2018 Marin Wolf Ridge
Size Tested: Medium
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT
- Brakes: Shimano XT
- Fork: Rockshox Lyrik
- Rear Shock: Fox Float X2
Travel: 160 mm rear / 160 mm front
Blister’s Measured Weight: 31.9 lbs (14.47 kg) without pedals
Reviewer: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
MSRP: $6,799.00 (Marin Wolf Ridge 9)[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 2017 Marin Wolf Ridge, which is unchanged for 2018.]
Interbike’s Outdoor Demo takes place at Bootleg Canyon, in Boulder City, Nevada, which is a little bastion of awesomeness about 25 minutes from the Vegas strip. There’s a mix of fast & flowy and legitimately techy terrain that’s a pretty decent venue for a demo.
Normally, Blister tries to get as much time on a bike as we can so that we have time to play around with setup, get comfortable with the fit, and identify any durability issues that might arise. But for obvious reasons, spending an hour or so on a bike at demo doesn’t give us the time to give a bike our usual treatment.
Still, there’s a lot of value in riding a bunch of different bikes, back-to-back on the same trails. Traits that might not be obvious when the bikes are ridden weeks or months apart become evident.
So in other words, back-to-back comparisons on great trails are useful, but don’t take this as the final word on these bikes, especially when it comes to maintenance and durability issues.
So with these caveats out of the way, let’s take a look at the Marin Wolf Ridge.
The Wolf Ridge was added to Marin’s lineup last year, and it uses the quite unique “Naild R3ACT – 2 Play suspension system,” which also debuted in 2017 on some bikes from Polygon. The marketing claims surrounding this suspension design have been pretty aggressive, and they’re the sort of claims that I instinctively assume are tinged with a hefty patina of bullshit.
So it was with considerable interest that I swung a leg over the Wolf Ridge and took it for a few laps on some of Bootleg’s rockier trails.
The Wolf Ridge features a carbon frame, with both the front and rear triangle built out of carbon. Metal is mostly limited to the suspension widgets, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The spec on the Wolf Ridge that I rode was a bit different than anything Marin currently offers, but it’s vaguely similar to the Wolf Ridge 9. Pedaling and braking were handled by a Shimano XT kit, which is always a solid performer.
In terms of suspension, the bike I rode had a Fox Float X2 rear shock and a Rockshox Lyrik in front. Those are both stout units that err much more on the downhill side of the spectrum, and while we’ll get to the suspension characteristics soon enough, for now I’ll just mention that those are both quality units and I’ve been entirely happy with them on other bikes I’ve ridden.
Fit and Geometry
In terms of fit, the Wolf Ridge is very much a modern, longer-travel bike. Reach comes in at 435 mm for the Medium I rode, which is somewhere between average and long these days. I’m pretty used to newer, longer bikes, and the Wolf Ridge felt comfortably neutral. At 5’9”, I’d certainly go with a Medium, and I’d say somewhere around 5’11” would be where I’d suggest bumping up to a Large.
While the seat angle is a bit slack (73.5° effective, 65.5° actual), the effective top tube is a bit on the short side at 595 mm for the Medium, so even with the seat all the way up, I didn’t feel like I was excessively far off the back of the bike. Chainstays on the Wolf Ridge are 435 mm, which again is average-ish for a 29er, especially a longer-travel one.
At 66.5°, the head angle on the Wolf Ridge is fairly middle of the road for a longer-travel 29er such as this — it’s steeper than some (Evil Wreckoning, Transition Sentinel), but slacker than others (Specialized Enduro 29).
So all in all, the Wolf Ridge looks like a modern long-travel 29er — Marin didn’t go too nuts with the geometry, but the numbers are progressive and reflect current trends (which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned).
The Naild R3ACT – 2 Play suspension design is, without a doubt, unique. While it’s easy to jump to conclusions about the system based on its terrible name and (*cough*) unorthodox appearance, we’re going to set those issues aside and look at the suspension’s functionality.
The gist of what’s going on in there is that the rear wheel path is defined by a somewhat traditional pivoting link, and a decidedly non-traditional telescoping tube. So as the suspension compresses, a tube that’s nestled above the bottom bracket extends, kind of like a shock decompressing. Except there isn’t any shock absorbing componentry in there – it’s just a telescoping slider with a bit of oil to keep things lubed up. A clevis mount actuates the Fox Float X2, which, aside from some odd tuning recommendations (which we’ll get to below), is a normal, stock unit.
This system is vaguely reminiscent of the rails and slider systems that have been used on Yeti bikes for a while now, but the orientation and size of the telescoping tube on the Wolf Ridge is not something I can recall seeing on any other bike (except those from Polygon, that use the same suspension design).
The suspension setup recommendations are similarly unique for the Wolf Ridge. Marin set up the suspension for me per the recommended specs, which meant 25% sag on the shock. That’s less sag than you’ll see on most other bikes of comparable travel, which means the Wolf Ridge sits a smidge higher. The damping settings were also quite open — even though the Float X2 is highly adjustable, the compression settings were mostly open, and the rebound was set pretty quick.
I should also note that I have a decent amount of time on most suspension designs out there, so while it can be tough to get the suspension totally dialed on a shorter ride like this, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I want to be with the settings. But that is very much not the case with the Wolf Ridge — I’ve never ridden a suspension design like this, so I just went with Marin’s recommendations. I didn’t have time to play around with sag or compression settings, so keep that in mind when I’m talking about how this bike rides, because I suspect some tweaks to the suspension could change things pretty dramatically (although whether that makes things better or worse is a big question).
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of the Wolf Ridge — I’d seen plenty of marketing claims that seemed a bit over the top, but I’d also read some reviews that were impressively positive. There were also some people indicating that the suspension rode dramatically differently than anything else on the market.
So, after a couple hours of riding an assortment of trails around Bootleg, here’s my take: the Wolf Ridge is pretty dang impressive, although perhaps not quite to the extent that some people have suggested.
For starters, the Wolf Ridge is a fairly efficient bike. Pedaling up a smooth road towards the trails, I’d say the Wolf Ridge felt like it had less travel than it actually does. That’s not to say it felt like a 100mm-travel XC whip — more like it’s a 160 mm bike that pedals like it has 140 mm of travel.
I also noticed that despite running relatively little sag, the bike was still quite supple over small bumps. Maybe this is partly due to the open suspension settings, but even still, the suspension design clearly levels the trail quite well. I wouldn’t call it best in class, but it’s better than average.
And that supple suspension stays compliant even when I’m putting some power into the drivetrain. On out-of-the-saddle climbs, the suspension stayed active and did a good job of sticking to the ground and maintaining traction over loose rocks. Again, I wouldn’t say the Wolf Ridge is worlds better than some other bikes in this respect, but it does quite well.
But it’s combining all of those attributes that really sets the Wolf Ridge apart — I’ve ridden plenty of 160mm-travel bikes that I’d call decently efficient (at least for a bike in that travel class). And I’ve also ridden plenty of bikes that remain active on climbs and do a good job at maintaining traction over loose rocks. But it’s an extremely rare bike that’s both efficient on smoother climbs and does a good job of maintaining traction on more technical climbs. The Wolf Ridge combines those attributes better than most, and I’d hesitantly call it best in class in that regard.
But most people aren’t buying a 160mm-travel bike to ride up the hill and take the shuttle back down, so the Wolf Ridge’s descending chops probably matter the most.
Maybe it was some reviews of the Polygon bikes I’d read, or maybe it was just a skepticism bred from being inundated with Naild’s overeager marketing copy, but I was suspicious of the Wolf Ridge’s ability to pump, pop, and generally not suck on the descents. But low and behold, it did quite well.
My first five minutes on the Wolf Ridge involved hitting some jumps to try to get a couple of pictures before the daily afternoon wind and sandstorm hit Bootleg. And as will happen when jumping a new bike into a head wind, I cased the bejeezus out of a decent sized gap. I’ve ridden plenty of bikes that would have made horrible sounds and done terrible things in that situation, but the Wolf Ridge shrugged it off without a whimper.
And that more or less set the stage for the Wolf Ridge. Everything I threw at it, it handled gracefully. It smoothed out the little stuff and didn’t get overwhelmed on the big stuff.
And despite my fears, it actually pumps and pops off of jumps pretty well. Sure, there are 160mm-travel bikes that are better in this department, but there are also clearly 160mm-travel bikes that are worse. More to the point, despite a weird suspension design and very little compression damping, the Wolf Ridge didn’t feel like a one trick pony, stick-to-the-ground plow bike; it was more than happy to pump through rollers and catch air off of little terrain features. I’d say it’s probably better at sticking to the ground, but it’s not un-playful.
So that all makes the Wolf Ridge sound like a pretty compelling option, but it’s not without its downsides. For starters, at 31.9 lbs, it’s not a particularly lightweight beast (especially considering the price). That weight isn’t unheard of, and admittedly, the Wolf Ridge feels lighter on the trail than those numbers suggest, presumably due to the low and centered nature of the suspension knobbery. But there are certainly bikes with comparable travel and comparable parts that are weighing in a couple pounds lighter.
The Wolf Ridge also felt a bit less comfortable at speed. While Bootleg Canyon is more known for its tricky, cheesegrater rockiness than its high-speed flow trails, in a few spots where I got up to pace on the Wolf Ridge, it was clear that it’s not quite as stable as I would have suspected. And in plenty of situations, I was actually ok with that — it felt a bit less floppy and unwieldy in slower situations and on tighter trails.
I should also note that I’m not entirely sure why the Wolf Ridge felt a bit twitchy as speeds picked up — in terms of wheelbase, head angle, chainstay length, and other numbers that I’d use as indicators of stability, the Wolf Ridge is hardly a short and steep XC bike. The only thing I can point to is the relatively small amount of sag in the rear shock, which would make the bike sit a bit taller and steeper. But 25% sag isn’t that far off of “normal” for a bike like this, so I’m skeptical. Regardless, with some tweaks to the suspension, it’s certainly possible that the Wolf Ridge could be made to feel considerably more stable. But at least as it was set up by the guys at Marin, it didn’t quite have the comfort with speed that most bikes in the class have.
I think it’s pretty clear that Marin has a winner here — the Wolf Ridge works impressively well as an all-around Trail bike, despite having considerably more travel than most other bikes that I’d put in the “Trail” category. That doesn’t mean that the Wolf Ridge is quite the do-it-all wonder bike that some have suggested; it’s a bit porky to be in strong contention for all-day rides and huge climbs, and it’s not quite stable enough at speed to put its descending prowess over the top.
But those concerns are far from deal breakers, and the breadth of the Wolf Ridge’s strengths is pretty impressive. If you’re willing to put aside the hassle of saying “Naild R3ACT – 2 Play” when asked about your bike at the trailhead, and you’re in the market for a longer-travel bike that does just as well going up technical, rooty climbs as it does going back down them, there’s a whole lot to like about the Wolf Ridge.