Knolly are as Canadian as pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. And like the aforementioned delicious breakfast, we highly recommend giving them a try.
The Knolly brand has its roots in Vancouver’s North Shore and their bikes have always reflected this; big hucks and scary, slippery root-infested trails need solid bikes to tame them and the brand bills itself as ‘a high-end manufacturer of freeride and downhill bikes.’ But the Endorphin, a relatively recent addition to the Knolly stable, is a machine that’s far more relevant to the masses, yet doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s home turf too.
We first clapped eyes on the high-vis yellow Endorphin at a gravity enduro race and locked it in for testing straight away. We wanted to make sure it lived it up to the showy appearance. With 140mm rear travel (paired to a 150mm fork), a kicked-back head angle of 67 degrees and boxy construction, the Endorphin looked ready to fight its way through rough trails. We had a medium-sized bike on our doorstep from importer Endless Flow Cycles within days.
Kitted out with a premium build kit, the Endorphin gave us plenty to admire; FOX 34 fork, CTD dampers front and rear, Hope hubs, Raceface Next carbon cranks, SRAM XX drivetrain, Thomson stem, Maxxis Minion rubber and the highly rated KS LEV adjustable post with a massive 150mm of adjustment. This build kit needs little tweaking in our opinion, though we envisage the narrow DT rims requiring a bit of spoke key love over time with the kind of punishing riding this bike is capable of. Our test bike tipped the scales at a fair 12.8kg, certainly weightier than many other premium-level trail bikes, but not excessively so.
The really eye catching element of the bike’s construction is the ‘Four by 4’ suspension linkage – kind of a link-on-a-link setup. Practically, it’s actually pretty simple; there’s your traditional four-bar linkage arrangement to control the bike’s axle path, and the second linkage controls the shock rate. Before the advent of dropper posts, the system also had the advantage of allowing a full-length seat tube too, so you could get your saddle out of the way. The bike’s rear ends with surprisingly narrow dropouts clamping a 142x12mm axle, which requires a 5mm Allen key for removal, and a tapered head tube up front
This isn’t a bike for ticking off big kays on fireroad trails. The Endorphin carries the same hunger for technical riding as the rest of the Knolly range, just in a lighter more efficient package, and the bike’s sizing reflects this. With a stocky 17” seat tube and upright riding position, the whole bike feels super compact. Short stays (425mm) mean that even with though the head angle is slack, the overall wheelbase is quite short.
Consequently, you’re really centred over the bike, and it’s very easy to pick and choose exactly where you want to place the wheels. It’s most adept when the trails require lots of body language; the short reach, dropped top tube and compact rear end make it easy to twist yourself all over the bike as you rip it over and around technical trails.
You can slam the big FOX 34 fork into just about anything and it won’t complain, leading the way for you to start looking for more and more nasty rocks or drops to fly off. We had absolute confidence in the front end, finding the cockpit ideal, and feeling very connected to the grippy Minion front tyre. On board the Endorphin we tackled some steep, rocky rollers that we’ve been avoiding on other bikes recently. The kind of obstacles where you need to hit the line just-so or risk going over the bars became fun challenges, rather than terrifying.
We spent a lot of time on this bike with the seat post lowered, out of the saddle, playing with the trail. We ran the rear shock in Trail mode generally, which added to the bike’s responsiveness, making it easy to pick up the front wheel or wheelie-drop off ledges. Hard landings didn’t worry the Knolly, and even though we bottomed-out the suspension with a clunk on a few occasions, the bike didn’t flinch or get out of shape. In fact, the bigger, faster hits really seemed to suit Endorphin. The Four by 4 suspension system isn’t particularly supple, feeling a little choppy over repeated small hits. The rear end performed best when you showed no mercy, hammering over the rocks fast, or slamming back to earth off drops.
Fast riding did reveal one hole in the Knolly’s spec, that being the absence of either a clutch derailleur or some kind of chain retention device, and we bounced the chain off a few times. It’s funny how quickly we’ve come to take the great chain retention afforded by clutch derailleurs for granted. The frame is equipped with ISCG mounts so, installing a chain guide (either single ring or dual ring) is hassle free should you wish to go that route.
The drawbacks of the upright riding position come when climbing or sprinting. The short reach cramps your style a little if you’re out of the saddle. The best approach for technical uphills was to hit them hard and fast, or alternatively to sit and spin. Grinding out of the saddle didn’t suit the Knolly and tended to set the suspension bobbing. Sprinting was a little awkward on the Endorphin too, the saddle tended to get in the way. Again, the KS LEV dropper post came to the rescue – we really love this seat post, it’s superb. You could fit a longer stem to open up the top tube a little, but this would sacrifice performance in terms of responsiveness. The best bet is try out a couple of frame sizes if possible, and consider going a size bigger than usual. It all depends on your trails and your riding priorities.
Admittedly, the Knolly isn’t quite as versatile as some other 140/150mm trail bikes, which may out-climb the Endorphin or weigh in a little lighter. But the Knolly knows its niche and nails it. It rewards the rider for whom technical trails aren’t a challenge to be negotiated but a playground to be explored and unlike some of the featherweights of this category, we’re sure it’ll be faithfully dependable for years to come.