Of all the mountain bikes in our 2018 Tucson, Arizona, test, the Marin Wolf Ridge 9 was the one I most anxious to ride. In a market stuffed with a lot of bikes built around a few tried-and-true designs, this bike stands out for its radically new suspension. At 160mm of travel, this all-carbon 29er is a beast of a machine on paper, and yet Marin says that it’s a category-buster that rides like a short travel bike but descends like an enduro banger. Needless to say, I went into the test with pretty big expectations. This bike didn’t disappoint.
The Marin’s style was divisive. Some thought the bike looked weird and regressive, but I also heard a few testers say they thought it was the sharpest looking bike in the entire test. It’s certainly distinctive, with the elevated chain stays and bolt-on half-fender in the rear. And for me, I’m just happy to see a company trying something different, especially when it rides as well as this one does.
The heart of the Marin Wolf Ridge is the R3ACT suspension, which uses a mono-stay swing-arm and a rocker link control arm to free up the rear end to provide bump compression independent of pedaling. This allows the bike to sit in the travel of the shock when you’re climbing or cranking without much movement or bob.
The Wolf Ridge’s RockShox Monarch shock has no platform or compression settings because the suspension is made to be ridden fully open all the time. It’s a mystifying engineering trick as the bike pedals incredibly efficiently but still feels supple and open when doing so. A few of the bigger and more aggressive riders felt that the shock tune wasn’t progressive enough and that they were blowing through the travel. But most said it felt imminently and permanently plush.
Interior cable routings are tidy. And like many modern bikes, the Wolf Ridge only runs a 1x setup—no front derailleur. With SRAM X01 Eagle group, however, there was no question of enough gear range, even considering that our tester weighed 31.2 pounds. Truth is, the R3ACT suspension made it feel and pedal much lighter and peppier than that, more on a par with a 120mm trail bike in the 27-pound range. Testers from wetter climes were a little concerned with mud clearance on the fender and rear tire.
The Wolf Ridge comes in three specs: Pro ($8,600), 9 ($6,800), and 8 ($5,200). We tested the middle price range, and the spec was pretty dialed The 160mm Lyrik shock was sturdy but buttery, the Stan’s Flow MK3 wheels gave the WTB tires plenty of spread and contact patch, and the Deity bar (800mm) and stem (35mm) combo made for aggressive handling when it got rough.
So is the Wolf Ridge the holy grail it promises to be? Honestly, I was pretty impressed with just how capable it is. I pedaled it on the Lemmon Drop, a ride that plunges over 6,000 feet from the summit of Mt. Lemmon back to town on some seriously rocky, ugly terrain, but also racks up about 5,000 feet climbing. The bike made quick and easy work of even the nastiest rock drops along the route, which I expected, but I also cleared some pretty techy climbs and never felt like I was on too big of a bike. And more importantly, the open feeling of the shock gives the bike a feel unlike anything else there: open, capable, wanting more. I have to admit, the suspension works as billed, making this bike an impressive quiver killer.