Quality right from the start...
Knolly Bikes grew out of a dream — a dream from one rider who wanted something better — something that was currently not offered in the mountain bike market place. This dream was to build a free ride frame that simply worked reliably day in and day out, with out any annoyances like interrupted seat tubes, tires hitting the seat or seat tube, shocks tucked away in difficult to access locations, fasteners that constantly loosen, pre-mature bearing wear, etc...
This was and still is Noel Buckley's dream and from those humble beginnings back in early 2002, the Knolly Bikes lineup has become the embodiment of everything that Noel stands for: ultra-high end manufacturing, only the highest quality fasteners and bearings, and designs that make the best use of existing technology while innovating and breaking the status quo when the current technology is simply not sufficient.
This frame design had to work well, be reliable, be serviceable, and most importantly be free from frivolous marketing features while still offering premium performance in the most severe riding situations.
Noel 2004. (Still true today)
Our focus is simple
Design the best suspension mountain bikes in the world, period. For our chief designer and CEO, Noel Buckley, this meant designing and patenting his own suspension platform, and then partnering with the best fabricators from around the world to bring his vision for each model to life. Choices like, material, tubing, bearings, fasteners, and finishes are all deliberated carefully, since the finished product must ride ‘like a Knolly’.
Our bikes are an aspirational purchase for riders who know exactly what they want in a bike. These riders demand the highest level of performance and they look for progressive geometry and rock-solid suspension philosophy and execution. And we deliver. We flood each design with all the relevant industry features, but stick to the 'tried and true' when it makes more sense (we don't chase fads). This keeps Knolly owners smiling for days (and years). All this in a low maintenance package designed to stay on the trails, and stay OUT of the repair stand.
Knolly works directly with the world’s premier process and quality driven full suspension frame manufacturing facility. We understand their manufacturing processes and quality control procedures and they understand our product vision and our customer demands. This symbiotic relationship leads to mutual respect between Knolly and our manufacturing partner: both companies push each other forward, continually learning and improving our designs and their manufacturing.
Fact 1: World class full suspension mountain bikes can be made from both carbon fiber and aluminum.
Fact 2: A well-made aluminum frame will always outperform an average carbon fiber frame.
Manufacturing premium carbon fiber products leads to very high production costs which mandates pricing these products at the top of the market. Knolly’s focus on 'Only the Best' relates to our choice of frame materials as well. With our extensive aluminum manufacturing experience, we can make an aluminum frame that convincingly outperforms an average carbon frame (i.e. the majority of carbon mountain bike frames on the market).
Therefore we only offer high end aluminum and high end carbon frames. We do not manufacture “price conscious” carbon fiber products as performance and quality are inevitably sacrificed when driving manufacturing costs down. Both aluminum and carbon have their pros and cons and one frame material may meet an individual customer’s needs better than the other:
Chart illustrates the differences between Knolly Carbon and Knolly alloy bikes.
Knolly’s focus on "Only the Best" relates to our choice of frame materials as well. With our extensive aluminum manufacturing experience, we can make an aluminum frame that convincingly outperforms an average carbon frame (i.e. the majority of carbon mountain bike frames on the market).
The desire for carbon is huge and making it well is extremely time consuming and labour intensive (i.e. expensive). At this point the cost of the material is almost inconsequential: labour and quality assurance become the driving cost metrics. There is huge downward pressure from consumers to get carbon product as cheaply as possible and this has essentially split carbon vendors into two groups: those who are focused purely on cost down and those that are focused on quality. We at Knolly obviously chose the latter.
This is an under-appreciated topic when discussing overall ‘ride feel’. Aluminum alloy tubes can feel very different from bike to bike depending on what metal series is used, and how it is manipulated. Our tubes are extensively hydro-formed and shaped into elegant lines that serve as the structural skeleton of our bikes. Knolly frames feel compliant and comfortable on the trail, with great vibration damping characteristics. We are very proud of how advanced our tubing technologies have become the past 3 years. Clean lines, clean welds, and no need for gussets.
Aluminum Alloy Frame Manufacturing
Our aluminum frames are made with 6066 aluminum tubing, the most advanced weldable tubing alloy available. Its combination of high tensile strength, excellent elasticity, relatively easy formability and corrosion resistance make it the premier choice for full suspension frameset tubing. We instruct our tubing vendors to hydroform our proprietary tube shapes to our exacting standards, often tweaking tubing wall thicknesses by as little as 0.05mm to achieve the right combination of strength, weight and feel.
Tube miters and copes are CNC machined, not cut by hole saws: this advanced process allows for increased weld penetration into the joint ensuring maximum strength and minimum overheating. It also allows the tubing to be coped to fit another tube perfectly. Not just approximated by a cylindrical cut, but machined to be an perfect match for the mating tube’s exact surface that it’s being welded to.
Proprietary forged parts are used throughout our frames including dropouts, swing links, rocker links, BB shells, etc… We near net forge the parts and then CNC trim them to their final shape. It also allows for linkage parts to be extremely strong while maintaining a minimalistic weight and look.
Knolly carbon frames have a final clear coat applied which allows you to see the bare UD carbon fiber: we have absolutely nothing to hide: there is no filler hidden under the paint!
Carbon Fiber Frame Manufacturing
We use a fully rigid mandrel manufacturing technique for our carbon frames: this process requires an extra set of interior molds for the mandrels and provides much higher precision and consistency than bladder molding during the layup procedure. Panel migration is virtually eliminated and carbon fiber prepreg layers are fully compacted by maximum internal pressure throughout the frame eliminating void spaces. This is especially important in corners where bladder molding struggles to apply equal interior pressure against the prepreg layers. This advanced manufacturing technique is used on less than 1% of the carbon fiber frames made due to its higher costs, requirement for highly skilled labour and fault intolerance during the layup process. It does though produce the best quality frame available.
Post cure, frame components are weighed to ensure that the assembly contains all prepreg panel elements. Wall thicknesses are checked on randomly selected assemblies to ensure that there are no issues with layup. Finally, all frames are examined for pin holes by an underwater pressure test. Before being sent for painting, frame assemblies are wet / dry sanded and provided with a clearcoat primer: this base layer ensures that the painter has a perfect surface to work on. Knolly carbon frames have a final clear coat applied which allows you to see the bare UD carbon fiber: we have absolutely nothing to hide: there is no filler hidden under our paint. Lesser quality carbon frames will always be painted - this is to hide the imperfections and the putty filling them. So remember - not all carbon is created equal.
Our main pivots rotate on dual row angular contact bearings, which are fastened with our custom oversized CNC’d axles. This combination results in superior lateral rigidity and high load carrying capability. Bearings at the main pivot locations are spaced as wide as possible to further increase rear-end stiffness. Pivots at the sub-linkage and chainstay rotate on a combination of sealed cartridge bearings and high-load bushings, all resulting in a low maintenance package that stays tight and feels great on the trails.
This is how it all comes together and should not be overlooked. Choosing the proper fastener interface for a pivot location can mean the difference between a bike that rides like a wet noodle, or one that ‘rides on rails’. Our chief designer, Noel Buckley, had 10 years experience in engineering and design before ever entering the bike industry and this is on full display when you look at how our frames come together. In our newest models, we have taken things to the next level with respect to fasteners, by designing our own custom titanium pivot hardware. These slick little pieces serve as fastener and bearing cover, and we feel that everyone deserves a little ti in their life.
Designing and producing the best bikes on the market would not be possible without the strict quality control our factory has. It starts as far back in the production cycle as the choice of tubing vendors - and we, and our factory, will only work with the best. This ensures that we start building the frame with the best materials possible. It also makes all the hard work and effort we put into the process of actually putting the frame together worthwhile.
Key Surfaces: There are details in frame production that are so slight many companies overlook them or chose to forego them due to the added cost. Not Knolly. Some of these are even basic frame building steps like facing the exterior surface of the BB and headtube - but not all companies do them. Our factory precision faces these surfaces and when they thread the bottom bracket it is done with a special machine that guarantees the alignment of both the threaded sides and the external surfaces.
Alignment: All frames require alignment after the welding process but our factory insists on a multiple stage alignment process for each part of the fabricated frame. Throughout the welding process the frame alignment is verified which allows for minor adjusts (and quality checks) over the span of the process. This is in contrast to other companies that simply "cold set" the frame after it is all welded. We also allow the frames to cool down to room temperature naturally after the heat-treating process. This takes a long time but it also means that the frames will not snap out of alignment by being cooled too quickly.
Testing: There is standard testing and then there is our testing. Once our product has passed the various standard durability, fatigue and stress tests our factory continues to push our frames to their own levels that are significantly higher. They do this because they want to guarantee the product they produce is outstanding in every regard.
They also have two additional tests: they check the internal wall thickness in over one hundred areas on the frame to ensure the quality of the tubing and the finished product. And then they weigh each frame to make sure it weighs exactly what it should. Their plus/minus tolerance on this test is shockingly low and they will reject any frame with even a tiny variance.
Finishing: Once a frame passes through testing it enters quality control where each frame is inspected and hand finished. This is painstakingly detailed work and even the slightest blemish is reworked so that the finished surface of the frame is extraordinary. Once the surface is prepped the first coat of clear-coat is applied. This clear-coat is allowed to harden and then it is hand sanded to perfection before the paint & final clear-coat is applied.
One of our most popular frame finishes is our Raw alloy. These frames are truly raw - there is no clear coat or treatment on the alloy. While this treatment might sound simple (i.e. we just don't paint the frame) these frame are painstakingly hand sanded to give each one a unique finish that is equal parts industrial and cool. These frames are meant to "age" naturally due to exposure and will develop a unique patina over time. This can be left alone and ultimately becomes the look of the frame or for the riders that want a more polished look you can buff up the frame with rubbing compound or a Scotchbrite pad (just cover the decals with painters tape before hand) to create a level of sheen on the alloy. We have found on our own raw bikes (here in the muddy PNW) that spraying the frame down with bike polish will make the frame easier to clean.
These are the hallmarks of a quality product and they are what set Knolly apart from other brands. It is also why so many Knolly owners are loyal to our brand.