Review: Knolly Fugitive LT SL | Bible of Bike Tests 2019
The Up Side
Despite its almost 3-pound weight disadvantage compared to similarly priced steeds, the Fugitive LT boasted unexpected climbing chops during testing. Riders came back from loops complimenting the Knolly for being predictable and easy to ride.
The Fugitive LT's aluminum frame delivered a surprisingly stiff and unflappable ride quality, while the proprietary suspension design offered sophisticated control for both small-bump compliance and big-hit support.
Dollar for Dollar
The Fugitive LT ain't cheap, especially for a metal bike, but Knolly sweats the details more than most. You'd be hard pressed to find a more impressive aluminum bike.
Do you enjoy calculus as much as a good cutty? Do you know the difference between 6000- and 7000-series aluminum? Relish a nice, detailed schematic drawing? If you look at life through the eyes of an engineer, or even a wannabe engineer, you might be looking at your next bike.
Knolly's lead engineer and owner, physicist Noel Buckley, runs a zero-compromise, quality-over-everything type of business. Buckley believes that a high-quality aluminum frame will outperform a mid-level carbon one. It's why Knolly doesn't mess around with cost-saver carbon—or cost-saver anything, if it sacrifices quality. With any material he chooses, Buckley will use the most advanced manufacturing techniques he can. It just so happens that making advanced aluminum frames is less expensive than carbon ones—even with advanced processes like hydroforming, which allows for intricate tube shapes and crazy-accurate wall thicknesses, and CNC mitering, which produces perfect, gap-free junctions for superior welding conditions.
It's no surprise, then, that Knolly is proud to hang top-end parts on its conductive bikes—which still make up the majority of its catalog. Still, seven grand is pricey for an aluminum bike, or any bike for that matter. You can get into a similarly spec'd Turq-series Yeti SB130, which rides a lot like the Fugitive LT, but is about 3 pounds lighter, for just $200 more than this bike. On the other side of the coin is the aluminum YT Jeffsy AL, for $2,100—a complete bike for $160 less than just a Fugitive LT frame and shock.
Those aren't Knollys though. They don't have Buckley's patented suspension design, which uses two links to independently control axle path and leverage rate. They don't have custom titanium pivot hardware throughout, and they don't use dual-row angular contact bearings in the main pivots. And even though the Yeti is indeed drool-worthy, we'd be willing to bet the Fugitive LT is more impact-resistant.
Forget about those 3 pounds, too. The Fugitive LT has a lively and light ride quality that begs to be ridden all day, and it has traction in spades. The frame is impressively stiff for aluminum, without being harsh, and the suspension offers a near-perfect mix of traction, pedal-ability, ground hugginess and pop. It has the suppleness and capability of a long-travel bike, but it only actually has 135 millimeters—and is progressive enough to supply that telltale short-travel liveliness.
With its 150-millimeter-travel, short-offset Fox 36 Grip2 fork and contemporary geometry numbers, like its 430-millimeter chainstays, 66-degree headtube angle, 477-millimeter reach (size large), 76-degree seat tube angle and 339-millimeter-bottom-bracket height, you'll never mistake the Fugitive LT for anything but a shredder. And that's in the bike's neutral mode. There's even more rad to be had when you run the lower shock mount labeled "slack."
In slack, the bottom bracket sits just 329 millimeters off the deck, but since it likes to stay pretty high in its travel, we experienced fewer pedal strikes than with other low-slung bikes, like the Specialized Stumpjumper.
We loved the way the Knolly climbed, even with the shock open—even though Knolly recommends using pedal mode. It didn't have quite the same level of get-up-and-go as the Yeti SB130, but it was close. And it held traction on steep, ledgy climbs better than most bikes in the test. Better yet, was how insanely well the Fugitive LT cornered, and most of all, it handled the steep, rowdy sections of the test course with minimal pucker. Some of us even found ourselves pedaling into sections we were braking for on other whips.
Not only does the Fugitive LT ride just as well as full-carbon dream-machines, it's built for a lifetime of crashing and getting back up again—and what's more fun than a bike you can be recklessly ham-fisted with?
Q&A With Paul Nash, general manager, Knolly Bicycles and Noel Buckley, founder and owner, Knolly Bicycles
With the initials "LT," one might assume this bike would have the "long travel" of the big-hit big-wheel bikes trending today. Bikes with 150 millimeters, 160, and beyond out back. Why did you design the fugitive around relatively moderate 135 millimeters of rear travel?
Our patented Four by 4 suspension system has always been embraced by riders due to its terrific "bottomless feel" which pairs well with longer travel forks. The Fugitive was designed from the start to be versatile, so we made it available in two different travel configurations on the same frame: a 120-millimeter “standard rear travel” mode designed for 140-millimeter forks and a longer travel 135-millimeter option designed for 150- to 160-millimeter travel forks. This summer we raced the Fugitive in the BC Bike Race in the 120-millimeter setting, and then Knolly rider Daniel Shaw won the Overall Canadian Enduro Championship with a Fugitive LT. That is classic Knolly. With our next generation frames, and our Four by 4 suspension, we will offer an “LT” version in a few of our new models.
The Fugitive was one of just two bikes we tested this year with super boost rear axle spacing. It's got impressive chainstay and tire clearance, but still there are plenty of skeptics. How would you convince a potential buyer that super boost, and the accompanying limited wheel and crank choices, is worth making the leap?
Back in 2016, when Knolly decided to move directly from 142millimeters to 157 TRAIL and completely skip 148millimeters Boost rear axle spacing, the two biggest concerns were exactly these: heel clearance and component compatibility. But our Four by 4 linkage allows us to design rear suspension with excellent tire and heel clearance due to the fact that there is no large “mini-link” that has to fit between the bottom bracket and the front of the chainstay. So, we set ourselves a goal to ensure that we could fit in the largest tires available while minimizing any reduction in heel clearance. We also wanted to keep the chainstay length relatively tight and—god forbid—even allow front-derailleur compatibility for the 3 percent of customers who will actually use them!
The first thing to note is that the heel of your foot never gets close to the rear axle. We have a bunch of fairly tall employees at Knolly (lots of size 11 and 12 shoes around the office) so any reduction in heel clearance was going to be noticed immediately in house. Even with a foot this big, the back of the foot still ends about 3 inches (75 millimeters) in front of the rear axle. We designed the frame so that it flares out at the rear axle to accommodate the 157 millimeters hub but is still narrow where the heel would be. We then completely redesigned the chain stay/seat stay pivot assembly: On our frames, this pivot is actually the main area of concern regarding heel clearance. So, even though we increased the frame width 7.5 millimeters per side at the rear axle, we were able to limit the increase in width of this pivot assembly to only 1 millimeter per side compared to our 142-millimeter rear axle frames! In reality, we offer very good heel clearance that’s as good or better than most 148-millimeter Boost bikes.
At the time we started this project, we researched all the rear hubs available, and the list was longer than we expected due to their use in the DH world. Riders can source hubs and wheels without much problem. Crank selection has recently become widely available outside of Race Face options now that both Sram and Shimano are producing 157-millimeter-compatible cranks. So now there are excellent crank/chainring choices on the market that work with 157-millimeter rear hubs and this will continue to grow with other manufacturers coming on board. We are always updating our website with various component options for riders to build their own Fugitive, and we have a great support system through our info box that will answer any build related questions.
For a consumer-direct aluminum bike, the Fugitive is not cheap. What would you cite as the added value that comes along with the higher price tag of this bike?
Knolly is an Omnichannel business: that means that we sell directly to consumers at MSRP but we also sell to resellers (dealers and distributors) who then sell to end-user customers. We believe in supporting IBDs, so we work with our customers who purchase bikes or frames online and steer the sale through their local shop. We are a smaller company and have this flexibility.
(We predict that this will become the dominant business model for bike sales in the not-too-distant future, but currently most big brands are extremely concerned of making this move because they are worried about backlash from their existing dealer base which accounts for the vast majority of their sales).
Regarding the price of a product, saying that “All aluminum frames have to cost this much (i.e. $1999 US) and all carbon frames have to cost this much (i.e. $2999 US).” is like saying that a Toyota Corola and a Porsche 911 should cost the same because they have roughly the same amount of metal, rubber, plastic, glass and electronics inside of them. Of course, this is not the case, and intended performance and quality of design and manufacturing play a huge part in this equation. The real question to ask is why should someone pay the price for an alloy Fugitive that’s roughly the same price as a lower-end carbon full suspension frame: The answer again is quality of design and manufacturing and product performance. Our philosophy is to always make the absolute best products that we can. For example, we have six custom CNC-machined titanium axles in this frame, and that’s something that you won’t find in any other product simply because it’s insanely expensive to do. But we do it because it is the best way to make these parts of the frame. We have always maintained that a high-end alloy frame is far superior in performance and durability compared to a budget carbon frame and can even be weight competitive.
For most companies building a frame is a “cost down” exercise, meaning they are always thinking “How do we cut costs to increase margins,” and Knolly simply doesn’t think this way. A great example of this is the Fugitive’s access hatch on the bottom of the down tube: We evolved the design from the Warden Carbon and executed it in an alloy frame which was insanely difficult technically. Despite the difficulty of the design, we are ensuring maximum quality right down to specifying the edge deburring of the opening. We know mechanics or customers are going to be routing the cables through this area and we want it to be free of sharp edges.
Finally, we don’t believe in two-tier product lines, so we only make high-end aluminum frames and high-end carbon frames. Neither are cheap to produce, but they do represent exceptional value due to the longevity and performance of our product: this is the main reason that we have a fiercely loyal customer base!