This article is part of the Mtbr's Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here--https://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 1x11 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 1x11 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.

Continue to Page 2 for more on the Niner WFO 9 and full photo gallery »





Though functional, the gentle bend of the cables play into the WFO's aesthetics, which were universally praised by our testers.

"Niner seems to have a finger on the pulse of the market when it comes to design," said one rider. "The red-on-matte black frame finish is tasteful and complimented by the black and red SRAM XO components, the Niner-branded bars and stem and even the wheelset."



Speaking of components

Niner doesn't phone it in with their "house brand" cockpit parts. The aforementioned bars and stem are well thought-out, purposeful and beautifully constructed. The flat, 780mm-wide carbon handlebar might seem overly broad, but it helps toss the WFO side-to-side, and can easily be cut down if desired.

Where the Niner spec really shines, however is in value. We don't know of any highly-reputable-dare we say "boutique"-brand that gives you a top-shelf frame, along with a RockShox Pike and SRAM 1x11 drivetrain for under $5k. And with Avid's capable Avid Elixir 9 four-piston brakes, Stan's ZTR Flow EX wheels and Schwalbe 2.35-inch Nobby Nic tires there's no sleight-of-hand going on here-it's all solid kit.

The one concession to hit that price point-the absence of a stock dropper post. A RockShox Reverb Stealth or comparable model will set you back another $300, and is-as we've said time and again-among the most worthwhile upgrades you can make to a mountain bike.



Photo by Tyler Frasca.

Who is this bike for?

Though the WFO 9 appears to deliver on its gravity promises, we frankly didn't have the terrain-nor the gonads-to give 'er Whistler Bike Park-style. Maybe in extremely skilled hands this bike can go mano-a-mano with a DH sled, but for mere mortals, we're gonna peg it as an aggressive all-mountaineer. If you like to race or ride big and rough-and are willing to trust a 29er for the task-the WFO 9 will reward and delight.

The Last Word

Niner has done it again. The brand that evangelized the wheel size in the first place, continues to push the envelope and buck convention to stunning results. No carbon, no tweener wheels and half the price of some of our test bikes, the WFO 9 might just be the "get real" bike of the test.

Pros

  • Very capable rough trail performance
  • Fun to ride and playful
  • Great value package
  • Excellent cornering and handling
  • Good looking bike with functional components and cable routing

Cons

  • Rear plushness doesn't match front
  • Lacks compliance on smaller bumps
  • Pedal strikes can be an issue on rocky climbs
  • No carbon version yet
  • It's really a $5,300 bike when you add a dropper post



2014 Niner WFO 9 Key Specs

  • Bike MRSP: $4999
  • Frame MSRP: $2099
  • Weight: 28.85 pounds (size medium)
  • Wheel size: 29 inches
  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3,160mm
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch Plus RC3
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XO1 1x 11spd, 10-42t
  • Brakes: SRAM Elixir 9 trail, 180/160mm
  • Seatpost: Niner carbon
  • Wheels: Stan's NoTubes 3.30/ZTR Flow EX
  • Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic Snakeskin TL, 2.35-inch
  • Bars/Stem: Niner Flat Top alloy 780mm, Niner Alloy stem
  • Bottom bracket type: SRAM GXP Threaded
  • Head tube angle: 66.5 degrees (with 160mm fork)
  • Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
  • Chainstay length: 17.4 inches
  • Bottom bracket height: 13.1 inches

For more information visit www.ninerbikes.com.

This story is part of Mtbr's 2014 Enduro Compare-O. Check out our intro story here for all the ground rules and goings ons.