Knolly Bikes was showing off their new 2020 Wardens and Warden LT’s at Crankworx Whistler, and luckily they brought a few bikes along for demo rides. I had the pleasure of riding one of my favorite local trails aboard a brand new Warden with Knolly’s founder and engineer Noel Buckley.
It turns out Buckley is also a big fan of Pemberton’s rock-laden wonder dubbed PhD, so we happily agreed it would be the ideal trail to demonstrate the Warden’s capabilities. The bike did a great job of tackling the trails’ notoriously chunky rocks, happily sucking up hard hits and keeping the rear wheel solidly stuck to the ground through loose or chattery sections.
2020 Knolly Warden updates:
For the 2020 Wardens, Knolly tweaked their patented Fourby4 suspension platform to offer better pedaling performance without sacrificing rear wheel traction, something that’s always been a top priority for Knolly’s linkage. As you’ll read below, I think they’ve done a fine job of that.
Adding a new LT model now gives buyers the choice of riding a 160/160mm Warden, or choosing the longer-legged LT with 168mm of rear travel and a 170mm fork. The Warden was designed to handle everything from aggressive trail riding to bike park days, and now park rats can shred even harder on the longer travel version. The Wardens all roll on 27.5” wheels, and I was riding the 6066 aluminum-framed 160mm model.
The updated Wardens have also received new frame geometry that’s quite progressive, particularly in their lengthy front ends. Out back, the new bikes utilize Knolly’s 157 Trail rear spacing. This allows for more tire clearance (up to 27.5×2.8”) and shorter stays, yet the rear triangle remains no wider than some companies’ Boost 148mm bikes. Despite the wider rear axle, Knolly was able to retain a threaded 73mm BB shell with proper chain alignment.
2020 Knolly Warden geometry:
The Warden offers two shock mount positions – neutral and slack. Switching to Slack mode lessens the head and seat tube angles by .75°, drops the BB by about 10mm and makes the rear shock slightly more progressive.
Knolly owns a patent for their Offset Seat-tube Design (OSD), and all their frames feature full-length, straight seat masts that connect in front of the bottom bracket shell. This bodes well for dropper post compatibility, with small frames that accept 150mm posts, my demo medium running a 170mm, and L/XL’s that can fit 200mm posts.
The Warden’s internal cable routing runs through the front triangle, then exits the back of the seat mast at the lower Fourby4 link. The frames are also compatible with Di2 wiring, and have both e-type and ISCG05 mounts to accommodate chain guides.
With only one lap to ride, I tested my Warden in the neutral geo position. I felt really comfortable with the bike’s geometry, even though some of the numbers surprised me. When I first hopped on the Warden, I thought the front end felt shorter than some. Then I found out the reach is a lengthy 475.5mm on the medium frame! The next thing I found out was the effective seat tube angle: at a very steep 77° it made sense that while seated, the front end didn’t feel as long as its numbers would imply.
Not surprisingly that steep seat angle helps make the Warden a solid climber. Our climb that day was all on fire roads, but I left the rear shock wide open to see how the linkage pedaled without any help. The bike never dipped past mid-travel during the climb, and through several loose rocky sections my rear wheel remained firmly planted. The Warden offers pretty good pedaling efficiency; with the shock wide open the rear end will bob slightly as you crank, but you can feel your leg power going right to the rear wheel as the bike eagerly ambles uphill.
Standing up for the descent, I found the long front end really fun to work with; it’s very stable feeling, there’s plenty of room to move your body around, and you can still easily hang over the back wheel when things get steep.
The head tube angle of 65.75° is slightly steeper than some bikes in this class, but it offers a nice balance of high-speed stability while keeping the bike agile enough to whip around tight corners. The Warden’s chainstays are pretty short at 431.5mm, which also helps maintain the bike’s snappy handling. In neutral position the Warden’s BB height is 346mm, which was just high enough that I didn’t have issues clipping pedals on the chunky trail we rode.
Suspension-wise Knolly favours traction as their main priority, and riding the Warden convinced me they’ve accomplished this goal. Our test trail is mostly made of edgy, chunky slabs and loose rocky chutes in between – The Warden’s rear wheel read this trail like a needle on a record.
Knolly’s linkage does a great job of taking the edge off bigger, harsher impacts. In the less-progressive neutral position I had used all my travel after hitting a few big G-outs and rough rocky sections, yet I don’t recall any harsh bottom-outs during the ride. The rear end also remains very sensitive over smaller bumps and chattery bits. I run rebound on the faster side, and my bike’s rear wheel consistently found traction on everything it rolled over.
This descent doesn’t offer much chance to get playful (and when I did let ‘er go, a sharp rock cut my tire) so I can’t say too much about how the Warden jumps and flies. I will divulge that I have a long-term review coming soon on Knolly’s Fugitive LT, and it’s definitely a fun ride on the flowy, jumpy lines.
I won’t really get into assessing components in this one-ride writeup. Knolly doesn’t offer low-end complete bikes; even their lesser models offer parts packages that any non-competitive rider should be happy with. To no surprise, I had zero issues with any of the high-end components on my demo Warden.
Please note, my demo bike did have a different setup than Knolly’s complete builds – The RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock and the 160mm Lyric Ultimate fork I rode made my bike a hybrid between the two stock models.