Trail bike geometry has been improving every year. In comparison, the evolution of XC bikes for the most part feels stagnant. If anything, there is a movement towards making XC bikes more like road bikes for dirt in a time when the road category is evolving to incorporate features borrowed from the MTB world. (the sweeping move towards smaller diameter 27.2mm seat posts is a good example of this)
Fortunately these trends haven’t been echoed when it comes to dual suspension XC bikes. And while we’ve ridden a number of XC dual suspension bikes that rode like one trick ponies, a few models — like the new Niner RKT 9 RDO— rock uphill fast while still being fun on the trail.
The RKT 9 is the first model from Niner utilizing the embiggened boost axle spacing. The 148×12 boost rear hub facilitated a reduction in chain stay length to 439mm/ 17.3in” while retaining 1 and 2x drive train compatibility, as well as stiffer rear wheel that boasts a generous rear tire capability of up to a 2.4″ tire. Although the frame features a minimal 90mm of rear suspension travel mated to a 100mm front fork, its also listed as compatible for 120mm forks.
Highlights of the frame include:
- Full carbon frame with alloy 6066 Links
- Niner patented CVA linage design
- Fox Float DPS Factory rear shock with 3 position remote lever tuned for CVA
- Water bottle mounts in front triangle and under the down tube
- 439mm chainstay length
- 73mm PF30 BB
The front triangle features internal cable routing and is Shimano DI2 compatible. the addition of boost to the RKT 9 was a big deal for Niner, and the RKT 9 is the first model to feature it.
The mounts for the front derailleur are so stealthy, you may not notice they’re there. The holes are plugged and the area looks super clean. The downtube also features a clear plastic laminate protective layer against rocks, and the stay has a titanium plate to protect from chain drops.
A few alterations
The RKT 9 RDO is set up to be a rocket ship out of the box, all the way down to the light fast rolling tires. Though I’ve been riding a carbon XC hardtail on high paced urban rides, my “real” trail riding happens on 5 and 6″ travel rigs, tolerating climbs to enjoy the descents. In comparison, a light weight XC specific whip is a refreshing breath of air.
Before I took the RKT 9 on a real trail ride, an important modification had to happen: swapping the carbon post for a dropper. I ride bikes for fun, and the only time I’d run a rigid carbon post is on a tame XC race course. I also swapped out the stock stem for a 60mm unit for a reach comparable to my normal trail bike. Lastly, I swapped the stock Niner saddle with a lighter weight SDG model.
After I swapped the stock stem and post, I was able to get a much better read on its personality and manners.
On the trail
I’ve been spending a lot of time riding my hardtail 29ers this winter. My go-to urban ride has been a mixed surface route incorporating Powell Butte Nature park and the only legal single track around. The trails are mostly hard pack and groomed with a decent amount of flow. Half the corners are flat or off camber though, which provide a lot of opportunities to get intimate with the Maxxis Ikon tires. The front is a 2.35″ and the rear is a 2.2″ and though they performed well enough, I’d prefer a front tire with more of a square profile. On the pavement and in the dirt, they got up to speed briskly. Drifting in turns is surprisingly predictable and controlled, provided you keep weight on the front wheel.
The Niner pedaled very efficiently, thanks to the three position lockout which we took advantage of frequently. What surprised me the most though, was how fun the Niner was to ride. Many 29ers I’ve ridden in the past were blazingly fast pointed in a straight line, but handled like boats the rest of the time. Maybe I’ve just become accustomed to riding bigger wheels, but the active rear suspension of the RKT 9 RDO made bunny hopping and manuals easy, something I thought I had to choose 27.5″ wheels for.
With that in mind, for the second ride I decided to take the Niner out of its element, and headed to the Sandy Ridge Trail. Most popular for the flow trail sections, Sandy Ridge has a lot of diverse terrain that includes a significant amount of roots and rocks. Unsurprisingly, the minimal travel and light tires were less than confidence inspiring on the burly sections of trail. However, after uploading my GPS track to Strava, I was unsurprised to find I had broken records on nearly every segment of trail that required pedaling.
Obviously the RKT 9 RDO isn’t the tool for burly trails and jumps, so for the excursion after that I chose a more appropriate destination: the Bells Mountain Trail near Camus, Washington. The route is an 18 mile out and back with a significant amount of elevation. Typical of northwest single track, the tread consists primarily of mellow pine needle covered hardpack, punctuated with the occasional rooty section and a few stream crossings.
In this environment, the RKT 9 absolutely came alive. It flattened the climbs, and performed amazingly well on the descents once I became accustomed to the handling. I found myself carrying maximum speed down the trail and drifting turns without a care. The only time the minimal tires held me back were on a rather rough rock garden, and an off-camber loose over hardpack section with exposure.
The RKT 9 is compatible with a 120mm fork, and I can’t help but wonder how it’ll ride with the bump in travel. On the other hand, it is so good for its intended use that I’m not sure I want to mess with it right away. Since our initial rides we’ve gone back to a slightly longer 70mm Thomson stem, and I’m dying to mount a more capable front tire, but in stock form (with the addition of the dropper post) it simply hauls ass, while still being fun on descents.
We’ve ridden a number of dual suspension 29ers to date, including a Niner WFO. Our previous stance was 29″ for efficiency and straight line speed, 27.5″ for fun and handling. The Niner team is on to something here, as the RKT 9 RDO is the most fun 29er we’ve had on long, all day rides to date.
The RKT 9 RDO is the flagship XC bike from Niner, and with minor modifications, is a capable trail bike in a time where trail rigs are becoming more and more overbuilt. Admittedly we’re late to this realization, but it has us rethinking our previous stance on big wheeled bikes. We’re looking forward to spending a lot of time exploring back country trails with it. If your preference is for long all day rides in the mountains but still want to have fun ripping descents, it’s one to consider.
|Niner RKT 9 RDO||71º||74.5º||439mm/17.3″||590mm/23.2″||424mm||30.9mm||1103mm||90mm|
The Niner RKT 9 RDO complete builds start at $4,500. The 3-Star XT 1x kit as seen here lists for $5,500. Check it out at NinerBikes.com