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When Niner began making bikes back in 2004, every mountain biker over 6’ tall rejoiced. Of course, we did wonder, could a company founded on a niche as small as 29” mountain bikes possibly find success? Well, it turns out, someone at Niner has a crystal ball. Not only has the 29er taken over the MTB world, gravel has proved the perfect element to massively expand Niner’s audience – a 29” wheel also happens to be a 700c wheel.
The Niner RLT, or road less traveled, has become a favorite to many in gravel world, but as Brad Cole, Niner marketing manager says, there was still a hole to be filled, “We’ve got the alloy bikes and steel bikes, that handle the long haul duty for the riders that want to pack it up and get out there. The hole we had was on the performance side, so we looked to our carbon experience with the RDO mountain bikes and trickled it over to the gravel side.”
The result is the Niner RLT 9 RDO, a carbon gravel racer. The geometry is not massively different than the alloy and steel RLT, in fact the stack and reach is very slightly taller and shorter on the 56cm RTL 9 RDO carbon and they all share a 71.5degree head angle. The biggest difference is in the rear end. The RLT 9 RDO is a full centimeter shorter, which shorten’s the entire wheel base, yet Niner has dropped the bottom bracket a full centimeter to 65mm.
The goals seems to have been drop significant weight with carbon – the frame is under 1100grams-, shorten the bike to improve reactivity in the saddle, yet retain plenty of stability with the low bottom bracket. “We built the thing in carbon and we want to make sure the ride characteristics match the material.” says Brad Cole.
With the lay up and frame design itself, Niner focused on using its RDO process to create a seat cluster that will allow lots of in the saddle compliance and a stiff power platform of down tube and chain stays – the typical goals of just about any carbon frame. What is truly of interest is the new internal guide tube system Niner has created. With both mechanical and electronic systems, simply thread the cable in the right hole and it pops out in the desired location. No fishing necessary. The bike runs dual through-axles and Niner is very proud of the fact that the RLT 9 RDO passes the same brutal testing standards as its carbon mountain bikes.
While performance was the name of the game, Niner has not left those wanting to spend a few nights bike packing out of the equation. The RDO carbon fork has rack, fender and mid mounts. The rear end can accept both fenders and racks as well, making it an easy bike to load up for a few days in the saddle. The Niner RLT 9 RDO uses flat mount disc brakes and can accept up to a 40mm tire, but ships with 35mm tires.
The Niner RLT 9 RDO is offered in four builds, starting with what it calls its Five Star build – a full Ultegra Di2 build with ENVE SES AR Disc carbon clinchers , Easton’s EC70 AX bars, Niner RDO stem, Niner saddle saddle and Schwalbe G-One tires. Only 50 of the Five Star builds will be made and each will be $8800. Our 59cm Five Star build test bike weighed 8.4kg/18.5lbs with no pedals or cages. The Four Star build uses Ultegra mechanical, the Three Star is SRAM Rival Hydro, while the Two Star is Apex1 1×11 – $5000, $3800 and $3000 respectively. Images of all four builds below.
Look for a detailed review with detailed ride impressions in the upcoming Travel Issue of PELOTON Magazine. Until then, here’s what Niner rider and one of the best endurance athletes in the world has to say.
“The RLT 9 RDO felt like a bike I could ride all day. Even on the first ride, it felt like home. I wasn’t shifting around, looking for a comfortable position or needing to move around on the handlebars. Descending on the curvy, wet roads in Italy, it felt super stable, but zippy. I feel like I could race this bike all day. Fast and solid are two words that really come to mind.” – Rebecca Rusch