The Niner RLT 9–The Mountain Biker’s Gravel Bike

published by bktr on 16/08/2017 11:34:00

 The Old Coach Road is the RLT9's ideal terrain!

It isn’t difficult to split opinion in the world of cycling, and nowhere is this more true than on the topic of Gravel bikes. In one camp there’s the ‘what’s the point’ crowd; after all, a gravel bike is really just a poorly designed road bike pretending to be a wildly ineffective mountain bike, right? These people will love tell you how much faster their aero road bike is on flat, smooth tarmac, or how much more capable their Enduro bike is on steep, rutted trails. They aren’t wrong, of course; but that really isn’t the point.

The Dales has miles of tracks that would be too tame for a mountain bike

   Those in favour of gravel bikes are happy to trade in speed for adventure. They relish the opportunity to bomb down the odd farm track during a road ride, or to ride trails that would be too dull for their 160mm mountain bike. The gravel bike is the ideal tool for people who just want to get out and explore. Since purchasing my Niner RLT 9 earlier this year, I have firmly placed myself in this category.

Mud Clearance is great, even with 38c tyres!

  You’d be forgiven for thinking that the RLT9 doesn’t quite fit with the rest of Niner’s range. The company’s whole ethos has been built around high quality 29er mountain bikes, and they do produce some of the best 29ers on the market, so how does the RLT9 fit in to this? In Niner’s defence, the RLT has been designed to fit 29er  mountain bike wheels, as well as 700c road wheels. I run mine with a set of Mavic’s  fantastic Crossmax Pros and have been really happy with the results. In fact, when you put a set of 38c or even 40c tyres on, it’s amazing just how capable this bike is. It can glide through fire roads and farm tracks at blistering pace, and can take on rough, rutted terrain without much hesitation. I’ve taken my RLT9 on some quite frankly reckless trails and it hasn’t let me down yet!

Spec on this is the basic Apex 1 build - I've upgraded the wheels since.

  The RLT9 comes in three different ‘flavours’. I own the aluminium model, which I have specced with a SRAM APEX 1 1x11 groupset. This gives me a decent range, with a 42-42 climbing gear that is essentially cheating. While 1x11 drivetrains do limit on-road performance, they are a great option for anyone wanting to get their bike muddy, or have spent long enough on mountain bikes that they can’t remember how to properly use a front mech. The hydraulic disc brakes are a must on any gravel bike – especially  if you’re wanting to take the bike beyond gravel and onto more technical singletrack. The aluminium frame uses custom butted hydroformed tubing, and is lightweight and responsive as a result.

The colour has changed since this pic was taken.  The current frame is raw steel with blue highlights. It looks pretty smart!

  The RLT9 Steel seems to be high on a lot of people’s wish lists at the moment. Steel bikes are very much back in vogue, thanks to their smooth ride and sleek tubing. Niner have used the material to great effect with the RLT 9 Steel, producing more than just a steel clone of the original bike. Where the RLT 9 Steel excels is in it’s suitability for bikepacking. Yes, Niner have combined the three cornerstones of hipster cycling by making a steel gravel bike that you can strap a tent to and ride off into the sunset. In all seriousness, the steel frame can bear a lot more weight than it’s alloy counterpart, without sacrificing too much of the bike’s characteristic feel.  The ‘zingy’ nature of the steel frame makes it a pleasure to ride on long distances, and it feels suprisingly nimble despite the minor weight penalty.

  The RLT 9 RDO is a stunning bike!

  With the RLT 9 being such a capable and versatile bike, it isn’t surprising that I’m not the only Biketreks staff member to own one. Sarah, the boss, has been the proud owner of an RLT 9 for many years, and has recently upgraded her alloy model to the brand new RLT 9 RDO, featuring Niner’s fantastic RDO carbon. Naturally, this has been build up with some rather fancy SRAM Force CX1 kit and 29er Mavic wheels – Sarah really doesn’t mess about when it comes to spec!  The stiffness of the RDO carbon gives the bike a much more direct feel, so makes it the ideal option if weight and responsiveness are high on your list of requirements. The fact that both colour options on the RLT 9 RDO are absolutely stunning is a bonus, too!

Sarah running her old RLT 9 Alloy up the side of Pen-Y-Ghent in the 3 Peaks.

  If you want every ride to feel like an adventure, then the RLT 9 is the bike for you. It’s ability to combine mile-crunching pace on and off the road with confidence inspiring stability on rougher terrain is unparalleled with other bikes in it’s category. This is a bike that can pretty much do anything you want it to, from tarmac climbs, to flowy single track and well worn back roads. We now have a range of alloy, steel and carbon fibre RLT 9 frames available at our Ambleside store, so if you want to see one for yourself then pop in!

There really isn't much this bike can handle

  We’re always happy to guide customers through the custom build process, and have expert knowledge and experience on all the bikes we sell. If you would like any advice on building your dream Niner RLT 9 then please contact our Ambleside store and we’ll be happy to help!