Otso Cycles Waheela S: At The Finish- by Guitar Ted
The world of gravel bikes keeps evolving and this Waheela S is a great example of what is now considered cutting edge in gravel bike design and thought. I’ve wrestled with the ideas and challenges this bike presents in my first two posts on this bike here and here. Now it is time to give a final verdict on whether or not these new ideas are worth considering, or if they are really not working out.
Otso Weighs In: After posting my “Checkpoint” post on this bike, Otso contacted me and weighed in on some of the points I raised concerning the bike’s geometry and the Fox AX suspension fork. I wanted to address those comments here and give my take on them.
- Regarding Geometry: Otso claims that the Waheela S is not so much going after an mtb-like set up, (while their marketing on their site seems to say this), but that they are being progressive in pushing the boundaries of “gravel geometry” a bit. Specifically, they said, “We have made the reach a bit longer and some other changes for the same reason that modern XC bikes are coming with longer reach, etc. We are not at all implying that the geometry is the same as an XC bike (modern or old school), rather that we have made subtle changes for the same reasons. The reach is not abnormally long either but if you look at some geometry tables, you will see that our reach is among the longest of current gravel bikes and a bit longer than most.” Having the luxury of having a few gravel road specific bikes around, I took the tape measure and went to measuring everything I could. What I found was that the Otso Waheela S is smack dab right in the middle of what I would term as “current gravel geometry”. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Which is probably a good thing.
- Regarding The Fox AX: Otso suggested that volume spacers could be employed for the purpose of keeping the fork from bottoming out, which I experienced a few times. While that is a viable solution, it does not address the fact that if you have suspension, you should bottom it out on every ride, or you aren’t taking advantage of full travel. Granted, it’s only 40mm, so when you do bottom it out, it might be violent and surprising because, well, it is only 40mm we have to work with here! Physics are something that is hard to hide, and with so little headroom for big hits, you probably are going to find the fork is not going to be very adaptable to chunky, rough terrain unless you sacrifice higher frequency chatter. Tune it to whatever it is you need suspension for and just know that the rest will be outside this fork’s limitations.
- Drivetrain Issues: In my last “Checkpoint” post I mentioned that the drivetrain wasn’t functioning properly. It turned out that this was due to a combination of set up being improper and the derailleur hangar and cage being bent. Both issues were rectified with the assistance of SRAM rep Dan Jennings so that the bike ended up shifting just fine. Of course, this has nothing to do with Otso and the Waheela S review findings, but I wanted to clear that up.
Ride Performance: My final rides on the Waheela S showed that besides the limited suspension travel, the fork was actually not really doing much for the higher frequency buzz that gravel produces. Instead, the fork reacted by bending back against the frame and causing the “paint shaker effect” at the handle bars which is generally a trait of really stiff, carbon forks. Kudos to Fox for building and engineering such a stiff fork chassis, but on general gravel rides, it doesn’t allow for a smoother ride. Here is where I feel a suspension stem or compliant rigid fork is a better solution for gravel travel. If, however, your rides are taking you into rougher territory, the Fox fork becomes a benefit to the rider. I also found that washboard was handled well by this fork, if you set it up for that.
So, I think that the optional Lauf Grit would probably serve riders better that stick mostly to gravel roads and are looking for more relief than big tires can give them. Fortunately, Otso provides these fork options at purchase with the Waheela S so you can tailor your ride to you typical riding conditions.
The Waheela S also has a bit better manners with 700c wheels installed, in my opinion. The roll over traits of the bigger wheels tends to give the Waheela S a more secure feeling on looser gravel. However; I couldn’t help but feel that there was something different with the Waheela S from my other bikes. The front wheel just seemed tucked under too much. The culprit is the shorter offset of the Fox AX fork. (45mm) Of course, you could get another fork and alleviate this issue. Perhaps this was the cause of my feeling the bike was hunting for a line with the 650B wheels installed. Besides this, the bike remains smooth with a great “steel feel” to it which I happen to gravitate toward.
Oh, and one more minor issue- If you pedal “duck footed” you will likely strike the flared chain stays with your heels. I did this about three times during the test period when I got lazy and tired. I noted that with my neutral foot stance I was barely clearing those widely flared stays. Make note if this is an issue with your pedaling style.
At The Finish: The bike is dominated by features that generally are not found on gravel bikes of the past. Chief in these has to be the Fox AX, which colors the ride so much it is hard to review the bike without a heavy focus on this unusual spec choice. However; it becomes apparent that a rider could find this bike to be immensely capable and versatile. The chassis is stiff enough where it needs to be, is right in the pocket when it comes to most gravel bikes and geometry, and with Otso’s optional packages, a rider could tailor the bike to fit the style and terrain that would see the bike being used in. I liked the fact that 29 X 2.1 inch rubber could be slotted in and that 650B wheels could fit. The dropper post is a benefit to riders in hilly, or rougher terrain for sure.
In the end, I would likely get a Waheela S without the “S”. The suspension forks put out now for short travel gravel needs are not really taking care of what I need them for, or they have quirks which I don’t care for. I’d likely get the Lithic Carbon fork and a suspension stem. This would also open up the chance to swap in bigger 700c rubber when the need, or the fit, come up. Overall the bike handles well and it can be quite a versatile bike depending upon which spec level you choose.
Dropper posts on gravel bikes? I give that a hearty stamp of approval, given that one can be fitted properly since dropper posts have zero set back, typically. The suspension fork is a mixed bag. Some riders would definitely benefit, but I just don’t see the need to push an extra pound plus with as little rough stuff as I typically see. Add in the periodic maintenance a suspension fork should get, (and don’t forget the extra cash!), and it becomes an expendable component for riders on typical gravel roads. However; if your riding areas typically are rough, include buff single track, or if you just like getting off the grid, the Fox AX could be your friend.
I like the Waheela S a lot and I can get down with all the ways it could be applied in different areas. While some of those things don’t make sense for me, they may for others. Otso Cycles has really made the bike versatile and has sent the first shot over the bow of other gravel bike makers out there. Expect many bikes to follow in its wake similar to this Waheela S. In that sense, the Waheela S is a pioneering effort and a good one at that.
Note: Otso Cycles sent over the Waheela S for test and review to RidingGravel.com at no charge. We were not paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
10 thoughts on “Otso Cycles Waheela S: At The Finish”
How would you compare this to the Warakin?
@Joel- The Warakin is a more focused design which doesn’t have the versatility of various suspension forks, dropper post routing, or as many bottle mounts. But other than that they ride quite similarly. Of course, the Warakin is stainless steel and since it doesn’t have any paint, it is lighter, easier to maintain a good look, and rides a bit differently.
Why not just get a racy hardtail mountainbike with a 100mm travel fork and set up with 40-50mm Gravel tires? It would weigh about the same and then you would have a high quality travel suspension fork with the correct geometry. Of course, the fork would have a trigger lock-out for road use. Seems like to me, when you put a fork on a Gravelbike you’ve just reinvented the mountain bike. The distinction gets pretty fuzzy. I guess we should define a Gravelbike as any bike that has light-weight, fast-rolling, very lightly knobbed tires. Personally, I think that the perfect 2 bike stable has a full-suspension mountain bike combined with a wide tire(maybe even Plus size) full-rigid Gravelbike. That combination covers about most anywhere I could ride. However, I’m trying to keep an open mind. Overall, the suspended Waheela does not appear to be the great leap forward for Gravelbikes.
@Plusbike Nerd- That’s a great question and comment. I’ve asked that myself, and heard it put forward by others. Proponents of bikes like the Waheela say that an mtb gives up too much on the aero/road side since the geometry/seated position is typically more upright.
So- put drop bars on a 29″er hard tail, right? But then you take a bike like an mtb and drivetrain compatibility issues quickly arise. You cannot get a road geared crank on an mtb spec’ed frame, the derailleurs don’t mate with shifters, and on and on. Sure, there are gizmos to allow for some solutions, but it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work fluidly like a straight up road or a straight up mtb. (You folks with “But I have……” comments can hold your comments. Those comments aren’t addressing new, out of the box bikes from brands.) So, manufacturers don’t make bikes for us like this, with the possible exception of a few odd models out there.
What they have chosen to do is go with the road based drive trains, especially 1X, and offer big tire clearances with a more typically road profile. Drop bars, road-ish geometry. I think this is actually correct.
Concerning “the definition of a gravel bike”- Any bike you ride can be a “gravel bike”. It’s just going to come down to whether a particular choice is right/fun/efficient for the job. Fat bikes are time trial bikes and enduro mtbs with 6″ of travel are road bikes, but maybe “not the best choice” for the job, depending on who you ask. ;>)
As you can tell, I think defining a “gravel bike” misses the point. It’s the riding of a bike on gravel that matters. Thanks again for the comments!
At the current time, bike manufacturers are producing a wide array of what I will call Gravelbikes-for-Roadies. These Roadbike based Gravelbikes are fine if you have a Roadie background and the gravel you ride is fairly smooth, flat, and well maintained.
However, if you come from a Mountainbike background like me, your perspective might be different. I prefer flat bars. I dislike the stooped aero riding position and reaching foward to apply the brakes makes zero sense to me. I also prefer slack stable Mountainbike geometry, wide-range 500% 1×12 drivetrains, and low-pressure high-volume tires. I live in the Mountain West and the gravel roads I ride are often steep, poorly maintained, and can be about be about as rough and loose as a lot of singletrack. A twitchy, skinny tire Gravelbike-for-Roadies with an inadequate low gear can be a bear to ride in these conditions. Heck, many of our paved roads can be pretty rough.
I just think that there could be a market for Gravelbikes-for-Mountain-Bikers. Sure, there are lots of bike manufacturers building heavy 30+ pound steel adventure bikes (think Surly). But, I’m hoping for something that’s closer to 20 pounds while being highly capable in rough, steep conditions but not slow on pavement. I believe Gravelbikes-for-Mountain-Bikers are also valid Gravelbikes. If the carbon fiber Salsa Cutthroat came with a flat bar and 27.5×2.6 (or even 26×2.8) Gravel speciifc tires, that would be a bike I would like. I sure would like to see bike manufacturers build Gravelbikes-for-Mountain-Bikers.
The Warakin has the same weird flared chainstays. In my review on the forum I pointed out that they probably wouldn’t work super well for people with size 13+ feet, but my 11.5s are pretty fine and smaller feet wouldn’t notice.
The Waheela seems like a fine bike with a dumb fork. The stuff I put gravel bikes through and the distance at which I do it doesn’t play well with my non-dentist bike budget, and I’m not even that extreme of a rider. Rebuilding a fork every couple hundred miles (ie before and after the DK) seems like Fox wasn’t sure what they were doing.
To each their own but I love my Cuttysus (Cutthroat with a 100mm stepcast fork). It was a pricey upgrade but I now look forward to rough downhills with washboard thrown in. I used to dread it. The fork completely locks out when I need it to and only added 1.5 lb to the overall weight. I have a 2.1″ Thunder Burt rear and a 2.25″ RaRa front. The bike gives up a little bit compared to my full road bike but nothing like my mtb which is so much slower on paved roads. The recommended service intevals are about $200 every 125 hours or once a year. I would say that could easily be stretched to once a year or more for most gravel riders since this is based on mountain bike usage. The current weight of the bike is under 21 lbs without pedals (carbon wheels, force 1 drivetrain, aluminum cockpit and seat post).
Craig, Guitar Ted also said he could see a use for a 100mm fork(Salsa Fargo). It’s the 40mm fork specced here that he was discussing.
I agree: the only reason I see for a 40mm suspension fork is so it fits in existing bikes. If you are designing a bike for a suspension fork, then why not have more travel? There is no significant weight savings between the 100 and 40 mm version of the forks.
Regarding this bike, it does seem like a great bike specced with the rigid fork: reasonable price, customization on spec possible, room for 29×2.1 tires and thanks to the flip chip in the rear, you can run either 700c or 650b wheels without messing up the geometry to much.
Would love to get your thoughts on the updated Otso Waheela C with Lithic fork. Geometry mostly unchanged but still, carbon is a much different ride than steel.
Also love to hear your thoughts on the Masi Tavolo and other gravel bikes in their line up, Bombtrack Hook EXT-C and Ti, as well as the 2021 Ritchey Outback.
@lena bena – Thanks for the suggestions and comments. Here’s a few links you might be interested in
I reviewed an Otso Warakin with the Lithic fork. My thoughts on that forkcan be found near the end of that review here: https://www.ridinggravel.com/uncategorized/otso-cycles-warakin-finish/
Here are Grannygear’s thoughts from the Ritchey Outback review posted earlier this year: https://www.ridinggravel.com/gravel-bikes/ritchey-outback-quick-review/
Grannygear again, with his initial look at a Masi Brunelo. He’ll have more on this bike soon: https://www.ridinggravel.com/gravel-bikes/masi-brunello-getting-rolling/
We haven’t had a Bombtrack in yet for a review, but being a bicycle mechanic, I’ve come across a few and they look pretty nice. Hopefully one day we can actually review one of those. But those links should assuage much of your curiosity expressed in your comment for now.