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Niner RLT 9 Steel review

15 Jun 2016
Verdict:

Steel is real and adventure is the new big thing, so the Niner RLT 9 Steel, a steel adventure bike, ought to be the best thing ever.

Price: 
£2,299
For 
Great fun to ride
Against 
Brakes leave a bit to be desired

Niner has made a name for itself (quite literally in fact) by making 29er mountain bikes and, having now nailed cyclocross, it’s decided to have a go at gravel/adventure bikes. The RLT range (Road Less Travelled) is made up of two frames, alloy and steel, and it’s the steel one that really piqued our interest.

#steelisreal 

The RLT 9 Steel frame is constructed from none other than Reynolds 853 steel. 853 is the strongest, and lightest, non-stainless tubing that Reynolds produces so it should hold up to a bit of abuse without feeling like you’re riding a boat anchor. The tubing is all oversized to give the ride a bit of liveliness. There’s more modernity down low too with a BB30 bottom bracket shell, a thru-axle at the rear and Di2 routing.

Niner RLT 9 steel Reynolds 853

The front fork is full carbon with a tapered steerer tube. Our test model was fitted with mudguard mounts and a QR axle but the latest model has a bolt-thru axle plus bottle bosses on the fork for mounting cargo cages. Completing the brazed-on detailing on the frame are three sets of water bottle bosses, mudguard mounts and mounts for a lightweight rack (such as the Tubus Fly). 

The groupset is Shimano’s venerable 105, with a couple of deviations (an FSA Gossamer crankset and Avid BB5 brakes). As ever, shifting is pretty much flawless, so the only thing you’re really losing out on compared to more premium components is weight. The wheels are Niner’s own rims mated to a pair of disc hubs – nothing special going on here, in other words, but there are enough spokes to give some confidence and, despite the weight of our attached luggage and some of the terrain, they remained in true throughout the test. The remainder of the finishing kit (alloy bar, stem and seatpost) is also from Niner. 

Niner RLT 9 steel FSA chainset

All this adds up to a 10.5kg build weight (for a 53cm), so not exactly light but it should make for a bike that stands the test of time. If you were keen to drop a few grams, a pair of Stans wheels would make a big difference as would switching to Thomson finishing kit. The big question, though, is how does it ride? In short, very well. 

Up hill and down dale

The ride feel is simply lovely and the Niner hides its weight well. It doesn’t feel like you’re pushing a 10kg bike around, even when scrambling up steep gravel tracks. The only thing that does hold it back is the 46/36 crankset. While you’ll struggle to outrun those gears on the flat with fat tyres, the 36T inner ring soon feels a bit too large when riding a loaded bike off-road; a 50/34 would be a more sensible option if racing isn’t your intention. 

Niner_RLT9_Steel_loaded

That said, handling is superb and even loaded up it’s still the one quality that makes the bike shine. The oversized front end means that steering remains precise even with all sorts strapped to the handlebars. Sure, it does slow down a bit but you can still hustle with the best of ’em. The bolt-thru rear end keeps things nice and stiff at the back too, so you don’t get that ‘waggy’ rear end that’s synonymous with luggage.

The Schwalbe Sammy Slicks are a versatile pair of tyres that suit the RLT9’s desired purpose: plenty of grip in the gravel without slowing you down too much on the tarmac. You won’t be able to keep up with all-out roadies, but if your riding buddies are also on tourers it won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to have much good fortune when it came to punctures – the Schwalbes succumbed to Scotland’s finest flint three times in four days (plus another on my first ride) but that could just be bad luck on my part. 

Niner RLT 9 Steel review

One thing that did undoubtedly let the bike down a little was the Avid BB5 brakes, and for two reasons. First, over the course of my tour of northern Scotland the rear brake became progressively harder to pull and by the final night had jammed completely. It was a contaminated cable, and easily fixed by a replacement, but out in the wilds of Scotland it meant not using the rear brake at all on the final day, which constantly hovered between being a bit annoying and altogether dangerous.

But even without that problem, I wasn’t impressed by the BB5s. The brake set-up uses a single piston, which pushes the disc towards the opposite pad. In other words, to operate the brake you have to flex the rotor over, meaning the lever pull is hard and always a little spongy. It also makes setting it up more difficult. If it were me, I’d replace the BB5s with a pair of TRP Spyres straight away or, if your budget will allow, go for the Ultegra build with the hydraulic brakes.

Overall, though, the Niner RLT 9 is a damn fun adventure bike that’s truly capable wherever you go, and whatever the weather.

Spec

Niner RLT 9 Steel 2-Star
Frame Niner RLT 9 Steel
Groupset Shimano 105, 11-speed
Brakes Avid BB5
Chainset FSA Gossamer, 46/36
Cassette Shimano 105, 11-32
Bars Niner Drop Top alloy
Stem Niner alloy
Seatpost Niner alloy, 27.2mm
Wheels Niner CX alloy
Saddle Niner 
Weight 10.5kg
Contact jungleproducts.co.uk

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