Knolly's First Carbon Bike
Knolly's range of aluminum bikes have a bit of a cult following, especially where the company is located in south western British Columbia, but the demand for high-end aluminum is surely in decline these days compared to the appetite for carbon fiber. That fact has spurred Noel Buckley, the man behind Knolly, to debut the company's first carbon fiber bike: the 150mm travel Warden Carbon. You might be thinking that Knolly is late to the party, and you'd be right, but it's easy to forget that the investment required for the development and moulds to manufacture a carbon frame is by no means a small amount of change, which is why Buckley said that he didn't rush and got things right the first time around. He also admitted that the company was close to pulling the trigger on a carbon fiber version of the 130mm travel Endorphin a full three years ago, but the near-industry wide switch to mid-sized wheels meant that it didn't make sense to pour money into a 26" wheeled carbon platform that would have likely been viewed as passé by many after only a year or two.
Warden Carbon Details
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain / enduro
• Travel: 150mm
• Wheel size: 27.5''
• Brand new carbon fiber frame
• Aluminum chain stays
• Same geometry and suspension as alloy bike
• Fourby4 suspension system
• Internal or external cable routing
• Internal Di2 battery storage and routing
• ISCG 05 chain guide tabs
• Threaded bottom bracket shell
• 12 x 142mm thru-axle
• Frame weight: 6.25lb (claimed)
• MSRP: $3,395 USD (w/ DB Inline CS or FOX Float DPS)
So Buckley waited rather than jumping on the carbon wagon, and there's no doubting that the aluminum bikes he designed in the meantime rode extremely well, but there was also the obvious need to take another step forward. That step is the bike you're looking at here, which is still distinctly a Knolly in more ways than just its appearance. One of those points is where it's manufactured. Knolly moved production of their aluminum frames to Taiwan awhile back - Buckley told us last year that the quality of the Taiwanese factory he uses is just as high as anything he had produced in North America - and that's where the new Warden Carbon is also manufactured, unlike much of the competition's carbon bikes that come from Vietnam and China.
Buckley insists that the quality of his new carbon creation is second to none thanks to not only where it's produced, but also the very non-cost conscious but high-caliber manufacturing technique of using an EPS foam mandrel system. Employing EPS foam mandrels to manufacture bicycle frames has been in use for years now, but it's a technique that's usually only applied to high-stress and complicated areas like the bottom bracket or pivot junctions. With the Warden Carbon, Buckley says that the entire frame is built by using EPS foam mandrels that are shaped to match the inside dimensions of the frame before expanding to provide pressure to the carbon on the opposite side of the mould, thereby squeezing out air and voids that could create weak points. The benefit over using a more common and less expensive bladder moulding technique is that the EPS core is able to provide much more exacting tolerances, which is said to yield a stronger finished product, and also one that's a full pound lighter than its aluminum predecessor - 6.25lb versus 7.25lb.
The company's founder also stressed that the last thing he wanted to do was to create another "me too" carbon frame, but rather offer a unique product that would stand the test of time. Future-proof, if you will. The new bike has a threaded bottom bracket shell that, when questioned about, Noel simply said, "We're not f*cking around.
'' Fair enough. There's also a port that acts as home to a Di2 battery should the owner want to go that route, and it can be accessed by first removing the bolt-on down tube guard and then unthreading three T25 torx screws. The same port is said to make it simple to route the internal cables that pass down the down tube before travelling up the seat tube and out a specially sealed gland that's tucked up beneath the Fourby4 linkage. Buckley has even made sure that the gland's opening is large enough to allow a SRAM hydraulic quick release to pass through, and the drive-side seat stay also features an internal tube that makes it simple to pass a new cable through. Up front, the cable entry ports can be fitted with one of six differently shaped rubber openings that can accommodate for every imaginable cable routing scenario, even including the 2mm wires required by Shimano's Di2 drivetrain.
The Warden Carbon's geometry and suspension layout are exactly the same as what's employed on the less expensive aluminum version of the bike, but the switch to carbon gave Buckley an excuse to fine tune the execution of the latter. Yes, the pivots are all in the same location, but the linkage itself looks much more refined and sleeker, and it's mounted to the seat stay in a slightly different fashion due to how the carbon stay in manufactured. When I asked Noel if he had considered any changes to the Fourby4 system, or even a wholesale switch, he answered with a definitive "no" that left zero doubts as to if he was happy with the system's performance. Fourby4 is distinctly Knolly, he explained, and he's tuned the system to perform exactly how he wants. ''The Warden Carbon still rides like a Knolly,
'' he said, regardless of the switch in frame materials.
The Warden Carbon won't be available until the first quarter of 2016, and it will cost $3,395 USD, which is exactly $1,000 USD more than the aluminum version that's gone down in price slightly.