The Niner WFO was ahead of its time when it came out many years ago, Steve Domahidy and Chris Sugai showed off their all mountain 29er to us at Sea Otter with great pride but it was always a struggle to get the best forks and the best tires in this category of 29er.
The old WFO was decent but it was nothing like this new bike. See: http://www.dirtragmag.com/reviews/niner-wfo for info on the outgoing model. It was steep with a 70 degree head angle, tall, long and it looked like a complicated behemoth frame for a bike with 140 mm of travel and 17.9 inch stays.
That’s why we were pumped to see the new WFO. It has 150 mm of rear travel and it sports a 67 degree slack head angle. It is lower to the ground and the top tube is shorter for better all mountain fit. The frame now looks small, compact and playful.
And here’s the kicker, the chainstays are short at 443 mm or 17.4 inches. Since the CVA is not the most space efficient rear suspension out there and since Niner likes to allow for very big tires, Niner pulled off this feat by making the hard but brilliant decision that this bike will be 1×11 compatible only. This means no front derailleur can ever be installed on this bike. The rider has to live with SRAM 1×11 drivetrains or custom 1-chainring system in the front with guide. Niner is among the first in a wave of companies to do away with the front derailleur. Specialized Epic World Cup Edition is another. Does Mtbr feel this is a sound decision? Why yes. If the performance gains are significant such as in a 29er with short stays, this is a worthy move since the SRAM 1×11 system is an A+ game changer of a drivetrain. It works and it has range. The only downside is the XX and XO 1×11 systems currently available are quite expensive.
The chainstays are short at 17.4 inches compared to last year’s 17.9 with less travel. However, these are not the shortest as the other dramatic entries in this field are the Specialized Enduro 29er with 16.9 inches with 155 mm of travel. And the new BMC TF01 with 17.1 inch stays with 150 mm of travel.
Having ridden the competition, we can say that this category of bike really has something to offer beyond those newfangled 27.5 rigs even. When the going gets loose and chunky, a well-built high travel 29er can plow through obstacles and still carve the corners and play in mid-air. We can’t wait to try out this new WFO.
Niner did some studies btw comparing descending speeds of 29er and 27.5 all mountain Bikes. The venue was the lift-assisted trails of Keystone Bike Park in Colorado. This is a true all mountain course with chunky rocks and raucous descents. Of course the source may be biased given that Niner is a 29-inch wheel sized only company. But we don’t doubt their general findings that in these conditions, a well designed 29er is faster.