Last week, Niner finally delivered what many of us had been wanting…a carbon fiber version of their RLT gravel bike. I’ve ridden their BSB RLT cyclocross race bike, and it, like their AIR 9 RDO, is a race bred speed machine that sacrifices all day comfort for all out performance. So it was refreshing to see that Niner could do carbon that kept the speed but introduced more compliance. They also tweaked the geometry, giving this RDO version a bit racier feel than the steel and alloy models, which gives it a seemingly perfect blend of stability, speed and comfort. Last but not least, they incorporated all manner of rack and fender mounts, checking off that last requirement for adventure gravel riders and racers looking for a top end bike.
A few of the little features I didn’t mention in the launch coverage include a
front rear fender mount adapter that attaches to the seatstays since there’s no brake bridge…
…the rear fender mount; also visible is the removable cable hatch under the bottom bracket and the cable port for mechanical front derailleurs (this test bike was the limited edition with Di2)…
…and the firm foam chainstay guard. Niner’s kept their titanium chain strike guards on the stay where chain suck could occur, but this one has less bends and shaping to it, which likely means it’ll remain stuck to the frame for longer. I’ve had a few of them come loose over the years (I use mostly Niner mountain bikes to test other products on), but this one seems better secured.
Actual weight for the complete bike sans pedals is 18.56lb (8.42kg), size 59.
I enjoyed the alloy RLT when I tested it, but this RDO version is more fun. It’s lighter, and I like the way a good carbon bike rides…and this, as first impressions go, a good carbon bike. It’s stiff at the head tube and down through the lower half of the bike. When I stood up to sprint or dance up a hill, it held steady. It effortlessly kept in line on fast descents over 30mph, with no speed wobble. It lets you enjoy the surroundings rather than focus on keeping it straight.
I put a number of road and dirt miles on the bike, using my rooty cyclocross test course, some local singletrack and lots of little connector trails and paths. There were even a few actual gravel segments thrown in. The RLT RDO handled itself well on all of them. The included Schwalbe G-One tires were already some of my favorites for this type of mixed use, and they didn’t disappoint, even on leaf covered sections.
The larger tires and carbon frame did a fine job of damping vibrations. Another smart spec choice is the new Easton EC70 flared bars, which were very comfortable and also (IMO) contributed to the smooth ride. Everything else worked flawlessly, too, which it should for the spec: ENVE AR wheels, Niner’s carbon RDO setback seatpost, Shimano Ultegra Di2 with hydraulic disc brakes. But even that level of bling needs a well built foundation to shine, and my rides on the RLT RDO suggest it’s everything you’d want in a gravel racer. Or even just a gravel rider that’ll never see a starting line.
But maybe just a finish line. With coffee. Or burritos. Because the only thing that hurt after a three hour ride was my empty stomach.