Ridden and Reviewed
Riding the 2021 Knolly Warden LT V2
Knolly Bikes is based here in Greater Vancouver, about 8 minutes from my house. The Warden has been in Knolly's lineup for a while, but they recently released three new bikes based on the same frame: the Warden (160 mm travel), the Warden LT (168 mm travel) and the Delirium (175 mm travel). The different travels are achieved by using the same eye-to-eye length shock, but with varying stroke.
Knolly Warden LT V2 Key Features
- Intended Use: All Mountain / Enduro
- Rear travel: 168 mm
- Frame material: 6066 Aluminium
- Wheel size: 27.5"
- Suspension layout: Knolly FourBy4
- Two geometry positions: Steep and Slack
The Knolly geometry comes with fairly modern reach numbers packaged within a compact wheelbase. I'm testing a size Large, which has a 500 mm reach, with a 1,252 mm wheelbase. The compact wheelbase is due to a relatively short stack height and snappy 431 mm chain stays. The Warden LT has an adjustable head tube angle from 64.5° to 65.25°, and a fairly steep effective seat tube angle of 77°.
The Warden LT uses Knolly's Fourby4 rear suspension technology. This is essentially a Horst link four-bar rear end with an additional linkage to the rear shock. Knolly claims the additional linkage allows them to better fine tune the leverage curve of the rear suspension. Large angular contact bearings are used in all of the rear end pivots, with a couple bushing pivots in the upper linkage, all running on titanium pivot hardware.
From a high level I think the build kit on this Warden LT is well thought out. Knolly has picked excellent suspension components, and generally placed premium products in locations that make the most difference. The Fox Float X2 shock and Fox 38 are great examples. The XT brakes with appropriate-sized rotors seem well placed. It's hard to complain about the 12-speed XT drivetrain with a 30-tooth chain ring, which makes even the steepest of climbs seem manageable. I was stoked to see the RaceFace Turbine R seat post, with a 175 mm drop. It's finished with top shelf Industry Nine Enduro-S wheels, wrapped in Maxxis EXO+ MaxxTerra tires front and rear. Knolly made a conscious decision not to include a bash guard on the Warden LT, which I would have liked to have seen included. There are mounts for a guard, however, so you can add your own.
While I think most of the build kit was well thought out, the big miss in the Warden LT build is the tires. With normal tire pressures in the Maxxis EXO+ tires I got a flat on my first ride. I increased the rear tire pressure, only to get a flat on the third ride. I increased pressures again, but got a third flat. I was starting to run low on tire plugs, and the tire was constantly leaking air. I had to run high tire pressures to prevent flats, and that made the Warden LT harsh and skittish. I was spinning out constantly on wet technical climbs, and the back end was nervous or harsh when descending. I think the MaxxTerra-fying compound on the front is too hard a compound for the slippery roots and rocks on our local trails. Before I get crucified by the keyboard warriors, I think the unusually sharp bead on the Industry Nine Enduro-S wheels might be a contributing factor to the pinch flats. I haven't had as many issues when running EXO+ tires on some other wheels. Regardless, the EXO+ MaxxTerra tires proved inadequate on the Warden LT on the slippery local trails. After discussion with Knolly I fitted a DoubleDown MaxxGrip Assegai on the front, and a DoubleDown MaxxTerra DHR II on the rear. This allowed me to run my normal tire pressures, with a soft sticky tire on the front. This transformed the bike, and we were back in business.
Ed note: it's worth pointing out here that Tim has a very solid DH race pedigree that makes him much more demanding of tire spec than the average rider. While many of us haven't had issues with the amount of sidewall support offered by EXO+ tires, there are others for whom it is not enough. As for MaxxTerra vs MaxxGrip compound on the North Shore in fall conditions, well, we all run MaxxGrip on our personal bikes - at least on the front. Suffice to say that if you know what you need, you can relate and likely would need a tire swap if you're considering a Warden LT. If this doesn't seem significant to you, you're probably safe to start with the stock spec and see how you go.
Once a set of good tires was installed I was able to start riding the Warden LT properly. Unfortunately the bike was also particularly noisy to start with. The seat post creaked in the seat tube on each pedal stroke on the way up. This was rectified with a bit of grease. But then to prevent the seat post rotating, the clamping force prevented the seat post from returning to full extension. Then on the way down the cables seemed to rattle inside the frame, and there was creaking from the front end. With some zip ties, additional stem preload, and faffing around I was able to rectify most of the unwanted noises when descending. Then on the third ride the left crank fell off. No idea what happened here, but Knolly was great about getting me a replacement crank to get back up and running. Ok now we're ready to review the Warden LT, for real this time.
Final bike setup
Fox 38 Fork:
Air Pressure - 103 psi // 3 Volume Tokens
High Speed Compression - 5 clicks out // Low Speed Compression - 6 clicks out
High Speed Rebound - 4 clicks out // Low Speed Rebound - 4 clicks out
Fox Float X2 Shock:
Air Pressure - 185 psi // Max. Volume Spacers (how many?)
High Speed Compression - 7 clicks out // Low Speed Compression - 13 clicks out
High Speed Rebound - 8 clicks out // Low Speed Rebound - 10 clicks out
23 psi front, 28 psi rear.
I liked the relatively steep tube angle on the Warden LT and generally liked the climbing position. The cockpit felt smaller than the 500 mm reach would suggest, but I was able to keep my weight forward when on the way up, which kept the front wheel planted. However I think a longer rear center might have helped with some climbing situations. Overall efficiency was reasonably good for a 170 mm travel bike. There wasn't a ton of suspension movement with the shock open, but the Warden LT definitely pedaled more efficiently when the firm setting was used. So, while the Warden LT certainly isn't an XC whippet, it is perfectly capable of longer pedally missions without being a slug.
On the way down the bike continued to feel shorter to me than the reach numbers on paper suggested. The short stack height meant I had to add 25 mm of spacers under the stem to get the bars up to a comfortable position, which shortens the effective reach. In combination with the short 430 mm rear center, this size Large Warden LT feels on the compact side for a modern 170 mm travel aggressive enduro bike. This choice from Knolly means the Warden LT is snappier and more agile than most of the other 170 mm travel bikes I've ridden. The compromise to this is that the Warden LT felt a bit nervous in the bike park, particularly on the faster, rougher trails. But on a slower, steeper, technical trail, the Warden LT was great fun to ride. Devouring big impacts, and easy to maneuver through the North Shore's infamous tech-jank.
I haven't ridden a bike with a rear center this short in a while. It took me a little while to adapt to get the most out of the compact package. The short rear center makes getting the front end up easy, and the bike is eager to rotate into a corner. It was great fun just chucking the Warden LT into a tight bend, and I was often surprised by how quickly I could get it to turn. The compromise is that I had to move my weight forward to get the front end around properly, and then move my weight back for any jumps to prevent getting tossed over the bars. It took a more conscious effort to move my weight around appropriately than a bike of similar wheelbase with a longer rear center. So, while I grew to appreciate the short rear center on the Warden LT, on balance I'd personally prefer a longer chain stay.
Even with the Fox Float X2 shock filled with spacers I wished the Knolly was a bit more progressive. With the right feeling around sag I got through the travel quicker than I'd like, and bottomed the bike out frequently. Maybe I should eat fewer cookies? When I added pressure to reduce bottom out, the bike felt too stiff around the sag point. I ultimately picked a compromise between the two. Initially there was friction from the bushings in the linkage, but the unloaded friction in the bushings freed up over time. I suspect the friction in the bushings might still be significant when heavily loaded, but thankfully the excellent Fox Float X2 shock had the tuning range to open up the damping a bit to compensate. I don't think the Warden LT will win any bump eating contests, but the suspension did offer a fun and sporty feel on the trail. The Warden LT never felt mushy or benign, and was always eager to spring skyward off small features.
The Knolly Warden LT comes in aluminium only, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I felt like the Warden LT offered a stiff and precise chassis. Pushing the bike hard into a corner produced little flex in the rear end. Not once during my time testing the bike did I think, "if only this was carbon." Maybe it'd be a touch lighter if it were, but once out on the trail I don't think I'd notice a huge difference.
Unfortunately the test period came to a premature end when the XT derailleur mysteriously exploded on a trail. The derailleur had been nudged on a few things over the test period, but nothing drastic. I found the extra width of the 157 mm rear end meant that I clipped the derailleur just a bit more than normal. The derailleur had started shifting poorly from the top three gears, but the cable was frictionless. Not sure if it's related, and hard to say now with the derailleur in multiple pieces. This is particularly unfortunate as I really liked the shift quality, range and function of the 12-speed XT Shimano drive train otherwise.
For a bike coming out in late 2020, the geometry feels a bit dated, but that doesn't make me think the Warden LT is a bad bike. While my cup of tea is a long, slack, bump-eating enduro rig, there are a lot of those bikes already on the market. I like that the Warden LT is different. I think it's a fun freeride bike that couples ample suspension travel in a playful package. There are plenty of folks that don't want a super long, aggressive enduro sled, and for them, something like the Knolly Warden LT might be just the ticket.
On some of the steeper, tighter, more technical trails, the Warden LT was absolutely brilliant. I loved how eager it was to dive into any corner and wheelie out - it's a really fun bike to ride. Pedaling-wise, it's not going to win any races to the top of the hill, but it wasn't a chore to get around on either. The frame is nicely stiff, beautifully made, and proved durable over the test period. At roughly $7,000 CDN you're getting a generally excellent build kit, with fantastic suspension. The Warden LT almost feels like a modern take on the freeride bike from yesteryear. It's got travel to adsorb some bigger hits, but still fun and playful, while not taking itself too seriously.