MBA Bike Test: Knolly Warden
Boutique bike builder Knolly produces a limited number of bikes each year. A desire to conquer the rugged terrain around its home (the company’s headquarters are just a stone’s throw from the North Shore in British Columbia, Canada) gave impetus to the brand: Knolly bikes are built to be ridden hard over rugged terrain.
Within a range of bikes from 120mm-travel endurance machines to 175mm-travel enduro and freeride shredders, Knolly’s Warden is the brand’s 160mm pedal-anywhere, descend-anything enduro rig. For 2020, Knolly has redesigned the Warden to be longer, lower and slacker.
The most notable feature is its progressive geometry, specifically, a long front end, stubby back end and low bottom bracket. Our size-medium test bike featured a lengthy 475.5mm (18.7-inch) reach, short 431.5mm (16.9-inch) chainstays and a BB that sits just 346mm (13.6 inches) off the ground.
At the heart of the Warden’s 6066 aluminum chassis is Knolly’s newest generation Fourby4 linkage that provides 160mm of travel. Each pivot rotates on igus bushings for ease of maintenance. In back, Super Boost 157mm rear hub spacing is utilized to allow greater tire clearance—up to 27.5 × 2.8 inches. Interestingly, Knolly was able to retain a threaded 73mm bottom bracket shell while still providing proper chain alignment and was able to offer both E-type and ISCG05 chain guide mounts to ensure the chain is always secured.
Knolly’s patented Offset Seat-tube Design (OSD) gives the Warden chassis its unique appearance and allows a full-length, straight-seat mast that connects to the curved downtube in front of the bottom bracket shell. This helps accommodate longer dropper posts, with small frames allowing 150mm posts, mediums allowing 170mm and L/XLs allowing up to 200mm of travel.
The Warden features 160mm post mount disc brake tabs, internal cable routing through the front triangle and is Shimano Di2 wiring compatible to make a wireless drivetrain upgrade possible. The Warden is also available as a frame only, starting at $2199. There is even a Warden LT, or long travel, that features 168mm of rear suspension and a 170mm fork.
You can purchase the Warden with several different build kits. Pricing starts at $5129. Our test bike came with a suite of SRAM components. The complete GX drivetrain included a 12-speed shifter, derailleur and 170mm cranks, as well as Code R brakes with 160mm rotors. The cockpit came adorned with Chromag’s Lynx DT saddle and Basis grips, along with a 35mm Hi-Fi stem and 800mm-wide OSX bar. Rounding out the build were Spank’s Oozy Trail 345 27.5-inch wheels that feature a 30mm inner rim width to mount Maxxis’ tried-and-true Minion DHF 2.5-inch tire up front and a DHR 2.3-inch tire in the rear.
With several build kits to choose from, Knolly offers Fox or RockShox suspension. Our Warden came equipped with a 160mm-travel RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2 upfront. In the rear was a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock featuring the DebonAir air spring with adjustment knobs to control the rebound and low-speed compression, as well as a threshold lever to quickly aid pedaling performance.
DOWN AND DIRTY
With two geometry settings (Neutral and Slack) available, we decided to fully embrace the Warden’s aggressive enduro demeanor and try the Slack position first. We set suspension sag to 30 percent front and back and headed out to our local trails to find out what this Knolly was capable of.
Testing in the Slack position, we quickly learned the Warden enjoyed being aimed straight down the roughest terrain. Dropping into steep descents—so steep that constant braking was required—was a welcome task for the Warden. The Knolly handled heavy braking duties well thanks to its Horst Link chainstay pivot placement that works with the Fourby4 linkage to keep the suspension fully active under braking.
The bike did a great job handling heavy impacts—the rougher, the better. Poor line choice was never punished aboard the Warden, as it did a great job of absorbing sharp edges with ease.
The Warden’s Fourby4 suspension system happily flattens rock gardens.
Climbing: Being such a capable descender, we assumed the Warden would struggle getting back up the hill; however, this was not the case. Although the placement of its OSD seat tube makes it appear to have a slack seat tube angle, its effective seat tube angle is a steep 76.75 degrees. This positions the rider well in front of the bottom bracket to keep weight forward when ascending.
When we were seated and hammering up climbs, the Warden’s front end didn’t feel as long as its geometry suggested. With the shock open, the bike was able to create the necessary traction required to crawl up some of the most technical climbs on our local trails.
With two shock mount positions to choose from, we eventually swapped the Warden to its Neutral setting. This steepened the head tube angle and seat tube angle by 0.75 degrees and raised the bottom bracket by about 10mm (0.4 inches). For trails that meander, we were able to speed up the steering and make the bike respond quicker. In the Neutral position, we learned that the rear suspension curve actually becomes slightly more linear. This allowed the rider to use a broad range of the Warden’s 160mm of travel to absorb undulating terrain. It made flowing trail rides feel like a magic carpet ride.
A low bottom bracket helps the Knolly Warden change direction quickly.
When it came time to make quick turns, the Warden responded best when the rider used some body English to initiate the change of direction. The long front encouraged riders to move their weight around to command control in corners, and the short rear end made it easy to get behind the rear wheel when needed to give the bike an agile feel.
From trails to bike parks, Knolly’s Warden is a capable enduro machine.
MODS AND UPGRADES
Depending on the demands of your trails, you might want to change the chainring on the Warden. On most of our local rides, the 30-tooth sprocket seemed to max out early. Increasing the chainring size to 32 teeth would help increase the top speed of the Warden while the 50-tooth large cog on its SRAM 12-speed cassette would help retain its climbing prowess.
Knolly’s Fourby4 suspension system offers solid pedaling efficiency with the ability to remain active. The Warden provides a nice balance of big-bump stability to effectively absorb constant chatter and the ability to be undeterred by even the harshest G-outs and drops. Thanks to a long reach and short rear end, the responsive handling of this 160mm-travel enduro bike makes it a joy to ride. It’s capable of creating traction up and down the mountain, while keeping the wheels firmly planted and the rider in control. www.knollybikes.com
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