This article is part of the Mtbr’s Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here–http://reviews.mtbr.com/category/enduro-compare-o-2014
BEST OF TEST AWARD WINNER: BEST VALUE
When you mention the word “value,” expectations usually go towards the lowest price, but that’s not what we mean. A good value is getting the most bike for the fewest dollars, and by packaging some of the best componentry in the test—a RockShox Pike, SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and a frame that’s a functional work of art—Niner’s $5,000 WFO 9 takes the title. No, $5K is not chump change, but the WFO 9 delivers performance way in excess of its price point—as does our runner-up, the carbon-framed Fezzari Timp Peak.
See the rest of the award winners here.
We have to admit to a bit skepticism about the Niner WFO 9. We’ve always known Niner to defy convention then deliver the goods, but with all the references to downhill and goggles and Whistler and full-face helmets, we thought maybe someone was a little too hopped-up on Red Bull Rampage when they wrote the catalog copy. As usual with our doubts of Niner, we stand corrected—it’s not the Red Bull that gives you wings, it’s the WFO 9.
What’s a WFO? “Wide, full, open” they say officially, but we suspect a different f-word—said in a positive way with a certain enthusiasm. With 150mm of rear travel, a stunning aluminum sculpture of a frame, and an updated geometry, the Niner WFO 9 brings a cannon to the gun fight against not only the other long-legged 29ers in our test—the Specialized Enduro 29er, the BMC TrailFox FS01, and the Intense Carbine 29—but the omnipresent 27.5ers as well.
To top it off, Niner brings the value, packing in the de facto fork of the year—the RockShox Pike RCT3—and a legit 1×11 drivetrain for under $5k.
Photo by Tyler Frasca.
Has long legs, great curves and likes it rough
With the manifold changes to the 2014 version of the WFO 9, this year’s model falls somewhere between an update and a redesign. Rear travel’s been bumped up by 10mm, while the head angle mellows to a slacker 66.5 degrees.
The entire bike sits lower with a shortened and lowered top tube that offers even more standover clearance than most comparably-sized 26ers, giving it a certain “between the wheels” balance absent from its predecessor. All these tweaks start to justify the DH rhetoric, according to our test crew.
“The WFO gets to work when things get rough,” commented one rider. “The Niner eats rocks, ruts and roots for breakfast then charges downhill.
And while it’s certainly point-and-shootable, the WFO 9’s lowish bottom bracket and centered rider positioning let you get low and leaned should you choose a more slalom-like route.
“It has a certain playfulness I wasn’t really expecting,” said one reviewer. “It can rip corners and have fun popping, jumping and dropping.”
Indeed the bigger the rocks and the gnarlier the terrain, the more this WFO 9 excels. The bike “seemed more at home being flogged on bigger obstacles” according to one test rider. The flip side being a more taut ride over braking bumps and other more subtle hits—an unusual characteristic for a 29er.
“The WFO’s small bump compliance is not world class,” said one test rider. “No matter what I set the sag to, it just doesn’t seem as active as the other bikes in the shootout.”
Some riders also noted a difference in suspension feel front to back.
“The Pike up front is plush and just about perfect,” one rider said. “And the rear, while effective, never had that suppleness which could mean the shock needs more break-in time.”
Photos courtesy of Niner Bikes.
Pedal, pedal, climb, squat
In the WFO 9 we see Niner’s most ambitious use of its CVA suspension platform to date. With as much as the bike has going on around in the bottom bracket area, the WFO 9 could have been a mess aesthetically, but Niner manages to make sculpture out of it.
And while CVA looks good and delivers outstanding gravity performance, a few of our riders noted shortcomings in its climbing performance.
“The Niner exhibits some pedal-induced bob,” one rider said. “The suspension can squat a bit when delivering power on techy climbs resulting in occasional pedal strikes on very rocky terrain.”
Photo by Tyler Frasca.
On long climbs, however, the Niner easily settles into a comfortable sit-and-spin routine. Flipping the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 to lockout, the bike efficiently bides its time on the way to the next descent.
The Niner gets cable…and other details
Perhaps because they’re caught up in all the advances in suspension and drivetrains and frame design, some companies forget to put the effort into smaller things, like cable routing. Not Niner. On a long-travel bike, cables need to go somewhere under compression, preferably not outward to hit the riders legs, nor inward towards the suspension linkage and frame. And while many riders think the shortest, straightest route is best, Niner knows the art of the graceful bend. By placing attachment points in key places on the downtube and seatstays, the WFO’s cables move up and down under compression, eliminating leg strikes and rattling. It’s a little thing, but like so much of what Niner does right, it contributes positively to a bigger whole.