Knolly Endorphin Review

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My Knolly Endorphin…

Why did I get an Endorphin?

When I was buying my last bike I had settled on a Knolly Warden and even placed an order for one, but the long lead time to get one made me change my mind and I got a Pivot instead. My interest in riding a Knolly remained strong and Sharon getting a Warden last summer meant I was going to be around a Knolly a lot, which made resisting the temptation even harder.

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A couple sweet Endorphins ready to rumble…

At the end of 2016 I had the money for a new bike and was actually going to get a 29er. But, the decision paralysis of what to get struck and I didn’t quite pull the trigger. While I was trying to figure out what to get Knolly Endorphins went on sale. Saving $1000 USD on a frame from the retail price got my attention and it meant I’d finally get to ride a Knolly so I got one.

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Getting down to business…

A Few Concerns

There were a few things about the Endo that I wasn’t sure if I would like:

  • The BB is lower than my current bikes and our rocky & rooty terrain makes pedal strikes an issue.
  • The wheelbase on the Endo is 1.3″ longer than my Pivot and our trails are tight.
  • For the last decade I’ve ridden VPP and DWLink bikes with higher anti-squat so moving to the Knolly 4×4 low AS design made me wonder how it would climb?
  • The Endo has a steeper seat tube angle than my existing bikes and every time I have tried a steep STA bike I have not liked the saddle to BB position.
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Some new bike stoke…

The Build

I bought a frame and shock then built the bike from parts I ordered separately. This takes more time and can cost a bit more, but I get exactly what I want and that’s worth it to me.

  • Frame: Knolly Endorphin – size large with raw finish
  • Shock: Cane Creek DBA[IL] & Cane Creek DBA – both with climb switch
  • Fork: Rock Shox Pike 150mm with 3 tokens installed
  • Headset: Cane Creek Forty
  • Stem: Race Face Atlas 50mm
  • Bars: Race Face SixC ~750mm to end of grips
  • Grips: Ergon GE1
  • Brakes: Shimano XT 203mm/180mm
  • Shifting: Shimano XT 11 speed [shifter, derailleur and cassette]
  • Cranks/BB: Race Face Next SL 170mm
  • Chainring: 28T Wolftooth Oval
  • Bashguard: Blackspire Crusher
  • Pedals: Race Face Atlas
  • Dropper: 9point8 31.6mm x 150mm with 1″ setback head
  • Saddle: WTB Pure
  • Wheels: Light Bicycle 38mm carbon rims, Hope Pro4 hubs & Sapim Race spokes
  • Tires: Continental Trail King 2.4″

Overall weight is just under 29lbs for this robust trail smasher build or something like 1.3lbs more than my carbon bike. My goal was performance and toughness over lightweight since I want to ride this bike hard on rough and steep BC trails.

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Fresh out of the box…

The Frame

The Endorphin is a hydroformed aluminum frame with nice welds. I got the raw aluminum finish, which I think is quite nice. The 4×4 suspension looks complicated, but it’s really just a 4-bar setup with an extra linkage. I’ll let you read the Knolly suspension page for detailed information. The basic idea is that the Knolly 4×4 design maximizes traction and keeps the rear end active during pedalling and braking. The trade off is you have to use the shock’s climb switch to firm things up if you want the rear suspension to stiffen.

The fit and finish of the frame is excellent. It has a decidedly industrial look to it that is busy, but that I have grown to enjoy. The suspension hardware is easy to work on and is all quality spec.

I actually ordered a medium frame, which has similar numbers to my large Pivot, but after a bit of riding I decided I wanted a bigger frame and got the large. That’s why I have two Cane Creek shocks. I sold the smaller frame without a shock.

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Ergon grips and Wolftooth dropper remote…

Speaking of frame size the Endo has 2″ more Reach than my Pivot. It feels much bigger when seated pedalling and when standing. Keep in mind I am using a dropper with 1″ setback to achieve ~73.5 degree effective seat tube angle. That’s 1 degree steeper than my Pivot and makes the effective top tube 1″ longer.

The Endo utilizes a straight seat tube, which allows for unrestricted seat post insertion so you can run a long travel dropper. It also features a threaded BB, which is essential for some folks. You’ll notice how small the rear triangle is. This is due to the short 16.7″ chain stays and the 4×4 suspension design. Keeping the back end small makes it quite stiff for a bike that goes where you point it and gives you the confidence to push it hard.

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I’m digging the Shimano I-Spec XT brakes and shifter…

Running bigger tires is essential to me. My favourite rubber is the 2.4″ Continental Trail King, which is as wide as a Maxxis 2.5″ tire. My Pivot just barely fit TKs in the rear so I made sure the Endo would fit these tires without lots of clearance. Folks are even fitting some of the smaller 27+ tire in the Endo so that means there is room for anything I’ll want to use.

I’m not a fan of internal cable routing so I was happy the Endo offers both internal and external routing options. I can everything, but the stealth dropper externally. It’s simple and clean plus I just don’t get the point of hiding 16″ of housing inside the frame. It seems like a hassle for limited upside.

I’ve become a convert to the school of not wearing a pack for most rides. The fact I can fit a 600ml water bottle inside the frame with the CC DBA[IL] is really helpful for skipping a pack. The frame space is too small for a full sized water bottle and if I use the CC DBA with its reservoir I would not be able to use a bottle.

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Getting on up…

Climbing

Enough tech details how does this bike get uphill? In a word awesome. I was concerned the more active 4×4 suspension would result in slower climbing compared to my VPP/DWLink bikes. Happily that has not turned out to be the case. Within the margins of what I can measure I’m climbing as fast on the Endo as I have on my other bikes despite it being heavier [particularly in wheels] than my Pivot. It certainly does feel different when climbing though. Without the added firmness of the chain driven anti-squat the rear end feels softer. However, that’s not resulting in slower climbing overall. My guess is that the added traction and easier roll over tech sections balances out the lack of high anti-squat. It doesn’t take much of a wheel spin or a hang up on a rock to kill your momentum and the Knolly 4×4 just hooks up so reliably rolling over chunk I can concentrate on pedalling not looking for traction.

For trail riding I leave the shock fully open and run settings very close to the Cane Creek recommended base tune. For smooth fireroad climbs I’ll turn the shock’s climb switch on between 30%-50%. Note the Cane Creek climb switch is infinitely adjustable so you can add as much firmness as you want, but you are not forced into an overly aggressive suspension lockout. Also of note is that the Cane Creek climb switch increases both the low speed compression dampening and low speed rebound dampening. This is amazing because it let’s the shock work, but slows both sides of each potential movement down. The result is that it feels better to me than any other climbing switch implementation I’ve tried.

The longer reach and short chainstays combine to keep lots of weight on the rear wheel for traction while not letting the front wheel get too light. Not having to think too much about weight balance when pedalling means I can put my full fury into the pedals.

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Loaded for action…

I tend to stay seated when climbing until I need a powerful acceleration to get over a crux move or on crazy steep slopes where the only way up is standing to hammer. The Endo definitely feels softer and more active when I am cranking this way, but the pay off is amazing traction so I can unleash whatever power I have into the bike and the rear wheel is going to keep clawing its way up the hill.

As noted above the active Knolly 4×4 suspension climbs as fast as any other comparable bike I’ve ridden. So the pros and cons of this suspension design seem to pay off. Now keep in mind I ride steep techy trails in BC very close to where Knolly HQ is located. So the fact the design works well for my riding and trails isn’t super shocking. I must say I was very happy to find out the Endo is superb climbing bike. I love to climb and climb fast so if it wasn’t I’d have to sell it and move on.

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Seems like you only need one wheel on the Endorphin…

Descending

Going downhill the Endo’s geometry, length and suspension work together to make it feel like a lot more bike than it is. At first I was feeling hesitant to out ride the capabilities of a 130mm trail bike, but as I gained more confidence I started attacking lines I thought were scary on my 160mm bikes and not having a second thought about them. I bottom out the 4×4 suspension every ride, but I rarely feel it thanks to the way the rear shock ramps up. I have hit fast chunky trails where I could feel the back end skipping over rocks as the suspension was overwhelmed. It hasn’t happened often, but I am realistic that even an amazing 130mm bike is going to find its limits if you drop to flat from a big drop or charge uber chunk.  What’s amazing to me is how far I can push this bike before I find those limits.

I’ll be the first to admit I climb better than I bomb downhill. However, the longer wheelbase/reach of the Endo and lower bottom bracket has made me so much better. I can keep up to riders that normally drop me and feel more comfortable at warp speeds because I am sitting between the wheels vs. my other bikes that are much shorter. The end result is scoring PRs on trails I rode down with my longer travel bikes. I’m carving corners now and butchering them less. 😉

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Michael getting his flow on…

Agility/Playfulness

It’s not all unicorn farts and angel’s kisses in Knollyland. The Endo is a long bike and the rear suspension doesn’t pop the way my other bikes do. That means at slower speeds the bike is more likely to hug the dirt than to be flying off every small bump on the side of the trail. It also means tight switchbacks or sharp curves in the forest are harder. For the trails I ride regularly the Endo’s wheelbase feels about as long as I can manage without having to walk the tightest sections.

I mourned the loss of my bike’s slow speed playfulness at the start, but I soon realized that just encouraged me to hammer everywhere and once the Endo is flying along it will happily get airborne…it just needs more speed to make that happen.

Overall the extra length is a benefit more than it is a problem. At least up to the limits of what I am dealing with on my Endo with a 46.7″ WB and 18.3″ Reach. However, if you like rolling slow and playing with every small feature this may not be a good tradeoff for you.

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Lots of rocks in BC…

Pedal Strikes

In order to mitigate pedal strikes I used 170mm cranks on this build. The result is a low enough number of pedal strikes that it doesn’t bother me, but again I feel like I am approaching the limit of what I can handle. Sure I can ratchet and work my way through tech, but when your trails are uber rocky and rooty who wants to spend all their time thinking about where their pedals are? That’s certainly no faster or more fun than just designing in a reasonable BB height to begin with.

I haven’t noticed any issues running a shorter crank on this bike. It still climbs well.

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Back end of the Endo…

Gearing

I’m running a 28T oval ring combined with a 11-46T XT cassette with the following cogs: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-37-46. This has proven to be a useful gear range for our steep and technical trails. I typically only use the 46T as a bailout gear because it’s so low you generate a ton of torque and don’t get very far each crank revolution. That said when I am tired after a long ride it can be very nice to have one more gear at the end of the cassette. I have never run out of gears on the small end of the cassette, but our trails are not wide open where you can pedal to lightspeed.

The Shimano XT parts work together well. I am not a shifting snob so as long as shifts happens reasonably fast and without drama I am happy. I got a chance to ride SRAM Eagle lately and it had nicer shifting action, but not nice enough I could be bothered to pay a lot more for my drivetrain parts. Keeping in mind an XT shifter, derailleur and cassette is cheaper than just the Eagle cassette.

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More rocks…

Seat Tube Angle

I mentioned earlier that I haven’t been a fan of steep seat tube angles. I do appreciate them on really steep climbs, but those make up a fraction of each ride so I’d far rather slide forward on the saddle for a few minutes of cranking uphill than be stuck with a steep STA 24/7. Steep STAs make me feel like I am riding a unicycle perched high above the BB and I can’t generate efficient power unless I am on a steep incline…which is not where I am most of the time.

With a 1″ setback dropper my effective STA is 73.5 degrees. That’s slack by modern standards, but it works okay for me. I can still slide forward on my saddle for a steeper effective STA if a steep climb makes me want that, but the rest of the time I am not forced to ride too far forward.

Thanks to 9point8 droppers for offering a setback head option! 🙂

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There are a few pivots back there…

Maintenance

To the credit of my other VPP and DWLink bikes they have required little to no suspension pivot maintenance. My Endo has a few extra pivots to deal with. So far the sum total of the maintenance required has been about 10 mins when I lubed a couple pivots. To be fair my other bikes required no attention in this amount of time, but 10 mins over a few months is not exactly back breaking. Sharon’s Warden hasn’t seen any attention in terms of pivot/bearing maintenance in 2yrs.

One downside to this bike is that the Cane Creek shock needs to be sent away for service.  I plan to do this once every 6 months. It’s a hassle no doubt, but I have a spare shock so I can still ride the bike and I like how the CC shock is working well enough I am okay with this level of effort.

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Rockshox Pike leading the charge…

Other Parts

Upfront I am running a trusty Pike with 150mm of travel. With 3 tokens installed it’s such a great fork for charging hard in rough terrain. Supple enough off the top to be comfy on the hands and lots of progression so when I make the inevitable bad line choice I can plow through chunk. I’ve got two Pikes at the moment and if I had to buy another fork ASAP it would be a Pike.

I’ve got a Race Face Next SL crank and BB in the Endo. So light so strong. I can’t say enough good stuff about these cranks. I love the direct mount spline so that I can run whatever size ring I want. I am running a 28T and Sharon runs a 26T on her RF cranks. On my Pivot I’ve got 175mm Next SLs, but on the Endo I went with 170mm cranks due to the low BB. They felt different at the start, but now I don’t notice I am running shorter cranks.

Light Bicycle carbon rims and Hope Pro4 hubs make for a set of light and burly rims. I’m trying a slightly wider set of rims this time around. 31.6mm internal width vs. the 30mm internal width of my last set of LB rims. No complaints so far. The last set of LB rims have been abused hard in the rocks and roots with zero damage or problems for over 3yrs. I expect nothing less from this set. High quality at a reasonable price. Hard to go wrong with Light Bicycle.

Since I wanted a setback dropper my options were limited. However, 9 point 8 makes a 150mm dropper with an interchangeable head including a setback unit. The fact it features a sweet under bar remote trigger that’s actually ergonomic and it’s made in Canada is the icing on the cake. So far it’s been great, but the true tale of a dropper isn’t told until a few years in.

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The Endo is not afraid of flying…

Final Words

Trying out the Knolly Endorphin was a bit of a leap of faith, but it’s one I am glad I made. My eyes have been opened with regards to riding a longer and lower bike with more active suspension. I’m riding faster uphill and downhill than ever before with a bigger smile on my face. Riding a bike designed close to where I live is pretty cool.

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