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