The Beta Tests: Knolly Fugitive 138
All the short-travel fun without all the short travel
-138mm rear travel, 150 front
-Available late September 2021
-Efficient, rewarding pedaler
-Highly capable for its travel and geometry
-Unique combination of stability and maneuverability
-Not cheap for an aluminum bike
-Not as supple as other bikes around 140mm of travel
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Most of us at Beta currently own–or have owned in the past–at least one long-travel 29er. But when you ride a big bike as your daily driver for long enough, the novelty can start to wear off. Everything is just too easy or, alternatively, too fast. Conveniently, some pretty amazing short-travel 29ers happen to have hit the scene in recent years that bring us closer to the terrain we’ve been floating above at an oblivious 170 millimeters. But for some riders, that will never be enough. Either their terrain or their bloodlust is too great for a short-travel bike, no matter how shreddy the launch video is. Thankfully, there are plenty of 140mm bikes out there, but you really never know what you’re going to get. There are long-legged trail bikes like the Orbea Occam, micro downhill bikes like the Privateer 141, middle-of-the-road planks like the Santa Cruz Hightower, and whatever the hell the Evil Offering is. What’s missing is a bike that scratches the throttle-thirsty itch that a quick-pedaling 120mm bike can while also being a merciless basher on the descents. Leave it to the Canadians to come up with one: The Knolly Fugitive.
The Fugitive 138 is the evolution of the Fugitive LT, which was a Longer-Travel version of the standard 120mm Fugitive. Turned out that, at least three years ago, folks just didn’t want a short-travel Knolly 29er, and the LT far outsold the standard Fugitive. So, Knolly optimized the Fugitive’s geometry and leverage-rate curve around the extra travel and we got the Fugitive 138.
The first thing we noticed was how rewarding it is on the climbs. Despite running 30 percent sag on the usually linear-feeling Float X2 rear shock, the Fugitive responds aptly to pedaling forces. And that’s all kinds of pedaling forces. Our test loop started with a fantastic winding singletrack, much of which you could probably do on a gravel bike. Spinning calmly in the saddle made the Fugitive feel like a 120mm bike. Less-than-perfect circles or the occasional lurch up a curb didn’t set the rear suspension sinking and rebounding like more supple 140mm bikes. That did come at the cost of any potential hover-bike effect. This is no Ibis Ripmo.
That’s not to say it hung up while pedaling up rough stuff, it just didn’t like sinking readily into its travel. It’d take the edge off, and that’s mostly it. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your preferred approach to tackling rough climbs. If you like to float indifferently through them, there are bikes that do a better job of it. The Fugitive responds better when you put some input into negotiating uphill tech, and it’s just as rewarding to a quick out-of-the-saddle grunt as it is smooth, long-haul spinning.
It doesn’t hurt that the Knolly Fugitive has a 76.7-degree effective seat tube angle. Then again, that’s with the frame’s flip chip in the high setting. Flip chips rarely make it through their first lap at The Beta Tests before being dropped into low. With the exception of Evil’s bikes and maybe the new Stumpjumper Evo, we never run bikes in the high setting, but it’s how we liked the Fugitive. It just suited the bike’s strengths. Sure, it had a 65.75-degree head angle, but that’s part of the fun. There are plenty of bikes out there with 64-degree head angles. That’s not what this bike is, despite being conceived in western Canada with Knolly’s aggressive pedigree.
That supportive rear suspension lent itself to a particularly active riding style. It might have felt out of place if the suspension said pop while the rest of the bike said plow. Instead, the Fugitive encouraged us to get creative. Pulling up off the slightest transition was rewarded with as much air time as speed allowed. And twisting through the minefield of roots was more intuitive than charging over them. Or at least, depending on how hard you charged. That supportive feel meant that it took a lot of effort to get into the travel. Other bikes at similar sag settings were more supple over small and mid-sized hits.
And that may be what some riders want out of a 140mm bike. But not all riders. The Knolly Fugitive doesn’t break character just because you’re not going full speed, and full speed is exactly what this bike’s target audience shows up for. It’s why both of the flip chip’s settings are so perfect. Those of us who want that short-travel maneuverability with a long-travel insurance policy can find exactly what we want in the high setting, while all-out chargers can truly get this bike to its limits in the low setting.
Of course, there are lighter bikes out there in this travel range. Although we feel bike weight gets too much attention in and above the mid-travel category, it may be a factor for some customers. But probably not Knolly’s customers. The overbuilt aesthetic, the dual-row pivot bearings, the titanium hardware are all part of the Knolly package. It’s why, although there are also cheaper bikes in this travel range, the Fugitive is still worth a look. It can do things we didn’t expect from a Knolly, while also, doing exactly what we’d expect from a Knolly.
The Knolly Fugitive we tested was not a spec that’s available out of the box through Knolly. There are two price points listed on their site, starting with the $5,315 DP build, which is a mostly SRAM GX build with a Lyric Ultimate and Super Deluxe Ultimate, though you can get a Fox Float X2 for an extra $200. Especially given the boost that GX was given last year, this is a pretty good deal, with the only exception being the Code R brakes. But the higher-end EC build is $6,410 with full Fox and full XT. Unless it’s a real stretch for you to get to that $5,315, it’s worth it to spring for the EC kit.
Photos: Anthony Smith