In the last year I’ve ridden 29-inch wheels, 27.5-inch wheels, 27.5-plus wheels and even 26-inch wheels. And I’ve ridden them all on a short loop I know intimately. Despite industry proclamations that 27.5-inch wheels are all the bes and ends, I firmly believe that the optimal wheel size depends on the terrain on which you ride, as well as your riding style.
Consumers—readers—you lot—decry the lack of standards. It’s more pronounced where bottom brackets and axles are concerned, but I hear it with regard to wheel size as well. While I think fewer axle and bottom bracket options makes sense, I see a need, a niche, for each of those wheel sizes.
The upshot is that mountain biking has become stunningly nichified. We’ve got cross country bikes, trail bikes, enduro bikes, all mountain bikes and downhill bikes. Some folks slice it even finer than that. I know riders with two, even three mountain bikes for all the different kinds of riding they do.
What if one bike could serve all of your needs?
That was the question that Marin Mountain Bike Product Manager Matt Cipes was addressing as he began work on the new Wolf Ridge Mountain Bike. The bike was five years in development with the help of Darrell Voss, the founder of Naild. For Voss, the R3ACT-2Play suspension on which the Wolf Ridge operates has been a Vision Quest, some 10 years in development and his effort to design a suspension platform specific to mountain bikes, rather than one whose roots are in motorcycle design.
Marin has made some bold claims in conjunction with the Wolf Ridge, calling it a paradigm shift, a bike that not only serves almost any riding style from cross country to all mountain, but also any skill level of rider.
The Wolf Ridge is one in a just-emerging category: long-travel 29ers. This bike has 160mm of travel front and rear on a suspension platform that is run wide open. TheR3ACT-2Play suspension runs utterly without damping. Sag is set between about 22 and 25 percent of travel, though it can be dialed to a rider’s preference.
I’ve got a single ride on this bike so this isn’t going to be a full review by any means. I don’t understand the bike fully, either on paper or on the trail. With an hour-long presentation and a two-hour ride under my belt, to think I’d fully understand this bike would be unreasonable.
That said, I’d like to note that fewer than 10 years ago (’08 and ’09) three different engineers and two product managers all told me that full suspension 29ers would never work well and as a category simply wouldn’t take off and any bikes introduce would be discontinued.
Yeah, so that didn’t happen.
But the notion of a long-travel 29er seemed unlikely; how would you manage to keep the chainstays short enough to be able to get the front wheel off the ground while still allowing the wheel to move relative to the bottom bracket—or vice versa, depending on your view.
The Wolf Ridge has been introduced in two spec levels, Pro and 9, which are Marin’s two most elite builds. Both feature a carbon fiber main triangle and swingarm and use the Fox Float X2 shock. The Pro is built with a Fox Float 36 fork, SRAM Eagle group, eThirteen wheels and WTB Vigilante 29×2.3-inch tires. The Nine is also built with SRAM Eagle and WTB Vigilantes but features wheels from Stan’s. These are seriously premium bikes; The Pro goes for $8599 and the 9 runs $6799.
For our get-acquainted ride, we went up into the trail system behind UC Santa Cruz, home of the banana slugs. Yet for all the riding I’ve done there, we rode a great many trails I’d only been on once before, if at all. This was our chance to see if the primary claims of the R3ACT-2Play suspension held water, that A) it pedals like a cross country bike, and B) that it doesn’t need damping to offer exceptional ground tracing, that is, the ability of the rear wheel to follow the terrain.
Among the many other claims that were made is that R3ACT-2Play is the only suspension system that doesn’t collapse under pedaling loads. Is that true? I can’t say; there are a number of different suspension systems and some pedal better than others, but the only one that doesn’t collapse under a pedaling load? That’s best left to a testing lab.
But here’s what I can tell you: the Wolf Ridge not only pedals well, it rewards a high cadence. Many bikes I’ve ridden bob at either very high or very low cadences. When you apply power, say as you come out of a turn, that typical moment of the suspension settling in doesn’t take place; the bike just goes.
Out of the saddle the Wolf Ridge feels like a long-travel bike; there’s plenty of movement. However, in the saddle, it pedals like a 100mm bike. I was flat-out surprised by how well it pedaled.
I’ve discussed previously how riding a bike on terrain you know is important for getting a feel for it. That’s as true for test rides ahead of a purchase as it is for bike reviews. And as important as it is for road bikes, it’s even more important for mountain bikes. While I love riding in the UC, we didn’t ride the trails I know best there, like the Emma McCreary, or better yet, the trails of Annadel State Park. So any final verdict on this bike will have to wait. What I can say for now is that were I considering a bike purchase the Wolf Ridge would be in my top five bikes to consider.
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