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.