Knolly Warden: Alloy vs Carbon

Words Pete Roggeman
Photos Dave Smith
Date Nov 27, 2017

Once your bike budget hits a certain threshold, you face an interesting choice: carbon frame with a slightly lesser spec, or alloy frame with a bit more bling? We paired up with Knolly to look at it a slightly different way: if you could ride two identical bikes whose only difference was frame material, what differences would you notice, and would ride quality help you decide whether the 'carbon tax' is worth it? We need a little more time before we can answer that question, but that didn't stop us from setting up a shoot at Beere Brewing Co. in North Vancouver, so we could capture these two Wardens' souls in a friendly climate before getting them dirty.


Beere Brewing Co. opened in late October. Our early favourite is their Mental Floss IPA, but it's the right time of year to try their Cold Brew Stout.


Matt Beere is the proprietor. His father has operated a timber company in the same building for many years. He agreed to create some space for Matt as long as his son agreed to brew beers that he and his friends would enjoy. Well played, sir.

The Knolly Warden

The Knolly Warden is not a new design, but it occupies that All-Mountain/Enduro category with modern-ish geometry numbers and has developed an established reputation for being able to handle BC's toughest terrain. Its reach - formerly on the long side - is now decidedly in the middle of the pack but not what you would call outdated. The carbon version introduced slightly tweaked numbers, including 5mm more travel (totalling 155) and 4mm more reach for each size. The stated goal of the Fourby4 suspension design is traction, and after a few initial rides, that trait does make itself clear. The quick version is that the two links of the Fourby4 system allow Knolly to 'decouple the performance aspects of the rear suspension'. In other words, independent control of axle path and leverage rate, and the ability to independently tune pedaling efficiency, rear wheel traction, braking performance (and suspension performance under braking).

Adjustable geometry lets you select head tube angle (66.5 or 65.5 degrees), seat tube angle (74 or 75 degrees) and BB height (345.5 or 337mm).  Geometry numbers are below, for both the alloy and carbon versions.

Knolly Warden Alloy geometry

Knolly Warden Aluminum Geometry

Knolly Warden Carbon Geometry

Knolly Warden Carbon Geometry. The two are almost identical, with small changes in reach (+4 mm for each size in Carbon), Stack and Standover.

The Carbon Warden also has 155mm travel vs 150mm for the alloy version.


The Knolly Warden's Fourby4 suspension linkage as seen on our Primer Grey / Orange alloy version.


Here's the drive side version.


The Knolly Warden Alloy with top of the line Supreme Leader build kit. CAD 8380 / USD 6684


Here's the Knolly Warden Carbon - also with the Supreme Leader Build kit. CAD 9712 / USD 7747 - or a premium of 1330 over the alloy version.

Frame Highlights

  • Adjustable geometry (as mentioned above)
  • 150 / 155mm travel (alloy / carbon) with 160mm recommended up front
  • Threaded BB
  • Titanium pivot hardware; ACB (Angular Contact Bearings)
  • Clean, internal cable routing
  • Compatible with 1x or front derailleur, bash guard or chain guide
  • Full length, straight seat tube

As mentioned, our testers have an identical build, with some impressive highlights:

  • Fox Float 36 Factory fork - 160mm travel
  • Fox Float X2 shock
  • SRAM Eagle X01 drivetrain
  • SRAM Code RSC brakes
  • Industry 9 Enduro S wheelset
  • Maxxis Minion DHF front & Highroller II rear tires
  • Race Face SixC Carbon bar

Knolly Warden Supreme leader build kit

Knolly Warden Supreme Leader build kit - full specs.


SRAM Code RSC brakes. 100% approval rating so far from NSMB editors and testers.


200mm up front / 180 rear. Also approved.


A couple of good looks...


...at Knolly's Fourby4 suspension linkage.

So, we've sampled the beer and taken the photos, but now it's time to ride and compare. We will employ a few different methods for bringing you our thoughts:

  1. Ride both bikes in back-to-back laps using qualitative observations and notes;
  2. Testers will spend a bit of time on one bike, then the other over the course of a few weeks;

This isn't science, but ultimately we hope to have each tester's thoughts about the relative merits of shelling out an extra $1,300 for a carbon frame over the aluminum version - as well as to try to discern any differences in ride quality and feel. It's possible that answer would be different if we were comparing the base model (since $1,300 is a proportionately larger amount at a lower price point), but for our test, we were sent the top of the line build kit. Do you splurge for a carbon frame? Would you go for carbon wheels instead? We'll answer the first question for sure, the second question - maybe.


The Warden Carbon has internal routing...


...whereas the Warden Alloy has mostly external routing, minus the provision for a stealth dropper.


Chromag Squarewave grips.


And Lynx DT saddle.


The Warden Carbon is full of nice details.




Thanks to Beere Brewing Co. for hosting our shoot. It's one of our favourite new growler fill stations.

Pricing - Knolly Warden Alloy

Warden alloy VP build kit CAD 5331 / USD 4252

Warden alloy Dawn Patrol build kit CAD 6410 / USD 5112

Warden alloy Supreme Leader build kit (tested) CAD 8380 / USD 6684

Pricing - Knolly Warden Carbon

Warden Carbon VP build kit CAD 6663 / USD 5315

Warden Carbon Dawn Patrol build kit CAD 7742 / USD 6175

Warden Carbon Supreme Leader build kit (tested) CAD 9712 / USD 7747

Have a look at the Knolly site for a bunch of great manufacturing info (and other stuff).


Trending on NSMB


+1 Pete Roggeman
Vik Banerjee  - Nov. 27, 2017, 7:09 a.m.

I moved from a carbon Mach 6 to a AL Knolly Endo this year. I used a similar parts build on both bikes. I can't really point to any ride quality differences I can attribute to frame material. They are both great bikes and no complaints with regards to construction on either. I'll happily buy metal or carbon next time round geometry and other features are more important to me than frame material.


+1 AJ Barlas
Pete Roggeman  - Nov. 27, 2017, 8:36 a.m.

For sure some people would be more likely to feel differences than others, but in talking about it, we realized that no comparison between the two is fair unless you control as many variables as possible. In your case, different brands and models, and time lapse between the two makes it hard to draw much in the way of conclusions - or at least you'd have more if you could ride both of those bikes on the same day. So we're hoping to shed a little light on that.

You are one person at least who isn't afraid to go carbon and then back again. I know there are more out there.


Vik Banerjee  - Nov. 27, 2017, 8:56 a.m.

I'm looking forward to the results. 

I've been tempted to buy a used AL Warden since I have a bunch of parts that would fit. The carbon Warden looks nice, but the price difference and my experience with the metal Endo are steering me towards saving the extra $$.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Niels  - Nov. 27, 2017, 9:31 a.m.

It's not only a matter of feeling the differences. It's also about being honest in judging how significant those differences are for your riding. It's easy to blow this out of proportion if you're looking for a reason to spend $$$.

Looking forward to the results!


Pete Roggeman  - Nov. 27, 2017, 10:44 a.m.

Very true, Niels. For some people, dropping a bit of weight or having a smoother/damped ride (whether perceived or not) is worth the $, but for the raw performance per dollar argument, well, the choice is easier. (we'll leave vanity or cool factor out, but for some people those matter too)


+1 Niels Lynx . James Vasilyev
natbrown  - Nov. 27, 2017, 1:29 p.m.

You're taking the right approach by controlling the variables here, and I'd say it actually is somewhat scientific. Of course, the instruments you're using to measure the traits of each bike are humans, with all the subjective shortcomings we have. Like Niels points out elsewhere here, if you limit yourself to reporting on what you experienced, and not how much you value the experiences, it should be a real contribution for anyone who has a serious interest. Nice going and I'm interested to see how it all pans out.


+1 Niels
coolmoss  - May 2, 2018, 6:03 p.m.

There are too many variables, man... Did you eat the right breakfast this morning? Are you riding too soon on a full stomach? Maybe you shouldn't have had that beer... Sometimes you just have an off day. 

This article had convinced me to buy my alloy Knolly a couple of months ago, and I have zero regrets. I can't say that it is any better or worse than carbon, I can only tell you that I am railing down North Shore trails (and those built in the same spirit) with more abandon than I could have imagined on my old trail bike. In fact I have to keep myself in check. I like my clavicle just the way it is, thank you. The only thing holding this bike back is the guy in the saddle.


+2 Pete Roggeman Niels
Mark Babcock  - Nov. 27, 2017, 8:06 a.m.

I'm looking forward to reading more about this. I've always preferred to buy the aluminum model and use the savings for better parts.


+2 Niels natbrown
Merwinn  - Nov. 27, 2017, 9:49 a.m.

Carbon's got the bling factor for sure, but realistically I'm in for alu or steel in terms of what get's me a solid level of performance for reasonable $. In fact I'm considering selling the full squish and going for a Chromag Wide Angle: capable ripper, solid spec, family-man friendly budget.


Lynx .  - Nov. 27, 2017, 11:08 a.m.

I've been wondering and waiting for someone to do just such a comparison as this. Me personally, I just don't worry about my alu frames and laying them down on our coral, carbon, I think I would. Loads go for carbon, but really, is it anything more than a small weight savings where it really doesn't matter as much?


+1 natbrown
Cam McRae  - Nov. 27, 2017, 11:26 a.m.

"Laying them down on coral..." I wish that was a concern more often! Good riding in Barbados? Should we add it to the list?


+1 Pete Roggeman
Lynx .  - Nov. 27, 2017, 11:39 a.m.

I think we've got some nice stuff and any visitors I've ridden with seem to agree. Don't have those sweet super long descents, but we've got some pretty sweet stuff according to guys who've ridden in places like the Alps, Colorado, BC..... Think the scenery tends to make up for any lack of big stuff and it's just a good relax vacation where you can enjoy sun & surf and not some MTB.



+3 natbrown Niels Lynx .
Dave Smith  - Nov. 27, 2017, 1:09 p.m.

Performance and bling factor aside, there's an interesting discussion to be had here on being able to buy a bike with a clearer conscience by going aluminum over harder to recycle carbon.


Krusty Rider  - Nov. 27, 2017, 3:22 p.m.

Didn't see it anywhere but what are the weights of the two bikes?


+1 Pete Roggeman
Ryan Marsolan  - Nov. 27, 2017, 7:14 p.m.

Should be a 415 gram or 0.85 lbs difference, in favor of carbon (Knolly posted frame weights). Average weight of carbon M/L Wardens is 31.2# (sample size 5) with exact or similar build kits, air sprung and ~1,800 gram wheel sets. If that is true expect the Alloy to weight 32.1#. I'd estimate +/- 0.5# on those numbers. In this test comparison would be weighted more towards damping of carbon frame and the minuscule 5mm travel increase + inevitable perception. Perhaps pressure sensors in the grips could be a quantitative measure of rider fatigue over long periods ( repetitive shuttle runs)? And power meters at the crank and rear hub to measure transfer efficiency, i.e. stiffness. That is the benefit of carbon, right? Just thinking out loud now..


Andy Eunson  - Nov. 27, 2017, 4:43 p.m.

I sort of did this years ago. I had a Blur LT Al and retired it for a Blur LT carbon. Swapped parts but did go with a new fork which was tapered while the metal Blur was a straight steer tube. The carbon felt more precise descending. I felt that right away when I dropped into the old Severed trail head. Definite difference. I felt more comfortable as the bike seemed more like it went where I pointed it. Was that the carbon frame or the tapered steer tube? I don’t know. I do like lighter bikes because I’m only 142 pounds and I think it helps me climb. So while I would not weigh six of the same saddles and pick th lightest I do select parts at least partly on weight. I don’t like to compromise too much of strength and durability though. I have only had carbon frames since. I feel that aluminum can perform just as well in terms of flex and such, I don’t think aluminum can do so and still be as light or strong.


+1 Pete Roggeman
mightyted  - Nov. 27, 2017, 8:49 p.m.

Wow Pete; really glad you guys are working on this article and I'm looking forward to reading the outcome. I've been on an alloy warden for almost 2 years now and upgrading has crossed my mind more than once!

Out of curiosity, who will be doing the testing?


Pete Roggeman  - Nov. 29, 2017, 7:04 a.m.

Thanks, Ted. Full tester list isn't confirmed yet but we have a lot of interested jockeys. For the one day showdown, it'll depend a little on availability because at this time of year, scheduling too far in advance is hard - we need a weather window. 1-2 hours in terrible conditions is fine for shooting Dave Smith's dank b&w style shots, but for running continuous laps, fiddling with settings, etc. we need a day that won't turn us all into drowned rats.


James Vasilyev  - Nov. 27, 2017, 9:27 p.m.

another interesting aspect to this test will be the suspension components. in theory they should feel identical for the same settings, but i wonder if it will work out that way or if there be any perceived variance fork to fork, shock to shock. cool test in the name of science. tough job but someone's gotta do it right?


luisgutierod  - Nov. 29, 2017, 3:47 a.m.

I rather spend money on a spare coil shock for the alloy warden than on the carbon version..


Pete Roggeman  - Nov. 29, 2017, 7:06 a.m.

Absolutely. Or a spare wheelset, so you have one lightweight one, and one that's heavy duty for shuttle/bike park days. Or, in this age of enduro - one set for racing and one set for getting beat up on the regular.


mightyted  - Nov. 29, 2017, 7:35 a.m.

Let me know if you're taking testers from the outside.....;-)


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