time compensated for this? Tell you what; to simplify things even more; on what rider would you place your money (if the riders are equally good): the one riding a hi-ten steel frame, or the one riding a recently made carbon fiber frame?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_France_records_and_statistics

  18. I love seeing steel tapered head tubes without external headset cups. After seeing Ritchey’s version, I have to say I’m liking this trend. I can do without the 853 premium price and its racier ride through.

  19. @Frippolini:

    If two pounds makes a big difference then are you noticeably faster when your water bottles are empty? Two bottles is about two pounds of weight. I also didn’t say guys trained less in ’82. Guys in ’82 had more miles under their legs going into the Tour than guys do today. Keep in mind this was back when Tour contenders were still man enough to ride Roubaix! Also I was comparing the 2012 and 1982 Tours, not the 1980 edition. I chose those years because they were in fact very similar in length and overall difficulty.

    Also, again, 2 pounds is a trivial number when you look at overall bike/rider weight. It’s literally well under 2%. You also seem totally ignore every other aspect of performance and just arbitrarily assume lighter is better. I once had a 15.5 pound bike (one of those Giant ONCE frames) that absolutely was slower than my steel or titanium road bikes. I know because I tracked them all over the same hilly loop several dozen times and the light bike always clocked the slowest times. The reason was simple: the steel bike was more comfortable and also handled better by having longer stays for better weight distribution. The less energy you use to combat road shock and vibration the more energy you can apply to going faster. Same reason why 25mm tires at 100psi are faster in the real world than the 18mm tires at 125psi that were common back in the day. There’s more to a bike than just weight (or any other number for that matter!) Arbitrarily saying lighter is always better is just plain stupid and the sign of someone with a pretty poor understanding of how bikes operate.

    Sorry but at the end of the day the bike just doesn’t make that big of a difference. I guarantee you if I put you on two otherwise identical bikes you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in two pounds while riding. All the huge performance claims made by manufacturers almost never translate into actually results on the road. This is probably why most pros are incredibly indifferent to their bikes (and no, teams do not get an unlimited supply of free bikes!) I say this having been a race mechanic who has spent plenty of time around pros and their bikes.

  20. @A-Town: “Hey guys, no one makes a generator front hub with a thru-axle… ”

    I’d like to see an outfit like Schmidt take that on…

  21. “This is probably why most pros are incredibly indifferent to their bikes…”

    I think we would all be indifferent to our bikes should someone pay us to ride on a certain one, of which is probably near or is top tech.

    I’m not negating anything you said, but there is a difference in feel between bikes, and weight does contribute to that. Does it make one bike significantly faster. No. More enjoyable. Maybe (probably yes, all other traits being equal). Arbitrarily saying weight doesn’t matter is just as bad as saying weight is all that matters. We have no idea if this RLT rides nicely, handles well, and feels “good”. Now 2 lbs may be insignificant. But what about 5? 10?

    There seems to be a hipster-esque backlash on lightness. I love steel frames, I love their looks, their ride. But I have ridden modern (and much lighter) carbon fiber frames and I’ve come to realize that bike weight is discernible and does alter the feel of a bike. Heck, when I strap my laptop on my commuter, it feels much different on hills than when I leave it in the office. Stating a frame-set is heavy, imo, is a valid complaint in this day and age when one can get a light bike that isn’t a punish-mobile. 10, even 5, years ago I may have disagreed with that, but modern frames (CF) have come a long way. And its not like I am getting some custom artistry on a steel RLT frame to justify it.

  22. @frippolini, your armchair product development-fu is weak.

    if you’re caring about frame weight on an adventurer-tourer, you’re doing something wrong.

  23. I agree with the comments about TA front- sounds like Niner had the fork mounts in stock so they went with the easier option. The bit about the TA rear ‘better resisting twisting of the stays’ sounds like a marketing bullshit to me. I suppose you can upgrade the fork to an Enve or Whiskey in the future if you want TA front fork, but it’s a bit of a missed opportunity.

    Regarding the weight of 3kg for the frameset- I totally agree this is quite high compared to other brands. The reason why is unfortunately because of the thru axle rear and tapered headtube all the customers are demanding- had this been regular 1 1/8 and QR rear, the weight could easily be 500g less. Is this progress, I’m not sure, but if you subscribe to the Tom Ritchey ‘stiffness’ point of view perhaps all this is unnecessary.

  24. @Seb: We’re not “overthinking” it. Disc brakes with QRs are finicky beasts, a problem thru-axles solve. Personally, I’ve bought my last disc brake bike with QRs.

  25. Sliding dropouts rear, keeps its options open and future proof. I could give a sh@# about front fork thru axle on a road/gravel bike. Pfffft. Whatever. Just give some rear options and front fork options, esp at these prices.

  26. Pros:
    1) Reynolds steel
    2) Cool pain scheme
    Cons:
    1) PFBB30
    2) Rear rack set up in most of those photos results in poor weight distribution = wheelie machine

    @A-Town: Schmidt, SuperNova, and Shutter Precision (which makes the SuperNova hub) all make TA Sino hubs. I happen to have the Shutter Precision 15 TA with 9mm conversion.

  27. “Top- and down tubes are triple butted Reynolds 853DZB (double zone butted), which is a super hard steel that’s difficult to shape so they’re left as straight tubes. The rest of the tubes are standard chromoly steel”

    How many 853 tubes do you need to have to carry the 853 sticker ? Not really an 853 frame is it.

  28. @ A Town 15mm Dynamo hubs exist and are great. I have the SP and its every bit as good as the 9mm version on my wifes bike.

  29. I will buy this bike with enthusiasm….once they put fender mounts on their TA fork and spec that instead. I love several QR bikes in my garage and don’t all of a sudden think they are useless because of the advent of TA. That said, no way will I buy a new one. Its antiquated for this type of bike in this age of cycling. Niner???

  30. Eager to see a ride review of this so we can add some context to this thread. Didn’t we see a couple posts about the Van Dessel WTF being the funnest bike ever? With it’s steel fork, that has to have a couple pounds on this RLT.

  31. @dugal – it needs to have the TT and DT to have the 853 badge. Just like every other bike made of 853. The stuff is way to hard to make cs or ss out of unless they are just straight tubes. And the st wouldn’t benefit from being 853, it would just add a lot of cost.

  32. Looks great. Kudos for sticking with the QR fork. Easy on and off with roof racks, and nobody could pass the blindfold test between QR and TA on a gravel bike, anyway.

  33. Besides me who has a RLT9 in this comment section? I have had mine since they were delivered last spring and have put 5000 road/gravel/MTB miles it, including DK200, Anti Epic, 1500 mile bikepack, and putting roadie tires on it the El Tour de Tucson. I will be buying the steel frame.

    My only problem with the bike is the wheels. My hub went out after 500 miles and if you replace the wheels you might as well get custom hand builts until the wheel manufactures catch up with the sizing as well as the price. Most people who post assume there is unlimited resources to replace or rebuild, this is not true. Last summer I had to replace the rear wheel because I bent the wheel hauling a BOB (rookie mistake, BOBs are a good tool in the tool kit). On the road it cost me 350.00 and a two day wait to get a 11 speed 32 hole 700c built. Now you can find them everywhere and cheaper.

    Another issue is the PF30 BB, not a fan. However, after market Wheels MFG can make this right. Use a 30mm so you can use Sram and with a 30.00 adaptor Shimano cranks.

    People who bitch about the paint, well get used to chips. Riding gravel and trails with knobbies means that rocks will go through any protector you put on the bike. That’s why if you go to Niner site you can get scratch and ding paint.

    To close, it is a great bike and now is steel makes it even better.

  34. @John – Or you could adjust your brakes so they dont make noises…I used QR and disc brakes for years on my MTB and never had an issue like you describe. But I also know how to adjust disc brakes and install a front wheel.

  35. Bike ordered. While you (deleted) are worried about 2 pounds and a quick release, I will be riding a sweet steel gravel grinder. Can’t wait!

  36. @MGK How do you determine the All-City bike is “actually 853”? It has seat tube they say is 853 but really what advantage is that? Otherwise they are just as much 853. It does look like a nice frame though but I like this look of the RLT better.

  37. Touring is fun….you should try it sometime and it sure beats bagging on Niner…isn’t that kinda played out by now?

  38. Rob had a good comment about the GT Corsa Disc. I have had one for a year, love it and have done couple thousand on rails to trails, an ms150, and a 100 mile plus day on the GAP.

    http://www.pricepoint.com/Brand/GT-Bicycles/GT-Corsa-Disc-Bike.axd

    I replaced bars and post with carbon and replaced the tires and saddle.

    I still have enough left over in the difference to upgrade my wheels this year.

    I really like this steel Niner, but I can’t see that it is that much better?? It’s not a race bike and I am over 200lb.

    Both bikes have the BB30 (con) and the GT has terrible brakes.

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