After hearing from my friends Kirt Voreis and Kyle Warner that the new WFO is a really fun and unique bike, I started to think it’d be worthwhile to get one in for testing. Thanks to my pals at Jenson USA, we were able to make this happen- thank you to Jenson USA for supporting this, and thanks to Niner for loaning me the bike!
Throughout this article, I have some affiliate links over to Jenson USA, where anything you purchase earns me a small commission- and at no extra cost to you. Jenson also sponsors my content, as do PNW Components, Industry Nine, and Shimano. And, in this time of extreme low inventory, Jenson actually does have a handful of WFOs in stock, so if you are looking for a long travel trail bike, this could be a great fit. Read on for my thoughts on where the WFO works best, who might enjoy it, and who might be better off on a different bike!
Yes, I’ve already posted a full video about this bike over to my YouTube channel, but I like to do these articles a little differently than the videos. Often it takes so long to edit and publish a video that I’ll sneak a few more rides in, and will have additional experiences that I can then share here on the website. Also, your wonderful YouTube comments often let me know that XYZ detail in my video is wrong- OOPS! We can safely say that the articles here are often better than the videos.
The big story about this WFO is not the 29″ wheels, as those are basically standard these days, but it’s the massive amount of suspension travel- 180mm up front, and 170mm in back- which I often incorrectly refer to as 180mm in the above video. The suspension is top shelf Fox stuff, with a 38 Grip 2 up front, where I am running 2 volume reducers, and the rear shock is a Fox Float X2. I haven’t yet added any volume reduction to the rear shock- yet- though I do want to try a reducer or two before returning the bike. This bike is a size medium, and I’m 5’8″. Niner recommends 30% sag, and has a marker anodized onto the pivot hardware on the upper link which makes it easy to hit this 30% mark. I had to run a lot of pressure to get 30% sag, something like 230psi, and I’m ~170lbs.
The feel of the Niner is NOT what I was expecting! Sure, Kyle and Kirt had given me a bit of a head’s up, but the Niner is NOT a long travel, long wheelbase, straight line monster trucker mother hucker. Well, that’s not entirely true, it is a long travel hucker, but while it’s plenty composed on faster bits of trail, it actually has a slightly shorter reach and wheelbase than one might expect to find at these travel numbers. The result is really cool- it’s got this wonderful ability to leave the gravitational pull of the earth when needed, and it’s plenty happy being both flung through corners like wet towel around the drying rack, or being whipped through turns like that same wet towel by the bullies in the locker room. I’ve found that many of these “bigger” bikes can carve nice lines through most corners, but then don’t like tighter turns- regardless if it’s carved through the turn or forced via a cutty. The Niner is nimble enough to be a joy in the tight, but the ample travel allows for a steady and predictable carving feel. It’s one of my favorite things when a long travel bike still retains a more playful feel like this.
Yeah yeah yeah, 180/170mm of travel, 29″ wheels, it must be a chore to get airborne, yeah? No, not at all. Quite the opposite. I had to check my credit score after riding this bike, as it felt like I had taken out a second Alaska Airlines Mileage Plus program card from all the time I spent air borne. So here’s the deal- the Niner is really, really poppy. Far more so than any bike with this much travel has any right to be. After a couple months riding this thing, I believe it to be a combination of the geometry and the suspension design.
Over the last few years, I’ve been riding a local trail that has a wonderful hump to it. It’s not a traditional, man-made BMX-esque kicker jump, it’s more of a gently rising hill and mound of dirt, and sure enough, there is a rock atop it. The trail builders have done a little work on what has been interpreted as the take off to make it easier to get air, and there is a bit of a landing added to the crowning rock, but it’s certainly not a bike park style jump.
Did I mention that the Niner is the longest travel bike I’ve tried this jump with thus far? The Rocky Mountain Altitude has been the best bike to date on this feature, combining a long-ish wheelbase with some very poppy suspension traits. The Ripmo does OK, but can’t get quite as high or far as the 29″ Rocky. Then this Niner showed up, and just barely inched out the Rocky. With 10mm more travel at each end, the Niner made it to proper backside multiple times. And what really impressed me was that the Niner was NOT bottoming out on either the landing or take off, nor was it too stiff to be planted and forgiving on the bumpy run-in. Niner did a great job of tuning the suspension on this bike.
I did catch quite a few pedals on the WFO. It has a similar bottom bracket height to many of the other bikes I’ve posted lately. However, it also has more travel. The bike does have two geometry positions, adjustable via a flip chip on the rear of the link, right where the seat stay attaches. Unfortunately, the change has two negative consequences that negate any advantages. First, it steepens the head angle just a little too much. Second, it changes the kinematics of the rear suspension- and not for the better. I kept letting more and more air out of the rear shock- eventually a full 50 psi below the low BB setting. This was close to the right amount of sag, but the suspension went from feeling amazing to something less impressive. The Niner is a great bike, but the poor “high” BB position geometry and kinematics mean it’s really only a single position. This is a bit of a pet peeve for me, as I LOVE adjustable geometry bikes. But only when done right, meaning that all positions are fully usable. Not a deal breaker, but I want to be as honest as possible about this.
If I were using the WFO as my main bike in Arizona, for instance, I’d install some 2.6 sized tires. These would have the effect of raising the bottom bracket, and would further that “ride over anything” feel. Another solution to the low BB height would be to run maximum volume reducers in the rear shock. While that won’t help with the general pedaling, it will help at the higher consequence, higher speed bits of pedaling where the suspension is being utilized more fully.
The only real problem I had with the WFO was with the headset compression plug. The stock unit is a swanky expander type that allows for a bottle cap to be fitted. However, it just wouldn’t keep the front end tight. With my stem steerer bolts maxxed out at 6nm, big slapper landings would be accompanied by a loose headset. I have exploded many headsets, as well as many plastic headset spacers, over the years. This is pretty unusual in the world of mountain biking, but it’s been my reality- and it’s been amplified with long travel 29″ forks. The big ol 180mm 38 fork puts a LOT of leverage on the headset. I have since installed a traditional star nut, which generally works for me on my other bikes, and I’ll report on the follow up video about the effectiveness of this easy fix. If that doesn’t do it, then I’ll swap the upper headset cup for a Cane Creek 110 series, as those do work well for me.
Again, big thanks to Jenson USA for sponsoring my video about the WFO!