Sea Otter Classic: Gravel gets suspended

It’s no secret that drop bar gravel riding and racing is hitting its stride and that’s even more apparent by the influx of custom bikes popping up within the bike industry. While most if not all production versions resemble cyclocross bikes rather than mountain bikes, clever insiders are pushing the concept of making custom, more dirt-worthy gravel machines. These were three of our favorites seen at Sea Otter.

Niner RKT 9 gravel

Based on the RKT 9 RDO cross-country suspension platform Niner bikes created this full suspension “test mule” gravel bike. Suspension has been altered to provide 90 mm of travel in the back matched to a standard 100 mm travel Fox 32 fork.

Built as a 1×11, the left Shimano STI shifter utilizes internal routing and is attached to the rear shock’s damper control knob. Hidden in the frame is a custom-made cable pull reducer that allows the shifter to lock/unlock the shock.

This bike was made as a fun little project to ride on the trails and gravel roads around Niner’s offices in Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as being a study to gauge public interest in such a bike. Judging by the attention it was getting all weekend Niner may just be on to something here.

Niner RLT 9 gravel

This Niner RLT 9 is a less radical approach, using Fox’s new 40 mm travel Step-Cast AX Adventure Cross fork (more on that below) to help soften trail and dirt road chatter. While Niner claims it’s not currently slated for production (CEO Chris Sugai would only respond with “maybe”), if interest persists it wouldn’t be surprising to see it happen sooner rather than later.

Fox’s custom Pivot Vault gravel

Fox’s Global Marketing Communications Manager Mark Jordan decided to create his own version of a clever, custom gravel bike with mountain bike tendencies to show off at Sea Otter using the brand’s new Step-Cast AX Adventure Cross fork.

The air spring has been modified to provide just 40 mm of travel. While it’s available to the public Fox admits it has no idea how many frames/sizes the fork will ultimately fit. The chassis is 27.5/700c and can fit up to to a 700x40c tire. It has a 15×100 thru axle, short travel Float Evol air spring, FIT4 3-position damping adjuster and a 1.5 inch tapered steerer.

Since the Vault has a 31.6 inch seat tube, Jordan shortened the drop on a Fox Transfer dropper post, and by using a handmade cable pull reducer fabricated at the Fox headquarters and hidden in the frame, was able to convert the left Shimano STI shifter into a dropper control lever on the 1 x 11 bike.

Jordan is one of the most skilled mountain bikers in the industry but he admitted he hasn’t ridden his “real” mountain bike in weeks after building this up because the modified Vault is so much fun to rip around on, and more than capable to rail some fun singletrack around Santa Cruz, California.

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