First Ride Review: Niner RKT 9 RDO XC 29er race bike

Ruthlessly efficient climber that’s nimble going downhill, too

29er Cross Country
We wished our test rig had a dropper post, but otherwise it delivered as advertised: light, fast, efficient and occasionally playful.

We wished our test rig had a dropper post, but otherwise it delivered as advertised: light, fast, efficient and occasionally playful (click to enlarge).

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.

Tire clearance is up to 2.4".

Tire clearance is up to 2.4″ (click to enlarge).

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.

Frame weight is claimed to be less than 5 pounds.

Frame weight is claimed to be less than 5 pounds (click to enlarge).

Lightweight Frame

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).

Continue to page 2 for details on suspension design and to find out how the Niner RKT 9 RDO descends »
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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • professed says:

    Very odd release for a now large bike manufacturer.

    Niner already have the excellent Jet RDO – why not tighten it up a bit if they want a WC XC bike?

    Perhaps the Jet nine is heading to 120mm travel now and a slacker HA which is really what Niner should be doing and looking at. That is the sort of XC bike most of us want these days.

    Then LLS the RIP so that it can capture some of the booming Stumpjumper 150mm 29er sales.

    There is hardly a market for something like this.

    C’mon Niner – we want you to succeed !

  • coke says:

    My local trails are very tight with lots of steep climbs, turns, and switchbacks. This bike would be a great match.

  • duder says:

    Never will understand a 100mm or less rear travel bike. Get a hardtail if thats what you are after.

    • jpre says:

      I rode an 80mm rear travel bike for 10 years. Liked it way better than my hardtail and way fewer rear flats.

    • Harry says:

      You’re implying less than 100mm rear travel travel is no different than no rear travel at all. That’s like saying if you’re going to go less than 180mm, you may as well just go with 100mm. Pretty silly comment.

  • Kuttermax says:

    I’ve got a Jet 9 RDO upgraded this year with a Fox DPS Evol shock and a RS-1 120 mm fork. The DPS Evol makes this an amazing “daily driver” handling a wide range of terrain with a much more progressive feel compared to the stock RP23. I don’t race enough to give up the comfort and confidence that I get from the small amount of additional travel.

    I suspect some of the positive atrributes that the early reviews of the RKT 9 RDO are in no small part related to the new Fox DPS that is on the bike. It likely helps compensate for the drop to 90 mm of travel from the 100 mm the Jet 9 RDO had due to the more progressive nature of the Fox DPS.

    I’m definitely curious to see what the introduction of the RKT 9 RDO means to the rest of Niner’s lineup. A new Jet 9 RDO with shorter rear chainstays would be interesting.

  • MGCan says:

    A head to head comparison against an Specialized Epic or Cannondale Scalpel would be good. Also how about some full build weights, XC folks, love to hear complete build weights.

  • I'mRight says:

    If you can’t “bomb thru rock gardens” than your xc valved FS bike will wallow thru the rocks. Then your “not meant for this shock” will blow up and your maxed out cc won’t be able to save you and you’ll wish you bought the Niner ROS instead.

  • Gator says:

    Can I run a 120mm fork on it?

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