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The future of gravel bikes or a step too far? It’s the new Niner MCR 9 RDO full-suspension gravel

We get our first look at Niner's suspension gravel bike for the very first time

Gravel bikes have come a long way in a few short years but the new Niner Magic Carpet Ride, or MCR for short, brings full-suspension into the mix for the first time. The MCR 9 RDO made its very first appearance in the UK this week at the annual Core Bike Show, a gathering of top brands showing the newest 2020 product that will be in shops very soon.

niner MCR 9 RDO 14.JPG

The brand new Niner MCR 9 RDO brings the company’s expertise designing full-suspension mountain bikes to a gravel bike, with a dual linkage suspension layout providing a pert 50mm of rear-wheel travel. That’s paired in this case with the Fox AX suspension fork, offering 40mm of travel, that sister site off.road.cc has previously reviewed.

MCR 9 RDO suspension

Niner’s Phillip Lucas tells has its CVA (Constantly Varying Arc) suspension is designed to be very linear and designed to soak up all the small ripples and bumps that typify a gravel track, not for dealing with big impacts from "sending" it off big drops like those rad mountain bikers do. The intention is mainly to provide more comfort for the rider when riding fast over long-distance gravel tracks.

Here's the suspension in action:

There’s a handlebar remote lever to lockout the shock, and 1x bikes will use the newest Shimano GRX levers to activate the optional dropper post on this bike. Because the X-Fusion shock is located between the rear wheel and the mainframe, Niner has integrated a mudguard into the swingarm to stop mud and stones being flung into the shock. There’s also integrated frame protection as well.

niner MCR 9 RDO 9.JPG

The mainframe and swingarm are made from carbon fibre with forged aluminium one-piece linkages. There are obviously a few bearings on this bike but they are Enduro Max Black Oxide bearings which are claimed to be durable and long-lasting. Bearings on modern mountain bikes generally last a very long time so there’s no reason why the bearings on this bike should pose any real issues, but long-term testing will be the rear test of them.

niner MCR 9 RDO 4.JPG

Mounts are abundant for attaching bottles and bags, those bolts inside the top of the mainframe are designed to work with the company’s frame pack which uses a metal frame to bolt directly to the frame and do away with the more common velcro straps that are used to attach bikepacking bags to frames.

Tyre clearance is generous, with 700x50 and 650bx60 being accommodated, though the Fox fork is limited to 40mm tyres.

All cables and hoses are internally routed with full-sleeved internal guides so building the bike should be easy.

niner MCR 9 RDO 17.JPG

Pictured here is a Shimano GRX 1x build but you can opt for 2x with space for a front derailleur mount. This model costs £5,750 or you can get the frame for £2,800 and build it your way. You’re looking at about 11.6kg for the pictured bike, but builds closer to 10kg are possible.

But do we really need full-suspension on gravel bikes? Niner says that mountain bikes have evolved from fully rigid to full suspension, and since nearly all mountain bike technologies have been adopted by the gravel market, why not full suspension as well?

We have seen some attempts to bring suspension to a drop bar gravel bike, from the Lauf fork to Specialized’s Future Shock on the Diverge, Cannondale’s new Topstone Carbon and suspension stems and seat posts are making a comeback, so is it about time proper full suspension came to gravel bikes?

To try and answer that question we’ll hopefully be getting a chance to ride the new bike, so stay tuned for that.

I’ll just leave you to read some of the reactions to my Twitter post on the new bike yesterday...

More info at https://ninerbikes.com/

David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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14 comments

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kil0ran | 4 years ago
0 likes

Don't see the point if it's just about comfort. 650B plus tubeless 47c tyres is fine for me on almost any surface whilst still not feeling draggy on the roads I ride to get too the trails. Possibly my Brooks sprung saddle has something to do with that too.

My LBS is a Niner stockist, will have to pop in and have a chat about this and see what they think.

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Daddylonglegs | 4 years ago
0 likes

Just buy a mountain bike, it'll be a ton more fun. Surely the whole point of a gravel bike is, while they are great for tracks and trails, you can still use them on tarmac all year if you wanted, without touching a trail and you should get close to the same performance as a decent road bike. Compared to a decent gravel bike, on tarmac this thing will ride like a whale.

Also simplicity. Gravel and road bikes need relatively little maintenance compared to MTBs and this abomination will need endless time and expense if it's used off-road.

It's just a very expensive rubbish mountain bike with an identity crisis.

Avatar
Xenophon2 | 4 years ago
3 likes

For me, a step too far. If you can't get reasonably comfy with large tyres at low pressure and a forgiving seatpost/elastic inserts then perhaps what's needed is an MTB. No sense in further diluting the potential to perform well on tarmac, lockout or not. But I guess the same was said 5 years ago when 'gravel' bikes started emerging. We know how that went.

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Velophaart_95 | 4 years ago
0 likes

Nice bike - and interesting set up.
However, I'm not sure about it; I imagine it is fine off road, but maybe too compromised on tarmac??

In my personal opinion, when you start riding trails that are full of roots, large rocks, etc (aka gnarly) then you're better on a full on XC MTB. A gravel/ adventure bike is more than adequate for forestry roads, light singletrack and on road use.
But, it's more choice for those that need this type of bike...

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 4 years ago
4 likes

Is this a gravel bike that wants to be a mountain bike, or a mountain bike that wants to be a gravel bike? Maybe it doesn't need a label to serve its purpose.

Not my bag, but all bicycles are beautiful to someone, so vive la difference.

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David Arthur @d... replied to Mungecrundle | 4 years ago
0 likes

I think it's trying to be a gravel bike that can offer more comfort than a rigid gravel bike, and we're seeing a move towards increased comfort whether it's fatter tyres, bendy carbon stays and forks or suspension seat posts and stems, which is why I ask if this is a step too far or it's the right direction for gravel bikes as a category

Avatar
peted76 | 4 years ago
4 likes

It's just a bit much. Isn't it?

I'd like to have a go on it if only to see how it rides. But what's it for? Or who's it for?

I'm really struggling to work out where this gravel trend stops and a decent XC hardtail starts..  Specialized’s 'Epic HT' off the peg comes in at 7.8kg and looks like a weapon, I'm quite sure you could put thinner tyres on one of those, why wouldn't normal people just do that?

Avatar
David Arthur @d... replied to peted76 | 4 years ago
0 likes

peted76 wrote:

It's just a bit much. Isn't it?

I'd like to have a go on it if only to see how it rides. But what's it for? Or who's it for?

I'm really struggling to work out where this gravel trend stops and a decent XC hardtail starts..  Specialized’s 'Epic HT' off the peg comes in at 7.8kg and looks like a weapon, I'm quite sure you could put thinner tyres on one of those, why wouldn't normal people just do that?

 

I reckon if I was doing Dirty Reiver, or some long-distance gravel ride/race, the extra comfort would be appreciated. I can see it appealing to the US market more easily than the UK where we don't have the same abundance of long gravel races 

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peted76 replied to David Arthur @davearthur | 4 years ago
1 like

But why this over a Spesh Epic HT or a Trek Supercaliber? 

Genuine question, the worst offroad and closest I've gotten to a gravel race is the HONC and I 'can' see that this bike might be ideal for that, (a supported or one day event).. BUT my question really is,  would it be more ideal than a high end XC?  On the surface, it looks like the only real difference is bar shape... if 'aero' is what it's about, why not put aero bars on an XC MTB?  

Maybe my question is aimed more along the lines of 'are there any geometry differences?' 

Avatar
David Arthur @d... replied to peted76 | 4 years ago
3 likes

Depends on the ratio of road to off-road you're riding. For me I can ride 20 miles on road to my nearest woods where I normally mountain bike, loon around in the woods for a bit, then take the road back with some bridleways thrown in for fun. I wouldn't ride that sort of route on a mountain bike, but a gravel bike yes certainly

If you're just riding off-road, then that's different, and that depends on what you have available to ride, forest singletrack or gravel tracks. Salisbury Plain is boring on a mountain bike, ace on a gravel bike. Afan is ace on a mountain bike, scaring on a gravel bike.

I've done HONC on both and I was more comfortable and having more fun on the mountain bike, but I was riding it with a friend on a cyclocross bike who was having just as much fun, so guess at the end of the day it's really down to the rider

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ubercurmudgeon | 4 years ago
1 like

I can't find any indication of price anywhere, but I'm sure whatever it is will be considered a bargain by people with lots of money but no idea how to run their tyres at an appropriate pressure.

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David Arthur @d... replied to ubercurmudgeon | 4 years ago
1 like

handlebarcam wrote:

I can't find any indication of price anywhere, but I'm sure whatever it is will be considered a bargain by people with lots of money but no idea how to run their tyres at an appropriate pressure.

It's right there in the article  3 

This model costs £5,750 or you can get the frame for £2,800

 

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Jimthebikeguy.com | 4 years ago
2 likes

I don't want to be one of those cranky, not-very-open-minded sorts, and am trying hard to see the good in this, but... 🙄

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RobD replied to Jimthebikeguy.com | 4 years ago
1 like

Yeah I'm usually pretty pro innivation, but there must be ever decreasing groups of riders that need a bike that is this specific without actually needing a mountain bike. I guess there's plenty of trails in the US etc where this might be more suitable, but for me I'm happy with my gravel bike being more of the 'beefed up road bike with big tyres' type. Each to their own though.

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