While the metal, burly looking frame delivered excellent performance on the climbs, how does it cope with what many people associate Knolly with - gravity-oriented bikes designed to be pushed hard on technical terrain? Truthfully, the Knolly is a fascinating bike, for both good and bad. It has certain traits that are easy to admire, and some that are hard to understand. Let’s start with the good.
All in all, I think Knolly has delivered a suspension system that is going to be good for a lot of riders. It has no nasty surprises, it’s consistent and easy to get along with and offers a great level of support and damping when charging through chunkier terrain, while also offering a reasonable amount of tracking. Much like its climbing characteristics, it’s not something that overwhelms in any one regard - but rather does most things very well. If you want something that’s going to climb well, support you as you drop your heels and hit things without care, the Knolly is going to be a good candidate. For a 150mm bike, it feels decidedly bigger and more confident than most of similar travel. It isn’t some that flutters through its stroke - but in lieu of that it does offer support and predictability. This is going to sound shallow, but it has the feeling of a shorter travel enduro bike, rather than a longer travel trail bike.
Again, the drawbacks of the Knolly come down to fit and dimensions. Although some small dimension changes rescued the performance on the climbs, I didn’t ever feel like I really got myself feeling as comfortable as I’d like.
Sometimes I felt the bike was getting away from me as I was stretching for the controls. These photos showcase this well.
At the heart of its problem is the issue of how rearward your weight is. Having a 492mm reach isn’t inherently bad, but it needs to be balanced with a longer chainstay. When you fit longer stays on a bike it’s going to express more weight on the front wheel through your feet, you can then add additional weight to complement this with your hands. This opened up two problems. Firstly, in its stock setup the bars were too far away for me to ever feel like I wasn’t reaching for them, and secondly, when I put a shorter stem and higher bar on the bike, further compromising how the front was weighted, I got a bike that lacked stability on the front, especially under braking. Either way, it wasn’t great. I didn’t want to run my bars lower because I felt I was already too stretched out and, in the stock setup, the bars were too far away and not high enough.
Throughout testing, I ran the bike in both settings. I would say this bike feels far, far better in its steeper position. It just has so much more weight expressed through your feet on the front wheel. It’s only half a degree of adjustment, steepening to 65 degrees, but boy, what a difference it makes. The front feels noticeably less fidgety, especially under heaving braking load on looser terrain. All that said, while I think it brings the balance to within range, I didn’t ever feel it was that easy to just get on and ride.
It also raises the BB by around 10mm to 344mm which, at the very least, was far more in keeping with what I’m used to. The higher setting also felt like my feet were applying weight above the contact patch on the tire, as opposed to pushing through and overwhelming it.
The issue of fore and aft balance is compounded by the traits of the suspension. The bike feels like it really resists braking forces - which can be a good thing. It means that your braking forces are kept independant and the bike isn’t going to lurch deep into its stroke when you apply the anchors. But it also means that as you apply the brakes it can begin to pitch more weight forward. Whether you like this trait or not is entirely personal preference. Some people prefer bikes to sink into their travel when on the brakes - others prefer the bike to keep those braking forces separated and keep the rear wheel tracking. But there is an important distinction to make when talking about these traits and their relation to geometry.
When you’re feeling strong on the bike, and your controls are in reach and your weight is neutral, this isn’t a problem in itself. In the Neutral mode, with your weight more central, it blends far better into the overall feeling of the bike. In the slacker setting, it gives a bike that is almost jarring to ride and that is only ever a moment away from undermining your confidence in it.
I genuinely believe that if the reach was shorter, or the stays were longer, or if the front was higher this wouldn’t be an issue and would come down to a small preference within the larger picture of how the bike rides. But, when already on the back foot and searching for a sense of stability it becomes an unwanted compilation. I eventually took all compression adjustment off the shock, which did lessen the transfer of weight under braking but it was still very present.
On steep trails, the rearward weight balance of the slack position begins to make more sense. If you’re riding steep, loamy trails that aren’t particularly rough then the consistent suspension platform and short stays means that the bike really comes alive, but even then, dimensionally I don’t think it makes absolute sense.
While riding this bike, it's not massively stiff. It’s not a big issue, and really comes down to personal preference, but for a frame that shares duties with a 167mm version there could be room to make it a little stiffer.
I’m in the fortunate position where I don’t actually make bikes and send them in for know-it-alls to tell me how to do it on websites, but I would love to see this Fourby4 platform with at least a longer stay or a shorter reach. It would help weight the front more, or help you resist load transfer more by put your controls more in range, and let your push on the front, almost as if you’re doing a press-up, and driving the front. As it is, there just isn’t enough weight on the front to avoid this lurch. This is problematic, because as you’re entering a turn or more technical section and you begin to scrub speed it adds an element of unpredictability. I think if there was more weight on the front it would open up the versatility of the bike hugely and give a bike that can be bossed and pushed around - instead of, as a rider, feeling like the bike is often getting away from you.
Failing that, if the Knolly do want to remain loyal to their geometry ideals, I would really like to see a bike that is happier to go into its stroke under braking, if only to prevent the rider's mass getting pushed more forward under heavy braking.
Maybe also if I was a bit taller than the controls would also feel more in range. We’re all different shapes and sizes but for me I could never quite feel settled. The medium would also have been slightly too small. The reach might have been a little short but usable, but the stack height would also drop to the low 620s - which is less than ideal to ride the steeper trails that this bike excels on.