Lowdown: Niner RKT 9 RDO

Mountain biking is a niche sport. And I don't mean in the fringe sense. In this day of extreme specialization, you're not just a mountain biker anymore. Instead we're segmented into ever thinner categories. Maybe you're a trail rider or all-mountain shredder. Perhaps marathon is your thing. Or you're a racer - enduro, downhill, XC, pick a flavor.

For all those categories there is "the right" bike, one whose attributes fully encapsulates the unique requirements of your chosen discipline. The question then is do you want a bike with such a precise, narrow focus? Or are you looking for something more diversified? How you answer those questions will go a long way towards whether or not you're a fan of the Niner RKT 9 RDO, those final three letters short for "race day optimized." Read our full review to learn more.

Frame: Full carbon front and rearChain: Shimano XT 11-speed
Fork: Fox 32 Float Factory Fit4 100mm w/KashimaBars: Niner flat top carbon, 710mm
Shock: Fox Float DPS Factory 90mmStem: Niner alloy, 100mm
Shock sag: 25 percentGrips: Niner Grrrips
Wheels: Stan's NoTubes ZTR Arch EXSeatpost: 30.9mm Niner carbon
Hub spacing: 110x15mm front, 148x12mm rearSaddle: Niner custom with cr-mo rails
Tires: Maxxis Ikon 29x2.35" front, 29x2.2" rearHeadtube angle: 71 degrees
Brakes: Shimano XT M8000 Ice Tech PadsChainstay length: 439mm
Rotors: 180mm front/160mm rear RT86 Ice TechSeat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
Shifters: Shimano XT M8000BB drop: 35mm
Front derailleur: N/AWheelbase: 1146mm
Rear derailleur: Shimano XT 11-speedSizes: XS to XL
Cable routing: InternalColors: Green/greener; carbon/Niner red
Crankset: Shimano XT M8000 32t 1xWeight: 25 pounds size XL
Bottom bracket: Shimano XT MT80MSRP: $5500 ($3000 frame/shock)
Cassette: Shimano XT M8000 11-42tRating:
3.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
3.5 out of 5
Stat Box

Pluses
Minuses
  • Ruthlessly efficient XC race bike
  • Steep front end
  • Exceptional climber
  • Twitchy steering
  • Nimble handling
  • Narrow SAG range
  • Corner carver
  • Minimalist suspension
  • Remote lock-out
  • Overmatched in rough terrain
  • Low standover
  • Lower linkage below chainring
  • Compatible with 120mm forks
  • Could be lighter
  • Clearance for 2.4" tires
  • Hard-to-find middle suspension mode
  • Short chainstays
  • Narrow application of use
  • Internal dropper post routing
  • On the expensive side
  • Tall BB improves pedal clearance
  • Boost spacing improves overall stiffness
  • Reliable shifting and braking
  • Improved internal cable routing
  • Fast rolling tires
  • Titanium frame guards
  • Oversized pivot hardware
  • Shimano Di2 compatible
  • Mounts for two bottle cages (M, L, XL only)
  • Great looks

Review: Niner RKT 9 RDO

In the 3+ months since this Niner RKT 9 RDO took up residence in my garage in Crested Butte, Colorado, I've logged about a dozen test rides. Of those outings, three have been races: the 32-mile Half Growler, the 40-mile Fat Tire 40, and an 8-mile Wednesday Worlds session known as the Pinnacle Race Series. In each case, the Niner was for the most part that right bike, its aggressive geometry, light weight, and supreme climbing acumen allowing me to squeeze max efficiency out of my personal genetic abilities. But was it fun? Maybe…

Net weight for our size XL tester with an XT build and Stan's alloy wheels was 25 pounds on the nose. Price as spec'd is $5500.

Net weight for our size XL tester with an XT build and Stan's alloy wheels was 25 pounds on the nose. Price as spec'd is $5500.​

Herein lies my personal dilemma with this bike. With its minimalist suspension (90mm rear, 100mm front), steep 71-degree head angle and shorter head tube, stock 100mm stem, and lack of a dropper post, it's not a bike I'm continually reaching for outside of the XC racing arena. Call me soft if you want, but these days I actually find it a little scary to ride steep terrain without a dropper post. And that's okay, because that's not what this bike is all about. Indeed, if you're reading this review, it likely means you're in the market for a racy rocket, and the Niner RKT (as in rocket) 9 RDO is just that.

Continue to page 2 for more of our Niner RKT 9 RDO review »


That brains of the 90mm of rear suspension is Niner's patented 29er-specific CVA (or constantly varying arc) linkage, which allows for pedal forces to operate independently of rear wheel travel.

That brains of the 90mm of rear suspension is Niner's patented 29er-specific CVA (or constantly varying arc) linkage, which allows for pedal forces to operate independently of rear wheel travel.​

The bike's elevator pitch goes something like this: In a time where snappy handling is often valued above all else, the Fort Collins, Colorado-based maker of all things wagon wheel, has blended traditional no-holds-barred steep race geometry with some smart tweaks to improve high speed handling. Thanks in part to boost hub spacing (a first for Niner that's subsequently been followed up by new versions of the Rip 9 RDO and Jet 9 RDO), the RKT's has modest 439mm chainstays designed to keep the bike nimble and even a little playful. That playful character is enhanced by the lowest standover height of any bike in the Niner line up, allowing riders to more easily carve through corners.

The frame itself is constructed using Niner's RDO carbon compaction technology, which is a fancy way of saying the bike is light - and durable. (The only exception here are the aluminum linkages.) Niner claims that netted a sub-5-pound frame weight, and while we didn't strip down our test rig, it posted a reasonable 25-pound complete bike reading, not bad for the fourth fanciest build option (Shimano XT 1x, $5500). If you're seeking a true KoM killer, Niner offers a $9500 Shimano XTR build with carbon wheels that's surely a couple pounds lighter. You can also go in the opposite direction and get a SRAM GX build for $4500, or just buy the frame and shock for $3000. No matter what you are getting full carbon. (You can see a full rundown of build options in our First Ride Review here.)

This is the first boosted Niner bike. They've since added two more.

This is the first boosted Niner bike. They've since added two more.​

Climbing Machine

No matter which drivetrain you choose, this bike goes uphill amazingly well. In both the Half Growler and Fat Tire 40, I set a bunch of climbing PRs on terrain that ranged from steep, loose fire road, to winding ticky-tacky chunk, to smooth gradual grades. If it was possible to clear, I did.

The bike comes stock with a three-position remote rear suspension adjustment lever, but honestly I usually ran it in open mode unless I was hammering on the flats. That's in part because I liked the suspension to be a little more active for better traction, and in part because in the heat of the moment it was sometimes tricky to finesse the lever into the middle "trail" position, whose location was a bit vague. On occasions when I went fully closed, the bike behaved like a hardtail, its noticeably stiff frame meaning pedal power in equaled momentum out.

There is space for two bottle cages, but one is the under-the-downtube variety.

There is space for two bottle cages, but one is the under-the-downtube variety.​

That brains of the 90mm of rear suspension is Niner's patented 29er-specific CVA (or constantly varying arc) linkage, which allows for pedal forces to operate independently of rear wheel travel. CVA is designed to take advantage of the increased bottom bracket drop of 29ers. Because the lower swingarm linkage is located underneath the bottom bracket, chain torque in any chainring effectively neutralizes the unwanted forces that degrade power transfer to the rear wheel. The basic functionality is not unlike a DW-Link where chain tension helps prevent squat. And no, even though the linkage appears to be highly exposed, I never managed to smash it into a rock, and that was not for a lack of trying. The Half Growler race course is at Gunnison, Colorado's superb Hartman Rocks trail system, where punchy lifts and small ledge problems lurk around every turn. It's a great place for mangling chainring teeth. Thankfully, the Niner RKT 9 RDO has a reasonably tall bottom bracket, which lessens the chance of pedal strikes.

And that's also a good thing, because with just 100mm of suspension up front and that aggressively steep 71-degree head angle along with a comparatively short wheelbase, this is a bike that demands complete attention when navigating rough stuff. Let your mind (or steering) drift just for a moment and the penalty can be harsh.

Though the linkage appears to be highly exposed, I never managed to smash it into a rock, and that was not for a lack of trying.

Though the linkage appears to be highly exposed, I never managed to smash it into a rock, and that was not for a lack of trying.​

On the Growler course, this was less an issue. The technical bits are highly technical. But most are fairly short, typically followed by extended stretches of smooth and fast terrain where the RKT is completely at home. The Fat Tire 40 course, on the other hand, ended with about 2000 feet of rocky descending back to the finish line in Crested Butte. None of the trails (Westside, Happy Hour, Upper Loop, or Tony's) is overly difficult, but the barrage of rocks and roots left me beat down by the finish.

Continue to page 3 for more of our Niner RKT 9 RDO review


There's space for 2.4 inch tires if you like. Stock is a 2.2 inch.

There's space for 2.4" tires if you like. Stock is a 2.2".​

SAG set-up also requires precision. The recommendation is 25 percent, and while that may feel a little stiff at first, avoid the temptation to run more, as whatever incremental benefits of gained plush are offset by diminished climbing efficiency. Like I said at the top, this bike is what it is - and that's not a cushy cruiser. Not in it's stock kit anyway.

The good news is that there is internal and external dropper post routing, and the bike can handle an 120mm fork and up to 2.4" tires. But I didn't get the chance to test any of those scenarios, so I can only make the same conclusions you'd make on your own - those changes would certainly make the bike more capable in choppy descents, but also add weight and diminish climbing efficiency.

Other observations of note include the pivot hardware with large 8mm bolt heads, making it less likely that you'll strip them. We also appreciated the new cable routing, which is a big step forward compared to Niner's old routing, which could be a nightmare to work on.

The 73mm PF30 BB allows for compatibility with the full array of drivetrain configurations, and if you are anti-press fit, the bike can accept a threaded bottom bracket using adaptors. The frame is also Di2 friendly and has a detachable front derailleur mount.

The Shimano XT brakes worked as well as you'd expect.

The Shimano XT brakes worked as well as you'd expect.​

Spec Talk

I love the build on this bike. None of the parts are over-the-top fancy, but all do their job very well. Shimano's XT 1x drivetrain and brakes are arguably the best value on the market in terms of performance for the price. The boosted Stan's wheel were plenty stiff, set-up tubeless easy, and never burped or came out of true despite a fair number of hard hits. Within their abilities, the short travel Fox fork and shock behaved as asked. And the tire combination of Maxxis Ikon 29x2.35" front and 29x2.2" rear fared surprisingly well given their low profile. I usually ran in the 24-26psi range, and suffered no flats or wheel washouts. Traction was very predictable.

My lone issue here is financial. The $5500 price feels a tad high given the spec. For comparison sake, you can get a Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL with carbon main frame and alloy rear spec'd with a SRAM X1/X01 drivetrain, Bontrager carbon wheels, and a lighter Fox StepCast fork for $5200. The Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 1 is $4800 and has an alloy rear with a full XT build and house brand carbon wheels. And the Cannondale Scalpel 29 Carbon 2 is $5330 for a full carbon frame, Lefty fork, similar alloy Stan's wheels, and a SRAM X01 drivetrain. No, it's not an overwhelming difference, but certainly something to consider as you're shopping.

Our race day set-up for Gunnison's Half Growler, a course that was perfectly suited for this bike.

Our race day set-up for Gunnison's Half Growler, a course that was perfectly suited for this bike.​

Bottom Line

So what is the takeaway here? The way I see it the Niner RKT 9 RDO is a great bike - if your Nos. 1, 2 and 3 priorities are serious XC racing, podium/KoM hunting, and/or smashing your buddies on climbs. It's an exceptionally skilled ascender, and the shorter rear end and low front end conspire to deliver a quick nimble feel when weaving in out and out tight turns on smooth singletrack. However, if you're in the market for a raceable cross-country bike that can do double duty as a capable companion on more rugged trails you'll want to do some side-by-side testing with some of the other new XC bikes coming on the market, which are trending toward slacker head angles and a little more suspension. In the end it all just depends on which niche you want to occupy.

A complete look at the bike's geometry breakdown.

A complete look at the Niner RKT 9 RDO's frame geometry.​

For more info please visit www.ninerbikes.com.