We tested the Warden on Whistler’s Valley Trails, where descents are accessed via steep logging roads that require some power to get up.
Right away, I noticed the traction that Knolly’s 4xFour rear end is known for; the Warden’s rear end digs in and bites, just as my Chilcotin does. In my opinion, when it came to providing traction when climbing short, technical sections of trail that required balance and agility, the Warden was the best of all the trail bikes we rode in Whistler.
However, in terms of pedaling efficiency on long, sustained climbs, the Warden didn’t perform as well as the Rocky Mountain Altitude, a bike equipped with a remote lock out and CTD shock.
The Climb Switch on the Warden’s Cane Creek Double Barrel rear shock does a good job of helping the rear end stay neutral on long slogs, but the suspension system itself lacks the pep found in other designs, specifically DW-Link, VPP, and Giant’s Maestro linkages.
Two-link bikes (e.g. VPP and DW-Link bikes) tend to be at the top of the heap when it comes to pedaling efficiency, and in terms of seated pedaling efficiency, most Horst link bikes can’t quite keep up (not without shock lock outs and “climb” switches, at least). When comparing the Warden to another active Horst link bike, the Specialized Enduro, I’d give the nod to the Enduro simply because it is far lighter than the Warden and thus less of a chore to haul uphill for an extended period.
While the Warden’s active 4xFour rear end isn’t the most rewarding while pedaling on long slogs, it performs very well on descents.
We lapped Whistler’s Wizard Burial Ground, a trail known for very steep roll overs with minimal reprieve, and the Warden felt at home in this terrain. The 4xFour rear end kept the bike very composed under braking, and was noticeably better than the Altitude or Transition Covert in this respect.
Suspension feel on the Warden is also exceptional, second only to the Santa Cruz Nomad.
The Cane Creek shock offers a wide range of adjustability, and I found I was able to tune the Warden closer to my liking than the other test bikes, all of which had pre-set Fox CTD shocks. On a 20-mile, 5,000’ descent, I was impressed by how the Warden handled everything from high-speed hits to slow-speed tech. The rear end never wallowed and never felt over or under gunned.
The Warden likes to play on trail features, too, and generates a ton of pop for a bike with 150mm of travel. It manuals easily, makes it easy to throw your weight around, and rewards riders who look at trails like jungle gyms rather than race courses.
Comparing the Warden to my Chilcotin, I did notice subtle differences in ride quality, which, I think, was mostly a result of the difference in wheel size. I’m always amazed by how well my Chilcotin can lay sideways on any corner, but the Warden just can’t do that as well; getting the bike to really rip berms took more effort.
On the other hand, in rock gardens and techy sections, the Warden carries speed better than the Chilcotin, and holds it’s line better. This could be due to the Warden’s slightly (0.7”) longer wheelbase, or because of the attack angle of its 27.5” wheels over the Chilcotin’s 26” wheels.
There are lighter all-moutain bikes out there, but there is a lot to like about the Knolly Warden. It’s a durable bike that’s reliable on quick, punchy climbs and offers a very fun, yet stable feel on descents.