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While there's always been a certain contingency in the cycling world that's recognized the value of materials besides plastic—err, carbon fiber, the advent of extra-curricular disciplines like gravel grinding and bikepacking have given rise to a new generation of steel-is-real fetishists. The RLT 9 Steel Frameset is built for that Road Less Travelled ethos, and the roads Niner had in mind when they made it aren't the annually repaved surfaces of France's big race. Rather, they're the types of backwoods US "roads" that have never been properly paved and have only seen a grader once. Decades ago. As it passed in the distance on a nearby interstate. When the gravel's flying and the surface promises to betray us the first change it gets, the RLT 9's Reynolds 853 is the only material we want between our legs.
The Reynolds 853 tubing at the RLT 9 Steel's heart is one of the latest materials in the venerable manufacturer's catalog. 853's production process means that it can be drawn with thinner, lighter walls that don't compromise stiffness or impact resistance. It's also air-cooled during production, so when Niner later welds the tubes into a frame, the strength of the steel at the joints actually increases. Of course, the real benefit of steel only manifests when you throw a leg over it. Reynolds 853's immediate, springy responsiveness, lively handling, and unrivaled durability prove with each pedal stroke why steel's only real competition in frame building is from marketing handbooks, not the latest wonder materials.
The frame's geometry is a compromise between Niner's mountain frames and the aggressive disposition of the 'cross-specific BSB frameset. Compared to the latter, the RLT 9 features a longer chainstay, a lower bottom bracket, and a more relaxed head tube angle. This translates into a lower center of gravity that still affords clearance over obstacles and while cornering, a wider wheelbase for stability, and tire clearance that lets you plush-out to the tune of 1.75in (just over 44mm). In our own test rides of the geometry, we found that it eats up washboard and is nimble enough for mellow singletrack, so, if you're keen on making the RLT a durable singletrack speedster with zero suspension, then throw on some knobby tires and get to it. This bike's only limit is you.
Despite Niner's love of steel, the RLT 9 Steel does make one reasonable concession to carbon by including Niner's Carbon off-road fork. The fork is no delicate road race specimen, though — as evidenced by its 15mm thru-axle anchor — and the inclusion of rack mounts mean it also doesn't shy away from carrying its own weight. Niner claims its rigid trail forks are the best in the world; after testing this claim across varied terrain on both the RLT 9 and its stablemate, the BSB, we're not prepared to second guess that claim. The frame is compatible with stealth-routed droppers, Di2 seat post battery mounting, and fenders and racks.
- A disc brake gravel bike that cures the carbon craze
- Reynolds 853 steel yields a springy, responsive ride
- Endurance geometry eases the abuse of long gravel epics
- Braking that modulates well and can stop a fully laden tour bike
- Thru axles increase stiffness while mashing or braking
- 44mm tire clearance adds cushion when needed
- Compatible with the Biocentric 30 BB for singlespeed conversion
- Fork and stay rack mounts with 45lb and 55lb weight limits, respectively
- Item #NNR0066
- Q & A
This bike is from Niner's RLT stable and to me stands out as the most fitting bike of that range to bear the acronym of the Road Less Traveled. The steel frame is smooth but stiff. Yeah, it weighs more than it's Aluminum and Carbon counterparts but the weight pales in comparison the ride quality of the Reynolds 853. The bike also has bolts for almost any pannier or rack combination you can think of. This latest iteration of the steel frame has a lower BB drop which makes it even more stable. And really, the only difference geometry-wise between this bike and the RLT RDO is a 5mm longer chain stay, which makes room for wider tires and less "racier" feel. Make sure you Frame Saver this beast before putting it together and it'll last you for decades. I don't really consider myself a roadie by any stretch of the word, but when the trails are crap I reach for this bike to get some extra miles in. I think the best part about this bike is it's versatility. It could be a commuter, light tourer, city bike (setup singlespeed), and even a cyclocross/mixed terrain racer (Crusher etc). Highly recommend!