Is it a gravel bike, an off-road tourer, an adventure bike or what? We ride the Bend R9X and find out.
When it comes to Bicycling Australia Magazine reviews, the new bikes we test tend to fall into one or two, and occasionally three, categories. Road, all-road or gravel. The nautical blue alloy offering we have here certainly breaks the mould, the beast from Bikes Online being difficult to categorise and truly unique from just about every angle.
Is It A Gravel Bike?
Arguably the biggest bike industry buzzword over the past few years has been gravel, with all manufacturers firmly aboard the wagon and prominently featuring the six magic ‘G to the R to the A to the V …’ letters near the top of their website. But not Polygon, the brand behind the Bend R9X we have here. In fact, if you take a look at this intriguing machine via the Bikes Online website, it’s not until the 63rd word of the bike’s description that you see ‘gravel’.
More an adventure offering, and a darn good value one at that, the Bend is seen as a bike that embodies the ‘spirit of adventure’ and is ‘the ultimate companion for boundless exploration and off-road versatility.’
Polygon say it has been ‘Engineered with precision and crafted for pure adventure, these bikes are designed to conquer rugged terrains with ease. Responsive handling and agile geometry provide optimal manoeuvrability, empowering riders to navigate challenging trails and conquer untamed paths with confidence.’
Does the Bend 9RX live up to that 50+ word gravel-free hype? We packed a bikepacking bag with a helmet, kit, shoes and pedals and caught a bus to the Bikes Online head office to pick up a bike and find out.
Pre-assembled and ready to go, the bike was wheeled through the carpark and across to a nearby park to first be photographed and then have the pedals, rear light, computer and other accessories fitted.
First impressions, as the deep blue paint over the hydro-formed alloy frame glistened in the warm winter sun, were these. The Bend is a truly unique bike, its shapes, angles and geometry making it appear to be a mash-up between a hardtail MTB, a lightweight XC and a cutting-edge gravel bike. Add the almost countless mounting points, wireless dropper post, upright geometry and touring style saddle to the equation and you can add ‘serious adventure’ to the mix.
At 11kg (with pedals … and a significant amount of mud), this is not a lightweight bike. That said, it’s not designed to be. Equipped with SRAM Rival AXS wireless, the test bike had a 12-51 cassette with 40T 1x chainring and provided perfectly adequate gearing over the flat, undulating and steep roads, trails and paths we traversed. In fact, the overall weight of the bike wasn’t that noticeable while underway. The bike’s obviously not designed or built for rocket-fast starts or 30k/ph average speeds. The Bend is more about going long – carrying all the gear your heart longs for, maintaining comfortable and constant averages and enjoying the adventure.
The ride is surprisingly comfortable. Despite initially thinking we’d swap out the in-house Entity saddle, and oddly minuscule 70mm stem, late in that first ride it became obvious the build and finish had been well thought out.
With a long head tube length that short stem and ‘drop down’ 550mm top tube, the Medium sized test bike offered quite an upright but consistently comfortable ride. Fitted with aluminium flared bars (420mm wide ‘Entity Expert’ with a 16° flare), these helped us A: feel total control of the platform on rougher sections of trail, and B: get down nice and low on downhill sections of blacktop bitumen.
Also on the bars, the bike is delivered with extra thick bar tape, and what feels like extra padding under that tape. It sure is a cushy ride and we found the extra diameter provided an extra grippy and great handling ride.
Bars gripped and heading downhill, we were on a rough local fire trail and had a gnarly and uneven rock garden just ahead. A simultaneous dual tap on the left and right lever and the Rock Shox XPLR dropper post lowered around 75mm to provide more clearance to lean back and navigate the descent. A word of warning when raising the dropper though … it comes up with velocity! It pays to cushion the lift or you’re in for quite a jolt.
“…within a few short minutes of picking it up, and experiencing first-hand it’s versatility and go-anywhere nature, it rapidly grew on me…”
Wheel and tyre wise, again I was initially dubious about two aspects here, one being riding aggressive 44mm rubber on the road and the other being the quality of the VeeTireCo RocketMan tyres. Ever heard of them? Neither have I. But they rolled well, gripped superbly and performed perfectly well. To the wheels, and quite surprisingly for the current $3799 price point, the Bend R9X is equipped with Novatec C24 carbon wheels with a combined weight of 1575g.
These wheels roll well, felt efficient, and are built tough. They have an inner width of 24mm, are 28mm deep and are set up tubeless in the factory. The wheels retail for $US900 ($AU1380) online, bolstering the value of the R9X build.
Finally, on the wheel and tyre combination, there does look to be space for even slightly wider tyres, but the factory-fitted 44s fit well, roll well and overall feel just right.
To the bottom bracket, and considering this adventure bike is probably going to be treated harsher than the road, it’s a no-fuss BB86.
Overall, I’ll admit I was initially apprehensive about riding and reviewing this bike. But within a few short minutes of picking it up, and experiencing first-hand it’s versatility and go-anywhere nature, it rapidly grew on me. If a true and limitless N+1 equation really did exist, I’d buy this bike in a heartbeat. It would have touring bags permanently mounted to it, have a charged computer and freshly lubed drivetrain, and be on a stand at home raring to go.
The Bend is a bike built for adventure. It will motivate, enthuse and encourage you to get out there more often, and has proven to be increasingly addictive to ride. Whether riding across town to pick up some groceries, over to the local gravel trails, or indeed across Australia, the build feels perfectly up to the task.
Remarkably good value and with surprising build quality, Bikes Online pride themselves on being a no-frills mail order cycling company. The Bend range starts at a measly $2299 for the Bend R7, the R9X we tested is currently $3799, and there’s a Bend V9X (with Rock Shox front suspension fork) for $5299. It should be noted that each of the three models share the same alloy frame.