Versatility and Niner’s RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Cross is coming, cross is coming! But then cross is over, just as quickly as it came and you’re left with a bicycle that is only alive for about an hour on a closed course, right? I’d sure as hell hope not. Strap some bags on it, take it on singletrack, shred it on gravel. Cyclocross bikes are incredibly versatile and with so many options out there these days, it’s hard to sift through them all.

That’s where brand recognition helps. For those of you who have ridden Niner’s bikes, you know they’re thoughtful, ripping machines and when they announced the RLT 9 Steel earlier this year everyone’s interest was piqued including mine. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of high-grade steel ‘cross frames out there. There are a lot of “custom butted” or “special recipe” tubesets, which have a place for sure but there’s something recognizable about the words “Reynolds 853.”


Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro-29

Niner really nailed it with this bike. Or should I say, they delivered a solid, well-rounded ‘cross bike. I’ve ridden it loaded down on a three day bikepacking trip in NorCal, on numerous road rides and even a few hike a bike trail rides here in Austin. While many would think it’s easy to sing praises on a machine like this, I actually tried to find things I didn’t like about it, in some cynical journalistic approach.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Aesthetics

I am not cynical, especially when it comes to bikes, so doing so was difficult for me, especially with such a worthy machine as the RLT9 Steel. With all the oversized tubes colliding elegantly into the PF30 shell, that beefy-ass fork and clearances for a 40mm tire (even though I intentionally rode the stock tires for this review), the bike has the aesthetic balance you’d expect from a brand that makes some very confidence-inspiring mountain bikes.

One of the most commonly heard compliments this bike received was the paint. People loved the paint and a lot assumed it was titanium. For me, the orange and grey is the best option for this bike. It looks great dirty, has a bit of a color “pop” and has great trail visibility for your riding buddies who are hopefully behind you, trying to catch up.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Geometry

A few key geometric elements that stand out for me, specifically with cyclocross bikes are the head tube angle and the bottom bracket drop. The head tube is a conservative 71.5º. Not too steep and with a 45mm rake, I found it to be familiar to many other bikes I’ve ridden. While the smaller three sizes use a 70mm drop, the size 56cm model and up all run a 65mm drop, which is a bit higher than I’m used to and if you don’t think 5mm is a lot in that realm, trust me, it takes a bit to get used to. After a few rides however, I quickly adjusted my turning control and wasn’t bothered again.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Build Kit

The RLT9 Steel comes in a few options, ranging from their 5-star, Di2 Ultegra build, down to their 2-star 105 build and even a frameset. Niner sent over the 4-star Ultegra Hydro build and I couldn’t complain one bit. Actually, that’s not true, I’ve never had good luck with the Stans Grail wheels. Not that I had issues with these wheels in particular, but it doesn’t take much to dent those suckers and when you’re riding a cross bike on rocky trails, you’re gonna dent one. Granted, they are a good all-rounder wheel until they do dent but if tubeless is your thing, it’s a bummer day when you can no longer get a tire to seat. I’d love to see Pacentis rollin on this beast. Just sayin’.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Ultegra Hydro is nice. Like, really nice. The gear range is more than pleasant for riding, ripping and racing. The only time I wished I had a little more spinning power was when we went bikepacking on these rigs. A 32t cassette would really help.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Death Before Discs

Hold on one second and let me remove my foot from my mouth. I didn’t like disc brakes on cross bikes. Not at all and I still don’t think they’re the game ender. My cantis feel amazing and stop me just fine. That said, hydro disc brake systems have gotten really nice on ‘cyclocross bikes. While the RLT9 Steel wasn’t the convincing moment per say, spending a lot of time on them riding trails here in Austin convinced me that they have a place for sure. Would I want to race on them? Not sure but as a daily machine, I’m into them. I didn’t have any maintenance issues with the Ultegra Hydro either.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

The QR Front

Look, I know everyone wants a thru-axle and I don’t blame ya, but there are some benefits to a QR skewer. Some claim it gives the bike a bit of front-end compliance when cornering and I’d agree. Others say a wheel swap is easier, which in this case is only half easier since the RLT9 Steel comes with a thru-axle 142×12 rear. On the opposite end of the argument, there’s the whole security issue, which isn’t really an issue in my opinion since we all seemed to do just fine before thru-axles popped up on drop bar bikes. Check your skewers.

Is the QR front the achilles heel of the RLT9 Steel? I don’t think so. Not one bit. Is it a bit odd when looking at the specs on paper? Sure. Does it really matter? That’s for you to decide.

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Accoutrement

You like braze ons? The RLT9 Steel has em. A lot of them. There’s even a nifty removable brake bridge drilling for a rack mount. Third bottle cage? You bet. Why the hell don’t more cross bikes have three bottle cages? C’mon guys. Especially when they’re totally unobtrusive when not in use!

Niner's RLT 9 Steel Disc Cross Bike with Ultegra Hydro

Conclusion

I ride a lot of cyclocross bikes. Most of which are straight out of the box, stock and luckily for me I get to keep them for a little bit after whatever press-launch it happens to be. So when I find no glaring issues on a bike, that means I’d consider owning one. For the pricepoint, you’re getting a damn solid bike, that looks and rides great right out of the box. All I’d swap initially would be the tires, but that’s pretty preferencial. Even the stock saddle and bar tape is solid. I mean, look at that thing. It looks pretty even in an industrial parking lot!

Cross is coming and cross never leaves. It’s omni-present, so your bike should be too. Head over to Niner to read up more on their RLT9 Steel options.

  • Where’s the mount for the third bottle cage? I can’t see it in the pictures

  • Tyler Morin

    I am definitely a big fan of this bike, I think it looks great.

  • Matt O’Donnell

    Everywhere I go with mine it gets attention. Everyone wants to know about it.

  • Any thoughts on this vs the Stigmata?

    • IMO, totally different machines. I’ll be reviewing that next week…

      • Western Rapid

        When will you be posting the review? Really interested to read more about the Stigmata.

  • Jano

    Did you have a chance to weigh it? After replacing my crux for an 853 all city (with touring/versatility in mind), I’m a bit apprehensive to call it my CX racer at 22lbs. Guess I’ll have to make up the weight differences in my belly.

    • I’ll weigh it this afternoon, cool?

      • Tim Noonan

        Thanks! and what did it weigh? thanks again.

  • Tobias Christensen

    I have the Aluminium Rlt 9, and god damn it’s a good bike! Unfortunately the Steel version was released just 2 weeks after i got mine :(

    • Tommaso Gomez

      Me too. The aluminum version is a lot lighter (at least a pound), and still comfortable enough for gravel centuries. I would not trade it for the steel unless I was exclusively bike packing with it.

  • Ultra_Orange

    Dude I may never get used to the look of a tapered head tube. Having said that this looks pretty brutal. Now I’m going to check the price and collect my tears in my empty wallet.

  • Andrew Deane

    All City Macho King is a much better ride…has a threaded BB and is better looking too.

    • I’ve ridden them both and like them for different reasons. The threaded BB is a huge plus for the All-City.

      • .,`

        what bb adapter is being used?

      • Agleck7

        If you have time care to share the different reasons?

  • Brecon Thomas Welton

    I feel the bummer with the Stans rims…got myself 3 flats in the last two weeks just riding in Santa Cruz. Killer bike though. I’m sure you’ve heard it, but the Flanimal by Rodeo Labs has a vibe that fits with your opening paragraph about being able to race a bike and then throw some bags on it..

  • Harry

    The build spec decal is genius!

  • Bas Rotgans

    I think the benefits of thru-axles a greatly over-exaggerated, I have a dynamo front wheel with a QR that I want to swap onto many future bikes that could possibly own. A bike that NEEDS a thru-axle front is out of the equasion for me for just that reason. Thanks for calling out that we did just fine without them before they were introduced….

  • BuffaloDaveToGo

    QR fork = easy to swap a dyno hub (for bike overnights) with a low spoke count wheel (for race day!

  • Kent Sullivan

    Just bought this bike today, swayed by your reviews of it. Got the 3 star Rival 22 hydro build and I couldnt be happier.

  • Senator Mike Orolla

    Just bought the frame a couple weeks ago…both sides are thru-axle :)

  • Anthony Nix

    Seriously considering picking up this frame, any input on this vs the Wraith Paycheck?

  • Derbyshire Pantani

    I have a Niner RLT, Rotor BB has lasted less than 300 miles with road use due to bore tolerance crushing bearings. Just bought a Chris King hoping the angular contact bearing allow more tolerance, anyone else had problems and had to have the shell reamed?