Niner RKT 9 RDO ReviewMay 25, 2016
- Outstanding climber
- Super quick in tight turns/sprints
- Well-balanced geometry
- Minimal versatility
- High price for the build
- Limited multi-shift capability
At this level in the XC/Marathon category, riders are often looking for a single bike that can race occasionally but also handle a wider variety of trails. If you’re looking primarily for the former, the Niner RKT 9 RDO is certainly the bike for you in this group. The frame makes for an extremely fast, highly responsive ride, with minimal wasted energy whether sitting or standing, and it’s fairly light for the price. The stiffness and perfectly balanced geometry are ideal for racing over smooth, tight courses, and it’s certainly comfortable enough to handle a longer marathon course. However, the shorter rear travel and frame’s speed-first design means some sacrifice on rougher trails. It’ll fly through corners, but huck that two-foot drop and you’ll feel it on the landing. This is not the best option for riders looking for cross-category versatility.
Balance is the first word that comes to mind here, as it is with other Niner XC machines. The Niner RKT 9 RDO feels perfectly balance on the trail—weight is centered beautifully, with just the right amount of torque on the front end when climbing, and not too much forward lean when descending. This makes for improved confidence over varying terrain. The RockShox Reba RL Solo Air fork though a bit lower end than some other options in the group, is stiff enough with smooth travel after a harsh initial hit: this is somewhat common for XC racing forks. The overall ride leans on the stiff side rather than plush, making turns and acceleration pure bliss. But when things get rough, this means less small-bump absorption on both ends, and a less cushy landing on drops, especially with only 90mm of travel on the otherwise buttery smooth FOX Float Factory shock. This became noticeable over long, boulder-strewn New England rides for sure, but on smoother, more flowy singletrack, the ride shines.
At 25.5 pounds the Niner RKT 9 RDO is not the lightest in the group but close. It’s certainly light enough for occasional racing and/or long training rides and marathon adventures. Combined with its outstanding power transfer (especially for the price), this bike excels even without the suspension locked out. Whether seated or standing, accelerations are instant, with negligible bounce; lock them down—there’s a remote for the shock and an easily accessed manual dial on the fork—and it feels nearly as efficient as a full rigid bike. Both vertical (bottom bracket area) and torsional (steer tube and down tube) stiffness is excellent so you can hammer down on the pedals and/or stand up and throw the bike side to side with great results.
Along with the above-mentioned, excellent power transfer, what makes this bike such a strong climber is its balance. Fast, efficient climbing requires keeping the tires on the ground as much as possible, while maintaining the ability to pull up over bumps. The beautifully balanced front end of the Niner RKT 9 RDO means pull-ups require minimal energy without ever feeling like it’s too much. Some bikes require a jerky lift or pull up so easily you lose momentum—this bike strikes the perfect balance, and climbing consequently requires considerably less effort (mentally and physically!). Plus, the stiffer, less cushy suspension adds to the tires-on-the-ground equation, even if that means feeling a bit more of the trail in the process. The rear suspension remote lockout is a huge boon when climbing, especially on steep, power climbs, but we’d love to see a dual lockout remote added, especially at the price, so the front can also be locked in one click.
Depending on the surface, descending and handling can vary substantially with the Niner RKT 9 RDO. XC trails, especially those in most races, are generally smooth and tight, with some technical thrown in just for fun. In this style of riding, this bike is right at home, with its great balance, highly responsive front end, and stiffer suspension. You can tear into a turn, snap through it, and explode out down the trail. However when descending involves roots, rocks, etc., you’ll need to stay focused on your line to avoid the roughest route. It’s certainly not an uncomfortable ride through the gnar, but it can bounce around a bit more than the others, and you’ll feel the landing on bigger hits.
The Niner RKT 9 RDO is spec’d almost entirely with SRAM’s GX1 groupset (other than Shimano Deore XT cassette). This 1×11 group is SRAM’s value-minded offering for more serious riders, but comes in a good bit heavier than their higher end groups. Aside from the weight, which considering the bike’s overall light weight is not a major factor, the group performed well under most situations, with only minor glitches under heavy stress. The single front ring means no front derailleur to cause issues over wide ranges of shifting, plus higher clearance with no “big” ring, but we had some trouble finding the perfect adjustment in the rear, especially with the oversized “climbing” gear. Aside from this minor nuisance, the shifting was generally smooth and quick, and always reliable. The major downside to the group—and SRAM in general—was the lack of multiple-shift capability when dropping to a more difficult gear. Other groups will allow two and three clicks in one motion, but GX1 only allows one. When cresting a hill, or attacking, this means repeated thumb clicks rather than just one long one—not a major flaw, but a noticeable annoyance.
Braking with SRAM is always smooth and reliable, if often a bit noisy. For lower end hydraulic discs, these had solid modulation and power, although noticeably less of both than others in the group with X1 or Shimano’s XT. Most riders at this level would probably not have issues here, except under extreme conditions, but if serious racing and/or descending is in the cards, they may fall a bit short. Finally we found the cable clutter by the rear suspension to be not only unsightly, but also prone to sticking out and hitting shoes and/or trail debris.
Ninerspecs a house-brand alloy wheelset on the RKT 9 RDO, which from previous tests have proven quite well made and an overall solid package. Though not the lightest in the group, the overall bike weight remains low and these wheels don’t hold back the speed. They’re certainly not the stiffest in the group, which may partially be a result of the basic J-bend spokes—which are also more prone to breaking than straight-pull—but only serious racers would be affected by the flex.
This is the highest priced option in the group, and as a whole package, not the best value overall. However that depends on what you’re looking for—if racing is a major player, and/or if the trails in your area are smoother and tighter, the Niner RKT 9 RDO would be well worth the money, and an excellent value compared to higher end racing bikes especially. And the frame is outstanding, so minor upgrades would mean a serious racing machine. But if your go-to trails test your technical skills equally to your ability to hammer a climb or outsprint a buddy, you may have issues on the gnarliest sections, and other options would be more appropriate.