Marin Wolf Ridge Pro Head Scratcher
The Marin Wolf Ridge Pro is one of those bikes that comes along every now and then and checks my jaded perspective on the evolution of bike technology. While there are plenty of quality products on the market, it’s not very often that “new” products actually get me excited. I’ve become cynical over the years and learned that new usually just means a minor tweak to existing products or adding some pretty new colors.
In a time of refining, polishing and including snack holders in frames, we’ve slowed down in our giant leaps and gains in the suspension world. Marin was brave enough to take a leap with Naild and use the most talked about suspension design in recent memory. Sporting 160mm of R3act 2Play suspension, the Wolf Ridge is aimed at the rider looking for a bike that will take them anywhere they want to go and make them more confident while doing so.
Versatile geometry, long travel, big brake rotors and a SRAM Eagle drivetrain further solidify Marin’s vision for the new Wolf Ridge. Take it up, pedal it around, then shred it down. But, does the bike actually live up to the hype or are the Pinkbike commenters and armchair engineers right?
Let’s address the elephant in the room – the monostay swingarm. The backbone of the Wolf Ridge is Naild’s R3act 2Play suspension platform, which gives the bike its unique profile and uncanny trail prowess. If you’re thinking to yourself it also makes it look like a Polygon…well, you’re right it does.
Polygon and Marin share Naild’s suspension design, much like Santa Cruz and Intense both utilize VPP. Or how Specialized and Norco both have FSR-style bikes. The concept is the same between the Polygon and Marin, however if you’ve ever ridden a Santa Cruz back to back with an Intense, you’ll see that bikes with the same suspension design can ride very differently. The Marin and Polygon aren’t quite as different as our last example, but Marin’s extensive work with Naild engineers gives their 160mm 29er some different riding characteristics compared to the 180mm Polygon.
For those of you unfamiliar with Naild and what their suspension platform is about, please check out our in-depth feature here. We spent three years behind the scenes documenting what we felt was going to be a historic development in the history of bike suspension.
One of the most unique features of the system is the sliding, undamped stanchion in the beefy housing connecting the swingarm to the front triangle. The stanchion increases lateral stiffness and slides out as the suspension compresses through its stroke. A rocker link control arm helps give the bike a unique feel while pedaling thanks to the amount of anti-squat it provides.
By looking outside traditional suspension philosophies, Naild has created a platform that pedals unlike anything we’ve ever ridden before. In fact, the Wolf Ridge truly decouples pedaling forces from undulations in the terrain that would normally cause the rear wheel to hang up on other bikes. We have never ridden a bike that can be pedaled over terrain like this.
Build Marin offers three options of Wolf Ridge, starting at $5,199 and topping out at $8,599 with the Pro model we tested here. The spec on Marin’s Wolf Ridge is pretty dialed over all, and it should be for nearly 9k.
We have two minor complaints, and one is very region specific. The WTB front tire hates loose, marbly rocks, and SoCal is littered with them. I ended up cutting every other nob in the transitional row and found a big improvement immediately.
The second complaint was the crank arm length. The low 13.23-inch BB height paired with the suspension performance led to lots of pedal bashing and crank arm impacts. Because, this bike allows us to sit and pedal in places we normally don’t and Marin should take that into account by shortening the crank arm length.
Highlights of the build are the large brake rotors, Eagle drivetrain and Deity cockpit. We enjoyed the range of the Eagle as it allowed us to get into some truly remote locations that let the bike shine and the big brakes helped control the high speeds we were able to hit thanks to the bike’s performance on the way down.
Geometry After riding the Wolf Ridge we realized that many critiques we may have about geometry were trumped by the superior performance of the suspension. We still wish the head angle was half a degree slacker, even if it is just for peace of mind.
At 66.5 degrees, the Wolf Ridge never felt skittish yet remains nimble in the tight stuff. The bottom bracket sits at 13.23 inches (336mm), which is over half an inch lower than the Trek Slash, a bike I love and have spent a lot of time on.
Our size large test bike has a reach of 18.19 inches (462mm) and chainstays measuring 17.13 inches (435mm). The Wolf Ridge is comfortable for a wide range of riders in a variety of trails. The wheelbase is 47.48 inches (1206mm), half an inch shorter than the Trek Slash we mentioned earlier. The Trek also has a slightly shorter reach and chainstay measurement, but the degree slacker head angle gives it a slightly longer wheelbase.
When we think back to our time aboard the Wolf Ridge Pro, it just makes us want to ride it more. Every time we set out to ride the Wolf Ridge we tried to find new terrain, conditions or trails to find its weakness. It’s not without flaw but we did have to work pretty damn hard to find them.
We’ll start with who this bike isn’t going to be ideal for.
If you watch 50to01 videos and live to slam-bang everything in sight while popping off every little nub, jibbing your way down the trail, this probably isn’t your dream bike. The traction and way the rear end hugs the ground makes it tough to break loose.
If you primarily ride “flow” trails that are groomed, smooth and full of smaller jumps and compressions, we think a shorter travel version may be the better option. Nudge, nudge – Marin, how about a 130/140 version!?
Are you a pro-level rider who is so finely in-tune with your bike and its every movement that having a bike turn the trail into a buttery dream will leave you feeling like Stevie Wonder lacing up ice skates? This bike will probably take you a while to warm up to. But we think you will.
If you are not any of the people listed above, then we can confidently say this bike will impress the shit out of you while improving your riding and confidence! This is mechanical doping without a battery. Whether you are new to the sport or an advanced level rider, Naild’s R3act 2Play system will take your riding to the next level, both up and down the mountain.
We’ve spent the better part of the last decade testing and riding just about every noteworthy (and some not) bike that has come out. We’ve found ways to describe and talk about every single one of them, until now. Even after being a part of the development and behind the scenes story of this bike, I struggle to find the words to convey just how the Wolf Ridge transcends description and comparable feel.
If we could paraphrase the introduction from MTV’s Diary show, “You think you know… but you have no idea,” it would be our parting words to armchair engineers talking about what this bike is and is not based on two dimensional charts and computer programs.
We’re not trying to be dicks, and we certainly aren’t smarter than anyone else out there, we’ve just been lucky enough to be along for the journey of Naild and Darrel Voss’s development of the R3act system. That exposure has given us a three-dimensional understanding to bits of the puzzle others aren’t taking into account while dissecting the design from home.
Climbing Climbing the Wolf Ridge back to back with anything else makes you feel like you’re cheating. The bike climbs incredibly well for a 160mm bike, hell it climbs great for a 130mm bike, but it doesn’t climb “like” a 130 bike, or anything else for that matter.
It is efficient and will propel the rider forward but what makes it stand out is the ability to remain efficient while simultaneously reacting to the smallest, or biggest, changes in terrain beneath you. Rocks, roots or obstacles that would slow any other bike go unnoticed. It makes you realize just how much efficiency is lost when other suspension designs encounter obstructions.
Much like it’s Polygon cousin, the Wolf Ridge climbs at it’s full potential when clipped in. The more even your pedal strokes, the more the bike plains out. If you stomp and jump on the pedals it will squish. Think of it like a boat hull accelerating in water until it comes up on plain. Total smoothness.
Descending A unique aspect of Naild’s design is the relatively undamped shock. This helps give the bike its effortless ground tracing ability. In the parking lot, that lack of damping feels strange, you could say soft. Even with the rebound circuits as slow as they go, rebound is on the quick side. However on the trail it was barely an issue. We do wish we could have slowed the rebound down just two more clicks for trails with steep jump lips, but the bike didn’t buck us unless we were totally gooning it.
Pointing the Wolf Ridge down hill was definitely one of our favorite things to do! It plowed anything in our path. One thing we did notice when throwing the bike around however, is the lack of stiffness in the rear end. Compared to a Pivot or Enve-equipped Santa Cruz, the Wolf Ridge feels a little wiggly, but we wouldn’t say it’s entirely a bad thing. That flex allows the rear end even more ability to move and work the terrain, increasing traction and minimizing feedback to the rider. Something that some styles of riders will not love.
When it comes to cornering, the ultra low BB, steeper head angle and superb traction come together to deliver stellar performance. This bike rewards riders who brake late, lay it over and get on the gas hard out of the corner.
While it still has the large, long feel of a 29er, this bike absolutely slays corners. When it comes to the Wolf Ridge, body positioning plays a massive role in the suspension’s performance. The more time you spend on the bike, the more you get out of it.
The Wolf’s Last Word
This isn’t a bike that makes sense on paper. You can pour over the specs online or look at fancy kinematics charts, but the only way to truly understand it is to ride it. Bottom line, the proof is in the pudding. If you taste it you’ll get it, if you just look at the ingredients and make assumptions, you’ll never know.
If we had to simplify this epically long review of a very technically involved bike, here’s what we’d say about the Wolf Ridge.
Aside from a few critiques, all of our testers love this bike. The downtube protrudes downward and forward of the BB. Large downed trees or big rocks at slow speed can contact the down tube protector if you mistime your move. Luckily it’s a robust guard and we didn’t do any major damage.
Pedaling and climbing performance are beyond impressive however, we believe shorter crank arms should be spec’d to reduce pedal strikes. This is a notable issue because you can actually pedal the Wolf Ridge while seated, over sections where you’d normally have to stand.
The Wolf Ridge will play and pop, it just takes more work to get it loose. The downside to all that traction is that playing around requires a bit more effort, or a semi-slick rear tire and high PSI.
Overall this is one impressive machine. You quite literally can’t buy another 160mm bike that pedals better than the Wolf Ridge while maintaining its supple and ground tracing performance. Cornering, climbing and descending are all incredibly close to being best in class. With a few small tweaks this could honestly be the do-it-all machine we all dream of. We’re excited to see the next evolution!