The new Niner RLT 9 RDO, fresh after being built up
With the plethora of gravel roads and doubletrack in the Eastern Sierra (hundreds and hundreds of miles), and the rise in popularity of “gravel grinder” rides and races all over the place, I’ve been thinking about a gravel bike for a while. My main criteria:
- Comfy for long days in the saddle on exploratory “b-road” journeys.
- Can handle singletrack if I wanna sprinkle some in.
- I could use for overnight touring/bikepacking missions.
- Lightweight with a “racey” feel.
- I don’t own a road bike, so I’d also want the option to use it for local Eastside Velo road rides (hopefully without getting dropped 🙂
I chose the Niner RLT 9 RDO with the 3 Star (mid-level) build. You can check out the specs on their site. I’ve loved Niner Bikes since the company started (I’ve owned countless Niners over the years). So I was confident with the purchase. I’m 5’9″ which always falls between sizes with Niner, and I always choose the smaller option, as they always “ride bigger” for me. In this case, I went with the 53cm. I liked the quiet and clean Black/Silver/Red color scheme. After a call to my longtime friend and Niner Sales Rep, George Wisell, the new steed was waiting for me at the Longmire Stages a couple days later.
My new steed waiting for me in the Red Pony!!
I don’t have my workshop here in Santa Fe. So it was a little bit of a mish mosh to get the bike built. I had to borrow a workstand, bearing press, saw guide and saw from Kevin Hinton. I borrowed a hydraulic cable cutter, and some other bits from Frankie Flats. I took the fork by Broken Spoke and they smashed on the crown race for me.
Other than that, it built up super simps. Niner includes a cheat sheet for installing the full-length internal housing runs, which made that very easy. There’s a removable port under the BB that further simplifies the routing process. Stans Grail wheels came taped for tubeless, and the Schwalbe G-One tires set up with my floor pump. No compressor needed!!
The cool BB port for internal cable/housing routing
I pressed in the PF30 bottom bracket, and the Sram Rival 22 cranks and drivetrain went on without a hiccup. *One note – the clamp band on the Yaw front derailleur barely gets low enough without hitting the bottle cage braze-on to allow the derailleur to get to the recommended height above the 46T front chainring. I would’ve liked a little more adjustability here – works fine, but just noting it – I’d like to have the derailleur another mm or two closer to the ring…
The Sram Rival HRD shifters/levers and hydraulic brakes also went on great. The rear hydraulic brake line was a little tricky. I ran a piece of shift housing through the chainstay to the BB port. Then I cut and ran the hydraulic line through the downtube port to the BB port. Normally, I’d use a Rockshox Reverb internal cable routing tool to connect the two lines together and then fish the hydraulic line out the chainstay. But since that tool is back home, I used electrical tape to join the lines. After a few tries, with some delicate pushing/pulling and the aid of a pick, I got the brake housing to pop out of the chainstay – woohoo. I had the bike turned vertically in the stand for this, with the hopes I wouldn’t lose much fluid – and as luck would have it, after cutting it to the proper length and installing the new olive/barb and nipping it up, I did not need to bleed it. Score!! Cutting the front brake line was simps – but of course, since it’s my bike and not a client’s… I didn’t really “measure” – and cut it a little too short. Perfectly functional (bars turn all the way, etc) but my OCD mechanic brain is annoyed – so I’ll change out the line when I get back to the shop.
Nice little touch – in case you didn’t know, RLT = Road Less Traveled
Indexed the shifting, pumped 45psi into the tires, slapped on a frame pump, a couple bottle cages, and a saddle bag… rode it around the block, adjusted the saddle a bit and it was ready for the maiden voyage:
Figured a nice, hundred mile road ride with my buddy Kevin would be a great “shakedown” to see how this bike rides. Gotta say, the century route was not amazing. The loop start/finish was at the Sandia Casino & Resort. For the most part, no views. Mostly urban sprawl, depressed reservations, and modern casinos. I almost got hit by a driver who was oblivious, and it was super windy.
Albuquerque Century – official route
Representing SEMBA in New Mexico, yo
That being said, it was still a day spent on a bike, so it was still a blast. There were a few nice sections. My favorites were passing the Blunt Mobile and waiting at a signal with a dude on the corner swinging a sign for “Papa Johns” who was rockin out to his tunes. Also, the peaceful bike path along the home stretch of Tramway Road definitely did not suck.
Bike path along Tramway Road – technically not part of the route, but I’ll take a path over a street any day.
So How Is The Bike?
Fantastic!! Other than me not setting the high limit correctly (which I’ve since fixed and is shifting brilliantly) on the yaw front derailleur, the bike was 100% spot on. I know it’s only been one ride, and it was mainly on pavement. But I’ve since ridden it another 30 miles on gravel and singletrack, and this bike is the real deal. The Sram groupo shifts crispy and the hydraulic disc brakes are a game changer. Lots of stopping power, great modulation, and super easy to engage – very important for a “non-roadie” like me who still gets gripped on high speed descents. Most importantly, was how comfy the bike was. After 6+ hours in the saddle, I felt fresh as a daisy. The bike eats up chatter and vibration so much more than I ever imagined. Even on singletrack and washboard gravel, I’m amazed at how smooth it feels. After initially setting my saddle, I haven’t touched it once. I’ll start playing with lower tire pressure now, which will only make it better. I don’t have a scale with me, but assuming it’s around 20-21lbs right now. Could get down to 18-19 pretty easily I bet.
Changes / Upgrades?
The one part of the bike that is not “stock” is the saddle. I put on a Fizik Gobi right away. Other than that, I’ll probably leave it bone stock for a while. That being said, there are a few things I’d do right now if money were no object. The most sluggish bit of the bike is the heavy Rival crankset. It works fine, but the first thing I’d do is upgrade to Red cranks. They are .65 lbs lighter and much stiffer. The stock cranks are 46x36T which seems fine for most gravel rides. I did find myself spinning out once in a while on pavement. I intend to keep this bike mostly on dirt, but would consider switching to a 50×34 or 52×36 compact if racing/higher top end is a factor. I would also go with a carbon RDO seatpost to further lighten it up/ soak up more chatter and swap to Easton’s new EC70 ACX carbon gravel bars (very light, with a 16 degree flare in the drops for added comfort on long gravel rides). I’d also switch out the cassette to a Red, which would further lighten up the rotational weight. Throw on a carbon wheelset, and this bike could be an absolute race rocket. The stock 35c tires seem fine for now, but knowing my terrain back home and riding style, I’ll probably switch to 40c tires with a little more aggressive tread when I get home to Mammoth. I love that the fork has bosses for bottle cages or everything cages… and it can fit a Revelate Tangle Bag in the triangle with two bottles… so for big rides, or overnighters, I’ll be ready to go 🙂
Anyhoo… all this writing is killing me… this bike is begging to be ridden – time to pedal 🙂