by Daniel Curtin
When you think of Niner Bikes, you probably think of flat bars, perhaps some amount of suspension travel, and 29 inch wheels. It’s all they do, at least, until now.
Niner is getting into the drop bar game with their new for 2014 RLT 9. The “Road Less Traveled” is not a cyclocross bike per se, but rather it is intended for gravel grinders and long rides where the pavement is less than ideal or comes to an end all together. That doesn’t sound all that different from cyclocross, except for the “long” part, right?
According to Niner, the RLT is built around a geometry that’s lower and slacker than typical race-specific cyclocross bikes. But with BB drops ranging from 65 to 70mm (it’s 65mm on the 56cm and bigger bikes), we think they’re right in the sweet spot for cyclocross, and if anything a bit high nowadays for a 56cm size. Perhaps Niner was thinking of old school Euro cyclocross bikes, with 62mm BB drops or higher. The angles, with a 71.5 degree head tube angle, and 73 degree seat angle, are also well within the range of the majority of cyclocross bikes. Proof that sometimes the term “gravel” is often branding and marketing rather than major differences from a cyclocross bike.
The RLT is a tad longer than the typical cyclocross bike, with a 103.8cm wheelbase on a 56cm frame, and 43cm long (effective) chainstay length, compared to a common 42.5cm chainstay on most race-oriented cyclocross bikes, but it’s the same length as a Trek Cronus cyclocross bike, for example. For someone looking for a more stable cyclocross bike, for racing or for gravel adventures, this could be a good match. (We’d also like to commend Niner for listing actual and effective chainstay lengths, something we’ve thought the industry should adopt a long time ago since actual chainstay length varies with BB drop but effective length should not.)
With slightly chainstays and wheelbase, the RLT can still rip up the local race scene, but it’s taller head tube suggests that roadies looking for an aggressive, flat-back setup for grass crits may not find the RLT ideally suited for their needs. Coupled with rack and fender mounts front and rear, it’s pretty clear that the RLT can do dual duty as a commuter, tourer or gravel bike rather than a race-specific cyclocross race weapon.
The RLT’s frame is a hydroformed aluminum offering paired with Niner’s own “gravel tuned” tapered carbon fork, which makes sense since Niner is no stranger to rigid off road carbon forks. In addition to the aforementioned mounts, the frame’s clearance is quite generous and will accept 45mm wide rubber, well beyond the UCI’s cyclocross tire width limit, which translates into great mud clearance and monster cross potential.
When we spoke with Aaron Brown from Niner at Interbike about the pre-production model on show he was quick to point out that the rear seatstay bridge was lower than what it would be on production models. He was also quick to note that the RLT is tested to the same mountain bike CEN standards that all of Niner’s other bikes are tested to, rather than the slightly less-stringent road bike standard.
As is becoming more and more common, the bottom bracket shell is designed for PF30 bottom bracket systems, as well as Niner’s own eccentric bottom bracket offering for those that want to run their RLT as a single speed. Add in the ability to internally run mechanical or electronic drivetrains as well as the fact that the RLT is disc-only and you have a bike appears pretty future proof.
The RLT 9 comes in six sizes in 3cm increments from 47 to 62. And while the “fresh mint” colorway garnered plenty of attention, it is also available in a slightly quieter “industry grey.” The RLT 9 is available as a frameset for $1050, or in two complete build options; a Shimano 105 set-up for $1999 or a hydraulic SRAM Rival spec for $2999. Brown told us that there is talk of maybe a SRAM Red build offering, like the one on display at Interbike, but that nothing was final yet.
And while he wouldn’t confirm or deny the possibility of an RDO (Race Day Only) RLT 9 in the future—maybe one built around a carbon frame and a race-specific geometry, we can’t help but wonder if such a bike is already on the drawing table. We’ll be waiting.
Niner RLT 9 Rival Hydro Gravel / CX Bike Specs:
- MSRP: $2999.00
- Frame: RLT 9
- Fork: Niner full carbon fork, q/r 9mm
- Wheels: NoTubes 3.30/ZTR Iron Cross
- Tires: Schwalbe Sammy Slick RG, folding, 700 x 35
- Brakes: SRAM HRD 700, hydraulic, 160/140mm G2 rotors
- Levers: SRAM HRD 700, hydraulic
- Shifters: SRAM HRD 10sp
- Derailleur: SRAM Rival
- Crankset: SRAM s550 pf30 46/36t
- Bottom bracket: SRAM pf30
- Saddle: WTB Volt Race
- Seatpost: Niner carbon seatpost
- Bar and stem: Niner drop top alloy
- More info: NinerBikes.com
Check back often for more Interbike 2013 cyclocross bikes and gear. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the mountain of cyclocross goodies we found in Vegas.