After testing a bunch of bikes over the last year, including the Endorphin (twice), I pulled the trigger on the new 27.5 Knolly Endorphin in late April. After some unfortunate delays it finally showed up on my doorstep the first week of October. With all the great bikes coming out this fall I was afraid that all this waiting would make the Endorphin less relevant. Once I cracked open the box and beheld its welded awesomeness my fears were laid to rest. There’s just something about the tough utilitarian yet beautiful lines of a Knolly.
I’d been collecting parts for the better part of a month in anticipation of the frame arriving yet was still held up another two weeks before I could build it up due to a backordered crankset. I really like the stark, bare look of the raw frame though I think Knolly went overboard a bit on the larger Endorphin and Four x 4 graphics. The welds all look spectacular and are not muted or glopped over by thick paint so the detail is on full display. Knolly decided to go with (partial) internal routing for the Endorphin which I was fairly ambivalent about and was glad they included the slick cable keeping system as well for those who didn’t want to route things inside the frame. However, the large routing ports with multiple plug options for different cable/hose combinations made it fairly easy to route the derailleur cable (yes there’s only one derailleur on this bike) and dropper post hose internally so I did use that option and I think it looks clean and is silent. The 5mm dropper hose did not go through the lower port which is obviously only drilled to 4mm. Some careful attention and elbow grease with a rat tail file and drill opened up the port to allow the hose to pass through with the small red anodized connector attaching it to a short section of brake cable housing to pull it through and in an attempt at avoiding a rebleed. I ran the rear brake on the outside but after finding out how easy it was to route the others I might’ve done the brake internally too, but I really hate bleeding rear brakes. Incidentally, I did not have to rebleed the rear brake after shortening the hose, so next time I’ll run it internally too.
Size large raw Endorphin frame
DB Inline shock
Fork: X-Fusion Sweep lowered to 140mm and with some internal mods (MRP Stage will be the first upgrade)
Bars: SixC carbon 35 800mm wide
Grips: RF Half Nelson
Cranks: Next SL
Chain ring:Race Face 32T NW Blue
Pedals: Spank Oozy Trail blue
Stem: Haven 35 Length:50mm
Headset: Chris King tapered Inset 2 in Navy
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 11 speed
Cassette: XO1 11 speed
Shifter: X1 11 Speed Trigger
Wheels: Atomik carbon rims on Chris King hubs custom built by Dusty at hubsessedcycleworks.com
Brakes: Shimano XT with Icetech Rotors 180mm front; 160 rear
Tires: HRII 2.3 front; Conti MKII 2.2 rear
Post: Reverb Stealth 150
Seat: WTB Volt Team
I’ve since changed the rear tire to a half worn 2.3″ HRII TR that I pulled off the front of my 5010 because the Mouintain King was too low volume and very low sidewall which required high pressures to avoid (carbon) rim strikes…and it wasn’t holding air. I also switched out the Volt saddle for a Fizik Gobi XM I had laying around from a previous build because I accidently ordered a wide and couldn’t return it.
Some comments on components:
Bars: Going with 35mm diameter 800mm wide bars on a trail bike was probably overkill and may be too stiff and a little wide for my intended purpose but if I don’t like them I’ll switch them onto the Chilcotin and get something different. They are really growing on me though. I like the extra leverage I get from the wide bars when mashing up a steep transition in too big a gear and the control they give me while bombing downhill. I haven’t done any really long rides in rough terrain yet so don’t know if the the extra stiffness will be too uncomfortable over the long haul but they seem to give me good control and I haven’t caught them on any trees yet. I opted for a 50mm stem which has been just about perfect in combination with the generous reach.
Next SL cranks 170mm: These cranks were a little different to mount with their bearing preload collar but are super light and I have not felt any compromise in stiffness. I decided to go a little shorter on the length to help mitigate pedal strikes, but I have noticed it being a little harder to turn them over on steep climbs. The 32 x 36 combo in particular feels noticeably taller than the same combination on my Chilcotin. Some of this is due to the smaller wheels on the Chili, but it also feels at least as tall as the 34 x 36 on my 5010 with same size wheels. Are they worth the $400 buy in? I don’t know. How light do you want to spend?
Race Face Half Nelson grips: These grips are fairly small (which I like) with a smooth surface for the palm but with some extra ribbing on the front/bottom that provides good grip. They are also a little lighter than full lock on grips. The blue ended up being lighter and brighter than the other blue highlights on the bike but I like how they look. I suspect they will get dirty faster than black grips but so far they haven’t.
The 150 Reverb is almost too long to achieve the correct seat height with it fully extended and slammed all the way down into the seat tube. At full pedaling height there’s about three eighths to a half inch of post showing above the seat collar. Just right for me, but if your cycling inseam is much shorter than my 33.5″ measurement you might need to opt for a 125mm dropper. Longer cranks or a saddle with a lower profile could also buy you another half inch of room but if you have shorter legs so be sure and check to make sure the 150 will work for you.
Spank Oozy pedals: These are quite light, have a broad base and grip well. They aren’t quite as thin as some but are still pretty low profile and have a tapered edge to deflect rock strikes. So far I haven’t had any problems snagging them on rocks. It took two washers to get them to spin (somewhat) free of the carbon protector boots on the ends of my cranks and the bulge near the axle bolt is slightly annoying but helps me keep my feet outboard a little more so I don’t rub against the expensive carbon arms. The blue and silver color looks good.
XFusion Sweep fork: I bought this fork on clearance last year ($382 shipped) to put on my 5010 and I can’t believe how good it is for as simple as it is and how inexpensive it was. I’ve got it set a 140mm which seems good but could change it to 150 or 160 with internal spacers. It is acceptably stiff, plush on small bumps and has decent mid-stroke support though it does dive a bit and bottoms a little too easily when set up to react to small bumps. The DIY shim stack mods I did based on a tuning thread on mtbr.com allow me to run a little higher air pressure to improve mid-stroke support and to resist bottoming without giving up too much in small bump sensitivity. I’m in no hurry to replace it.
Atomik carbon wheels: These wheels aren’t particularly light for carbon or new-school wide (25mm internal) but they are stiff, wider than full on DH rims from just a few years ago and track really well through chundery and off-camber rock gardens. I’ve had them almost a year now and they are still true though a little scratched up with one fairly deep gouge on the rear rim that, thankfully has not progressed to a crack. The Chis King hubs aren’t super light either but have quick engagement and are precision instruments that will last and last and last. Solid, solid wheels.
XT brakes: As always, they are dead simple to set up, fairly cheap, silent and strong. Once you’re used to the more abrupt engagement compared to some the power is good and they just work. No muss, no fuss.
Frame: Like I mentioned at the beginning, there’s something industrial, purposeful, and beautiful about an alloy Knolly frame. It’s obvious an engineer with an eye for function but not ignorant of style is behind its design. You can tell looking at it that it’s built to last and handle more than most people can dish out. Read up on what goes into it and you’ll find stuff like sealed angular contact bearings, hydroformed tubing that’s designed for ultimate stiffness and reasonable weight. Knollys will never be the lightest bikes around because they won’t sacrifice strength, durability or stiffness to get there. But this is no tank either. Frame weight is reported as 6.5 lbs with shock and builds in the 26-27 lb range with realistic parts are doable.
The rear suspension is Knolly’s tried and tested Four x 4 design which is a modified four bar design with a double linkage that provides 130mm of travel and gives Knolly control over the suspension curve from beginning to the end of the stroke and separates pedaling and braking forces. I opted for the excellent and nearly infinitely adjustable Cane Creek Double Barrel Inline shock with Climb Switch. It keeps the rear end stable while pedaling up yet still remaining active to respond to rocks, ledges, and roots along the way. The rear tire stays in contact with the ground in a predictable, traction-loving way. Downhill and on rough descents is where the Fourx4 really shines though and the action with the DB Inline is plush and controlled without ever feeling harsh with sag set at 33-35% sag. I am a little more prone to bottoming with this amount of sag but I’ll take that trade off for the sweet plushness and reasonably bottomless feel. I have not strayed at all from the CC and Knolly preset base settings other than messing with the sag and have been very happy with the Inline. With slightly less sag (say 28-30%) the rear end firms up nicely and efficiency improves. It gets up and sprints and responds to standing efforts in rolling terrain in a very XC manner. Click in the Climb Switch and the rear stiffens up even more, yielding almost hardtail-like efficiency but without the unforgiving harshness when more abrupt edges meet the rear tire. I don’t think the Endorphin is quite as stiff laterally as my old Delirium T but then neither is an M1 Abrams tank.
Sizing: At 5′ 11.5″ I was pretty certain that the large would be perfect based on my two test rides and it does fit well and works great for my local trails which tend to be fairly open and fast, but after riding it in some tighter, twisty bermed trails this past weekend I can see where the shorter wheel base of the medium would feel good for certain types of trails. So consider where you ride and how you want the bike to feel if you’re in between sizes. Also take note of my comments regarding fit for the 150 dropper post when choosing your size.
Geometry: Noel pretty much nailed this one. It’s long, low and slack like a modern, aggressive trail bike should be. I was surprised at how much it felt like my Chilcotin in geometry despite its lighter duty, trail bike intensions. Everyone who’s ridden the new Endo says it hits way above its weight in gnarly terrain and I agree. I used an angle finder app on my phone to get 66.8 degree head angle with my 140mm X-Fusion Sweep fork which feels just right for this bike. I think a 150mm fork would feel even better on the steeps without sacrificing much in the way of sharp handling. It’s stable at speed and composed in the steeps without being sluggish in slow turns or floppy on steep climbs. The reach is generous without being crazy long and the rear end is tucked in fairly tight. Overall though it is a pretty long bike and you do feel it a bit in quick left/right transitions and really tight quarters. Like I said above, if you’re in between sizes and like a quicker handling bike consider sizing down. Noel likes bikes with low stack and generally I’ve found this formula to be comfortable for me but this one may be just a tad low in the front for my liking. I’ve got a 10mm spacer under the stem and am thinking about adding another 5-10mm although the more I ride it the more I’m growing accustomed to the lower bars. One other trade off I’ve noticed with this lower stack and long reach is that while this keeps the front wheel planted on steep climbs, it makes it a tad more difficult to lift the front wheel up onto ledges and manual off of them. If you like a higher stack or want to mitigate this behavior consider a higher rise handle bar, more spacers, and/or a longer axle to crown 150mm fork. It’s easier to raise your bars than to lower them so it makes for a very versatile fitting philosophy.
Climbing: The Endorphin is so responsive and efficient compared to the Chilcotin, I can’t help but love how it climbs on longer transfer section type climbs. Its responsive, active suspension and bigger wheels really make it a great technical climber as well. If I run a little less sag (say 28-30%) it gets up and sprints with the mini-link bikes even without the Climb Switch on but for most all around bumpier riding 33-35% feels just right. With regards to long, steep climbs, however, I’ve found that mechanical advantage may trump weight savings in how hard it feels to pedal. The bigger wheels and shorter cranks on this bike make it feel only slightly less work climbing steeps than on my Chilcotin despite being almost five pounds lighter…. or maybe it’s not as light as I think…. or maybe that’s just another testament to what a good climber the Chilcotin is. I haven’t weighed it yet, but I’m guessing around 28-29lbs with pedals.
Tight switchbacks while climbing have not been an issue despite the Endorphin’s long wheelbase and slack front end but do take a little different tactic. I’ve found that swinging just a bit wider then pulling the front end slightly off the ground to get it around then using a bit more of a conscious effort to pull the bars back straight to avoid overturning gets the job done even on some pretty tight, tricky switchbacks. Traction and tracking while climbing steep and loose stuff has been very good. Just keep pedaling and it keeps going up. As long as you keep things tight and don’t get the bars wagging too far side to side the front end doesn’t wander either, but with the slack head angle and wide bars it can get out of hand if you’re not paying attention. The only thing I haven’t done much of yet with this bike is tricky, bigger step up moves on steep climbs but I’ll report back when I take it down to Las Vegas and/or St. George this winter. Lots of that kind of stuff there.
This category can be split up between high speed turns, slower, tighter low speed turns, and back and forth bermed, constant radius flow-type turns.
In high speed, flatter corners the Endo rules. Period. It just flat out rails this kind of stuff and you can carry scary amounts of speed. You better know what’s coming up next, have really good reflexes (or really good brakes) or you’re going to overshoot some stuff. It hugs the ground well, drifts predictably when it starts to break loose and feels stable and balanced on the sweepers.
I described the feel of slower tighter turns in the previous paragraph but in general the longer wheel base and slack head angle does require you to adapt your method a bit. It’s almost 29er feeling in some ways but not awkward. Again, if you live back east or somewhere where it’s all about super tight, twisty trails in the trees and threading around rocks and roots you may want to consider sizing down, especially if you’re a tweener like me.
On bermed flow-type trails with consecutive left-right transitions I felt just a bit late transitioning from side to side compared to shorter bikes like the 5010 and it didn’t whip around bermed corners with shorter radii quite as intuitively. It’s not super noticeable and if you’re coming from a 29er you’ll probably think how snappy it is, but it is just a bit sluggish coming around compared to a short 26er (Duh). I have found that as I learn to turn with my hips and lean the bike more the cornering really comes alive.
Fast, stable, confidence inspiring are all words that come to mind when I think about the descending abilities of the Endo. With geometry very similar to my 160mm AM bruiser bike, this little “trail” bike takes “Do-it-all” to a whole new level. I haven’t found anything too steep or sketchy to try and it handles rock gardens, drops and jumps nearly as well as the big bike despite its shortish 130mm of travel. The sturdy, stiff frame and controlled, active suspension really adds to this feeling of invincibility while descending. Jumping feels natural and balanced and like the 5010 and it flies straight which for a land locked guy like me really improves air-time confidence. Though like I mentioned above, it does take a little bigger tug to get the front end up so I may need to raise the bars a bit more to bring this in line.
I’ve only got about three weeks and maybe 15 rides in on the Endorphin but so far I can say that this is my favorite bike I have owned. It is stiff laterally, efficient, active, responsive, and feels like it is built to last a long time. From local trails, to all-day epics, to enduro, to destination travel, to shuttle runs it covers so much ground from XC to true DH gnarliness it blows my mind. Comparing to some of the best bikes I’ve ridden it competes with and exceeds the leaders in its class and holds its own compared to bikes not in its class on both ends of the spectrum. The Endorphin 27.5 is a truly remarkable bike in so many ways. Congrats to Knolly for building a winner.