I used to say that I had got through my cycling life successfully avoiding only two things: rollers and cyclocross. Last year I cracked and now enjoy the excitement (and benefits) of rollers. So that only left CX. I have long suspected that Cyclocross racing would be right up my street and I have not been unaffected by various of my colleagues who have been on skinny wheels for the whole of my mountain biking life. Last time I wrote that I couldn’t wait to get out on our new demo Whyte T-130 RS, in part to improve my confidence. That was true but what was really getting me going was the pending arrival of two Niner RLT9 demo bikes. Ostensibly, for a customer but really for me. As I write the demos are still here to be tested. You are welcome!
I chose the 53cm and rode it Friday night, Saturday morning and for a long one on Sunday. Then, Thursday, I had the ultimate experience; an on-off road, night ride in Brighton incorporating twittens and singletrack with 3 cyclo-cross racers as my guides. These are my impressions not a review of performance as my CX knowledge is just beginning.
I must add a mention of Jenn Hill as it was her influence that inspired me to look at this sort of riding and it was sadly ironic that I should be pedalling in her honour as her life sadly slipped away. Jenn worked for us whilst training for her Great Divide record attempt and she left a lasting impression on all who knew her here. If you don’t know already, she rode the equivalent of the South Downs Way, everyday for 23 days carrying all her gear. Jenn RIP.
The Niner RLT9 is more or less a cyclocross bike but unconstrained by racing rules and
the need for quick race handling the RLT9 can carry a wider tyre and has a slacker head angle. The first thing that I noticed was that it climbs way faster than a mountain bike. Its light weight and light skinny wheels let you fly up any hill. The ride position is akin to a road bike although the bars are higher. Jenn made a passing comment saying that a cross bike can never be too short. My RLT9 is a 53cm having a 545 top tube and a short stem. It’s 40mm shorter than my road race bike. Fire road climbing was bound to be good but the fun started on the descents. My first downhill was Lychpole Hill usually a rooty and rutted singletrack off the top of Tenants Hill. To my surprise it has been cleared and graded so was loose, soft, dusty and off camber, the front wheel kept slipping and sliding away. By contrast the Sheep Track was in as good a condition as it could ever be and I reckon that I got one of my fastest times (on Sunday my second fastest ever).
The bike opened up a whole new world and I found myself on tracks and roads that I have never ridden before. It was like being on holiday. My first real mountain bike style challenge came on the Wiston Bostal (the rope swing climb). It was easy but the gearing was hard 36/30 (I need a 32 or 1 x 11). It was dry but in the wet the Scwalbe Sammy Slicks could have been a problem.
My Brighton night ride was another new experience altogether riding twittens, staircases, pavements and singletrack. Eventually we found ourselves in Stanmer which was suitably wet, muddy and rooty. Stanmer is fun but I sometimes get bored on a mountain bike. On a cross bike it was a laugh a minute roller coaster: exciting all the way, there was never a dull moment. It was all about picking the perfect line and floating the wheels over the roots. We dropped into the city back via Wild Park and enjoyed some Belgium beers before the road ride home.
One bike does it all. It goes fast making even the most mundane parts of the South Downs
Way exciting. It goes on the road. It looks like a road bike but can take the abuse of a mountain bike. It’s lighter than my mountain bike and does most off road nearly as well.
As it’s a jack of all trades that it would suit any rider willing to compromise to be able to go anywhere on one bike. I have loads of bikes but the beauty of the Niner RLT 9 for me is that it has opened up a whole new way of route planning, it has added speed and excitement to the regular trails and at the same time is improving my bike handling skills. It’s not for everyone as a substitute for mountain biking many will find the skill and nerve required is too much to be enjoyable for technical singletrack. For me it’s just the challenge that I was after.