For our gravel cycling tour of Slovenia, Niner provided us with two of their latest bikes. I rode the new full suspension Niner MCR 9 RDO, a bike that has been in development for more than two years. Arguably the first mass-produced full suspension gravel bike from a major brand, the MCR 9 is a bike that makes you want to do more. It lets you go beast mode on the rough stuff, but is a real beauty everywhere else. Here’s how it performed over week of riding everything from high mountain passes to coastline backroads, and why you might actually want to consider a gravel bike with suspension…

The Niner MCR 9 RDO overview

Nothing shows off a full suspension bike like video, and this one gives you plenty of action. Combine that with a closeup look and explanation of Niner’s CVA suspension, a few rocky and random challenges, and it’s a great overview of what you can expect from the MCR.

As you’ll hear in my intro, and in the interest of full disclosure, Niner provided us with the bikes for this trip and helped cover some of the costs. In no way did this affect our opinions or editorial review of these bikes, but it gave us the opportunity to test them and show off an amazing location. Full “Where to Ride” feature on Slovenia coming soon. Now, back to the bike…

MCR 9 tech details & actual weight

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

We’ve teased this bike so much that there are plenty of tight, clean detail photos from the tradeshows. Here’s what the MCR 9 looks like in the real world, with a little dust on it, decked out for adventure. Ideally, the way you’d actually set it up for riding several big days in a row. The build shown here is with Ultegra 2×11, however the top Shimano builds are now offered with GRX 800 in both 1x and 2x configurations. Those top out at $7,000 with the rest of the cockpit, wheels and suspension build you see here. The tippy top model comes with SRAM Force AXS 2×12 for $8,200.

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

Three frame sizes are offered…53, 56 and 59 (tested). At 6’2″ tall, the 59 fit me perfectly with a 100mm stem and 44cm wide handlebars.

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

Niner’s design laudably allows for a normal front triangle shape and standard front derailleur placement. That means two bottles inside the front triangle plus a frame bag, and big 50mm tire clearance (40mm come stock).

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

Another clever feature is the integrated fender. It’s short, mainly there to keep the rear shock clean, but still nice. Internal, fully sleeved cable routing keeps those clean, and easy to swap or service.

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

Despite that shock’s placement behind the BB, the chainstays are within normal range at 17.1″ horizontal (17.3″ actual)…or 437mm (440mm). That gives the MCR good stability at speed without any sluggishness around corners or when getting playful in the singletrack.

A one-piece rear triangle also helps keep it stiff. Lock out the suspension and the bike feels solid. It’s never going to feel like a hardtail (yep, I said it…a “hardtail” gravel bike), either in sprints or swaying back and forth under you. But it’s also not going to slow you down. More on that below…

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

The frame has 11 mounting points for bottle cages, frame bags, bento boxes, etc. You do lose the rear rack mounts and fork leg mounts, but we were still able to pack plenty of gear for an all-day ride in our Roswheel bags.

niner mcr9 actual weight for the complete gravel bike in size 59

The complete bike with 2×11 Ultegra and tubeless tire setup came in at 25.44lb (11.54kg) without pedals. Chances are the GRX group will come in about the same thanks to the Easton EA50 cranks. Easy upgrades to drop weight would be to add a carbon handlebar or upgrade further to Easton’s superlight EC90SL cranks. Keep in mind, that suspension fork is likely adding at least 1,000g over a rigid carbon fork, too.

MCR 9 suspension setup

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

For mountain bikers, this is going to look very familiar. You get it. Suspension is good for making you faster on rough terrain. And improving control. But this one works and feels a little different.

For roadies converting to gravel, here’s the quick of it: Niner uses a 50mm travel rear suspension design paired with a 40mm travel fork. Both use air springs, and the front has any user-tunable compression and rebound damping. The Fox AX fork gives you three-modes of compression damping plus fine tuning, air volume adjustments, and a wide range rebound adjustment. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. The travel is so short that if you get the sag set up properly (oops, did I lose you again?), it’ll probably feel pretty good. Then just fiddle with things. And read our Suspension Setup Guide.

niner mcr9 suspension gravel bike review and tech features

So, what’s the difference between Niner’s gravel full suspension and, say, their RKT short travel XC mountain bike? The damping and kinematics. Air springs are naturally progressive (dang, did it again…sorry roadies). That means it ramps up as it moves through its travel (I give up). Which in laymen’s terms means it gets firmer as the suspension compresses. With such a small amount of travel, it could very easily be a harsh bike. So Niner revised the kinematics to give the rear end a higher leverage ratio (sorry) so it would feel smooth all the way through.

The result is a very plush, if springy, bike that likes to blow through its travel. And it does on big hits, but somehow still doesn’t bottom out harshly. Niner’s reps told us that we should bottom out a few times per ride, that that’s what it’s designed to do. And we definitely did. Hit a rain bar at full speed? Smooth. Pothole? Glass. The feeling of nailing these things at full speed and feeling this floomp of the suspension just gobbling it up is supremely satisfying.

One more quick note on Niner’s patented CVA design. It relies on a lower linkage sitting below the bottom bracket. On longer travel mountain bikes, it’s definitely a target for rock strikes. Here, not so much. While it may look super low, the actual pedal clearance is as good as any other modern gravel bike.

Niner MCR 9 ride review

is the niner mcr full suspension gravel bike worth the weight

I know, you have a lot of questions. I have answers. So here goes, starting with the easy stuff:

Do I really need a full suspension gravel bike?

No. But there are times when you might want one. Watch the video at the top of this post, there are sections I would not have ridden nearly as fast (or even wanted to) with a rigid bike. Horses for courses. Is the suspension worth the weight? Again, depends. Despite the 4-5 extra pounds it adds, there were sections where I was definitely faster than my friend on the RLT. But he crushed me on the climbs. But he’s also much faster and lighter than me. Basically, other than the weight, I never felt like I was giving anything up by having full suspension. But there were definitely times when it was an advantage on this trip.

does the niner full suspension gravel bike climb well

Does a full suspension gravel bike climb well? Does it bounce a lot?

Yes, and not really. Lock it out using the convenient lockout switch on the handlebar and the MCR 9 climbs about as well as any other bike. It’s the engine that matters, and I know my engine’s limitations. There’s just a slightest hint that something’s moving, in the same way that any full suspension mountain bike won’t ever feel the same as a hardtail, but it’s not a deal breaker. I couldn’t actually see the suspension moving when it was locked out. And even when I left it open, it wasn’t bouncing around uncontrollably.

Shouldn’t the rear shock have compression and rebound adjustments?

I didn’t miss them. The travel is short. Niner designed it well. And they designed it to work a certain way, and it seems like they got it right. Adding external controls is cool if you’ve got a lot of travel to work with. And I do like to tinker with things. But I don’t think it’s necessary here. The suspension is bouncy (watch the video) in the parking lot, and rebound is quick. But it just works really darn well, without every feeling like the rear end wanted to buck up from a hit and cause a loss of control. In fact, if you watch the slow motion bit on the uphill stair ride, you’ll see that the tire maintains perfect traction and contact with the steps the whole time.

UPDATE: Actually, that rear shock does have a rebound adjustment dial. It’s just tucked so far up in the upper shock mount area, and it’s so small, that it’s basically invisible. I looked for it no less than five different times. And then I was convinced it didn’t have it. But it does, Niner says so.

How does the MCR 9 handle? Can I add a dropper post?

In a word, great. It’s stable and well mannered, which is good for just cruising along mile after mile, hour after hour. It’s also good for keeping the rider’s weight centered on steeper, gnarlier descents. There were a few sections where I wished I’d had a dropper post (and I did manually drop the seat height for the Giant Wet Staircase Challenge) so I could get my weight back further, but overall it was fine. There is routing for a stealth dropper post if you want to add one.

Niner MCR 9 RDO full suspension gravel bike review

OK, but seriously, suspension? Really?

If you want to ride huge, chunky rock sections like this without slowing down, then yes. I would not have ridden this section (or others like it, see next photo) either as fast, or at all, with a standard gravel bike. It opens up options for different routes, and it definitely kept me feeling fresher over long rides. My wrists didn’t hurt, and I never felt beat up. And seriously, seriously, the first time you hit a rain bar at full speed, you’ll just relish it.

Niner MCR 9 RDO full suspension gravel bike review

Can I use the Niner MCR for bikepacking?

Sure, if you pack light. Or wear a backpack, too. Or just go credit card bikepacking (aka eating at restaurants and sleeping in hotels). Niner’s making custom bolt-in frame bags that’ll fit their entire gravel bike lineup. Or use your own. We used Roswheel’s strap-on waterproof frame bag, bento bag and seat bag and they were great. I was quite surprised by how stable everything was over the rough terrain…no bouncing, shifting or excessive noise to distract from the ride. Add a handlebar roll and you could probably even get a simple one-nighter setup on there…you just may need to flip the rear shock remote over to the left side and face it backward.

Yeah, but would you buy one?

Depends on where I was going to ride the most. For backcountry stuff with equal parts singletrack and dirt road, sure. For ultra distance events typically done on a mountain bike? Maybe. Seems like this might be faster. If drop bars were allowed, I suspect these things could knock down records in “mountain bike” events that *cough* simply aren’t that technical. And depending on that, I’d have to decide between the 1x or 2x. As much as I love 1x for CX and MTB, and thus far for gravel, too, having a double in Slovenia was great. We covered a lot of miles on asphalt and smooth dirt roads, too, so that extra high end range helped speed things up. But it’d be nice to drop more than a pound from the bike, too. Hmmm. Just one more decision to be made…

how does the niner MCR 9 compare to the RLT 9 gravel bike

The takeaway

The Niner MCR 9 RDO is a good gravel bike. Really good. They nailed the suspension’s performance to the point where it was just there making me a better rider, not something I was thinking about. Never a distraction. Handling is spot on. Features and options are all there. I had a lot of fun on it. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?

NinerBikes.com

36 COMMENTS

  1. Having reached the limits of my(self on my) gravel bike several times recently, I think that on moderately chunky gravel or washboard I’d love something like this. Weight isn’t everything.

  2. What is better? Double suspension Gravel with 700x40c or hardtail mtb with 29×2.0? I know a lot of lighter and cheaper mtb in the market. Like always, for people with no money problems I can see the benefits.

  3. In New Zealand where I live our rural gravel roads can be so rough (because of coarse shell-rock gravel) and so corrugated (because of tractor-trailer units transporting livestock) that a gravel bike without suspension is almost unrideable in the worst places. I use my mountain bike instead but then it’s slow on sealed road. A full suspension gravel bike would definitely have its uses here.

    • There’s a difference between no rebound damping (not great) and no rebound adjustment.
      There’s a possibly apocryphal story about how Paul Turner made the rebound adjuster on his Maverick frames basically non-functional to keep riders from compromising performance. It’s much more rare to come across someone with too much rebound damping than too little. Especially if they’re coming from the road side and aren’t used to a little rider-induced movement, I could see a simpler setup being better in terms of overall experience for the bulk of riders.

  4. Lol, the “gravel” era has got me in stitches.
    Its 1/2 flippingly awesome & 1/2 face-palm embarrassing.

    Keep it “gravelly” y’all!!!

    • Yup, some of the marketing is prime face-palm material. On the other hand, it’s great to have so many choices.

      I used a hardtail 29er with fast XC tires as my “gravel bike” for years. Had some great rides. This year I bought a new drop-bar gravel bike, and I have to say that for my mix of paved and dirt roads, it just works. Way more comfortable than the road bike on bad(typical for here)pavement, and no worries when the pavement turns to dirt.

      I still may choose the MTB if the ride’s mostly or all dirt, and I still prefer flat bars when things get lumpy. I’ve thought about adding aero bars to the flat bars for the paved sections that connect good dirt.

      The MCR doesn’t look like the right bike for me and the riding I do, but I’m glad it’s out there and I think it’d be fun to try one.

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! We’ll have a video review of the new RLT 9 RDO and full post on that up soon, too. And wait until you see the full Where To Ride feature on Slovenia, that place is amazing!

  5. can you please also the metric system for weight? Not everybody is imperial and when you think of how many of us will have to look up those weights … it would be easier of you just did it once and put it in your story

  6. 99.9% would never buy/justify. I like that it exist though and seems like a nice product if your usage fits. I could see this being fast on long flat, but rough, races.

  7. Most “roadies” have ridden bmx, hardtail, front suspension as well as full suspension mountain bikes and probably throw in city, beach cruisers, etc to the mix. So writing this like we wouldn’t understand suspension terminology is just condescending.

  8. How about a gravel bike with 650’s and 2.1 fast XC tires e.g. Thunder Burt’s and a dropper…..would be in the 20 pound range……not too shabby on the road, fast on gravel and steady on single track

  9. My Gravelbike is a full-sus Specialized Epic XC-Race bike (100mm front and rear travel) setup with 700×43 Panaracer Gravel King SK tires and I love it. It’s suprisingly fast on pavement, makes riding on gravel roads very comfortable, and is still suprisingly capable on singletrack. So a full-sus Gravelbike makes total sense to me.

    My only complaint against the MCR is that I think it should have 70mm of front and rear travel. If you’re going to add the extra weight, expense, and complication of full-sus, get some real travel. 50mm rear, 40mm front travel just isn’t enough. Given how expensive the MCR is, it might make more sense to buy a full-sus XC-Race Bike and mount up some Gravel tires. You can get a full carbon Canyon Lux for $2800.

    • Totally agree. I was super into this bike until the final weight came in. I have a 130/150mm travel mountain bike at 26.75 pounds with pedals. Throw on some 32c tires and gravel/cx wheels and you have almost the same weight with way more capability, efficient and lockable suspension. Drop bars would be challenging unless you swap a long mtb stem for a super short one, and no big ring for faster roads and gravel.

      They either need to get the current mcr down to 21-23lbs, or bring the travel up at 25-27lbs. Also if this bike was a few pounds lighter, I see it as a much better CX bike. Crossers are always pushing tire pressure limits in search of traction and comfort, suspension can help with this. I use my current cx bike for both cx and gravel with 32mm tires. On gravel it is like butter, for cross races, even damp ones, it takes days for my joints to stop aching.

    • The suspension seems like a red herring to me. The limiter of what I would feel comfortable doing on rough terrain isn’t lack of suspension, it’s the narrow bars, stretched out position and saddle-bar drop on a bike like this. It may say something about my skills, but I’m unlikely to seek out terrain that begs for suspension on a bike with road-like geometry. I’d simply have more fun hitting that with my MTB. Meanwhile, the added weight and sacrificed stiffness on gravel seem like they would be disadvantages for the type of riding this bike would see most. Factor in the price and this doesn’t add up. Not that I think it’s unfairly priced, rather it’s a matter of opportunity cost. For that for $7k I could have a very nice rigid drop bar bike that I would likely enjoy more on road/gravel and an MTB for tackling trails.

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