Two Roads Diverged in a Wood: I Took the Niner Road Less Traveled Steel. Some reviews are easy; some not so much.  This one about my experiences with the Niner RLT 9 Steel is both. After several months on this bike, it’s easy to say I love it.  It’s much harder to find many faults. Niner RLT 9 Steel Long Term ReviewThe Niner RLT 9 Steel was designed for more extensive days and heavier hauls than their aluminum RLT.  Both bikes will take you well off the paved path, but the Steel is made to both keep you comfortable on longer jaunts and carry the gear you need for extending those rides to multi-day adventures. I have spent many a long day aboard the RLT 9 Steel.  I did make some minor tweaks to the cockpit. I initially found the stock cockpit a bit short and low.  I swapped the stem for one that was longer and with more rise.  I also swapped the bars out in favor of the shallower drop and more flare of the Cowbell 2.  With these changes, the bike is now dialed perfectly for all-day comfort and then some.
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As I mentioned in my short-term review of this bike, I also swapped the supplied Sammy Slick 35c tires for the Nano 40c.  I will admit, I have yet to put any miles on the stock tires and have exclusively ran the Nano’s.  Again, this is an adventure oriented bike so I really wanted to go bigger on the tires.  I think 40-41 is perfect for maximizing the tire size while still allowing for mud clearance. How much does it weigh? is one of the most common questions with regards to any bike.  Admitting that the RLT 9 Steel with my changes to the tires and cockpit comes in around 23-24 pounds sometimes elicits scoffs from the more weight-conscience.  But I assure them not to knock it until they try it.  The bike disappears under you and the weight is hardly noticed.  The bike often surprises me when I pick it up because during the ride it feels like a substantially lighter bike than it is.  Stick with me here, but perhaps the extra weight actually makes it seem lighter.  The steel and its extra heft definitely smooth out the ride.  This also works to keep the tires planted over choppy gravel and results in less spin-outs and directional corrections.  Short sprinter hills are the only terrain where I notice the weight.  This bike is more for settling in than it is for quick bursts. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For bikepacking or ultra-long rides, I am a big fan of frame and saddle packs.  So all of my bikepacking and big rides with the Niner have been with those rather than going with the rack/pannier option the frame allows.  The RLT 9 Steel is a great bikepacking bike.  The bike carries the weight well and feels nearly as nimble and secure with a weekend bikepacking set-up as it does empty.  The large triangle space makes is great for not only large full-frame bags, but also lets you still use the bottle cages when running half-bags. Niner RLT 9 Steel Long Term ReviewThe bike really defies categorization.  If you must, it’s probably best described as a long-adventure bike.  However, that is a disservice, because it’s also great for pavement commutes and pub runs. With the more aggressive tires, it’s a blast on single track, assuming you don’t do like me and forget your gloves.  The hoods are not comfortable over extended periods of rocky and rooty singletrack without some padding there. The Niner RLT 9 Steel is a great all-around bike, and it’s a fantastic bike for long days of gravel and multi-day gravel adventures.  As of today, Niner has announced updates to the RLT line to make it even better.  I love this bike more after 6 months than I did after the first one.  I always look forward to my next ride on this an amazingly capable and comfortable bike.

Learn more about the RLT updates including a 142×12 rear axle and an bikepacking friendly upgrade to the fork.

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: Niner RLT 9 - A New Breakthrough - Bikepackers Magazine

  2. Ty Ketlinski

    I have owned a RLT9 Steel since June and absolutely love it despite the weight. I have also bike packed with it, but have had to make two important modifications. First, I went up to some 42 mm continental cross tires I had laying around. (I do want to try the 40mm WTB tubeless for next year.) Second, the gearing is inadequate for bike packing so I made a crank change. For me (a mere mortal), a 36/32 was not low enough to climb up some steep hills we have in Idaho on a loaded bike. To avoid having an ill fitting, way too wide q-factor with a standard mountain bike crank, I went with a XTR FC-M9000 race crank (158mm q-factor) with 36/26 chainrings, which works incredibly.

    One word of caution however — this is a gravel road bike and is limited to 1.7 inch tires. For rough gravel roads and single track, the better choice is a bike with fatter tires and some suspension.

    • I appreciate the crank commentary. I too will be going lower in the future. I’m glad to know what’s working well for you.

      Alex

  3. I’ve had a aluminum RLT9 since they have came out and have found it to be a fabulous bike. I have done road duty with it running C29SSMax’s w/Hutchinson Sectors, gravel/light trail with Grails & Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n Roads and bike packed in both configurations. With a carbon seatpost, tubeless setups, and careful pressure selection it is pretty comfortable most of the time. Rougher gravel/off-road gets a bit uncomfy on the aluminum bike, though.

    I’ve been considering the steel version for awhile as I love steel and my SIR9 was fabulous. With the latest updates, I don’t think I’m going to be able to stop myself. Only question now is do I make my aluminum RLT9 a commuter or just swap the parts over to the new steel version….decisions, decisions….

  4. What stem did you end up buying?

    • Eric, I got the Specialized with the adjustable rise. I got it set fairly upright at the moment, but it is feeling great, and gives me space to reverse mount my Garmin mounts so as to stay out of the way of bags and gives me better access to the charge port on the fly.

      Cheers!

  5. Hi! Great review. I really like the Niner RLT 9 steel, but I can’t get it in my country (for now). So I bought a Kona Rove ST. Still gotta ride it on a longer ride, but I like it very much.
    Could you tell me what is the brand of the saddlepack you got on your Niner. I am trying to get one just like that. TNX!

  6. I have dropped down the a 34 in the front since publishing this. It has made a much bigger difference than anticipated, especially for unloaded races and events. The steepest hills around here feel more tame with this small change. It has been well worth the small cost of the ring; approximately 17 bucks.

  7. Hi Alex,

    What frame size did you buy? I am looking at a 59cm and it’s hard to find specific pictures of the larger frames. Just curious as to how the large frames actually look in real life.

    Thx!

  8. Smart change with the crank change. It seems like almost all gravel bikes come with stock gearing that is too tall if you live in real hill country. I see just a couple of Felt models and the new Jari from Fuji now come with lower double ring gearing for 2017 and the Masi Giordano (Steel) finally will come with a nice MTB triple (lowest gear 24-34!)..

  9. Craig Feringa

    I know you didn’t ride with racks/panniers, but do you have an opinion of whether there would be enough heel clearance to run racks/panniers in the back?

    • I’ve also built up an Niner RLT steel recently and already used it for a nice tour through the western alps – I was using rack (racktime) and panniers (Ortlieb standard bags) in the back: no problem with clearance at all

  10. theskillets

    What size is this bike and what are your measurements?

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