Niner RLT 9 - first look

New gravel race bike from the 29er-focused company

Niner’s product releases are nothing if not predictable, predictable in the sense that riders know it will be a mountain bike and that it will have 29in wheels. Until now, that is. This 29er-centric brand is venturing into new territory with the introduction of the RLT 9, a disc-equipped gravel race bike that’s longer, lower and slacker than typical cyclocross bikes.

Niner’s RLT 9 will be available in early 2014. The RLT 9 frame with matching carbon fork will retail for $1,049. Complete builds will range in price from $1,999 to $2,999.

Click through the gallery at right for detailed images of Niner’s new gravel grinder.

Niner is the latest in a small but growing number of companies to recognize a distinction between pure-bred cyclocross race bikes and something better suited to the emerging North American gravel race scene.

The RLT 9 is designed for gravel racing

“Gravel grinders are not ‘cross bikes and vice versa,” said Niner product manager Barrett James. “The geometry of the RLT 9 was not designed with cyclocross in mind, but that’s not to say you can’t take that to your local ‘cross race and have a good time.”

The RLT 9’s low bottom bracket is in line with many other North American cyclocross bikes, but the longer chainstays and slack head angles make for a longer wheelbase and handling that favors stability over agility.

RLT stands for Road Less Traveled and, as one might expect, it’s designed with versatility in mind. The RLT 9 can accommodate tires up to 700x45 and has fender mounts on the fork and rear dropouts.

Other frame features include internal cable routing for the front and rear derailleur cables through ports on either side of the downtube, while the rear brake line runs along the bottom of the downtube. The RLT 9 also has a port on the seat tube for a Di2 battery, should owners want to ditch cables for wires.

The RLT 9  frame uses a Press Fit 30 bottom bracket. Niner developed an eccentric version for singlespeed use as well

Niner has a great deal of expertise in designing carbon forks. The RLT’s full carbon fork shares many aesthetic and structural similarities to the company’s rigid mountain bike forks. The same 45mm offset fork is used on all six frame sizes. 

The RLT 9's fork has fender mounts and dropouts for a standard 9mm quick-release

One might expect a company firmly rooted in mountain bike technology to lead the charge for thru-axles on bikes with skinny tires. According to Niner’s marketing manager, Carla Huckee, the company chose to stick with front and rear quick-releases because it expects that many customers will build up RLT 9 framesets with existing mountain bike wheels.

Despite the fact that the RLT 9 is more road bike than mountain bike, both the frame and fork are tested to the more rigorous mountain bike CEN standard. Claimed weight for a 53cm RLT 9 frame is 1,395g.

Niner will offer the RLT 9 in two color options, two complete builds, and as a frame with matching fork.

What’s next?

Judging from the progression of Niner’s past projects, it’s safe to assume that there will be a carbon version of the RLT 9 down the road. The fact that RLT 9 is not intended specifically for cyclocross leaves the door open for the development of a ‘cross-specific Niner at some point.

For more information visit www.ninerbikes.com.

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