“This is exactly the bike I’ve been looking for,” says Robin Farina, former U.S. national road race champion, as she gets her first glimpse of the MCR 9 RDO, a full-suspension gravel bike from Niner.
We’ve come to Nevada City, California, home to Robin as well as the celebrated Nevada City Classic road race, to see the gravel side of this Sierra Nevada foothills town that we think will soon outshine its storied road race.
Autumn is well underway at 2,500 feet in this historic mining town. Fall foliage dots the evergreens, painting the city red, gold and orange, while brisk mornings heat up just enough to forego layers during the day. We’re always looking for an excuse to test out the latest tech in new places, so riding through this perfect October scenery is all the motivation we need.
Going off road in Nevada City means encountering a variety of mixed terrain along the way. From pavement to dirt to deep gravel, you need to be prepared for topographical diversity in the course of a single ride—which means making tough choices about the best equipment for the day’s route choice. Do you want to go faster on the hard-packed stuff or the gravel? Do you want to prioritize comfort or absolute speed? That gets complicated quickly, especially if it means switching bikes or tires for each ride. Naturally, Robin is eager to try out a single bike that promises to cover more ground.
This leads us back to Niner. Since its start in 2005, Niner has been trying to perfect riding off road. With the MCR 9 RDO, it gets more than a few steps closer to that elusive end game. The bike features clearance for up to 50c tires on 700c wheels, 650b wheel compatibility and 11 frame-bag and bottle mounting points. From the gravel-specific Shimano GRX groupset to the Easton EA90 cranks, it also has a complementary spec to match its off-road prowess. And, of course, it features full suspension, front and rear.
But while it may have full suspension, the MCR 9 RDO is no mountain bike. With 50mm of travel, about half of most mountain bikes, and a steeper geometry, it is tuned specifically for gravel riding. By achieving full travel faster than mountain bike suspension, seated pedaling through small, continuous bumps is its bread and butter. Washboards and ruts get leveled out, no longer feeling like a rumble strip on the freeway. It’s a plush ride that leaves you refreshed even after a long day of groad. And if you encounter a bit of rough single track along the way, it’s got you covered there too.
For our inaugural ride, it only takes a few minutes to get out of town. Before long we’re ripping along on a gravel trail running parallel to a canal. No problem for the Niner. And just as promised we soon find ourselves rolling over dirt, dodging rocks and tree roots embedded in the trail. Again, no problem.
When it comes time to return to civilization, we find ourselves at the bottom of a mountain bike trail, having to ride up “flowy” single track filled with rollers and berms. Robin locks out her rear suspension with a flick of the thumb and just as easily locks out the Fox fork. That configuration gets her back to the paved road and to our final stop for pints where we spend the evening talking about where to go tomorrow. But, wherever we decide to go, Robin is already set.