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Is A Gravel Bike With Full Suspension Faster?

Is A Gravel Bike With Full Suspension Faster?

– When off-road bike
brand Niner first teased this full-suspension gravel bike, much of the world was in shock basically. But yet here we are two years later and the Niner MCR is ready for release. A genuine full suspension gravel bike with 50 millimeters of
suspension in the back and 40 millimeters of suspension up front. Is the world ready for for it? Well, Niner invited us out to show you the tech and also to see
how it actually compares, on the trail, against their also new but more traditional RLT gravel bike. (finger snap) To find out we are going
to put them head-to-head in an epic gravel time trial showdown. (intense music) As importantly as that though, I will also explain how bike
suspension actually works. Cause I suspect many of
us have never had reason to know before, unless
you’re a mountain biker, in which case you’ve got a head start. You might already have of heard of a short duel length four bar
suspension system before. Even if, be completely
honest with yourself, you might not actually know what it is. (car beeping) (keys jingle) Now, I don’t know if when
Niner asked us to make a video about their new bike
they actually expected us to turn up on their doorstep
in Fort Collins, Colorado, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Here we are. (laughs) Ya (knocking on door) (encouraging orchestral music) Before we head out on the trails, let’s get one thing straight, some of you might be looking
at this bike and thinking, well that’s clearly just a mountain bike, but no that’s not a mountain bike. This, is a mountain bike. Now and yes they share similarities, they can both fit wide
knobbly tires although the MCR is limited to 50 millimeters where as this can go much, much bigger. And they both, of course, have
excellent suspension between the front and back wheels,
and the main frame. They share the same suspension platform, but to say that the bikes
are therefore the same is a little bit like
saying that a monster truck and a rally car are the same,
when clearly they’re not. This one can do this. (relaxing county music) But it excels at this. (rock music) Where as the MCR can definitely do this. (relaxing county music) But it excels at this. (relaxing county music) And it probably can’t do this. (rock music) So is this a gravel bike then? Yes, and to prove it here
is another gravel bike that Niner have just released. This is the RLT, an
unsuspended gravel bike. Now the important bits
that really define a bike are the position and the geometry of it. And in this case both share the same DNA that has evolved from road bikes. So you can see they have drop handle bars, they’ve got drop handle bar shifters, the position allows you if
you wish to get long and low so you can ride fast and comfortably for long periods of time. And the geometry, the
all important geometry is also similar so they feel kind
of the same they’re lively, they’re agile and they’re responsive. So with that amazing logic not to mention an amazing catching, hopefully we are all on the same page and ready to answer that question. What, if anything does that
bike do as well as this, and vice versa? To put them to the test,
we’re going to take them on a little loop that
Niner put together for us. It’s got road and it’s
got plenty of gravel. Climbing, descending, quite a bit of flat and a cheeky bit of single track
thrown in for good measure. (upbeat techno music) Ya, this feels a little bit
like the 1990’s all over again, where a whole bunch of cross
country mountain bikers had to convinced of the
merits of full suspension. I don’t need it, I’m fine as I am! Hard to argue that one. It’s heavier, can’t argue that either. This bike is about a
kilo and a half heavier than the very svelte RLT. And that on a climb like
this, will probably leave you going about two seconds
per kilometer slower. So it kind of means that
this is unlikely to be ridden in the Tour de France, but doesn’t concern people like you or me all that much. Then there’s also the fact
that if you fancy yourself as a little bit of a Marco Pantani and you like climbing at the saddle, the bike is going to feel a bit different. And that’s cause the suspension moves whether it’s reacting
to a force coming from the ground up, i.e. a bump or from the top down,
i.e. your body weight. To get around this fact
mountain bike manufacturers put considerable time and effort into refining their suspension platforms. And Niner felt like they cracked it right back in 2008 after they
patented their CVA design or Constantly Varying Arc. And it’s really clever,
basically it holds the suspension under a little bit of
tension as you pedals in order to minimize bobbing. But when you hit a bump
it overcomes that tension, or anti-squat to give it its proper name, then the suspension moves normally. But to minimize feedback to the pedals that Constantly Varying Arc
means that the pivot location or virtual pivot location has moved. So effectively, in layman’s terms, it keeps the suspension active without leaving you feeling
like you’re riding a sponge. If though, you are on tarmac like this you can flip the lockout levers and that all renders
the suspension inactive, meaning you’re effectively
riding a rigid bike. And let’s face it, tarmac is just a means to get to our gravel. The reasons why you might
want suspension on a bike are various but in this
case I think there are three that really stand out. Firstly, comfort and clearly when you have 50 millimeters of air
sprung oiled down suspension between your bum and the trail it will be more isolated from bumps. Now 50 mil night not sounds like that much but Niner’s say that
this shock has been tuned specifically for the
purpose of riding on gravel. I believe it has a, more subtle mid stroke. – On the MCR we’ve actually
tuned our CVA suspension characteristics to be
suitable for the demands of gravel riding, which
we envision riders sitting in the saddle, peddling and
mostly hitting smaller bumps. What we would say, low
amplitude but high frequency types of bumps. And so the suspension will
definitely hold the rider in the midstroke, but it
will be very responsive, very supple to, high frequency bumps. – Now that alone can
make it more efficient, but when you couple it
with the third reason then that’s even more so. And that is their vibration is reduced when you have suspensions. You might be familiar with
talk about reducing vibration when we talk about why running
low on tire pressures on the road can be more efficient. And the same is true in this case as well. Vibration of the bike and
body really slows you down and so when you reduce
it you go a lot faster, you move more efficiently. Reason number two, is
that you get more traction cause your tires are in
contact with the ground for more of the time. You notice particularly when climbing, but also when cornering
or breaking as well. To the extent that it
can actually influence your tire choice. You’re in to run much
slicker, faster rolling tires and still have the same
amount if not more grip but you get the benefit of that considerably reduced rolling distance. I’m not sure anyone would question why you want it on descent. Woohoo! Or here! In the short time that gravel
riding has been a thing, or at least a thing with a
name, it’s changed a lot. From riding gravel roads on road bikes and riding cyclocross,
to taking drop off bikes on almost mountain bike trails. Hence, why we’re including
this one on our loop. A short section, a very fun,
plus a simple single tap. (slow bass music) Alright then, run number one on the more conventional of the two bikes. Now this one of course
doesn’t have suspension, it’s the RLT RDO, which is actually the carbon fiber Race Day Optimize model. Now Niner were one of the first
brands to the gravel party so they’ve had plenty of time
to get the feel of their bikes just how they want. On the gravel spectrum
it’s still more toward the adventurous end in
that you can fit big tires, clearance for 50
millimeters wide even larger if you drop down that
smaller diameter 650b. It’s got a slightly more
upright and shorter position than you’d find on a road bike, but conversely the wheel base
is longer, for more stability. So even though it’s fully rigid it should be happy getting rowdy. Or here’s hoping anyway. Beep, beep, beep, beeep. (tires crunching on gravel) (energetic rock music) (heavy breathing) We’re on number two on the
MCR or Magic Carpet Ride. Let’s go. (tires crunching on gravel) (intense drum music) (peaceful music) After a much needed shower
and a much needed beer I’m now able to hit you
up with some results. Taking first place in
the epic head to head gravel time trail show down with a time of 11 minutes and nine
seconds was the RLT. Three seconds back was
the full suspension MCR. Closer than I was expecting
I’ll be completely honest but more interesting than
that is when you drilled down into the results and
you’ll see that actually the MCR was faster over the twistier, bumpier sections of the course. Where the RLT was faster on the smoother, faster sections of the course. Perhaps unsurprising I guess, given that while both are gravel bikes, they do excel in different
areas of the course seeing as they are very
different bikes, nevertheless. There’s a certain degree
of simplicity to the RLT, yes the bearings in
the full suspension MCR are Enduro Max Black Oxide bearings. Which I’m reliably
informed they’re basically the most durable ones you can get, they will still will need
servicing from time to time as will the shocks. Something the mountain biker
are perfectly comfortable doing these days, but
it’s something that is alien at the moment to
roadies and gravel riders. And so if you’re off adventuring then simplicity probably gets the thumbs up, and it’s for that reason as well I guess that Niner festooned the RLT with no less than 26 individual mounting points. You can find them, here, here, here, here, here. These, you’d probably be familiar with. Here, here, here, here,
here, here, here and here. For maximum adventure
proof ness you could choose the steal framed option as oppose to the less expensive aluminum or the super light carbon option. And finally there’s
absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a traditional bike because whilst fast is fun, fun
bikes don’t have to be fast. Where does then that leave the MCR? You might be wondering
whether or not actually a 29er mountian bike would
be better given that, that excels in twisty, bumpy stuff surly a 29er would be better still. And yet definitely a
mountain bike is going to be faster on mountain bike trails, but then I also think
it’s probably going to be less exhilarating when
the trails are simpler. More importantly for me though, is actually the position
that you adopt on the bike. Mountain bikes can feel very big, they have generally
quite upright positions, very wide handle bars. So if I was going to choose
to spend a day on a bike I would definitely want one where I was closer to my road position. I think that’s just generally
a little bit more comfortable. And a little bit more efficient, at that end of the spectrum. Anyway, I’ll be very
very interested to know your thoughts on this subject. Are you ready for the next
step in gravel bike technology? Or are you something of a traditionalist? Make sure you get involved in the comment section down below. I’m sure you won’t disappoint. Also please give this
video a big thumbs up. And if you want to watch
another one, a gravel video, then why not check out the
one, on screen right now.

72 comments on “Is A Gravel Bike With Full Suspension Faster?

  1. Full suss looks great, more choice is always better.

    The extra comfort will probably be more attractive to those of us carrying a bit more wear and tear, with less of a desire for KoMs and looking towards more fun.

  2. I've got to say, and I'll be honest, to be fair, Si has, and I'm not going to lie, honestly, some repetitive phrases that, I've got to say, become distracting. I'm not going to lie, listening out for them would make a great, if I'm honest, drinking game, although, to be fair, we'd all end up, I've got to say, skunk as drunks. Honestly, just sayin'…

  3. Are you always riding downhill on a mountain bike? Would a xc full suspension bike with bullhorn handlebars and skinny wheels be about the same thing? Is gravel a actual UCI recognized discipline? Does riding a dirt road with a xc bike count as gravel riding? Too many unanswered questions still about gravel bikes to waste money on a specific bike that competes in a class with no defining rules or specifications.

  4. I have to dislike this one. Not that there's anything wrong with how the video's made, it's the content that's bothering me. Road bikes are becoming mountain bikes (again!), but in carbon, and I don't really see the point.

  5. well, 3 seconds are nothing to worry about when you are not in a race.
    and if you are in a race, you would pick the bike for the track, sometimes the full suspension, sometimes the non-suspension bike to give you the advantage.

    But, for ordinary crosscountry / gravel road trips I would pick the one with the most comfort, since speed isnt everything.

    So.. my question to GBN, did the suspension soften the ride for you.
    – I imaging a non-suspension bike on gravel might shake alot and this would wear you body down faster, and you would get tired and lose performance in the long run.

  6. For me part of the beauty of gravel bikes is durability and simplicity. Can’t help but think if you need suspension a 29er mtb would be the way to go. But hey, why not, what a cracking bit of kit! Does make me feel a bit old though, I hung onto my rigid mtb for years scoffing at those elastomer forks…

  7. Please use headphones, and listen to Ex U-21 UK XC national champ breathing hard on the tarmac.

    Definitely Niner gives up on-the-tarmac efficiency.

  8. What was my comment earlier this summer….. "You roadies are slowing enjoying more dirt in your lifes" and it's very obvious with this new full suspension gravel bike!!! I give it a year until you guys say f-it and start to ride mtb instead

  9. Simple as hell …. you need suspension… buy XC with tinier tires and dont overcomplicate world with 10001 new bike types…

  10. Yesterday i did a 25 km technical cross country loop – labeled blue/red on my gravel bike with 35mm tyres (tubeless at 2.5bars) … I cleared all the features with exeption of a small section with tight turns full of mud and roots. In many occasions MTB couldnt keep up with me although they had light carbon full suspesion bikes … so it is all about technic. I had probably one of my best cycling days of my life. So based on this experience, i will say no on a full supension gravel bike. Even for "aggressive" terrain I will use tmy gravel – i will ofcourse consider my choise of tyres and change my seatpost on something with a basic vibration absorption – unfortunately i cant fit a dropper post 🙁 but of course this is just my opinion based on where i am riding.

  11. Still think a "full suspension gravel bike" is just an MTB with drop bars. OK not an out and out MTB, as you illustrate, but still, of the genre.

  12. Guuuuys, what’s with the unnatural reverb and compression on the voice? Aaaargh 😀 Such a fast attack time makes each syllable uncomfortable to listen to and that reverb is completely out of place for something that was recorded out in the open. It doesn’ have to sound fat, wide, in your face or anything. It just needs to sound natural and I know you guys can do it because usually you do a fantastic job in post production. I <3 GMBN and GCN.

  13. If you get older and the bones start to complain a suspension can make you ride longer and less painfull. A drop bar is very ergonomic if the bike fits well and a that is why it makes sense to have these bikes with suspension, because a mountainbike with drop bar is still a mountainbike. So please stop trying to put those things on one level while comparing.

  14. Psyched to see GCN riding Fort Collins trails! My kids and I rode the trails in this video yesterday. Blue Sky. Good times!

  15. I imagine for certain races these will very popular (seems like it would be good for Leadville for example). Might also be a very interesting bikepacking bike.

    But it isn't for me.

  16. Thanks for the overview Si. Work/ride roads in Ft. Collins. Ride tons of gravel near my home in Weld County (~20 miles East of Ft. Collins. Curious where the course you rode is please? Believe I know some of the bits, but not all. Thanks for the directions.

  17. that MCR full suspension bike seems ideal for urban commuting in Brazil. People here commute basically on MTBs It is really rare to see a road bike because the roads are really bad.
    You can lock the suspension for when you hit that rare smooth asphalt and have suspension for most of the way with wider-than-road-bikes-tires-but-not-so-wide-as-downhill-MTB-tires.
    Also, some people do have to traverse through gravel daily around here. Main point for MTBs though is going up and down curbs easily and through potholes that usually road bikes cant go through.

  18. its an option…but i'll continue to use a carbon gravel bike for gravel, and a hard tail mtb for anything more rocky.
    i think there are two different markets being targeted here
    1. a very comfy gravel bike for anyone tired of the bone shaking experience they may have currently (and dont want a mtb)
    2. racing on gravel to maximise speed down hill and through singletrack.(faster than xc mtb overall if you include fast flats and draggy climbs)

  19. this mcr should have lefty! I wonder if cannodnale will make new oliver that could be similiar to new Ocho but with less travel.

  20. How is it Si is doing the Stateside gravel stuff & not their man on the ground JP? No criticism of Si, just wondered….

  21. i rode the downhill worldcuptrack today on a hardtail mtb. lots of fun and linechoice. why a full sus gravel bike? there are some with suspension and not many were sold…

  22. I prefer GB without any suspension. Look at The Race to The Sun in Magaliesburg,South Africa. 167km GB race with some short sections of tar! I invite you Si to join us next year(2020) on this Epic GB ride. Starts in Magaliesburg to Sun City!

  23. Like all the GCN vids, this one is another treat to watch! I enjoy all the experimental projects and bikes you showcase. I would love to give the full suspension a try. I think the future of gravel bikes (with full suspensions) are looking good. I have found that many of the older riders (myself included) prefer the more gravel orientated stage races. Less agressive terrain but still long distances, in which case a bike that delivers a smooth and fast (yet sturdy) ride will be preferred. I honestly think the gravel bike is the bike of the future because of its dual application on road and gravel. I was in a specialised bike shop a few days ago and I was dumbstruck at all the cyclo cross variations currently available. I wonder if suspensions will ever come into play on tarmacs…

  24. Like for respect to Your work, not for this bike 🙁 . Why??? This is xc bike with low travel suspensions and road groupset(forgot drop handlebar too) :). I don't understand gravel bike style, cyclocross bikes are good for all terrain(Only change tyres or rims). Gravel bikes are monster cross style already. I used 650b rims sometimes on my cx bikes from years(monster cross style), not new. I think, need new economic inputs for bicycle industries.

  25. Glad to see the brits getting to enjoy the vastness of the USA gravel scene. Two excellent bikes if only i had a spare $4,000 as always gnc rocks!

  26. Yes its called an XC Mountain Bike. Check out a Cannondale Scalpel or F-SI and do a test? You may find that the Scalpel and F-SI can not only do gravel, but "gasp" other types of terrain too! I still don't understand why all these iterations of mountain bikes are revolutionary when you add a drop bar to them?

  27. Forget about time trials: which one would be more comfortable for a 100mi ride? More comfortable = faster because less time icing your ass.

  28. After watching the video where you found out an XC mountain bike out performs a cyclocross bike over the cobblestones of paris-roubaix, I'm a bit shocked that the suspended bike didn't clean up here. Maybe tire width is the real issue?

  29. Reminds people with the retro ultra-thin 18c tire plus a suspension, Are you saying that future trend will end it like the product you are talking today?
    Just buy the Sworks Epic 7.8kg bike. You are good to go, saves all the hassel of the hard to match fork and suspension.

  30. I've always thought it would be cool to have a little suspension on a gravel bike. I'm actually surprised they went more mountain bike type suspension rather than a something in the headtube and seat tube which I would think would be cheaper and lighter. ??? but what do I know.
    I would be interested in having the full suspension just for comfort as an older rider. Priorities begin changing when you're not 20 something. 🙂

  31. I honestly think it's a very slim area where this bike would excel over a regular gravel bike or a mountain bike. I'd say that gravel bike without suspension gives you way better options as an all round bike if that's what you're looking for.

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