August 8, 2013
A performance rigid fork,? Chipps checks out the carbon and Maxle'd RDO
Seeing as we’re reviewing rigid forked bikes this issue, it seems appropriate that I review the fork that’s been on my adventure bike for over a year.
You’ll have noticed the eye-watering price on the way down, but let’s have a look at what goes into it. Niner has made a full carbon rigid fork to take a 15mm axle wheel. That in itself deserves a round of applause, as the majority of carbon forks still have alloy steerers.
The sheer size of a 29in wheel gives it a great deal of leverage, and trying to control a bucking 29in wheel through the power of a front wheel quick release is asking a lot. This is one reason why it’s so rare to see a quick release suspension fork on a 29in bike; even weight-conscious racers are relying on thru-axles to keep big wheels from twisting.
The Niner fork is a monocoque construction, so the fork, crown and steerer is made as a whole, rather than bits glued together after the fact. This helps with the fork’s strength as well as allowing the designers to design in flex in the right places and stiffness in the other right places. Needless to say, this only comes in a 29in length as Niner doesn’t acknowledge the existence of any other wheel size.
The fork blades are an aerofoil shape; not for aerodynamics, but as part of the design that allows just enough flex. The RDO fork only comes in a tapered steerer with 15mm axle and, on the right frame (Niner’s carbon AIR being the best example), there’s a very organic-looking and pleasing curve from the fork blades to the crown and onwards to the bike’s head tube. The post-mount brake bosses will take up to a 185mm disc. The quick release version of the same fork comes in either tapered or straight, 1.125in steerer for £100 less.
Fitting the fork is easy enough, albeit with a little extra care (and a sharp hacksaw blade) needed to trim the steerer. Niner supplies an expanding wedge as a carbon steerer is no place for a star nut; this grips well over a large area and allows good headset adjustment.
The business end of the fork comes with a 15mm Maxle 360 axle, with reciprocal threads in the disc side fork leg. I did find wheel location a little fiddly as there’s no distinct ledge for the hub’s end nuts to locate into. This is only a problem if you’re in a real hurry; Niner says the dropouts are kept slim to be light weight (and for beauty).
With the fork mounted on my adventure bike, it’s seen action in many different forms: from road riding with chunky slicks, cyclocross racing and finally, regular trail riding with a big 2.4in tyre on. In all situations, it’s been great. There’s no noticeable pull from hard braking, and steering precision is as accurate as you’re going to ever need. Yet, despite this, the fork has been very comfortable, even on the repeated packhorse cobbles and rocky steps we have around here.
With the exception of occasionally fiddly wheel mounting, I can’t fault Niner’s carbon fork for performance. There’s no rider weight limit, yet the fork comes in at just 1.4lbs with Maxle included. Yes, the price is similar to a mid-level suspension fork, but for the lightest bike build and laser-sharp tracking on anything less than full-on rocks, this is a worthy fork to consider on your ultimate 29in project.
Overall: If you’re going to keep it rigid, you might as well do it with performance and style.