Editor’s Note: We have a submission from Twenty Nine Inches German contributor, “Oli” on the RDO Carbon Niner Fork for you today…..
Niner RDO Rigid Fork: Final Review- by Oli
In our modern times of cutting edge suspension – what place do rigid forks still have on MTBs? Weight weenie stuff only? Hillclimb racers? Weirdos? Believe me since I first presented myself to my riding buddies with the NINER RDO fork, there have been tons of such questions and lots of strange looks from the side ….
Two things I can most certainly say, these forks are NOT – outdated and cheap ;)! Considering you can get a decent suspension fork for the same price these wonders of monocoque carbon construction come at. It has been more than 9 weeks since the introduction (incl. all specs and details) now, in which I have been riding the NINER RDO under all conceivable conditions, searching for their strengths and weaknesses. And by now I can attest there are a lot more strong points to them. I am having great fun riding the ultralight carbon RADON Black Sin out on the trails with this fork.
Of course there is the superlight weight. At 578g for the fork and 63 g for the Maxle 15mm Thru Axle I sometimes felt like I was virtually pulled up the mountain. One strong push with my legs and the bike would try to get away from under me :-). The lack of weight even when compared to the lightest suspension forks out there can most certainly be felt and climbing can turn into a truly fun endeavor on such a bike. No need for a lockout to engage and every turn of the crank is answered by immediate propulsion and those guys asking me the questions (above) more often then not would see this perspective of me, (see image to the right), when riding uphill with them :). So the looks and questions at the beginning of the ride had mostly been answered after the first few longer uphills. Any questions?
The above is something pretty much expected – though it still astonishes me on just how much fun uphill riding it can be with the NINER RDO fork – but what really took me by storm was just how great the damping of this fork is. So good, I am often tempted to use the word „comfortable“ though it may look misplaced when in junction with a rigid fork. I am surprised on how well it rides over pretty much any terrain again on every ride. Being what it is, a rigid fork, there are limits to your speed when running into rough root carpets or rocky terrain, but even there, I always felt it to take off the sharpness of shocks in an admirably nice way. Small trail chatter and vibrations get muted very well. I remember c_g mentioning how he had similar experiences when he did his rigid carbon fork shootout in ´11 with the NINER RDO coming out clearly as No. 1, but it really needs to be experienced to grasp how nice a really well designed carbon fork nowadays can be.
But do not mistake it for a suspension fork … it is not. While there are limits to the speed one can run the NINER RDO fork over rough grounds, it is another matter that makes such sections sooo much fun. The shear steering precision, being able to precisely pick your line in a rock garden and find the front wheels doing exactly as you want, to me became a rewarding experience. That made the extra effort for having to employ an active riding absolutely worthwhile. We all are used to riding suspension forks and have come to terms with a certain amount of flex, that mostly we don´t even consciously notice it anymore, but one ride on this fork will be overthrowing your definition of steering precision altogether. The 15mm through axle does wonders turning an already great fork into something even better. Something even more fun to ride.
While the 15mm through axle definitely is an asset to the fork´s ride performance, it has been a bit of nuisance as well when trying to get the wheel mounted. The reason simply is that the threaded end on the fork, which is minimal already by itself, had no chance to do its job, simply because in case of our sample the dropouts were spaced at least 4 mm to wide. So when trying to get the wheel mounted it was a bit of fiddely work until I finally got the through axle threaded through the hub. For mounting the front wheels right side up, I always needed a helping hand, so that eventually I settled with turning the bike upside down and mounting the wheel this way :(.
Another thing to consider is the axle to crown measurement of 470 mm. While it does resemble the length of a sagged 100 mm fork, there had been quite a few of occasions where I hit my cranks on the ground in corners or over obstacles, that I usually would have cleared before with a suspension fork in the beginning. It simply takes a bit of getting used to because we seem to be so accustomed to the constantly changing axle-to-crown length of our suspension forks, that the constant lenght of a rigid fork, does feel a bit unusual at times. Sometimes I couldn´t help but wonder how a 490 mm axle to crown length, as the old steel rigid fork by NINER had, would do on this fork.
VERDICT: To me the NINER RDO carbon rigid fork is a purist tool for those seeking cutting edge simplicity – be it a racer, weight weenie, or some esthete in search for the perfect lines. NO doubt, the RDO rigid fork will never become mainstream, but there also is no denying it is a very exciting product. It is incredibly lightweight, immensely precise, yet rides surprisingly resilient and has awesome damping properties. On the uphill it will turn any bike into a weapon, on the downhills, it will require a bit more riding style but surely helps you improve your riding skills. The one thing I was disappointed on was how cumbersome wheel mounting had been, but once mounted the precise steering was simply breathtaking. The appeal of this fork really is that it turns any uphill into a fiesta, while it still keeps riding downhill fun, and makes a very “direct” but still rewarding experience.
If you mount the NINER RDO carbon rigid fork on your bike – be prepared that you may unleash a beast, one that you may need to tame first :).