Unlimited adventures ahead.
Carbon frames have their place in aggressive race venues and the quest for marginal gains, but when we're out in the wilderness in search of serene scenery and gravel-filled adventure, no frame material fits the bill quite like the springy responsiveness and durability of steel. And perhaps no bike embodies the Road Less Traveled ethos more thoroughly than Niner's RLT 9 Steel 4-Star Ultegra Complete Bike, which has Reynolds 853 steel tubing, a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, and just the right balance of carbon accessories to soften the bumps without overshadowing that prized steel ride. It lives to escape the concrete jungle for the dirt-strewn wilds of coastal mountain ranges, never ending seas of prairie, and country B-roads that may never see the attention of a grader.
The frame's geometry blends the numbers from Niner's mountain frames and that of its barrier hopping, mud bogging 'cross-specific BSB frameset. For better performance outside the tape, the RLT 9 features longer chainstays, a lower bottom bracket, and a slacker head tube angle. This provides a lower center of gravity that yields more confident cornering and improved stability, both of which you can never have too much of while bombing down rut strewed, chunky gravel descents at speed. The longer wheelbase also affords improved tire clearance that lets you run rubber up to 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 your imagination.
When it comes to going future-proof, Niner gets it, and is one of few brands that still constructs frames from steel. The ride is simply superb but the RLT 9 4-Star build does choose some carbon components to drop some weight without detracting from that magic carpet ride. The Carbon RDO fork and 27.2mm carbon seatpost help soak up the hits and smooth out road vibrations. Don't get confused thinking it's a lightweight spindly road fork as it has disc flat mounts, a MTB approved 15mm thru-axle anchoring the hub in the dropouts, and rack mounts that are happy to carry their fair share of packing duties on trips and commutes. Niner has constructed rigid carbon trail forks for years so we're not worried in the least about durability.
Shimano somehow manages to exceed our expectations every time it upgrades a group and the new Ultegra R8000 is no exception. It simply executes shifts and brakes so well, we often forget that this isn't its top-tier group. We're assuming you aren't chasing grams since you are considering this steel frame, so we probably don't have to tell you that materials that drop weight are the main difference between Ultegra and Dura Ace. The Easton EA50 AX is an excellent handlebar choice as its heavily flared drops add stability while going fast over the rough at speed. Stans Grail wheels are always up for the challenge providing flawless tubeless setup and performance and the 20.3mm internal width plumps up gravel tires perfectly.
- An adventure bike built for gravel and backroad touring
- Geometry designed to ramp up comfort for long miles
- Reynolds 853 balances weight, responsiveness, and durability
- Stans Grail wheels roll fast and smooth with tubeless dependability
- Hydraulic disc brakes deliver powerful stopping and modulation
- Carbon fiber fork and seatpost absorb road vibrations
- Ultegra shifting is telepathic and consistent