Like many smaller bike brands, Knolly was begun by and named after one resourceful guy. In 2002, believing he could improve on what was already out there, Canadian Noel Buckley picked up the welding torch and ran with it. What started as a bike for himself turned into a string of bikes for his friends, and now, just seven short years later, he’s pumping out enough to supply us down here in New Zealand.
Most of the bikes in the Knolly range are designed for the freeride trails of Vancouver’s North Shore. The Endorphin, however, with the shortest travel of any Knolly, is firmly entrenched in the all-mountain/light freeride market. It has 140 mm of rear travel, relaxed angles and the ability to take up to a 160 mm fork.
At first touch there was no doubt that this bike met the standard of superlative quality that is part of Knolly’s philosophy. The welds were clean and sharp, the paint––perfection. The frame is aluminium with a simple tubular front triangle and box section stays for the rear swingarm. It has a straightforward four bar Horst link rear end with a linkage-actuated shock that allows for an uninterrupted seat tube. Noel has sourced the best bearings and bushings to control the suspension action, ensuring both performance and reliability.
The rear derailleur hanger and disc mounts are nine mm thick and replaceable, in case of damage. The frame has a mid-range head angle of 68.5° while the seat has an effective angle of 73°. The seat tube’s real angle is a slack 67°, with the intention being that the seat is where you want it when you’re climbing but forward and out of the way when descending. The frame weighs in at a very reasonable 3.2 kg and takes up to 2.5-inch tyres for those who prefer a wider footprint. Knolly fully supports North American manufacturing, so the frame is welded and painted in the USA.
Straight out of the box, the test bike had some nice features: 2010 Rock Shox Revelation Race forks, Fox RP3 rear shock, Gravity 710 mm bars and Thomson stem, Chromag seat collar, Goodridge braided hoses, ODI grips, red Race Face Deus XC cranks and standout Industry Nine hubs and spokes mated to DT Swiss 5.1D rims. All of them colour coded.
So how was it? Good. Great even. Well balanced, smooth and efficient. Definitely one of the best climbers I’ve ridden for some time. A light build did contribute to this but it was the abundance of traction that really stood out. Even on steep, loose climbs I still felt I could climb out of the saddle with confidence. Descending was also a pleasure with the sheer stiffness of the frame keeping the rear wheel tracking true. On the smoother and tighter trails the bike rolled fast and changed direction quickly, but when the trail opened up and got rocky the Endorphin developed a bit of a split personality–– the frame pushed me to go faster while the forks suggested I slow down a little and be sensible. All suspension action was smooth with a very linear feel––no aggressive ramp up. Full travel was reached with no harsh bottom out. To achieve full travel I did have to run the air pressure about 35 psi lower than recommended but didn’t feel I sacrificed any climbing ability.
I was reluctant to make any changes to the test bike, but after a couple of weeks I moved from a 70 mm stem to a 35 mm one and the bike really came alive for me. I could hit the steeper technical trails more aggressively and the bike generally became more playful. I was pushing through the corners and boosting jumps wherever possible. The bike’s versatility really shone through with its light build, tuned angles and great suspension action. Perfect for the demands of an all-mountain rider.
I did have a few complaints. The knob to mount the front derailleur looks like a bit of an afterthought and serves its purpose well as a mud collector. There are no chain guide mounts so limited options there, and no possibility of fitting the HammerSchmidt. With the variety of steerer tubes around now I think that a 1.5 inch head tube would allow for a few more options than the Endorphin’s 1 and 1/8 inch head tube, especially for riders buying frames and transferring their existing kit. Lastly, small bike company bikes come with small bike company price tags
Overall, I’m not afraid to admit that I liked the Endorphin. Really liked it. Even with just 140 mm of travel this is no basic trail bike. It has a tough frame that’ll take years of abuse. Personally, I’d run a fork with more travel, like a Fox 36 or a Lyrik, to get the best out of the frame. I’d also add a bash ring and a derailleur with a shorter cage to eliminate chain slap while keeping the build reasonably light. Thinking of a Santa Cruz, Turner or Ibis? Your decision may have just got a little harder. I’ll certainly be sad to see the Knolly go back to the distributor. MARK DANGERFIELD
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