The elevator pitch for Niner’s just released RKT 9 RDO XC 29er is not surprising. In this day where snappy handling is often valued above all else, the Fort Collins, Colorado-based maker of all things wagon wheel, says its new “Rocket 9” race rig combines the traditional attributes of a competition’centric mountain bike (light weight, superior climbing ability) with qualities typically reserved for trail and all mountain bikes (nimbleness, carv’ability).
The RKT’s modest 439mm chainstay length is designed to deliver a balance of acceleration, climbing traction — and just as importantly the ability to shred. This playful character is enhanced, says Niner, by the lowest standover height of any bike in its line up, allowing riders to lean over further, making tight corners and switchbacks fast and fun, not an act of twitchy nervousness.
All these notions were dancing around my brain as I did my best to hold the wheel in front of me on a hard-charging freight train session up and down the Picture Rock Trail near Lyons, Colorado. Beneath me was tester model of Niner’s then yet-to-be-released new XC racer.
On the Trail
For those unfamiliar, Picture Rock is a trail that epitomizes the IMBA building ethos of following the contours of the land — and not blasting down the fall line. The climb up this out-and-back affair is middle-ring steady with a few small lifts here and there. The descent is primarily an act of frustration, with every bit of gained speed quickly scrubbed by a twist or turn. Point being the right bike for this trail is one without a ton of travel, solid climbing chops, and the ability to weave to and fro like an Olympic slalom skier. A bike like the new Niner RKT 9 RDO. With just 90mm of rear travel and no dropper post on any of the stock builds, the RKT 9 RDO will never be confused for anything other than what it is: a hard charging — and occasionally unforgiving — race bike.
The trip up Picture Rock was ruthlessly efficient, the bike’s 29” wheels chewing up terrain in Kobayashi size bites. The 71-degree head angle and low 120mm headtube on my SRAM 1×11 spec’d test machine kept me locked in attack position. No more ditching the dust cap to get low. Traction front and rear was never wavering even on the occasional section of loose over hard where other bikes might break lose.
At the same time the chainstay length (which is only 9mm longer than the same sized Specialized Enduro 29er) helped the bike not feel like my grandpa’s old Cadillac. In tight switchbacks the rear end snapped around without undue coaxing.
Also comforting was the knowledge that the bike benefits from the increasingly popular Boost 148 rear hub spacing. I cant say I noticed any sort of profound increase in wheel stiffness, but it was comforting to know that when it was time to descend, I could throw the bike into the occasional rock garden and have less chance coming out the other end with a plate of taco wheel salad. The wider hub spacing also opens up tire clearance to a chubby 2.4”, though it’s hard to imagine ever racing on something that wide.
The frame itself is constructed using Niner’s RDO Carbon Compaction technology, which is a fancy way of saying the bike is lightweight and durable. Niner claims that netted a sub-5-pound frame weight, a half pound lighter than the Niner Jet, former occupant of Niner’s XC racer niche. (The Jet’s now more of a long travel XC bike/short travel trail).