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by Iain Treloar
September 4, 2019
Photography by Niner
Niner has announced updates across the board to its longstanding RLT 9 gravel bike range, with its carbon, aluminium and steel framesets all receiving tweaks for 2020.
The RLT (Road Less Travelled) platform was first introduced as an aluminium frame in 2013. Niner had previously trailblazed the market in 29” mountain bikes, but the RLT was the Fort Collins-based brand’s first drop-bar bike, predating most of the current crop of gravel bikes with generous tyre clearance, mounting points for fenders and racks, and an adventurous spirit. The aluminium frame was followed by a Reynolds 853 variant in 2015, with the three-material suite completed with the sportier carbon RDO (Race Day Optimized) frameset in 2017.
Niner has made modest updates along the way as the horizons of the genre have expanded, but these latest changes are far more sweeping, while still retaining the versatility that has been the RLT’s calling card since the beginning.
The Niner RLT 9 Steel, equipped with 650×47 rubber.
Go with me on this one: if a list of features on any new gravel bike is a festival lineup, tyre clearance is always the headliner. In 2020, for a gravel bike to be relevant, it feels like it needs dual 650b and 700c compatibility, with clearance for fat rubber. Niner’s take on this across all three materials is massive 700×50 clearance, or alternatively, 650×2.0”.
To get to those sorts of tyre sizes, it’s not uncommon for gravel framesets to be designed as 1x-specific or to incorporate funky dropped or raised chainstays, but that’s not Niner’s approach. New bottom bracket yokes on the aluminium and steel frames allow added clearance for both the drivetrain and rear tyre, while chainstays are kept traditionally straight. The difference compared to many of the RLT’s short-wheelbased contemporaries is that chainstays are a pretty long 435mm across all materials – a move that should add comfort and stability, albeit at the expense of a little snappiness.
Geometry-wise, things are largely unchanged from the previous iterations – apart from minor (5mm) increases in chainstay length to accommodate fatter rubber.
The exception to this is the RLT 9 Steel, which had 435mm stays already, but still sees some minor changes to reach and stack dimensions – more on some sizes, less on others – due to its higher bottom bracket (70mm on sizes up to 53cm, 65mm from 56cm upwards – a decrease of 5mm compared to last year). Given the steel frame is the one Niner’s marketing presents as the most rugged of the trio, there’s some logic to the hike of the bottom bracket – avoidance of pedal strike with 650B wheels and all that – but it’s still an outlier in a category which is mostly trending lower.
As the gravel category gets ever more segmented, the RLT is something of an outlier in catering for a wide spectrum of builds, suiting set-ups from off-grid touring to Dirty Kanza-style racing. Across the board, the RLTs are compatible with electronic, wired and wireless groupsets, can be run geared or singlespeed, and can cater for 1x and 2x drivetrains. There is also provision for an internally routed 27.2mm dropper post.
The Niner RLT 9 is equipped with a generous array of mounting points for bags, cages and lights. Pictured is the Niner RLT 9 Aluminium frameset.
Niner hasn’t stopped there. Gone are the days of a third bottle cage mount being enough to claim a gravel frame’s versatility: there are a whopping 26 fixed mounting points on the RLT – three bottle cage mounts, 12 mounting points on the fork, internal dynamo and brake hose routing on the redesigned fork, rack and fender mounts, and even top tube- and frame-bag mounts. In promotional videos, Niner has also hinted at a range of custom bags designed to work specifically with the frame (as pictured in the feature image up top).
There are a handful of less substantial changes to be found on each of the new RDOs (if we’re continuing the music festival analogy, the 12pm-4pm acts on the lineup). Some of those changes for 2020 are cosmetic only, like new colour schemes. Special mention to the handsome blue and gold on the RLT 9 Steel, and the camo and orange on the RLT 9 RDO.
All three frame materials are available as framesets only, but you can also pick up complete bikes – and for 2020, there are componentry updates to all of Niner’s RLT builds.
Niner structures its range as a series of star ratings for its builds – 2 star to 5 star, and a range-topping LTD. Shimano’s new gravel-specific groupsets, the GRX 400 and GRX 800, make appearances in the range, alongside SRAM Rival, Apex and Force AXS builds.
All Shimano builds come with Easton cranks – a move that Niner says offers easy cross-compatibility between 1x and 2x systems, and plays nicely with the frame’s PF30 bottom bracket.
A note on that PF30 bottom bracket: whilst it may turn off a few potential buyers, it allows Niner to accommodate riders who may set the frame up as a singlespeed, as it permits the use of a Biocentric 30 bottom bracket to maintain correct chain tension.
Across the RLT range, there are five spec levels to each of the three materials. At present, only US pricing has been released, with availability this month. We’re still waiting to hear back from Niner for details on international pricing, and availability in Australia.
Niner RLT 9 RDO
There are five models in the carbon-framed RLT 9 RDO, all sporting the same 1,650g frameset (56cm). All models are available in either a camo/orange or blue colour scheme.
The 5 Star LTD Force AXS-equipped range-topper – $6,300 US.
Shimano GRX 800 2X on the 5 Star RDO – $5,000 US.
Shimano GRX 800 2X is also specced on the 4 Star build, with a change of wheels – $3,900 US.
SRAM Rival 22 on the 3 Star build – $3,400 US.
And rounding out the pack, the 2 Star with Shimano GRX 400 – $2,700 US.
Niner RLT 9 Steel
Likewise, five models in the RLT 9 Steel, at the same spec levels as the RDO (but different prices). The Reynolds 853 frame and RDO fork is the same across all build levels, which – based on last year’s iterations – should come in at a very capable, but somewhat portly 10kg/22lb, depending on model. Available just in this rather dashing gold and blue.
The 5 Star build is with Shimano GRX 800 – $5,000 US. (The sell-sheet also mentions a Force AXS LTD build for $6,300 US, but we don’t have a picture of that.)
The 4 Star build gets Shimano GRX 800 2x as well, with a wheel downgrade – $3,900 US.
The 3 Star build will get you a SRAM Rival 22 build – $3,400 US.
And last, the 2 Star build comes with Shimano GRX 400 – $2,700 US.
Niner RLT 9 Aluminium
The Niner RLT 9 Aluminium (OK, our American readers – ‘aluminum’) frameset is 6061 alloy and features the same RDO fork as its stablemates. Available at five different spec levels, in just this silver/blue colourway.
The 5 Star build gets a Shimano GRX 800 2X groupset – $4,500. There’s apparently a Force AXS LTD build above that for $5,800 – not pictured.
The 4 Star build is likewise equipped with GRX 800 2x, but with some spec changes elsewhere to bring the price down – $3,400 US.
The 3 Star build runs SRAM Rival 22 – $2,900 US.
And last but not least, the 2 Star build sports a Shimano GRX 500 groupset and comes in at $2,200 US – the most affordable of Niner’s RLT family.