Otso Waheela C gravel bike review: Do-it-all capability, bit of a bruiser

Superb tire clearance, lots of mounts, and a tackle-anything demeanor, but also somewhat questionable frame geometry and a rather firm ride quality.

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Story Highlights

  • What it is:A higher-performance carbon fiber version of Otso’s steel Waheela S gravel bike.
  • Frame features:Carbon fiber construction, adjustable geometry, clearance for 700×54 mm tires, internal cable routing, threaded bottom bracket, lots of accessory mounts.
  • Weight: 1,024 g (claimed, medium frame only, painted, without hardware); 490 g (claimed, painted, without hardware); 8.71 kg (19.20 lb, as tested, medium size, without pedals or accessories).
  • Price:US$4,850 / £TBC / AU$6,790 / €4,270.
  • Highs:Effectively two bikes in one, sturdy feel, well-designed adjustable geometry hardware, bold paint schemes, heaps of component customization options, superb machined-in-house aluminum bits.
  • Lows:Sturdy feel, unusually slack seat tube angle, so-so value proposition.

Deliberate progress

Otso Cycles — the bike and frame sister company of Wolf Tooth Components — debuted in 2016 with just two models: the stainless steel Warakin all-road bike, and the Voytek carbon fat bike. The company’s catalog has grown modestly since then, with one of the latest introductions being the Waheela C gravel bike, a higher-performance carbon fiber variant of the steel Waheela S that came out in 2018.

Otso has clearly targeted do-it-all performance for the Waheela C. It’s no ultra-lightweight like the Specialized S-Works Crux, there are no active suspension elements like the Trek Checkpoint or Cannondale Topstone Carbon, nor is it an outright bargain like the Fezzari Shafer. But in taking a bit of a safer path — and incorporating some neat adjustable geometry features — the idea is that there’s something for the majority of gravel riders out there.

As is the case for all Otso models, the Waheela C’s defining characteristic is its Tuning Chip rear dropouts. These adjust for chainstay lengths between 420 and 440 mm (there’s a center position, too) to help tweak the handling to your preferences, and the slots are also angled so that the head tube and seat tube angles change in concert. 

The Tuning Chip adjustable rear dropout doesn’t just change chainstay length; it also changes the overall frame geometry given how the back of the frame moves up and down in concert.

What’s the point of all of this, you ask? Otso’s thinking here is that you can not only get more or less tire clearance to suit your wants and needs, but also a frame geometry that goes along with that tire size.

In the short position, the Waheela C can handle a 700×45 mm, and that’s paired with shorter chainstays and steeper head and seat tube angles for a more nimble personality. But in the long position, you’ve got room for massive 700×54 mm rubber, along with the slacker angles and more stable handling you probably want with it. You prefer 650b wheels, you say? Have at it.

Otherwise, the Waheela C is a pretty straightforward carbon gravel frame. 

The asymmetrical chainstays are slightly dropped for tire and drivetrain clearance, the seat tube is subtly curved to create a bit more of a gap to the rear tire, there’s internal routing with removable aluminum port covers and a big hatch on the bottom of the frame to ease setup and maintenance, and the seat tube is oversized at 30.9 mm for more choice in dropper posts.

Want to run a 1x drivetrain? The aluminum front derailleur mount is easily removable for a clean look. Down below is a conventional threaded bottom bracket, and the seatpost is fixed with a good old fashioned external aluminum clamp.

Dropped chainstays once looked super odd, but they’re now more common than not.

There are mounts galore, including for three bottle cages (one on the underside of the down tube), a top tube feed bag, and a trio of threaded fittings on each fork blade. Hidden fender mounts are included front and rear, too, and there’s even optional Tuning Chip hardware that lets you securely bolt up a rear rack. 

Up front is a tapered 1 1/8-to-1 1/2″ head tube with zero-stack headset cups, there’s a conventional threaded bottom bracket shell down below, and Otso produces the whole thing with semi-rigid EPS internal pre-forms that supposedly make for better dimensional tolerances and improved fiber compaction relative to old-school bladder molding. 

As a nice little bonus, all of the aluminum bits — headset cups included — are machined in-house by Wolf Tooth Components.

Getting the full suite of Wolf Tooth Components machined aluminum bits is a bonus that shouldn’t be understated.

Claimed frame weight is 1,024 g for a painted medium sample without hardware, plus 490 g for the matching fork. 

Impressively for such a small brand, Otso offers the Waheela C in four different paint colors, with eight color options for all of the aluminum bits, too. Buyers can go with a bare frameset should they prefer the DIY route, or they can choose from eight different build kits — with multiple options throughout for things like wheelsets, tires, saddles, component sizes, and so on. 

Not quite as impressive, however, is the limited selection of sizes, with just four to choose from to suit riders from 1.57 m to 1.98 m (5’ 2″ to 6’ 6″). 

My medium test sample arrived with a Shimano GRX 800 1x groupset with an Easton EC90 SL carbon crankset (a combo that unfortunately isn’t currently offered), HED Emporia GA Performance aluminum clinchers and 700×50 mm Panaracer Gravel King SK tires, and a smattering of high-end finishing kit from Race Face, Easton, and WTB. Total weight without pedals or accessories was 8.71 kg (19.20 lb).

Retail pricing for a complete Waheela C starts at US$3,750 / AU$5,220 / €3,300. My particular sample featured a more upscale build and a higher price of US$4,850 / AU$6,790 / €4,270. UK pricing is to be confirmed.

Hooning on the Waheela C

Say what you will about adjustable frame geometry, but given how Otso has anchored its entire catalog around the idea, their position on the matter is pretty clear. But luckily for Otso, switching things around out back really does yield a tangible change in the personality of the Waheela C.

I spent most of my time on the Waheela C the way Otso sent it to me: with the dropouts in the rearward/slacker position and with the giant 50 mm-wide Panaracer Gravel King SK tires fitted. In that configuration — and with the tires set at an appropriately low pressure — the bike feels like an absolute bruiser.  

The combination of the Waheela C’s supremely stable handling in this mode together with the frame’s notably solid feel and the tires’ generous air volume may as well be a written invitation for irresponsible behavior. There’s more grip than the minimal tread design might otherwise suggest, more room for error with that bulbous tire casing, and that long wheelbase makes you feel as if you can do no wrong.

Want to go way too fast into a dirt corner, slam on the brakes, and slide the tail around the apex? Have at it. Don’t feel like slowing down for a bumpy section? Just hold on. 

Otso hasn’t gone nuts with tube shaping or logos on this one.

One of my first test rides on the Waheela C took me high into the unpaved foothills above Boulder, and there wasn’t much hesitation when the opportunity arose to take a steeper singletrack descent back into town. Would a hardtail mountain bike have been a better choice on that descent? Well yes, of course — but it also probably wouldn’t have been as good a partner on the way up.

With the dropouts in the forward/steeper position and the Panaracers swapped for lighter and faster-rolling 40 mm-wide American Classic Aggregates, the Waheela C becomes a different beast entirely.

The handling doesn’t become as nimble as some gravel bikes that are more purpose-built for racing, but it’s a marked change from the other configuration’s more lumbering personality. The front end is more eager to change direction, and it’s easier to flick the bike around obstacles instead of just barreling through them. Between the chainstay length change and the decrease in tire volume, the bike’s overall length drops by roughly 40 mm, and it legitimately feels like it in certain situations. The whole bike just feels so much smaller and more tossable.

Tires this big encourage all sorts of hooliganism.

It’s important to keep in mind that other combinations are possible, too (within reason). For example, if you want that faster-rolling and lighter feel, but still with more stability, there’s no reason you couldn’t run narrower tires in the longer chainstay position. And while I didn’t do any testing this way, there’s also a whole heap of options if you want to run a smaller-diameter 650b setup. 

Regardless of which configuration you choose, Otso has thankfully designed the system to be rather painless to adjust. The non-driveside dropout insert is machined as one piece with the caliper mount so there’s no brake adjustment required with a chainstay length switch, and the machined-in-house aluminum inserts fit so well in the carbon pockets that everything easily stays in alignment.

The 20 mm-diameter aluminum nut that holds each side together requires a tool that you’re not likely to have on your current multi-tool, but Otso even offers a trick headset cap that serves as a 20 mm socket and is driven by a common 8 mm Allen wrench if you feel the need to have the functionality on hand at all times. Geometry changes can even be done trailside if you want, taking literally less than five minutes.

Unfortunately, some of the Waheela C’s do-no-wrong solidity comes at a cost, namely in terms of ride quality. Otso explicitly mentions rear triangle compliance in the Waheela C’s marketing materials, but I can’t say I noticed it in the saddle (and, as it turns out, Otso doesn’t have any test data to support that claim).

If anything, what I repeatedly scribbled in my notes was the Waheela C feeling quite rigid both front and rear, and especially out back. Whether that’s due more to the rear triangle design or the oversized 30.9 mm-diameter seatpost is unclear, but either way, I wouldn’t characterize the Waheela C as being notably comfortable. 

Seatstays are dramatically bowed outward, not unlike what Salsa does on its gravel bikes. Any contribution the shaping makes to ride quality is questionable, though.

There are some things worth mentioning in more detail regarding the geometry, too.

I suspect most people will be fine with the front-end handling. It’s almost too stable in the long position — I blew a couple of corners before adjusting my technique — but you could easily argue that this is how it should be when paired with larger-than-average tires. It suits the personality. Similarly, the feel in the shorter/steeper position feels just about right: not too quick, not too slow. Given that even the shorter position has ample room for 700×45 mm tires, I suspect this is how most people will run this thing.

Regardless of the dropout chip position, the seat tube angle is curiously slack at an official 72.5° across the range. That might be OK for the larger sizes, but it’s about 0.5-1.5° more relaxed than the norm for a medium size. Further complicating matters is the slight bend at the base of the tube. That arc creates a bit more tire clearance (and Otso says the slack angle makes for a more comfortable ride), but the side effect is that it makes the effective seat tube angle even more laid-back, especially if you run a taller saddle height. 

The kinked seat tube leaves more space behind it for big tires, but it also creates other potential issues.

Admittedly, I’m of very average height with shorter-than-average legs, but my usual saddle position still isn’t remotely extreme with a 695 mm saddle height and 4-5 cm of setback. I had to slam the stock WTB saddle all the way forward on the zero-setback seatpost, and still wished for another centimeter or so.

While the Waheela C technically has adjustable geometry, the range of adjustment isn’t enough to bring the seat tube angle into a more typical range, and with no good options for fixing this after the fact, I’d strongly suggest verifying that you’ll be able to replicate your position before handing over your credit card.

Spec notes

I’m definitely starting to sound like a broken record, but as yet another gravel bike with a Shimano GRX 800 mechanical groupset, it’s the same old story: the stuff works great. As essentially the gravel analogue of Shimano’s tried-and-true Ultegra mechanical road groupset, it’ll be no surprise to hear that shift performance is consistently buttery smooth, the brakes deliver ample power with excellent control (but also a lot of noise when wet), and the lever ergonomics are fantastic. 

GRX isn’t spectacularly flashy stuff, but it does work spectacularly well.

Otso set this bike up with a 1x drivetrain, pairing the long-cage GRX 800 rear derailleur with a Deore XT 11-46T cassette. When combined with the 40T chainring, the resultant low gear provided me plenty of mechanical advantage for clawing my way up punishingly steep fire roads, although the total range still falls well short of what SRAM provides with its 10-52T “mullet” setup. 

Nevertheless, my particular test setup arrived with an ultralight Easton EC90 SL carbon fiber crankset, which lopped a couple hundred grams from the equivalent Shimano bit, and since it’s a 1x setup, there’s no downgrade in shift quality, either. If the upgrade is within your budget, this one gets a big thumbs-up from me.

I can’t say I had any complaints about the Hed Emporia GA Performance aluminum wheels, either. They’re decently light at 1,670 g (claimed) and offer a generous 25 mm inner width to support higher-volume gravel tires. Tubeless setup is relatively painless with straightforward tire mounting and removal, and easy seating with a high-volume floor pump.

I had no issues with the wheels staying true during testing, either, and they seem reasonably resistant to denting, too. The 13° freehub body engagement could be a little quicker in certain technical situations, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. I suspect more people will care that it freewheels without sounding like a giant swarm of angry wasps.

The Hed Emporia GA Performance aluminum clincher wheels are excellent, with a generous 25 mm inner rim width, a reasonable weight, and excellent build quality.

As for the other stuff, I certainly have some opinions. The bar bend was great. The Wolf Tooth silicone rubber bar tape is positively sublime. The tires roll slower than I’d prefer. The saddle was narrower than I like. The seatpost is easy to adjust. 

None of that really matters given the range of build kit options Otso provides, though. As mentioned earlier, Otso doesn’t lock you into a fixed spec sheet like what you get from the majority of major brands, so you’re free to pick and choose as you wish.

An intriguing alternative to the big brands

As with any bike these days, the most important question is, who’s this thing for, and who might it appeal to? When all is said and done, the Waheela C is a highly capable — and seemingly tough — gravel bike that can also be configured in both geometry and spec to fit your wants and needs.

Unlike some smaller brands, Otso doesn’t specifically focus on value, so the Waheela C isn’t any less expensive than what you might find from a mainstream label, but the ability to spec it exactly how you want it without having to recoup the cost of take-off parts after the fact might help on that front. The lesser-known brand and bolder paint schemes will help you stand out from the crowd, too.

Looking for the absolute best bang for your buck? Or the most cutting-edge tech? This isn’t the droid you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for something different — and assuming the geometry quirks work for you — the Waheela C is an intriguing option.

More information can be found at www.otsocycles.com.

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