At the Southeast Bike Expo this weekend I got a chance to demo the Niner W.F.O., a 5.5-inch all-mountain/trail bike that also happens to be a 29er. You can basically count the number of 5+ inch travel 29ers on the market with one hand and to be honest I went into my demo ride with a bit of skepticism. Twenty-niner geometry makes cramming that much travel into a frame a challenge and few companies have found a way to do it successfully.
The Niner W.F.O. that I rode this weekend featured a SRAM build with XO components and Rock Shox fork and shock. This particular build weighed in at almost exactly 30 lbs. thanks to the lightweight drivetrain and extras like the Niner carbon handlebar and seat post. The model I tested also sports 135x12mm Maxle drop-outs for a through axle in the rear.
At Interbike last year I test rode the Yeti SB95 (5-inch 29er) and while it felt like a solid bike, the geometry seemed a little awkward and didn’t handle as well as the 4-inch 29er bikes I tested. I assumed I’d find the same issues with the W.F.O. since it offers even more travel but I was pleasantly surprised. On the granite side at the 1996 Olympic MTB course the W.F.O. showed excellent small bump compliance while soaking up bigger hits and drops with ease.
Over on the forest side where the turns are tighter and come more quickly, I was blown away by how well the W.F.O. cornered. Steering was responsive as well and the slack-ish head tube angle felt natural and comfortable, allowing me to lean back a bit and enjoy the swooping descents. The Maxle rear through-axle makes for a solid ride feel and this is definitely an upgrade I recommend for anyone considering this or any other longer-travel 29er.
On short, steep climbs the W.F.O. felt like a bit of a drag, though clearly much of the pedal bob and efficiency loss I experienced can be tuned out at the fork and shock. The upside is this bike is lightweight for a 29er with 5.5-inches of travel so I was quickly back at the top and ready for another descent before I knew it. Besides, with a bike like this you’ll want to spend most of your time pointed downhill anyway.
I haven’t had much personal experience with Niner bikes but just looking at the attention to detail on this rig tells me these guys get it. The head badge is made out of real stamped metal (not just a decal like most these days) and the build is well thought out and dialed in for maximum fun on the trail.
The Niner W.F.O. offers one of the plushest rides you’ll find on big wheels so definitely check it out if you’re in the market for an AM 29er to shred.