The review and ride report below was sent by Mark Jacobson, a rider who bought his MCR 9 RDO shortly after it became available. He emailed a version of this review and we asked if we could share it. Enjoy!
Back in April 2019 after 3 years of development Niner revealed the final version of the 2020 MCR (Magic Carpet Ride) at the 2019 Sea Otter Classic in Monterey CA. It’s the first mass produced full suspension gravel bike. A new niche in the world of bicycling. Much like gravel bikes married road to gravel hence the term “groad”, the MCR marries gravel to trail, with the birth of the new term “grail”.
From that moment that I saw it, I knew I had to have one. The early innovator in me got to me once again. 30 years ago lots of people scoffed when I bought my first Rock Shox RS-1 suspension fork (serial #00073) and put it on my recently released Kestrel Carbon fiber MX-Z. Now here I am 30 years later (and a lot of bikes) and I have one of the first 100 Niner MCR frames (serial #0068) out of the Niner factory.
Back in September I contacted Rob Hutchinson of hutchsbicyclegarage.com in Las Vegas, NV and pre-ordered a 53cm, topo-green, MCR RDO frameset and Fox AX step cast fork. It was an agonizing 2 month wait before I would finally receive my frameset in early November. I scoured the internet for every bit of information that I could find. I knew people were testing them, but only found very little information or comprehensive test rides/reviews.
The build: I wanted to build it to take advantage of the suspension to the fullest. I wanted it to be better suited to “grail” than “groad”, as a nimble, flickable, and confidence inspiring gravel bike to conquer the fire roads and single track in my neck of the woods. At 5’9” 145lbs I’m between a 53 & 56cm frame so I went with the smaller size. I also chose Stan’s Notubes Valor 650b wheelset paired up with some Schwalbe 27.5 x 2.1 Thunder Burts that I got from Ryan Nye of speedvisionbikes.com, Enve’s new 48cm Gbar, Eggbeater 11s pushing some 1X Easton EC90 cranks, Absolute Black 34 or 36T oval chainring pulling a KMC X11SL chain and an e*thirteen 9-46T TR Race cassette, the brakes and shifting are handled by light and reliable 11sp Force 1 components. I later added KS LEV CI Dropper, and a Easton Cinch power meter. The final build in pedaling form including pedals, Element Bolt, pump and bottle cage comes in at a very respectable 23lb 8oz. (23lb 3oz. w/Stans Grail CB7s with 29’ x 2.0 Furious Freds)
After owning it for a month here’s my review of Niner’s vision for what a gravel bike “can” be. With 50mm rear and 40mm front of tunable suspension travel the ride feels amazingly connected to the ground, all the time nimble, stable, and inspire confidence in adverse conditions. Not only is a fully damped, tunable, full suspension gravel bike more comfortable, but more importantly, offers superior traction for acceleration, cornering, and braking. So the big question is... Is it worth the 4-5 lb weight penalty?
The ride: I live in Truckee, CA in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The mountains are a mecca for skiing and mountain biking. I live across the street from 65,000 acres of National Forrest land. It’s crisscrossed with mile after mile of singletrack, fireroads, and gravel. Here’s a couple of my posts after my first couple of rides.
Day 1 - Singletrack Saturday. 18 miles of singletrack.
I did 2 rides in the back 40 today. I’ve rode these trails literally hundreds of times, mostly on XC (2001 Ibis Silk-ti), enduro/trail (Ibis Mojo HD3), fatbikes (Fatback Corvus FLT & Skookum FLT), and lately gravel bikes (Ibis Hakkalügi), and now the MCR. I know these trails well and feel qualified to comment on the comparative handling characteristics of the MCR. The terrain for these first two rides was mostly twisty, rocky, single track. Some smooth single track, a little bit of flow trail, and one smooth gravel climb/decent.
I started on the Sawtooth Trail, a twisty, rocky, 4 mile stretch of trail that’s about as technical as Tahoe trails get. I’ve avoided this section on my Lügi in the past as I know it’s more than it can comfortably handle, even with the Lauf Grit SL fork. That section is followed by a few miles of smooth twisty trail, then a 1 mile smooth gravel road climb, and a 2 mile downhill flow section of the Happy Face Trail that I’ve road many times on the Lügi.
So how did the MCR do? 🤯 Mind blown!
Let me tell you, the MCR did not disappoint! This is a whole new ballgame - On the trail the MCR is quick, agile, and “planted”. My first sensation was how fast the bike felt on a pretty technical singletrack (8 on my 10 scale of difficulty). It accelerates out of corners and up hills like a pedal assist bike. Not only did it feel fast, but I found myself not downshifting and leaving it in a higher gear longer on climbs. I attribute that to the stupid light wheelset (1260gr), light & fast rolling tires 27.5 x 2.1” Thunder Burts (20psi front / 22psi rear), and the suspension all working together to allow the bike float along without wasting energy hitting rocks and bumps, and keeping the tires firmly pressed against the ground.
The handling is agile and precise. I know the trail well and could “thread the needle” between rocks and hold any line I willed it to, and impressively I could adjust my line at a whim in a split second. I could even tighten the radius of a turn on the exit of a fast corner, something a slack head angle trail bike would struggle to do. This I attribute to the steeper head angle (then a trail bike), and the superior traction compared to a traditional gravel bike. I couldn’t send it on the rocky sections and had to slow down, but hey, this is a gravel bike, I remember.
On the dry, loose gravel road climb the MCR was fast, smooth, and definitely more comfortable than a typical gravel rig. When I came down that same gravel section on my second reverse loop I was “flying”! It didn’t feel “sketch” at all like it does on my Lügi (remember this section is dry and loose). I even got some air on the fast smooth whoops. You can send the MCR without worrying about losing skin.
The downhill “flow” section of the Happy Face Trail felt really good also, not as fast as a trail bike, but not sketch like a typical gravel bike. On my second lap when I climbed up the Happy Face flow trail the MCR climbed like a bantamweight XC bike.
In conclusion (for today) if you’re looking to ride more rough and technical single track on a gravel bike I think this is your best option. I found myself in attack mode on the MCR, as opposed to survival mode on a conventional gravel bike.
Gravel and tarmac tomorrow, stay tuned!
Day 2 - 25 miles of fire roads and tarmac
I started by climbing the fire roads in my back yard up to mid-mountain Northstar Ski resort. A good dozen miles of fire and service roads that crisscross the mountains I call home. Everything from hardpack to moon dust, fine gravel, small to medium rocks imbedded in dirt, down right rocky, rutted, loose grade 12 climbs, ripping descents, and even some lemon sized rock pile roads (way beyond gravel).
The MCR handled it all like a champ. On the flats and climbs, this thing motors! It’s super quiet, both in ride feel and audible input. No chain slap, clunks or creaks. Just silence. It’s like all sounds are absorbed in all the carbon fiber and rubber. Traction climbing is as good as just about anything. When you put the hammer down, it’s hooked up, even in the loose rocky sections of trail. The more torque I put on the pedals the more the tire presses into the dirt. No muss, no fuss, it just goes. Climbing traction with the CVA rear suspension feels similar to the DW link on my Mojo HD3.
On fire & gravel road descents the MCR is the most stable, confidence inspiring drop bar bike I can imagine. On some of the really screaming descents I would scrub a little speed off with the brakes, but not because I felt even the slightest bit of instability, but because my brain told me I was going too fast given the conditions. It’s a great feeling screaming down a fast decent not worrying about the limits of available traction.
Anything with dirt, this thing gobbles it up in style. Even technical, loose, chunky descents are dispatched in stride. I ended up following a couple of moto-trails and one abandoned road leading to a bushwhacking session and creek crossing. I’m totally impressed. Another benefit is my toes don’t hit the front tire no matter how hard I turn.
After rounding and descending the ski resort I headed back home via the 4 golf communities in Martis Valley. Another dozen miles of twisty, billiard table smooth tarmac and golf tracks! Now that the golf resorts are closed for the season I can ride the golf cart tracks again. They’re like little private race tracks weaving though the links. This is where the MCR falls short of a conventional gravel bike. On tarmac or the cart tracks I’d much rather rip this up on my 17lb Hakkalügi with a set of Conti Slicks. The MCR does fine and is super comfortable but noticeably slower and with good reason.
I’m more of a spinner than an out of the saddle rider and don’t find a need or desire to lock out the suspension in the dirt, however on the tarmac locking out both the front and rear suspension is a must for any out of the saddle efforts.
Conclusion: For me, where I live and ride, the MCR offers mind blowing performance. Not only does it invoke confidence, but inspires you to go further and faster. The tougher the conditions, the more it inspires you to push harder to find it’s limits.
And those extra 4-5lbs… worth every once! I did later set it up with a set of Stan’s No Tubes Grail CB7s with some 29”x 2.0 Furious Freds and shed another 5ozs, but have not had a chance to ride it as my trails are now currently buried in a blanket of snow.
Jake the Snake 😎