This is a complete custom build and I chose components for the purpose of trying them out in order to review them rather than going with products that I know, or might be considered "safe".
The MRP Stage fork and Box drivetrain will be reviewed in depth on their own soon, so I won't go into too much detail here, but in short:
The fork took some time to tune to my liking thanks to all the external settings and how they affect each other. The dual air design was the trickiest to get dialed taking a couple of rides just to balance the positive and negative air springs.
As mentioned in our First Look of the Knolly build, the most unique feature on the Box drivetrain is the shift lever. To downshift into an easier gear you press the lever with your thumb towards the front of the bike as you would on a SRAM or Shimano drivetrain. You can drop up to four gears in one go should you want or need to. To upshift you push the lever with your thumb from the side in the direction of the stem, with single changes the only option here. Thankfully it works well and it only takes a ride or two to get used to it. Riding different bikes does mean that every time I ride the Knolly after a couple of rides on SRAM equipped bikes I need to get my head and thumb around this way of shifting again.
Some fine-tuning of the lever is allowed by the two-position bar clamp which brings the lever in closer. This is even more important as you need to get the upshift in the best possible position in order to be able to shift without 'thumbling' around (see what I did there?). I find the throw of the downshift to be a bit long but the upshift fires like a rocket.
The Corse Components Dopamine wheelset has been bomb proof. The overall design and look reminds me of Derby rims which is a good thing. With an inside diameter of 34mm, they fatten out the Maxxis tyres and offer excellent grip. As one would expect there are no signs of flex no matter how hard you hammer them. Even so, they strike a great balance between being stiff without being harsh on rough trails.
The Maxxis DHR II front and Aggressor rear have been a great combination. As we all know in sunny South Africa you still have to climb to the top to enjoy the trails on the way down, and due to the length of the downhill sections, the only way to get your fix is to do several runs. That means compromises need to be made in order to enjoy (and survive) the ups and down. There are other options (like running a DHR front and rear) for ultimate grip, but this combo strikes a good balance between sheer grip and speed. I have not experienced a single flat, rip or burp in all my rides.
The SRAM Level Ultimate brake set has been up to the task through the past couple of colder months. I can't wait to try them on this bike in hotter conditions to see how they stack up against SRAM Code or offerings from other brands such as Hope and Formula.
Thanks to the Warden's straight and short seat tube there is more than enough exposed seat post to run a 150 mm dropper on my size Medium frame with a 77.5 cm saddle height. In fact, I should have gone for a 170 mm dropper and will definitely do so if the opportunity ever comes around to swap the 150 mm dropper out.
Another change that is not often talked about is the move back to a 31.8 mm bar and stem from 35 mm. There is quite a bit of tech talk on why 35 mm is better, but after having tried it on three bikes I'm happy to stick to 31.8mm for now. I found 35mm bars (from more than one manufacturer) too stiff and harsh on the trail, even more so when things got really rough. In my experience, the trade off for the on paper benefit simply does not justify sore wrists and arm pump.
The Descendant Kyle Strait CoLab handlebar measures in at a healthy 808mm wide and even at that (insane) width they show no signs of flex under load. It's not often that I can say this, but if they are good enough for Kyle Strait at Rampage, they are good enough for me. I can't imagine a tougher test for handlebars than under one of the world's best free riders. I will most likely cut the bars down to at least 780mm soon.
- FrameKnolly Warden Carbon, 155mm Rear Travel
- ForkMRP Stage
- ShockFox Float X2
- CranksetSRAM XX1, 32T Absolute Black direct mount chainring
- Rear derailleurBox .one.
- ShiftersBox .one.
- BrakesSRAM Level Ultimate, 180mm
- CassetteBox .two., 11-46T
- RimsCorse Components Dopamine (27.5")
- HubsCorse Components
- TyresMaxxis DHR II front and Aggressor rear
- HandlebarsTruvativ Descendant Kyle Strait CoLab Bar
- GripsODI Rogue
- StemTruvativ Descendant
- SeatpostRockShock Reverb 150mm Drop
- SaddleSpecialized Henge Comp
On the Trail
I like my bikes to have some pop on the trails, which means I balance my suspension somewhere between plush and firm. Progressive suspension design and components help with this, but getting it right means spending time with suspension setup. To get going I used MRP and Fox's recommended settings, but changed the X2 shock to Knolly's soon after and then worked my way from there.
Optimal sag: 30%
Low Speed Compression: 15 clicks
High Speed Compression: 15 clicks
Low Speed Rebound: 16 clicks
High Speed Rebound: 16 clicks
Knolly team rider Jeremy Stoward's set-up:
Optimal sag: 33%
Low Speed Compression: 20 clicks
High Speed Compression: 12 clicks turns
Low Speed Rebound: 11 clicks
High Speed Rebound: 8 clicks
The fly in the ointment was getting the front to work with the rear, mainly due to the dual air system of the MRP mentioned earlier. I've managed to get that dialed to my liking and have been happy with the way the suspension performs. The Fox X2 climbs better than what I remember of the Cane Creek DB Inline on the aluminium Warden we reviewed. Admittedly, I do use the climb switch on the shock to get to the top of a trail which firms up the rear without giving it a harsh, completely locked out feel.
The bike's mass does mean climbing is best done selecting a comfortable gear and enjoying the view to the top, but only when compared to lighter, shorter travel bikes. Climbing on the Knolly Warden is good, very good in fact for a long travel bike weighing close to 13.5 kg that is meant for going big. Front wheel drift is kept at bay with by sitting on the front of the saddle.
Point the bike down and it comes alive. The combination of suspension design and geometry gives it a very nimble, agile feel yet it still stays planted on fast runs. Usually, you would trade confidence at speed with playfulness through the twisties or visa versa, but the Knolly Warden manages a good balance. I ride it mostly in the neutral (high) position, but one has to keep in mind that it is in line with most bikes in the category with the slack position pushing low and slack further down the geometry scale.
In the End
The carbon version of the Knolly Warden builds on the reputation of the aluminium version as a great do-it-all bike sitting on the enduro/ all mountain end of the riding scale. It won't kill you on the way up and will reward you in heaps on the way down, seemingly giving nothing up on either side. I'll spend some more time on the suspension over the next couple of months to see if there's more performance that can be extracted from the bike and will report back on that in our long-term review.