Do we need full suspension on gravel? Niner thinks so

First look at Niner's MCR 9 RDO prototype

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We first spotted Niner’s full suspension gravel concept bike at last year’s Sea Otter expo. The company cobbled together its RKT 9 cross-country frame with dropbars and other gravel bits. At this year’s show, Niner showed off a pre-production full suspension gravel bike that’s much more refined. The Colorado-based company plans to begin production in 2019.

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Niner’s first MCR, or Magic Carpet Ride, was a geared steel hardtail. The name seems equally suitable for a full suspension intended for adventures on rough unpaved roads. 

The MCR 9 RDO on display had the clean lines of a carbon frame, though it was actually an unridable plastic sample used to test frame clearance and component compatibility.

Niner worked with RockShox to modify the inverted RS-1 for gravel use
Niner worked with RockShox to modify the inverted RS-1 for gravel use
Josh Patterson / Immediate Media

Complementing the clean lines of the frame was a RockShox RS-1 fork. Niner worked with RockShox to modify the internals to reduce the suspension travel to 40mm.

This ultra-short suspension is in line with other gravel suspension forks, such as the Fox 32 Float AX and MRP Baxter, and has 10mm more than the Lefty Oliver found on Cannondale’s Slate.

The hacked RS-1 offers 40mm of travel
The hacked RS-1 offers 40mm of travel
Josh Patterson / Immediate Media

We had numerous issues with the RS-1 in its longer travel configuration, although it’s easy to appreciate how well it matches up with the MCR 9 RDO. Perhaps this inverted fork will finally realize its potential in a lighter, purpose-built design for gravel bikes.

The rear suspension comes from a modified version of Niner’s dual-link CVA suspension system. According to Niner product manager Barret James, the linkage has been optimized for the very short travel platform. It’s different enough from the existing CVA arrangement that a new patent is pending on the design. 

Niner wasn’t willing to disclose exactly how much travel the rear suspension provides, but it’s a safe bet that it will be close to the 40mm offered by the fork.

Niner didn't want to say how much rear travel the MCR 9 RDO has, but we're guessing it's close to the 40mm offered at the front
Niner didn’t want to say how much rear travel the MCR 9 RDO has, but we’re guessing it’s close to the 40mm offered at the front
Josh Patterson / Immediate Media

The rear shock sits behind the seat tube, which allows for a clutter-free front triangle with room for two water bottles. The downside to this arrangement is that the rear shock is exposed to the elements.

To solve this, Niner has developed an integrated fender for the MCR 9 RDO to protect this damper from dirt and debris.

The MCR 9 RDO is compatible with 1x and 2x drivetrains
The MCR 9 RDO is compatible with 1x and 2x drivetrains
Josh Patterson / Immediate Media

Tire clearance is very good. The MCR 9 RDO on display was shod in 700x40mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tires with room to spare.

Niner states production bikes will be compatible with 50mm-wide 700c tires and will also fit high volume 650b treads. 

Coming next year: Niner's MCR 9 RDO full suspension gravel bike
Coming next year: Niner’s MCR 9 RDO full suspension gravel bike
Josh Patterson / Immediate Media
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Niner is serious about bringing this bike to market. The company has a target weight of around 20b/9kg for the complete build. If all goes as planned, Niner expects the MCR 9 RDO to be in production next year.