The current gravel boom draws influence from two directions: road cyclists escaping traffic to find freedom on the open (back)roads and mountain biking’s origins in exploration and adventure. Knolly’s Cache Steel takes more from the latter, which is no surprise given Knolly’s roots on Vancouver’s North Shore. As with other tech borrowed from mountain bikers, there are unexpected benefits for the more road-oriented rider.
The Cache is Knolly’s first foray into gravel bikes. After an initial release in titanium in 2019, a steel frame joined the party. While less rarefied than titanium, the steel tubes are still shaped and tapered using Knolly’s extensive experience building alloy mountain bikes.
Canadian brand with a tradition forged in alloy frames
Knolly’s experience pays off in ride quality. The Cache holds solid under effort, but is forgiving on rough surfaces. For anyone coming off of carbon-fibre or aluminum frames, the ride feel of steel is not mythical. Steel’s vibration dampening characteristics, however, are well-suited to softening the blow from the constant chatter of gravel roads.
Add Shimano’s gravel-specific GRX drivetrain to the toughness of a hardened-steel frame, and the Cache is ready for big adventures. There’s built-in rack mounts, fender mounts, three water bottle mounts and space in the frame to load it up with all kinds of bags.
Knolly's flat-mount GRX discs and unique drop-outs.
Attaching the seat and chainstays to a wide flange above the dropout allows for some flex, and a smoother ride over rough surfaces.
External cable routing makes for easy mechanical changes, no matter where you are.
There's built in mounts for full-wrap fenders, and all kinds of bags.
A full Shimano GRX drivetrain, with 2x chainrings for wider gearing options.
The gravel-specific GRX rear derailleur helps keep the Cache silent on trails
While 2x chainrings will help winch up the steepest hills
The first generation of Cache Steel frames feature a derailleur hanger that doesn't quite line up with the new GRX front mech's support pin, which was released after the Cache was already in production. While I did not experience any difficulties shifting, Knolly has changed the derailleur mount to match GRX.
Shimano's GRX hoods really are much more comfortable off-road
Shimano GRX 160-mm hydraulic disc rotors on Knolly's own fork.
Off-road inspired handling for mixed surface adventures
The bike’s mountain bike-inspired design, though, means it also excels at more local exploration where pavement, gravel paths and short sections singletrack can all be combined in a 90 minute ride or commute.
The Cache uses a long front centre in combination with a shorter stem. This setup creates extra room to move around on the bike, adding confidence to the handling when gravel roads deteriorate or on corners give you loose surfaces. The long front centre and forgiving steel frame carves corners, whether they’re on dusty gravel or a ribbon of dirt. The bike did draw me to search out singletrack connectors more often. While I tend to do that anyway, on the Cache, I enjoyed pushing the pace not just trying to survive.
Jamming on singletrack did lead to some questionable moments as I approached the limits of the 40c Maxxis tires. Since my preferred gravel riding often includes sections of dirt, I would opt for higher volume rubber and wider rims than the Shimano RS370s. The Cache has clearance for up to 700c x 45c, or 2.1”-wide tires if you downsize to 650b rims. This frame definitely has the chops to make use of the extra volume.
Knolly Cache Steel: A frame with all the options
While 1x is gaining popularity, I appreciated Shimano’s GRX 2 x 11-speed drivetrain when I winched up climbs on long gravel rides. With its clutch-equipped rear derailleur, GRX makes sure the chain stays solidly in place and shifts reliably on the way back down, too. Knolly offers the Cache Steel in 1x builds as well, but 2x still offers advantages, depending on what kind of gravel you’re grinding.
Knolly outfits the Cache Steel with external cable routing for easy service, even far from home. Routing for an optional dropper post is the only internal cable. The frame is also designed for an optional gravel suspension fork, if you want to get more comfy.
Kit out the Cache for long-distance expeditions, or keep it simple and rip around your local back roads and singletrack connectors. Either way, the Cache Steel is well-suited to keep it fun when the road gets rough, and comfortable for long days in the saddle.
Knolly Cache Steel GRX
Components Shimano GRX 600 brakes and shifters; GRX 810 derailleurs; 46/30-tooth GRX 600 crankset; 11-speed, 11-34 tooth 105 HG700 cassette; Easton EA70 AX handlebar
Wheels Shimano RS370
Sizes (cm) 49.5, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62.5 (tested)