2017 Knolly Warden Carbon Supreme Leader (X01) Bike

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2017 Knolly Warden Carbon Supreme Leader (X01) Bike 2017_Knolly_Warden_Carbon_black01
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Ripping All-Mountain Bike from a Core Brand

Rating: Featured Member Review
The Good:

Best frame quality I've ever seen. Comfortable geometry that likes to charge. Effective suspension. Incredibly consistent feel across different types of terrain. No BS standards. Company stands behind the product. Traction really is as good as it gets. Incredibly precise handling and stiffness.

The Bad:

Cable routing a bit fiddly. Not single ring specific. Not the most efficient pedaler. Parts not as accessible as they should be.

Overall Review:

Purchase Decision and First Impressions

I am a mountain bike instructor and used to be a bike mechanic - I agonize over details when choosing my new bikes and spend plenty of time picking each and every part of my build.

I came off of a particularly trendy short travel 29er (Evil Following), and it really was a brilliant bike for the right kind of rider. However, there were a few things that really pushed me away from that bike, and I ultimately realized that my riding style calls for a 150-160mm travel bike. So, I started looking for a top quality frame that I could choose for a full custom build.

In my search, I slowly Read More »

Overall Review:

Purchase Decision and First Impressions

I am a mountain bike instructor and used to be a bike mechanic - I agonize over details when choosing my new bikes and spend plenty of time picking each and every part of my build.

I came off of a particularly trendy short travel 29er (Evil Following), and it really was a brilliant bike for the right kind of rider. However, there were a few things that really pushed me away from that bike, and I ultimately realized that my riding style calls for a 150-160mm travel bike. So, I started looking for a top quality frame that I could choose for a full custom build.

In my search, I slowly whittled down my list to a subset of the premier brands that dominate the market today. I kept coming back to Knolly for their roots in the PNW, their attention to construction quality, and their unique stance on suspension design. In summary, Knolly has a view that an efficient suspension is one that responds most effectively to the terrain, not necessarily one that pedals best under power. More on that in a bit.

After conversation with Knolly, I determined that a large Warden Carbon was for me. The frame is quite modern in its geometry, but not too radical in any one regard. Long wheelbase, low BB, slack head angle, and ample reach are all there. When the frame arrived, I was utterly stunned by the construction quality - from the custom ti hardware to the flawless matte finish over the carbon, the frame just screams quality. I've owned several bikes from premier manufacturers, but nothing has matched what Knolly has put together. All parts went together beautifully, though the fully internal cable routing was a bit fiddly in terms of getting everything routed through the seat tube and downtube. Make sure you have plenty of housing length

The Ride

Knolly seems to have a great sense of what sort of bike they wanted to create. At a high level, the ride is unique, yet purposeful and refined. Consistency is the name of the game with the Warden Carbon - contrary to other bikes I've ridden recently, the smooth and consistent suspension never has surprises, pedal kickback on big hits, etc. This makes suspension setup extremely easy, and the consistent feel also makes it easy to identify exactly how each suspension setting is affecting the ride going both up and down.

Climbing - The bike's climbing traits are likely the most unique characteristics of the Warden. As mentioned earlier, Knolly has a view that an active suspension is an effective one, and they forego a lot of the anti-squat that other companies design into their linkages. Having had several bikes with atrocious pedal kickback and bizarre suspension characteristics in repeated hits at speed, I was intrigued by this philosophy. The design does everything promised - it has the most traction I've ever experienced. It seriously feels like you can do no wrong while climbing technical terrain. The geometry weights the front wheel nicely and keeps you from sitting too far over the rear wheel, which allows the suspension to sit higher without the "seatpost lever" effect that causes rear suspension squat.

The tradeoffs of this active suspension design are that it does bob more, and it can want to squat a bit on really steep climbs under power. While the compression lever on my DVO Topaz is my friend on longer fireroad climbs, I typically don't touch it on rolling terrain. The bike puts you in an effective body position, which does a lot to help the efficiency, but those who mash the pedals rather than spin smooth circles will notice some added rear suspension movement. As an efficient pedaler myself from my XC racing days, I haven't felt like the bike has held me back on climbs, but climbing is more where I put my head down and hammer, trying to imagine just how sweet the downs are going to be.

Descending - I bought this bike because I like riding steep, nasty terrain where traction is at a premium. Tipping the front wheel into a nasty chute, and all of that balanced geometry and incredibly predictable suspension starts to come alive. The 155mm of suspension is super progressive, offering a deep feel on big hits, while the suppleness off the top helps the tires extract every ounce of traction from stutter bumps, off camber, and roots/rocks. You can tell this bike was bred in the PNW - it offers so much grip in less than ideal conditions.

All of this adds up to supreme confidence. The slack head angle, low BB, long wheelbase, and low stack height put you in a hyper-aggressive position where you can be dynamic on the bike at mach speed, while the finely tuned frame offers a super stiff lateral feeling with just enough compliance to keep the rear end milking the trail for every last bit of grip. I found myself carrying more speed than expected, doing my best James Doerfling impressions while carving through loose conditions that have persisted all summer, mostly because the bike just does such a great job of covering you during what would otherwise be "oh shit" moments.

The performance on the steep and nasty is impressive, but to be honest, I expected this bike to be a savage on super steep terrain - after all, that's where it was born and bred. What I didn't expect was how much fun it is on smoother, ultra-fast ribbons of winding singletrack. Again, the confidence-inspiring suspension and geometry urge you to push the speed limit, while the low BB and frame stiffness lets you shove the bike into corners with authority. The elasticity in the carbon frame along with the supportive, progressive suspension reward pumping to no end, leading to some pretty surprising exit speeds when throwing in some extra body English in corners and flowing terrain. Jumping hardly requires a thought and the bike likes to move around with the rider in the air, again a product of the endlessly intuitive suspension.

Things I Don't Love

As I've mentioned, the pedaling abilities of the bike favor those who can spin efficient circles. In the heat of a race-type situation, you'd also notice this while hammering between technical sections on an enduro track. The bike just doesn't seem to want to rocket forward like some higher anti-squat designs when you're on the gas. Again, this was somewhat expected, but occasionally I do find myself wishing for more of a pedaling platform to push against when I'm full gas on a descent and being sloppy with my pedaling.

A few aspects of the frame design could also do with some refinement. For one, while the internal cable routing looks nice when finished, it's not as easy or as quiet as other designs that use guided tubes within the frame. The idea behind this design is that it allows infinite routing options, but all of those ports and grommets also allow more potential for water ingress. The port at the rear of the seat tube is right in the line of fire from water and grit coming off of the back wheel, and after ultra-wet rides or washings, there has been some water in the frame. While the BB is sealed off from where water can pool, it's still best to dab that water out of the frame through the main access hatch under the downtube guard.

Related to the cable routing, the rubber grommet at the seat tube cable port also has a tendency to tear. Despite very careful install, I've now torn 2 of these rubber seals, likely due to them getting assaulted with grit from the back tire while the cables move with the suspension. Though the tears are small, they may ultimately allow for more contamination inside of the frame.

I also think that Knolly could simplify the BB area and get rid of the front derailleur capability. While the frame doesn't have any stiffness issues, a bike like this will not be run with a front derailleur in the vast majority of circumstances.

As a final caveat, I should also note that I've had some difficulty getting parts for the frame. While most common parts (bearings, main linkage bolts, etc.) are available on Knolly's site, the rubber grommet for the seat tube port and a bolt that was damaged on the chainstay were not available. The rubber grommet was posted by Knolly after I inquired, but a $5 tiny part became over $20 after $15 flat rate shipping to the US.

Conclusions

As you can tell, I was pleasantly surprised by this bike. It's truly a ripper, and proof that Knolly is not resting on the successes of their big, plush freeride rigs of the past. There are certain areas for future refinement, but most are around the finer points of the design (cable routing function, etc.). The pivots have all been creak-free, no bolts have loosened whatsoever, and all aftermarket parts purchased have mated seamlessly with the tight frame tolerances.

Though the bike can easily be set up to ride like a comfy couch, this frame has a load of potential for good times. It's probably not the fastest when you're redlining your heart rate in a pedal-fest race run, but other rigs will struggle to keep up when you need traction, reactive suspension, and a devil on your shoulder reminding you to stay off of the brakes.

Specifications

Product Knolly Warden Carbon Supreme Leader (X01) Bike
Model Year 2017
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
S (high, low), M (high, low), L (high, low), XL (high, low) View Geometry
Size S (high, low) M (high, low) L (high, low) XL (high, low)
Top Tube Length 581mm 609mm 636mm 653mm
Head Tube Angle 66.5°, 65.5° 66.5°, 65.5° 66.5°, 65.5° 66.5°, 65.5°
Head Tube Length 103mm 110mm 110mm 125mm
Seat Tube Angle 68° 68° 68° 68°
Seat Tube Length 373mm 419mm 476mm 515mm
Bottom Bracket Height 345mm, 337mm 345mm, 337mm 345mm, 337mm 345mm, 337mm
Chainstay Length 429mm 429mm 429mm 429mm
Wheelbase 1138mm 1167mm 1194mm 1212mm
Standover 690mm 713mm 746mm 772mm
Reach 411mm 437mm 464mm 478mm
Stack 585mm 592mm 592mm 606mm
* Additional Info Two geometry settings. All specifications listed are with 160mm fork.
Frame Material Carbon Fiber
Frame Material Details Internal mandrel layup frame, removable downtube guard, integrated rubber chainstay protector
Rear Travel 155mm
Rear Shock FOX Float DPS EVOL, 7.875" x 2.25"
Upgrade options: FOX Float X2, Cane Creek DB-Coil IL, Cane Creek DB-Air IL, Cane Creek DBA CS, Push ElevenSix
Fork FOX Float 36 Factory series, HSC/LSC, Kashima coating
Fork Travel 160mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered, 1.125" top, 1.5" bottom
Headset Cane Creek 40, Zero Stack 44/56
Handlebar Race Face SixC carbon, 35mm clamp, 800mm width, 20mm rise
Stem Race Face Turbine, 35mm clamp, 50mm length, 0° rise
Grips Chromag Squarewave, black
Brakes SRAM Guide RSC, 200mm front rotor, 180mm rear rotor
Brake Levers SRAM Guide RSC
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM X01, 11-speed, trigger
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM X01, 11-speed
ISCG Tabs ISCG05
Chainguide MRP AMG, 28-32 tooth
Cranks Race Face Turbine, Cinch, 175mm length
Chainrings Race Face Turbine, Cinch, 30 tooth, narrow/wide
Bottom Bracket 73mm threaded
Pedals N/A
Chain SRAM PCX1, with powerlock
Cassette SRAM XG1195, 10-42 tooth
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Rims Industry Nine Enduro-S
Hubs Industry Nine Enduro-S
Spokes
Tires Front: Maxxis Minion DHF, F60 3C/EXO/TR, 27.5" x 2.3"
Rear: Maxxis Highroller II, 3C/EXO/TR, 27.5" x 2.3"
Saddle Chromag Lynx DT, black
Seatpost Race Face Turbine, 150mm travel
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard single bolt
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 142x12mm
Max. Tire Size 27.5" x 2.5"
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes (single), side mount cage required
Colors Black/Yellow, Black/Black
Warranty Limited lifetime
Weight
Miscellaneous Fourby4 suspension system
Titanium pivots
IGUS angular contact bearings
Internal cable routing with rubber ports, Di2 compatible, with downtube trap door for battery
Seatpost insertion depth: 280mm+, allows for 175mm dropper posts
Front derailleur mount: Shimano side-pull
Post mount brake tabs
Two geometry settings
Price $8,154
More Info

www.knollybikes.com