Niner RLT 9 Steel Gravel Frameset - 2019
RLT 9 Steel Frameset
While an ultra-stiff and uber-lightweight carbon frameset might be prized in competitive road and cross arenas, when your exploring the outdoors, doing some loaded touring and racing nothing but the sun, durability and ride comfort is king. Sure, carbon or some other exotic material has its place when marginal gains separate the sport's best from a spot on the podium, but let's remember that the original racing frame material was steel and it's still the one that’s trusted when venturing off the beaten path and miles of uncertain chunky gravel define your travel. If this sounds like where your riding intentions lie, have a look at the RLT 9 Steel Frameset from Niner and build up your dream bikepacking or all-road rig.
When we look back at what we wrote above, it sounds like this bike can't be competitive, but that’s simply not the case and it'll happily toe the line at a gravel race or fondo, however, that Road Less Traveled ethos means that the RLT Steel is most at home on remote, wilderness trails and spending week-long trips exploring the unknown. The frame's geometry is a fairly good mashup between Niner's hardtail mountain frames and that of its barrier hopping, mud bogging 'cross-specific BSB frameset. Making it more adept off the race course, the RLT 9 features longer chainstays, a lower bottom bracket, and a slacker head tube angle. This provides a lower center of gravity and a position more "in" than "on" the bike for more confident cornering and improved stability, both of which you can never have too much of while bombing down rut strewn, washboard riddled descents at speed. The longer wheelbase also affords improved tire clearance that lets you run rubber up to 1.75-inches, that's just over 44mm for our metric friends. This helps the bike float over braking bumps while remaining agile for quick line choices on mellow singletrack. This RLT is so versatile in fact, you might even find yourself navigating the urban jungle on it as your daily commuter bike too.
In this day and age where almost every frame, and component for that matter, is constructed from carbon, Niner bucks the trend and is one of few brands this side of a custom builder that still constructs frames from Reynolds 853 steel. The material is prized for its super compliant ride over bumpy surfaces, yet it doesn't sacrifice much in the way of stiffness, so it still accelerates swiftly. The ride is a revelation if you've never ridden steel before, and Niner does choose a carbon fork to drop some weight without detracting from that magical steel ride. The Carbon RDO fork helps soak up the hits while smoothing out road vibrations but don't get confused thinking it's a lightweight, spindly road fork, far from it, as it has disc flat mounts, an MTB approved 15mm thru-axle anchoring the hub in the dropouts, and rack mounts with a 45-pound carrying capacity that's happy to share the load during overnight duties and commutes. Niner has constructed rigid carbon trail forks for years so we're not in the least worried about durability here.
Other frameset features include its PF30 bottom bracket shell, allowing you choose between a geared or masochistic single-speed adventure. Internal shifter routing is mechanical and Di2 ready and the frame accommodates 1, 2, or 3x drivetrains.
- A disc brake gravel bike that's built for adventure
- Reynolds 853 steel yields a springy, responsive ride
- Relaxed geometry eases the abuse of long gravel epics
- Disc brakes bring power and modulation on fully laden bike tours
- Thru axles increase stiffness while peddling and cornering
- 44mm tire clearance adds cushion and traction
- Compatible with the Biocentric 30 BB for singlespeed conversion
- Fork and stay rack mounts with 45lb and 55lb weight limits, respectively
Same old song with a higher volume tire!
- Familiarity: I've used it once or twice and have initial impressions
I have yet to build this bike up but can attest that the quality of the frameset looks fantastic in person. It was an easy choice to pick up this frame given my experience with high end steel in the past.
I remember my first "super bike" I up built back in the day. It was a custom Independent Fabrications Steel Crown Jewel(built with Reynolds 853 Steel) with full Campagnolo Record, King Headset, Reynolds Carbon Fork, Topolino Carbon Clinchers, Thomson seatpost/stem and Easton EC90 handle bar back when 31.8 was new and weird.
That bike stands to this day as the ride of my life. I had no cents or sense and more time than I care to remember to log miles on that bad war pig. I was freaky fast and still had ambitions in life! Unfortunately, I sent that bike packing in exchange for a semesters worth of tuition for a degree I'm not sure I have fully utilized. I probably should have just kept pedaling that bike away from reality!
I can still remember the unique and lively ride the Reynolds 853 steel frame offered up in concert with a carbon fork!
So when the sun, moon and stars aligned and this RLT Steel found it's way into my tax bracket I lept at the chance and kerplunkt'd down my coin for one!
The geometry is very similar to some bikes I have ridden as of late that I have played quite nicely with and the braze-ons(especially those mid-blade eyelets on the fork) speak to my exploratory side.
Quick commutes, evening single-track sessions and epic multi day bike packing trips come to mind. The versatility of this bike seems limitless.
I have some Desert Solitaire dreams burning through my mind as I exit the abyss of a hip surgery gone sideways and enter back into a life including turning over the pedals with new perspective and a new bike to build up! I'm looking forward to riding this bike in the opposite direction from reality, albeit in smaller doses than what the 853 steel Independent Fabrication saw.
The completion of the build is nigh! Please stay tuned for a full ride report!