Billed as a 29er that is dedicated for gravity parks, enduro racing and the boldest of the all-mountain breed, Niner’s second version of the WFO-9 is lighter weight, has a slacker head angle, a lower bottom bracket and a more compact cockpit than its predecessor. In fact, forget that Niner ever had a WFO previously, because this one is an entirely new animal. It is the first bike to emerge from Niner’s new-school, long-travel design team, and its DNA is not replicated from the false god of some 26-inch cult. Contrarily, the new WFO-9 may be the first long-travel 29er designed exclusively to showcase the unique performance attributes of the 29-inch-wheel format, and to largely ignore any pretense that the storied history of the small-wheel mountain bike could provide it with any benefits, beyond a benchmark to remind us when its inevitable extinction was first recognized.
Bold talk perhaps, but history shows that, when presented with new technology, it is human nature to adapt the new technology to older, more accepted and familiar formats. The first bicycles were carved to look like horses, the first automobiles were crafted to look like carriages, and carbon fiber bicycle frames still mimic the profiles of their metal counterparts - so it should come as no surprise that the first long-travel 29ers intended for the sport’s most advanced riders were designed to closely emulate the qualities of their 26-inch predecessors. Niner’s new WFO-9, however, leaps beyond those evolutionary confines and presents all-mountain/gravity riders with the option to experience the largely undiscovered potential of a 29er that is designed specifically for the task. If that sounds like you, a WFO frame, shock and rear axle will cost $2099 and the complete bike, built with Niner’s Four-Star SRAM X01 build, with RockShox suspension, will run you around $5000.
Niner's CVA dual-link suspension is designed to clear big wheels.
• Airformed aluminum chassis, 150mm dual-link rear suspension, ISCG 05 mounts.
• 142mm x 12mm rear spacing
• Not compatible with front derailleur
• Accepts 150 to 170mm forks
• Transmission: SRAM X1 crankset, X01 drivetrain
• Brakes: Avid Trail, 160mm R and 180mm F rotors
• Shock: RockShox Monarch Plus RC3
• Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3 Dual-Position, 160mm stroke
• Colors: Atomic Blue, Niner Red
• Sizes: Small, medium, large and X-large
• Weight: 28.8 pounds (13.1kg), as tested
• MSRP: $4999 (Four Star Build - RockShox Reverb seatpost is a $300 option)
• MSRP: $2099 USD (frame, shock, and Maxle through-axle)
Niner chose to construct the WFO-9 chassis from aluminum, bucking the recent industry trend to debut new flagship models in carbon. Niner’s skill at manipulating aluminum, however, may negate the need for carbon, as its medium-sized frame weight is reported to be only 7.3 pounds (3.318kg)
, and our medium-sized test bike came in at only 28.8 pounds (13.1 kg)
. Those are competitive weights in the upper atmosphere of the all-mountain world. Some of the WFO-9’s weight savings can be attributed to Niner’s extensive use of ‘air-forming’ – a method of flaring and shaping heated aluminum tubes inside of a mold using compressed air. The WFO’s tubing diameters are engineered to be only as large or as thick as required for each specific area of the chassis, and Niner’s sparing use of aluminum in the frame’s forged rocker pivots and journals also saves weight. Finished with color-anodized aluminum hardware and reversed graphics, the WFO-9 is a beautifully crafted and clean looking frame design.Familiar profile:
The WFO’s chassis bears a resemblance to all of Niner’s suspension bikes, using its patented Constantly Varying Arc (CVA)
dual-link rear suspension and a rocker-driven shock mounted to the bottom bracket junction. Those expecting a fresh look for Niner’s ante into the high-stakes AM/gravity game, may be disappointed, but if you fully compress the fork and rear suspension, there is very, little real estate available between two massive wheels, shod with gravity-sized tires to squeeze a frame and its suspension components into. Niner’s proven frame layout allows for industry-leading stand-over clearance and a long-stroke, low-leverage reservoir shock – and most frame sizes will accommodate a water bottle.Short top tubes:
Niner reduced the actual length of the WFO-9 top tubes by about 17 millimeters, compared to its trailbikes, like the RIP-9. The logic is to give the WFO a more compact, DH style cockpit and to position the rider in a more aggressive stance between the wheels. The change comes as a surprise, because contemporary AM/enduro designers have been migrating towards top longer tube lengths. Our medium-sized WFO test bike’s actual top tube length measured 22.8 inches, while the RIP-9 is stated to be 23.7 inches. Seat tube angle:
To make room for 150-millimeters of rear-wheel travel, the seat tube is angled dramatically in its center, which gives the appearance that the seat tube angle is quite slack. There are two reasons this is done: one is to clear the rear wheel when the suspension is at full suspension; the other reason is to align the tube with the center pivot of the suspension’s rocker link to add strength to that junction. The actual seat tube angle is around 68 degrees, but the effective angle - measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat post - averages out to 74 degrees, depending upon saddle height.Seatpost notes:
The location of the rocker pivot blocks the use of internal routing in the seat tube for a ‘Stealth’ type dropper post. Another seatpost related detail is that bend midway down the seat tube restricts the insertion length of the post. Niner says that the maximum seat post insertion for a Small frame is 150 millimeters, a medium is 200 millimeters, a large is 250 millimeters and the X-large is 305. Consider this before making a purchase if you like to slam your saddle for descents, or if you need to be sure that the dropper doesn’t exceed your optimum saddle height at maximum insertion. Big-wheel geometry:
Bucking the super-slack 29er trend, Niner specs a head angle that falls between 67 and 66 degrees, depending upon your choice of forks – which is a good thing. Larger wheels are, by nature, more stable in a straight line and more forgiving in the turns. A smaller-wheel, 26-inch design may need a super slack head angle to produce those handling qualities, but the WFO-9 does not. The WFO also benefits greatly in the corners and when hitting rough lines with over an inch (29mm)
of bottom bracket drop, which keeps the rider’s weight well below the wheel centerline when attacking out of the saddle. Big wheels, the WFO’s steep seat angle and 17.4-inch (443mm)
chainstays all add to the wheelbase, which ranges from 45 to 47.7 inches (1144 to 1211mm )
depending upon frame sizes. Its near-DH-length wheelbase and short reach, 15.1 inches (384mm )
for the medium size we tested, place the rider midway between the wheels and naturally weights the front tire. Looking at the numbers, the WFO-9 is very gravity oriented, but looking at the bike’s profile and spec, it would appear to be a classic AM/trailbike. External routing:
As mentioned, the WFO-9’s dropper post hose is externally routed, and so are all of the other hoses and housings. The practice make sense if you need instant access to them - like, for a quick brake-change in the race pits - but it looks a bit dated in light of the current internally-routed trend. (Note: Niner has made a running change to accommodate internal dropper post routing.)
The rear derailleur housing is full length and there is no provision for a front derailleur at all.Chain guide, yes:
With no provision for a front mech, Niner is casting a huge vote in favor of SRAM’s XX1 and X01 one-by eleven drivetrains, and justifiably so. Shimano is still struggling to embrace the 29er’s need for lower gearing, and the industry-wide desire to eliminate the left shift lever. That said, SRAM’s narrow-wide chainring has proved in battle that it can keep the chain on better than 99-percent of the time, but for those who need a 100-percent guarantee, Niner includes an ISCG 05 chainguide mount. Two of the ISCG bosses are machined to the frame, while the third is incorporated cleverly into the forward suspension rocker pivot. To facilitate a classic gravity chain guide, Niner offsets the lower suspension rocker and swingarm yoke to provide extra clearance.Threaded bottom bracket shell:
Niner began by selling framesets and as such, has not forgotten that its customers may have a specific bottom bracket that they prefer and that most of those will be threaded. With most bike makers switching to press-fit types, Niner’s choice to provide the WFO-9 with a threaded shell may seem old school, but when the topic arises in PB forums, most riders prefer threaded types.Component Check
Niner erred to the lighter side of the WFO-9’s theater of action when it selected its Four Star build kit. The heart of the bike is all SRAM, with an aluminum X1 crankset powering an X01 rear derailleur and eleven-speed cassette. WFO-9s originally did not come with a dropper post, which was an avoidable mistake on Niner’s part, but a running change and a corresponding price increase is planned, so all future WFOs will come with droppers. Our test bike was upgraded with a RockShox Reverb (a $300 Up-charge)
with the remote button set on top of the left brake lever. Brakes are Avid X01 Trail models with a 150-millimeter rear and a 180-millimeter front rotor. Wheels were PB favorites – Stan’s ZTR Flow EX – set up tubeless with large-volume, 2.35-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic Evo tires. The cockpit is all Niner-logo components, including their trademark, 780-millimeter-wide flat handlebar. Considering that the many of the WFO’s components are standard fare on XC trailbikes, it should come as no surprise that, in spite of the fact that the WFO is billed as a gravity-oriented AM/enduro bike, its component selection keeps its total weight competitive with many high-profile carbon trailbikes.
| The WFO-9 is such a capable straight-line descender that it is no problem to push the bike hard enough to use up every millimeter of its suspension.|
Pinkbike’s review of Niner’s 150-millimeter-travel WFO-9 ran six months – twice as much saddle time than we normally require to write a fair bike test. Niner’s WFO-9 is far from a normal bike, however, and as it turned out, the aluminum-framed, big-travel 29er required a long-term relationship before the beastly descender would let us experience its intimate side. Based upon first impressions, the new WFO felt too short in the cockpit and its long wheelbase and stable steering strongly suggested that the bike was intended to turn corners only when necessary and to ignore danger and take a straight-line approach to all technical situations. Getting acquainted with the WFO-9 was like being invited to a fancy dinner and being seated across from a man wearing a tartan kilt, with a bristling red beard, and who eats with his own bone-handled knife and fork. We skipped the light conversation and started with pertinent questions. The WFO-9 has a much broader personality than we expected.How did we set it up?
Because of its 29-inch wheels, the WFO’s front end already stands three inches taller than a 26er and if you throw in a 160-millimeter-stroke fork, even with its flat handlebar, the height of the grips approach that of a DH bike. Using spring pressures in the Pike fork and Monarch Plus RC3 shock that worked well on smaller-wheel bikes, turned out to be too stiff for the Niner. Using 20-percent sag in the fork and almost 30-percent in the RC-3 shock turned out to be the magic combination, producing a firm riding suspension that had enough travel in reserve to suck up landings to flat or Hail Mary moments in the boulders.
Niner’s 780-millimeter aluminum Flat Top handlebar is fashionably wide, but leaving the bar at full width slows the bike’s steering response, which is already an inherent problem for 29ers. We cut the bars to 760 millimeters, which provided a similar feel to a 27.5 or 26-inch-wheel bike with the full-width bar. If we were to use the WFO-9 exclusively for enduro competition or for shuttling gravity trails, the wider bars might make more sense, but shortening them a bit made a noticeable improvement on trail.How does it roll?
Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires are some of the fastest rolling and lighter weight 2.35-inch tires made, so once the WFO-9 is up and running, it pedals efficiently and maintains its momentum over a wide range of trail surfaces. While Stan’s ZTR Flow EX wheels and tubeless Nobby Nic tires may be the lightest affordable option, there is no escaping the difficulty of accelerating their large-diameter mass from slow speeds. Once up to pace, though, its laden feel under acceleration disappears, and the WFO-9 takes its place among the better pedaling bikes in the AM/enduro category.How does it climb?
Surprisingly well, would be the short answer. Negotiating a 29-pound bike up a steep, technical incline isn’t easy, but Niner’s CVA suspension keeps the tire’s search for traction a successful one, and the steep seat angle makes for seamless transitions from seated to standing. Extended climbing requires the use of the Monarch Shock’s middle “trail” position to firm up the pedaling feel and to keep the rear suspension from settling, and though we rarely use the option, we discovered that reducing the fork travel made a noticeable improvement in the WFO-9’s climbing performance – especially when we were working our way up smoother, more steady grades. Niner’s choice of a 32-tooth chainring is a compromise towards its descending performance, where 15-percent added to the bike’s top speed could pay dividends at an enduro race. Uphill, however, we often prayed for a lower climbing gear. We’d prefer a 28-tooth chainring for climbing steeps, but for its role as a descender, a 30-tooth would give the big-wheeled WFO ample top speed, while making the steeper climbs ‘less worse’ for sore legs.
How does the suspension measure up?
How does it corner? Learning how to get the WFO around a fast turn was our first wrestling match. Riders who finesse their bikes through the boulders and use a light touch on the grips while cornering will have the hardest time adapting to the WFO-9. I fell into that category and as the primary test rider, I spent some time trying different lean angles and weight positions in an effort to discover the bike’s sweet spot in the turns. All was for naught, though, because the secret to riding the WFO at speed is to give it firm and precise commands.
A light grip on the bars and a deep lean is usually enough to get a good handling trailbike to hold a fast line around a turn. Try that on the Niner and it feels like it never locks into a line and you will usually end up in a wider apex than desired. Exaggerate your counter-steer, then push the WFO around the corner with your outside shoulder, and it will tear into the dirt and hold a tight line. The recipe works equally well whether you are riding singletrack or sessioning a DH trail. The extra authority that the Niner requires to change direction or to ride a line through section of rocks or roots may be a turn off for some riders, but the reward is substantially higher exit speeds.
How does it steer? Experience with other Niner models led us to expect the WFO-9 would have the same light and balanced feel the handlebar, but it doesn’t. The WFO’s gravity-oriented steering geometry causes the bike to steer with a slightly heavier feel, but with more authority. You won’t want to wave the bars around unnecessarily, because the WFO goes where you point the front wheel. Steering the big Niner requires more concentration than other AM bikes, but once we got the hang of it, we could put the front tire precisely where we wanted it when climbing a technical section, dropping down a deeply rutted trail, or pounding our way down a sketchy patch of rocks. It is a double-edged sword: get sloppy and an errant twitch of the handlebar can toss you off of the trail; stay focused and you can pull off some hero moves.
The WFO-9 is such a capable straight-line descender that it is no problem to push the bike hard enough to use up every millimeter of its suspension. The bike’s big wheels and large-volume Schwalbe tires doubled up to keep the Niner from diving into bomb holes and they helped the bike to roll over just about anything in its path. Set up at 30-percent sag, we compressed the Monarch reservoir shock to full travel on every ride, but because the rear suspension ramps up smoothly at the end of it stroke, we did not register that fact until we had checked the shock’s O-ring. By now, its supple action of RockShox's Pike fork off the beginning of its travel and its excellent mid-stroke support are well known. The WFO used the 160-millimeter, adjustable-travel version, which gave the bike additional versatility. Dropping the fork travel for select climbs helped to compensate for the WFO’s tall, gravity-specific feel up front. Is 150 millimeters enough?
Reading to this point, one may get the impression that the WFO-9 rides like a magic carpet over the roughest ground, but big tires and 29er wheels cannot always mask the fact that there are only 150 millimeters of rear-wheel travel back there. This is most noticeable when landing to flat or hitting G-outs. Fulfilling Niner’s claim - that the new WFO is a gravity-oriented all-mountain bike that can take on anything at a bike park - will continuously run the rear suspension to the stops. With a suspension tune set to suck up mid to large-size hits, while being just soft enough to keep the tires on the ground around rough corners – we drove the fork and shock low enough in their travel when riding at pace to make the suspension feel firm all the time. The trade-off is that the 29-inch wheels will get you up and over nasty stuff that would normally require more suspension travel for a small-wheel bike, but when you are carrying that kind of speed in the rough and then hit a really hairy section, the WFO-9 has no suspension travel left the bank and you will be left wishing for more.Component Report
Most WFO-9 customers will not need to make any significant changes or upgrades. For the most part, Niner’s Four-Star build kit reads like a trail rider’s wish list. Who can argue with a SRAM X01 eleven-speed one-by drivetrain? Same goes for its RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork and Monarch Plus RC3 shock. While you may be able to buy fancier hoops, Stan’s ZTR Flow wheels have been put to task on the World Cup DH circuit and are still are lightweight enough for trail use. Those not up to speed on 29ers may want to dump Niner’s 780-millimeter flat handlebar for a more official looking riser model, but that would be a mistake, as the steering deck of the WFO-9 sits as tall as may DH racing bikes. After six months on the bike, only a handful of complaints surfaced from test riders regarding the Niner’s parts.More aggressive tires:
Granted, Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35-inch tires are some of the fastest rolling and lightest in the all-mountain category, but the macho-man of Niner’s fleet deserves better. Moderate cornering pressure quickly overwhelms the Nobby Nic’s minimal edging blocks. We can only wonder how much harder we could have pushed the WFO in the turns had it been shod with real rubber.Dump the grips:
The stock Niner grips are, um, not so good. Riders probably exist who like the feel of a deep sea fishing rod in their hands when they attack a downhill trail, but that’s not us. We installed quality lock-on grips after one ride.What, no dropper?
What was Niner thinking when they launched its first ground-up gravity design without a dropper post? Niner says that, at the time, it was launched, the expense of the 300-dollar up-charge for a RockShox Rerverb was a concern, and the alternative dropper options were unreliable. We’d have to agree with that logic, but no dropper equals no AM bike. Happily, Niner will be including them on future WFO-9s.Lower gearing:
We wager that there will be many more WFO-9 customers who would be better served if the bike came with a smaller chainring than those who would be happy with the existing, 32-tooth sprocket. Twenty Nine inch wheels cover a lot of ground per revolution, so pushing a 32 is like pushing a 34-tooth chainring on a 26-inch-wheel bike. We’d like to see at 28 tooth – or down-sizing to a 30 at the least.Pinkbike's Take:
| Niner has been building, racing and riding 29ers long enough for its people to have forgotten exactly what a small-wheel bike feels like, and that may be a good thing. The WFO-9 has very little in common with 26-inch-wheel all-mountain or park bikes that it is intended to compete against, but it can run shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. It can carve, drift, jump and drop with conviction, but it does so in its own, 29-inch way. Like-minded riders - those who drank the 29er Kool-Aid long ago - will need no transition to the WFO-9's direct approach to line choice and its ability to ignore the trail's smaller features. We who cut our teeth riding 26-inch bikes, and who speak reverently about 'pop' and 'nimbleness' may judge the WFO-9's handling to be crude and unrefined, but that would be a mistake. There is a distinct possibility that different diameter wheels would require learning different riding techniques in order to unlock their true potential. The Niner can dance, but it has its own style. Riders who learn to keep in step with the WFO-9's broader, more powerful moves will be the ones who unlock its potential for speed, and there can be no doubt that it likes to go fast. Niner's new WFO-9 diverges from the contemporary notion that all great-performing trailbikes should emulate the noble 26er, and for those who like 29-inch wheels, that represents a big step in the right direction. - RC|