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by James Huang
October 22, 2017
Photography by James Huang
Oftentimes when we head out on our bikes, we have a certain goal in mind. Sometimes it’s just getting back home by a certain hour, other times it’s sticking to that day’s training plan or crushing a personal record, and sometimes it’s just heading out for a casual spin. On one particularly glorious day while testing the Otso Warakin, James Huang’s goal was more straightforward: muffins.
Otso Cycles isn’t exactly a household name, but the folks behind it are hardly newcomers to the industry. Otso was founded in 2016 by the same people who run Wolf Tooth Components, a company well-known in mountain-bike circles for its 1x-specific chainrings, cassette range extenders, dropper seatpost remote levers, and other clever accessories.
One might rightfully question the wisdom of starting a new bike company in such a crowded and competitive market, but according to Otso, they basically just set out to build the bikes they wanted themselves, but weren’t already available elsewhere — necessity being the mother of invention, and all that. And so it was that a small component manufacturer amassed its collective talents and set out on a decidedly ambitious project.
How big will Otso get? Probably not very, but the folks behind the brand seem perfectly fine with that.
“Bikes are indeed very tough with competition and pressure from very larger players,” said Otso Cycles brand manager Brendan Moore. “That said, we were passionate about some unique ideas we had for bikes so we went after it.”
Less than two years after its debut, Otso’s entire catalog consists of just two offerings: a carbon-fiber fat bike called the Voytek with a uniquely narrow pedal stance width, and the versatile TIG-welded stainless steel drop-bar machine reviewed here, called the Warakin. Both bikes stay intentionally out of the mainstream, and both offer something different from what’s already out there — and that’s precisely the point.
Road riding has evolved dramatically in recent years, and Otso designed the Warakin to cater to a broad range of users. Versatility is the name of the game here, and Otso aims the Warakin at cyclocross, gravel riding, adventure touring, bikepacking, and everything in between.
To that end, the frame and matching full-carbon fiber fork fit 700c or 650b tires up to 53mm-wide, and the rear dropouts can be set between 420-440mm in length (with corresponding changes to bottom-bracket height and frame angles) to help adjust the handling characteristics. Disc brakes are standard at both ends, as are thru-axles — and Otso has consciously chosen mountain bike-standard thru-axle sizes (142x12mm rear; 100x15mm front) for more wheel choices. Both post-mount and flat-mount caliper interfaces are offered for the same reason on the brake front.
Unladen, my Otso Warakin tipped the scales at 9.72kg (21.43lb), including pedals. Bare frame weight is 2,240g plus another 490g for the included full-carbon fork.
Three bottle mounts are standard, as are braze-ons for racks and fenders. The full-length housing is routed externally throughout, and although my pre-production sample was delivered with a PF86 press-fit shell, production samples are built with standard threaded bottom brackets to reduce the chances of creaking and expand the selection of compatible cranksets.
Otso anticipates that Warakin users aren’t likely to baby their frames, so the stainless steel tubes are left unpainted. Nevertheless, a classy two-tone brushed and media-blasted finish dresses things up nicely, without having to worry too much about scratches or chips.
Claimed weight for a bare 54cm frame is 2,120g, but actual weight for my 52cm sample was 2,240g (4.94lb) with the requisite cable fittings and seatpost collar. The tapered carbon fiber fork added another 490g (uncut steerer, without compression plug) — spot-on with the provided figure.
The chainstay length can be set at 420, 430, or 440mm depending on your handling and clearance preferences. Changing the chainstay length also slightly alters the head tube angle and bottom bracket height accordingly.
I built up my test frameset with a SRAM Rival 1 groupset, Easton’s latest EC90 carbon-fiber crankset, a smattering of aluminum Ritchey cockpit components, a Fabric Line saddle, and Shimano XTR Race pedals — and it’s worth noting that everything on the frame is appropriately faced, chased, and cleanly threaded as it should be.
For testing purposes, I periodically switched between two wheelsets: the 650b setup with 3T Discus Plus C35 aluminum clinchers and WTB Horizon 47 tires; and a 700c configuration with Clement (now Donnelly Cycling) Ushuaia aluminum wheels and 45mm-wide WTB Riddlers.
Complete weight in the 650b mode was 9.72kg (21.43lb), including pedals and three stainless steel bottle cages.
The Warakin was admirably spritely in 700c mode, feeling more like a (relatively) fleet-footed ‘cross bike than the durable steel adventurer it is. With the Tuning Chip rear dropouts set at the shortest 420mm length, the head tube angle sits at a comparatively sporty 70.7° and the bottom bracket rests at 68mm below the hub centers. Combined with the neutral 378mm reach and 549mm stack of my 52cm test frame, the geometry isn’t far off from what a conventional cyclocross machine offers.
That personality changes dramatically when the geometry is adjusted, though.
With a shift out back to the 440mm-long chainstay setting, the head tube angle slackens to 70.3°, and the bottom bracket rests 4mm lower than before. Add in the slightly smaller total diameter of the 650b Road Plus wheel-and-tire setup and the whole center of gravity drops down further still. Coupled with the longer wheelbase, the Warakin feels more stable and relaxed.
The carbon fork is fitted with 100x15mm thru-axle dropouts, which allows for a wider range of wheels to be fitted instead of the newer, and more road-specific, 100x12mm interface.
On the road, those more confident manners make for an interesting combination with the wider Road Plus rubber. Though less eager to initially turn into corners in this setup, the grippier tread turns the Warakin into an absolute beast in terms of carving through turns, taking a set at outrageous speeds and happily assuming impressive lean angles. The larger casing volume offers a cushy ride on rough pavement and washboarded dirt roads alike, too.
“The best part is that Mike [Pfeiffer, frame designer] engineered the Tuning Chip such that it doesn’t add any significant weight to the frame,” said Moore. “Just zero to a few grams depending on what you compare it to.”
Keep in mind, too, that either wheel size can be used in either geometry setting, so users can feel free to adjust the configuration to their liking. However it is set up, the Warakin’s ride comfort is aided by its stainless steel frame, with middle-of-the-road tubing diameters that take the sting out of buzzy surfaces and readily yield on potholes, frost heave, and embedded rocks.
Granted, that relative softness doesn’t provide the stiffest pedaling platform when you lay down the power, but the upside of the stainless steel construction is a wonderfully lively ride quality, full of springiness and rich in (good) feedback from the road.
Riders who relish the instant reflexes of a ultra-stiff carbon fiber racers might find the Warakin’s resilience somewhat off-putting, but given the intended purpose, the balance between ride comfort and efficiency feels about right here.
I spent several weeks getting acquainted with the Warakin’s various configurations in preparation for a late-season bikepacking overnighter up in the foothills overlooking Boulder, Colorado.
Earlier in the year, I had spent a couple of days camping with my family at Beaver Reservoir, a picturesque body of water that sits at 2,700m (9,000ft) above sea level. Aside from a few reasonably worn-in unofficial campsites, there’s no electricity, no mobile phone service, and hardly any other signs of civilization — in other words, an ideal spot for spending a quiet evening with your thoughts, and a place I vowed to return to later in the year.
My plan was simple: load up the Warakin with gear and provisions, arrive in time to set up camp before sunset, spend a few quiet hours in solitude, and then roll back down into town the next morning. To that end, I secured a few bikepacking bags from Blackburn and some ultralight camping gear from Big Agnes, carefully chose a few pieces of clothing based on the forecasted weather, mapped out my route, carved out some time, and then hit the road.
Fresh pavement, clear skies, and crisp mountain air.
There was one additional item on my to-do list that was arguably just as important as the tent and sleeping bag, however: a fresh muffin from one of my favorite grocery stores in the small mountain town of Nederland. Unfortunately, the route there isn’t particularly bike-friendly, with its non-existent shoulder, blind corners, and steady stream of fast-moving vehicular traffic — so I cheated a bit.
I took the bus up the mountain.
Once safely in Nederland, I headed over to the food co-op and loaded up with provisions for the evening. With my bags now stuffed full (including my prized lemon poppy-seed muffin), I finally strapped on my helmet and started pedaling down the road.
Opting for public transportation on this first leg of my planned journey obviously knocked off a good chunk of climbing with the weighed-down Warakin, but given that Nederland wasn’t exactly on the way to Beaver Reservoir, it ultimately only clipped about 450m (1,500ft) of vertical gain from my outbound trip since I had to make my way up and over the town of Ward along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway; there was still over 600m (2,000ft) of climbing ahead of me.
Not that I noticed much, though.
This was pretty much my expression throughout most of my time on the Otso Warakin.
It was gloriously warm and sunny that day, and autumn was already turning the leaves cheery shades of yellow and red. There was also almost no motorized traffic at that time of day, and making things even better was the fact that the road surface had recently been repaved. I wasn’t paying attention to how many watts I was pushing, how hard my heart was beating, or even what time it was since I made sure to leave plenty of wiggle room in my scheduling for a leisurely journey.
The Warakin was a solid 6kg (13lb) heavier than usual (I also had to bring camera gear for a planned photo shoot), but the low gearing made easy work of the added heft — so much so that I even took an unplanned downhill out-and-back detour down to the general store in Ward to grab a bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola (to go along with my muffin, naturally).
The ultra-smooth-rolling Road Plus wheel-and-tire setup glided across the glass-smooth tarmac without a care in the world, too, and happily tackled the final 3km (2mi) of dirt before arriving at my designated site: a tiny plot of flat ground I had spotted on my previous stay there, right on the edge of the reservoir, and barely big enough for my single-person ultralight tent.
Nothing but me, my bike, and a (very) small supply of food, drink, and clothing — and probably some bears.
Even including a short late-afternoon rain storm (thankfully after I had secured the fly on my tent), the entire scenario was perfect, and exactly what I had envisioned. I perched myself atop a boulder, snacked on my well-earned muffin and Coca-Cola, pulled out my book, and thought of basically nothing until it was time for bed. And the stars that night? With such near-absence of residual light pollution, they were simply stunning.
What wasn’t perfect, however, was my clothing strategy for the evening.
I had checked the forecast for that evening in Ward, which was near Beaver Reservoir in terms of geography, but apparently a bit warmer at night than where I was. I opted for a less-insulated sleeping bag from Big Agnes in the interest of saving weight, along with just a few pieces of warmer outerwear. It dipped nearly to the freezing mark that night, and I spent much of it struggling to stay warm.
It was not a restful sleep.
This was a comfy place to spend the night, thanks in no small part to Big Agnes’s inflatable sleeping pad and lightweight bag. I could have used a bit more warmth, however, and in hindsight, should have opted for a more heavily insulated bag.
But oh, what a glorious sunrise awaited me the next day. I took advantage of the sky’s reddish hues and soft light, and shot frame after frame of the Warakin that had carried me up to this spot the day before. I thought not about how it wasn’t as stiff or light as carbon fiber, the lack of clean-looking internal cable routing, or its total lack of aero anything. What I did think about, however, was what it allowed me to do something I wouldn’t have been able to pull off on any other bike in my garage.
With the photoshoot completed, breakfast eaten, and camp broken down, I set out along the quiet dirt road that leads back out to the Peak to Peak Highway, and started down the mostly downhill run straight back into town.
In hindsight, were there things I would have done differently? Clearly yes, but there was nothing I would have changed about the welcome-home hug I got from my daughter when I walked in the door that morning.
And that muffin? The best I’d ever had.
The Otso Warakin is a bikepacking beast of a machine, with a stable and planted feel that still manages to be fun to ride even when loaded down for the night with a trio of Blackburn Voyager bags.
There’s a certain stark beauty in the Otso Warakin frame’s unpainted finish. Given the rough-and-tumble lifestyle it’s meant to embrace, it’s probably better not to have any paint to chip off, anyway.
According to Finnish mythology, the Otso is the “spirit of the bear” — the king of the forest and a symbol of strength and courage.
Otso doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Warakin’s stainless steel frame is welded in Asia. That said, it appears well made with excellent machining work and clean-looking welds all around. The machined head tube is particularly tidy.
The Warakin is designed to fit both standard 700c road as well as 650b Road Plus wheel and tire setups.
Otso supplies the Warakin with fittings for post-mount brake calipers. Optional fittings for flat-mount brakes are available, though.
Otso uses an interchangeable chip system to adjust the chainstay length instead of the more common sliding configuration. According to Otso, this design is not only more reliable but also easier to use and more consistent in positioning.
The flat mount-to-post mount adapter complicates the clean look of the straight flat-mount interface, but it allows for wider caliper compatibility, at least for now.
The Warakin is equipped with three sets of bottle mounts. The one underneath the down tube is a tight fit on smaller frames, though.
WTB’s Horizon 47 Road Plus tires roll quite well thanks to decently supple tubeless-compatible casings. Faster tires are available, but these also proved impressively durable on rough gravel and dirt roads up in the Colorado high country.
The file tread doesn’t offer much grip in loose conditions, but the wider footprint helps.
“Otso Warakin” is actually a mash-up of two different cultural mythologies: “Otso” refers to the spirit of the bear in Finnish folklore, while a “Warakin” is a wolf-like creature in Native American tales.
The bead-blasted graphic package is nicely done, and should easily stand the test of time with no paint to scratch or chip.
The stainless steel frame is stark, yet beautiful.
The bent and pinched chainstays provide plenty of tire, heel, and drivetrain clearance.
Cables are externally routed along the bottom of the down tube.
My pre-production test sample arrived with a PF86 bottom bracket shell, but production units are fitted with threaded ones.
The carbon fork incorporates a nice stainless steel guard to protect the paint from the rotor when installing and removing the wheel.
Otso provided a bare frameset for this review, which I built to my discretion. SRAM’s Rival 1 groupset seemed like a natural choice with its hydraulic disc brakes and wide-range single-chainring transmission.
I went conservative with an all-aluminum Ritchey WCS cockpit, topped with a K-Edge computer mount clamped beneath the headset cap.
Easton’s new EC90 SL carbon fiber crankset is extraordinarily light, borrowing technology from sister company Race Face’s well-proven Next SL mountain bike model.
Narrow-wide chainrings, such as this new direct-mount ring from Easton, are essentially required equipment for 1x drivetrains thanks to their more rigorous hold on the chain.
3T uses asymmetric rim profiles for its Discus Plus Pro wheelset to help balance out the spoke tensions from side to side.
SRAM’s Rival 1 rear derailleur handled the wide-range 10-42T cassette with aplomb. The one-way clutch mechanism on the pulley cage pivot kept everything quiet on rough dirt roads, too.
The 10-42T cassette indeed incorporates rather large jumps between some of the gears, but the total range was just the thing for this type of bike.
I topped off my Otso Warakin build with an aluminum Ritchey WCS seatpost and a comfy Fabric saddle.
Home for the evening consisted of a small, flat section of ground in the Colorado high country.
The Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum three-season, one-person tent weighs just 820g (including the fly), and packs down incredibly small for portable protection from the elements. As it turned out, it’s a good thing I didn’t leave the fly at home, seeing as how I was caught in a Rocky Mountain deluge shortly after setting up camp.
Sleeping at an elevation over 2,700m (9,000ft) in early autumn makes for a stunning sunrise, but also a rather cold morning.
Traveling light is important when you’re carrying everything on your bike — and especially so when there’s a lot of climbing involved. That said, expect to pay to save that weight. The Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum tent is a remarkably protective tent, but it’s also quite expensive at US$500.
Views like this are best earned.
The Otso Warakin isn’t about trying to be the lightest, stiffest, or most aerodynamic option out there, and that’s just fine.
Pit stops are mandatory when bikepacking, and one of my favorites is the Mountain People’s Co-Op in Nederland, Colorado.
Nothing but blue skies…
Terrain like this isn’t always particularly friendly to traditional road bikes on skinny tires.
With my final destination finally at hand…
…it’s time to eat that muffin. Mission accomplished.