Alan Muldoon finds that the full potential of 29in wheels is unleashed in this aggressive new package from the US brand
If you’re in the market for a new long-travel 29er, and by long-travel I mean 150mm or more, your options are seriously limited. There’s the BMC TrailFox, which is basically a pumped-up 150mm trail bike. Good as it is, it’s not an out-and-out enduro rig. You also have Specialized’s Enduro 29, sporting 5mm more travel on the rear than the BMC, combined with a 160mm fork. It builds into a more solid bike than the BMC and the suspension works better too, but Specialized’s somewhat conservative approach to geometry means it falls short of maximising the benefits of 29in wheels.
The third and final option is the Niner WFO 9. With 150mm travel, and a suffix that stands for ‘Wide F**king Open’, its intentions couldn’t be clearer. Its 29er bad boy attitude reinforced further by its geometry. At 66.5 degrees, the head angle on the WFO is a full degree slacker than the Enduro 29’s. Factor in the 10mm lower BB height and it looks ripe for ripping. Which is exactly what someone else had done before I got my grubby mitts on it.
Need to know
- Hard-hitting 29er with aggro attitude
- Twin-link CVA suspension pumps out 150mm travel
- Slacker and lower geometry than its rivals
- Two build kit options: 4 Star XO1 £5,199 and 3 Star X1 £4,099
- Four size options and two colours
They’d wiped it down before saying goodbye, but as I climbed out of the car park at the Forest of Dean, the Niner WFO sounded more like a rusty hinge than a four-grand weapon — the cables already starting to gnaw though the fork crown while eyeing up the rear shock for desert. Even with the compression lever on the Monarch Plus set to firm, the interplay between the drivetrain and rear suspension was somewhat unsettling. I wasn’t impressed.
The Niner’s general state of disrepair was soon forgotten, though, as I dived into the first descent. I was instantly up to speed and the Niner WFO did not disappoint. It felt like a runaway train, only I wasn’t stuck on one line and never felt like a mere passenger. Finally I’d found a long-travel bike that really taps into the inherent stability and speed of 29in wheels. I was absolutely buzzing. Even though the suspension felt lacking compared to the Enduro 29, the Niner’s slacker head angle and lower BB gave me the confidence to ride faster, though it sounded like it might collapse under my weight at any moment.
In building the WFO, Niner has taken 29er geometry where other brands fear to go. While it’s a truly remarkable bike, it’s not perfect. The frame is a tad short, or tall, depending on how you look at it; the shock tune needs refining and the cable routing is a mess. So while the search for the ultimate 29er enduro bike continues, Niner is definitely leading the way in terms of geometry and attitude.