Review: Niner W.F.O.

By Justin Steiner

Tester: Justin Steiner
Age: 27
Height: 5′ 7"
Weight: 165lbs.
Inseam: 31"

Vital Stats
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $1700-$2100 (Frame)
Weight: 31.7lbs. (bike w/ pedals)
Sizes available: S (tested), M (tested), L, XL,

Many of you may be familiar with the WFO 9, as Niner has been showing this bike at Interbike for the last couple of years. In many ways, this bike has dual appeal; long-travel 26" riders may be intrigued by a 29er that meets their suspensions needs, and some of the 29er faithful may finally have the long-travel bike they’ve been seeking.

Frame Niner designed the beautifully and extensively hydroformed WFO frame to maximize stiffness, and to give riders as many build options as possible. The S-shaped hydroformed downtube allows clearance for a wide variety of shocks, including those with piggyback reservoirs. The linkage under the bottom bracket is offset to allow room for ISCG mounts for a chainguide, or SRAM’s Hammerschmidt crankset. Additionally, the WFO’s swingarm is available in two hub widths: 135mm or 150mm spacing. The 135mm options include a standard QR, 12mm SRAM Maxle Lite, and Rolhoff dropouts, while the 150mm swingarm is available exclusively with a 12mm Maxle Lite.

The WFO’s 140mm of travel is provided by Niner’s Constantly Varying Arc (CVA) suspension design, which delivers fully active suspension under braking and pedaling. CVA suspension combats pedal bob mechanically via the position of its upper and lower links. Under power, the chain tension attempts to pull the swingarm forward, which in turn tries to rotate the upper and lower suspension links in opposite directions. These opposing rotational forces cancel one another out, thus minimizing pedal-induced suspension movement. The CVA axle path is also said to minimize chain growth throughout the post-sag travel, eliminating pedal kickback.

Niner offers the WFO frame for sale without a shock if you have your heart set on something in particular ($1700), or you can purchase the frame with either a Fox RP23 ($1900) or a Fox DHX Air 5.0 ($2000). All three options can be had with 150mm spacing for $100 extra.

Due to the difficulty of riding a frame with no parts, Speedgoat was kind enough to set up our test rig with their X.9 Signature Build, which is a nice fit for this bike (see for details). With a mix of SRAM X.9 shifters and rear derailleur, XT direct-mount front derailleur, Avid Elixir brakes with 185mm rotors, Hope/Stan’s Flow wheels, and Marzocchi 44 Ti fork, this burly bike came in right at 31.7lbs.

The new Marzocchi fork certainly has some spec sheet sex appeal. Travel starts at 140mm, but can be internally spaced down to 120mm or 100mm. The 44 Ti has a Ti negative spring, air main spring with volume adjustment, lockout with adjustable threshold, and rebound adjustment. The Marzocchi-designed 15mm thru axle is cleanly executed. This fork performs acceptably, but may require more setup attention than the competition. Of the two 44 series forks we’ve had in the office, both have been sent to Marzocchi for negative spring tuning and to address issues with bushing play.

The Ride
Step up to swing a leg over a WFO and the first thing you’ll notice is just how tall a 140mm travel front end is with a 29" wheel, even with the admirably short head tube. Start pedaling and things fall neatly into place, as the WFO’s geometry with the Marzocchi fork is more XC than all-mountain. Slow speed handling is quick and snappy due to the bike’s short front-center (27.2") and reasonably short—given the travel and wheel size—chainstays (17.9"). Wheelies and manuals come easy enough as the rear suspension settles nicely into the travel, and the lack of brake jack makes for seamless inputs.

The WFO was not designed for climbing prowess, but it does OK for a 140mm bike. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it lively—this is nearly a 32lb. bike after all. I frequently flipped the ProPedal on when climbing, but even the lowest setting was enough to minimize monkey motion. CVA suspension does seem to handle pedal-induced bob well, but bob due to the shifting of the rider’s body weight was not isolated as well as say, a dw-link design. Who cares though? The WFO is all about grinding up the hills and ripping down…

The WFO really comes alive when the trail points downhill—the rougher the better. The combination of 29" wheels and 140mm of travel front and rear really gobbles up rough sections of trail and large objects with minimal fuss. Niner designed the WFO around forks with 140mm of travel or longer. As such, the head tube angle will be at its steepest (70°) with a 140mm fork, and frankly feels a bit steep relative to the speeds the WFO is able to maintain through the rough stuff. A longer fork would certainly add stability to match the WFO’s downhill speed potential, but the options are currently limited to forks like the 150mm-travel White Brothers Fluid 150 and Manitou’s dual-crown Dorado (available in a less expensive aluminum version for 2011), travel limited for 29" use.

Devil’s in the Details
After a significant period of trial and error, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can look at the WFO from two possible perspectives.

29er Gravity Bike: WFO frame with a Fox DHX Air 5.0 rear shock, 150mm hub spacing, and a Manitou Dorado fork. In this mode, the WFO’s angles will be significantly slacker to better handle the warp speeds of which this bike is capable. Running the DHX Air 5.0 rear shock allows you adjustable ProPedal threshold and adjustable bottom-out resistance, which was necessary in my experience—I had to crank it to the max to minimize harsh bottoming. Set up this way, the WFO could be your park bike or, hell, even a light-duty DH race bike.

XC/Enduro Bike on Stilts: WFO frame with a Fox RP23 shock, 135mm hub spacing, and a 140/150mm fork. With a 70° head tube angle, the WFO handles great at slow speeds and is quick and responsive at high speed. I felt the standard RP23 with the XV2* sleeve (available through Niner) was too linear for the WFO, causing frequent and harsh bottoming at proper sag. I eventually swapped out the XV2 sleeve for the XV1 (less volume, more progressive) and found the ride to be much more satisfactory. Running 27% sag with the XV1 allowed me to bottom on big hits, but not harshly. The mid-stroke performance was also much more responsive and lively. In order to set up the WFO with the XV1 sleeve on the RP23 you’ll have to buy the frame-only through Niner and source the shock directly through Fox. Or, you could buy the WFO with the XV2-equipped RP23 and have your LBS install an XV1 sleeve. Either way, I feel your experience on the bike will be better with the XV1 setup.

Niner warranties all their frames against manufacturing defects for two years. They also have a crash a replacement policy, offering replacement frame just a touch over half of MSRP.

*See my RP23 review in this issue for further information on air volume options.


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