If you are a Niner fan you may have heard the rumblings in the market that the brand was in trouble financially, and it was toward the end of 2017 when they filed for bankruptcy in the US. To the rejoice of Niner enthusiasts everywhere, in March 2018 the company was acquired by Hong Kong-based UWHK who has committed to invest more into R&D while retaining and bolstering the existing team. Following similar moves made by other boutique brands moving under the wing of “big bike” corporations in recent years, it’ll be interesting to follow Niner’s growth.
First released in late 2015, the RKT 9 uses Niner’s CVA (Constant Varying Arc) linkage design, touted for its pedalling efficiency while allowing the suspension to remain active. The front and rear triangles are both full carbon and are constructed using Niner’s RDO (Race Day Optimised) techniques. In short, Niner spent a lot of time ensuring that the carbon layup and moulding process produces a frame suitably stiff, strong and light to match the demands of mountain bike racing (or riding).
The front triangle and one-piece asymmetric carbon rear triangle are connected by the lightweight aluminium linkage. Cables are internally routed through the front triangle and externally on the rear. The frame features one bottle cage mount within the front triangle and another below the down tube. On the rear, it has 148x12 boost spacing which comfortably allows for a 29x2.4 tyre. And, should you want one, there is the option to mount a front derailleur.
Since our test bike was a custom build, we’ve kept the focus on the RKT platform (frame, shock and fork) rather than the specific componentry. This build was decked out with some seriously top end bits, but we expect would be a good proxy for the weight and feel of the five star Niner build.
Specifications (custom build as tested)
- FrameNiner RKT 9 RDO blue/green
- ForkFOX 32 SC Factory Kashima 100mm
- HandlebarsNiner flat top RDO, 780MM
- StemNiner RDO stem
- GripsESI Chunky
- SaddlePRO Griffon
- SeatpostNiner RDO Seat Post, 370MM
- BrakesFormula R1R
- RotorsFormula R1R
- Shift LeversSRAM XX1 Eagle Gripshift
- Rear DerailleurSRAM XX1 Eagle
- CassetteSRAM XX1 Eagle
- CranksetCannondale SiSL2 (w/ Stages power meter)
- ChainringWolf Tooth Components 34T
- Bottom Brackete*thirteen
- WheelsSouth Industries Carbon Rims, Tune hubs
- TyresVittoria Mezcal 2.35 ®, Vittoria Barzo 2.35 (F)
- PriceR99 000.00 *for a Niner 5 star factory spec build
On the trail
Clipping in for the first ride, it’s immediately evident that the bike pedals well on the flats and early climbs. The CVA certainly does what it says on the tin and there is no unwanted bob or overly active suspension under pedalling load. So good in fact, that I initially had to stop to ensure that the lockout wasn’t stuck.
This naturally translates well when climbing, especially on bumpier surfaces and more technical trail where there is a good balance of traction and efficiency in power transfer through the pedals. The low stack up front and sharper head angle make for a very capable and comfortable climber. Particularly so on lower speed technical trails where the responsive, precise handling comes into its own. And sure, the feathery weight of this build didn’t hurt its performance on the ups.
On paper that relatively steep head angle at 70/71 degrees (with a 120/100mm fork) did prompt some assumptions about how the bike would handle on rougher terrain and steeper descents. With recent releases from competitors in this class sporting head angles typically in the 68.5 to 70.0 degrees range the RKT certainly falls on the aggressive end of the spectrum. This will no doubt raise a few eyebrows and incite mumbles of “is it slack/long/low enough?”.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, though, and while these often give some good clues, it’s ultimately about how the bike feels and how that fits with the kind of riding you do. Admittedly the RKT 9 did feel quite twitchy and at times skittish on the front for the first ride or two. Coming straight off an extended period on the slackest of the RKT’s competitors, there was a noticeable difference in the responsiveness. However, by the third ride, I’d dialled in my own response and quickly began to enjoy the more nimble, snappy feel of the controls on fast flowy sections and flatter, technical trails.
There is no getting away from the numbers in other areas, and where the steep head angle does come into play is on steeper, more technical descents. It does require the rider to do some of the work in getting squarely behind the saddle to find the degree of comfort and confidence you’d want. That said, with a moderate skill level and rider position matched to the more aggressive stance of the bike it’s impressively capable and would quite comfortably soak up the sort of terrain a typical South African stage race may throw at you.
In the end
The Niner RKT 9 was bred to go fast on marathon and cross-country tracks and it doesn’t disappoint as a performance race bike. The superbly efficient suspension platform and climbing capabilities are a sure recipe for speed on the flats and climbs. While the sharper geometry does demand a degree of rider skill to reach full potential on technical descents, it’s well suited to the demands of typical South African marathon or stage race courses.
It is worth noting that the 120mm fork option does taper off the aggressive stance by a full degree and will offer a more confident feel better suited to those not aiming at a podium spot.