The first generation of the Niner WFO 9 was released all the way back in 2009, a bike that was well ahead of the curve considering there really weren't that many long-travel 29ers on the market at the time.
A second version debuted in 2014, and then a few years later the WFO quietly faded from Niner's lineup. That's no longer the case, and the WFO is back for 2021, with 170mm of rear travel, a 180mm fork, and a design the Niner claims is “optimized for all-out, top to bottom, brake-rotor-bluing descents.”
There are five different complete version of the carbon-framed bike available, with prices ranging from $4,800 all the way up to $10,100 for the 5-Star LTD version, which has DT Swiss carbon wheels and SRAM's X01 AXS wireless electronic drivetrain.
WFO 9 RDO
• Wheelsize: 29"
• Carbon frame
• Travel: 170mm (r) / 180mm (f)
• 64° or 64.7° head angle
• 435 or 438mm chainstays
• Lifetime frame warranty
• Weight: 32.25 lb / 14.6 kg (size L)
• Price range: $4,800 - $10,100 USD
• Price as shown: $6,950 USD
I've been spending time on the 4-Star XT version, which retails for $6,950 USD. Highlights of the build kit include a Fox 38 Factory fork, Float X2 shock, Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain and 4 piston brakes, and a 2.6” Schwalbe Magic Mary / Hans Dampf tire combo. Due to supply issues the bike pictured has Industry Nine wheels instead of the DT Swiss EX 1700 wheels that it's supposed to come with.
Oh, and before going any further it's worth taking a brief moment to pull apart the model name acronyms. WFO stands for Wide Full Open, and RDO stands for Race Day Optimized. The 5-Star LTD version is the way to go for TLA
aficionados, because then you'd be in possession of a WFO 9 RDO with CVA suspension and SRAM X01 AXS, plus a KS LEV Si.Frame Details
Love it or hate it, there's no mistaking the extra-swoopy look of Niner's carbon frames, and the candy apple red color of this WFO really makes it stand out from the crowd. For the record, I'm a big fan of the color, and not quite as enamored by the melted-in-the-sun look, but that's just me.
Achieving the right amount of frame stiffness was high on Niner's priority list, and to help accomplish that there are struts joining the seat tube to the down tube, and the one piece rear triangle has a cross brace to prevent unwanted flexing. Enduro Max Black Oxide cartridge bearings are used throughout that have a corrosion-resistant treatment applied to the bearing races for extra longevity.
Other details include SRAM's Universal Derailleur Hanger, clearance for 2.6” tires, a threaded bottom bracket, and room for a water bottle inside the front triangle. There's internal cable routing, with a full sleeve to make installation hassle-free.Geometry
Niner chose the WFO's geometry numbers with their sights set on creating a versatile long-travel machine, rather than making the longest and slackest thing possible. In the low setting the WFO has a 64-degree head angle, 438mm chainstays, and a reach of 480mm for a size large. A flip chip on the seat stays can be used to steepen up the head angle to 64.7-degrees, which also raises the bottom bracket and shortens the chainstays ever-so-slightly.
The effective seat angle sits at 77-degrees, although keep in mind that the actual seat angle is around 66-degrees. That effective angle changes depending on the height of the seat, which means taller riders will find themselves positioned further back than shorter riders. The 462mm seat tube length for a size large is also a little longer than what's becoming the norm, which could make it harder for some riders to run a 200mm dropper post.Suspension
The WFO uses Niner's CVA (Constantly Varying Arc) suspension layout, which uses two co-rotating links to join the swingarm to the front triangle. The lower link is positioned under the bottom bracket, where it's protected from flying debris by a plastic shield. It also moves up towards the bottom bracket when the suspension is compressed, which should help keep it out of the way of mid-trail obstacles.
The leverage rate is progressive until the last third of the travel, at which point it becomes slightly regressive (6%), which Niner says helps the bike work especially well with air shocks, although it's also possible to run a coil shock.
The WFO's anti-squat number sits above 100% at the sag point, and then it drops off as the bike goes through its travel. Build KitsRide Impressions
The plethora of longer travel 29ers released over the last year or so seem to fall into two categories – those that are purebred downhill focused machines, the kind where climbing performance is more of an afterthought, and those that are more well-rounded than you'd expect a 170mm 29er could be, which is where the WFO sits.
The suspension is impressively efficient, and I never felt the need to reach for the Float X2's climb switch. It brought to mind the manners of the Propain Spindrift I reviewed late last year, another dual-link bike that delivered excellent pedaling performance. Even during out of the saddle efforts the WFO's back end stayed nice and calm, free of any excessive bobbing.
I mentioned the relatively slack actual seat angle earlier, but luckily at my preferred seat height the effective angle was steep enough for comfortable pedaling. The fact that the WFO's suspension design is so efficient helps out here – the bike doesn't bob or sink excessively deep into its travel, which means the climbing position stays relatively consistent. Granted, I wouldn't have minded if the actual seat angle was steeper, closer to something like the Nukeproof Giga - on the Giga the front end feels more planted on steep climbs, while I found myself concentrating a little more to weight the front wheel on the WFO.
The WFO's all-rounder manners continue on the descents, where it's just as easy to plow through the chunky stuff as it is to pop and play around on trailside features. It does feels a little shorter and taller than the numbers on paper might have you expect, a trait that comes in handy in tighter, slower speed tech, although it might not be exactly what dedicated enduro enthusiasts are looking for.
Could it be used as a race bike? Of course, although it doesn't have quite the same need for speed as a bike like the Trek Slash. Despite having fairly similar geometry, the Slash felt like it was constantly telling me to go faster, while the WFO didn't deliver the same sense of urgency. Also, as fun as it is taking the monster truck route and letting those bulbous tires run over everything, I'd also probably ditch the 2.6" rear tire in favor of something slightly narrower in order to gain more precision.
The WFO does a good job handling bigger hits and rougher terrain, aided by the Float X2's excellent resistance to harsh bottom outs. The suspension feels smooth throughout the entirety of the travel, but riders who like a more progressive feeling ride may need to add in a volume spacer or two from the stock configuration – it feels fairly linear out of the box. The flip side of that is that it's possible to access all 170mm of travel when needed; all of that squish is usable, rather than being hidden behind an impenetrable wall of progression.
Overall, the WFO falls on the friendly side of the long travel category, a bike that could work well for riders who want plenty of travel without paying too much of a penalty when it comes time to pedal.