Gravel is all the rage with everyone entering the fray. Niner has been a long-time gravel bike company and the latest Niner RLT 9 Al has everything you could want in an affordable package. It’s versatile, beautiful and will gladly take you anywhere you point it.
Niner RLT 9 Al Features:
- Hydroformed Aluminum alloy frame
- Gravel-tuned 15mm Niner carbon fork with rack mid mounts (45 lb limit)
- Rear rack mounts (55 lb weight limit)
- Fire road geometry – slightly longer CS, lower BB and slacker HT angle
- Low profile flat mount disc mounts
- PF 30 BB shell (can convert to single-speed)
- 142×12 rear spacing
- Internal routing for shifting, external for brakes
- Meets MTB standards for impact resistance and strength
- Weight: 1670 grams (frame), 615 grams (fork)
- 21.72 lbs complete (as shown)
- MSRP: $1050 frame/fork
RLT 9 setup and specs
Niner’s RLT 9 is one of the original gravel bikes. And, as the OG, it’s been a staple on the road, gravel and local cyclocross circuits for some time. This OG status hasn’t held Niner back from staying current on the RLT’s specs though. It’s current with thru-axles, 45mm tire clearance, fender mounts, rack mounts, tapered head tube, hydro formed tubing, flat-mount brakes, internal shift cable routing and can even accommodate stealth dropper posts. Oh yeah, and a full-carbon Niner RDO fork that can withstand serious abuse.
The test spec differs from, but is closest to the current 3-Star Rival kit with a full SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain, Zipp 30 Course wheels, Zipp Service Course SL Carbon seatpost and Zipp Service Course SL-70 Ergo drop bars.
My chosen gearing was a 44T X-Sync chainring with the SRAM PG-1130 11-42T cassette. Admittedly, the gearing is a little tall when things get ultra-steep and rocky, but swapping to a 42T chainring would be easy enough should any ride or race require a little more low-end.
Though the latest gravel-specific chainring sizes have made 2x a possibility again in gravel, I’m still a fan of 1x and SRAM Rival 1x is the best bang-for-the-buck in that regard. Shifting has been reliable and smooth with powerful all-condition braking.
The RLT 9 is the bike I can’t live without
While I love a high-end, lightweight bike as much as the next guy, when it comes to gravel bikes, old-school aluminum or steel will do just fine. Luckily, while the RLT 9 Al delivers an on-trend spec, it can be had for as little as $2150 ($1650 for the flat-bar version). That puts it in a competitive class of gravel bikes.
For the most part, the RLT 9 features all the modern niceties you’d expect. The only exception is the 15mm instead of 12mm thru front axle. I suspect that’s a carryover from their rigid MTB forks, but it does have flat mounts, so it remains a mystery why flat mounts with 15mm. New carbon tooling and molds aren’t cheap, so the rolling flat mount change may have been easy, but the change to 12mm may not have been. In the end, it was only a matter of finding those 15mm Zipp endcaps in the toolbox and the problem was solved.
Niner’s hydroformed alloy frames are beautiful little numbers. The shaping of the top tube and downtube look great and are optimized for stiffness and weight reduction. That said, this is no lightweight with the frame and fork tipping the scales at 2285 grams on my scale (over 1100 grams heavier than my Trek Emonda SLR Disc). Well, yeah, it’s no nimble all-day climber, but on dirt that weight penalty is certainly less noticeable (and in some cases, welcomed).
Some of the extra girth is what makes the Niner RLT 9 special (and durable). You see, Niner is a mountain bike brand at heart and all their bikes must pass MTB testing standards. So, you can rest assured that the RLT 9 will last for a long, long time. In fact, the RDO carbon fork features Niner’s C5 warranty and has been tested to take an extreme amount of abuse. Because of that, the RLT 9 chassis is stable, comfortable and predictable. And, when the terrain gets gnarly, there is never a worry because it handles everything without flinching.
Because of that planted demeanor, the RLT 9 is an outstanding first gravel bike. Everything about it is forgiving and bulletproof. The thick rubber chainstay protector is a great example of function over form and is something you’ll appreciate deep into an all-day gravel adventure. And, even though it’s built as a capable tank, it remains nimble and fun enough to rally around road circuits and then slay some singletrack.
Freedom is the underlying beauty of all gravel bikes and the RLT 9 gets me there in a calm and comfortable way. Speaking of comfort, the RLT 9 can accept up to 45mm tires. I’ve been rolling the Donnelly Strada USH 40c Tubeless tires with much success in all flavors of road, gravel and dirt. Rolling at 45 psi makes rough terrain disappear, but the additional compliance offered by the Zipp Service Course SL Carbon Seatpost is superb. Up front, the Niner Carbon fork does a number on trail chop while tracking reliably and accurately.
When is a gravel bike faster than a lightweight road bike? Well, on gravel, of course. It may seem silly to ask, but it’s something that comes up in conversations. As with all bike tests, I have Strava segments that I use to compare bikes over time. There is a small, 0.4 mile gravel sector that’s nearby my house where I ride every bike (road, mountain or gravel) as a test. The RLT 9 is definitely faster (and way more comfortable) than the next-fastest bike (BMC Roadmachine 01). Over the course of 50+ miles, the comfort and speed adds up. You can see that below.
Overall, the RLT 9 is the bike I can’t live without because it’s so darn fun. I can go anywhere I please without worry. The alloy frame and journeyman build is travel-worthy, so I don’t worry about it hanging off the back of the car on a long roadtrip. In short, the RLT 9 Al is a no-brainer fun-machine that easily gets me through the beaten path and onto the unbeaten path without worries.
- Rock-solid and durable everywhere
- Looks fantastic and clean with polished alloy
- Truly capable of anything you can throw at it
- A fun bike anywhere
- A great, worry-free bike to travel with
- Rack mounts galore for bikepacking
- Great combination of internal/external cable routing
- 45mm tire clearance (5mm more than the RDO model)
- Confidently tackles high-speed descents on gravel, dirt or pavement
- Slap some fast 28mm tires on there and head for that group ride
- A little heftier than I anticipated
- Mismatched 15/12mm axles
- Seat tube cage mount could be a little lower to allow for larger bottles
The Bottom Line: Niner RLT 9 Al
Certainly there are lighter and faster bikes out there, but after riding the Niner RLT 9, I’m gonna say that you don’t need them. It looks great, is supremely-capable and durable as can be — not something that can always be said about drop-bar bikes.
Buy Now: Available at CompetitiveCyclist.com
Before the Niner RLT 9 Al arrived, I had no idea how much I would love it. Even though it is a little overweight, it rides like a champ on dirt and gravel and gets me where I'm want to go on pavement. Honestly, if I was forced to choose just one bike, this one would be it.