This turned out to be one of the most tricky reviews I’ve done so far, though probably not for the reasons you’re thinking of.
Tim from Fearless Bikes (read my Interview with Tim here) got in touch to see if I’d like to try out his latest design, the Warlock frameset. Luckily I managed to avoid the current chronic shortage of bike parts by using parts i had spare or I stole parts off another of my bikes to build up a full bike. Using used parts may be the way to go for the next few months as the cycle industry struggles to keep up with demand or fulfill pre-orders during a pandemic. This however might be one of the advantages the Warlock has over other frames as it gives you a number of options when thinking of what parts to use when other frames have a much more specific list of requirements.
The Frameset has similarities to Fearless’s previous successful bike The Vulture in that it is a steel frame and fork but the geometry differs (see below for Warlock gemometry details link) and is more biased to off road than the on road manners of the previous frame. Would this make the bike awful to ride on tarmac or long tours? Read on to find out.
The frameset features bolt through axles (both 12mm), there is an enormous amount of bosses to allow mudguards, front and rear racks, anything/adventure cages and the slightly sloping top tube gives you masses of room in the front triangle for a frame bag and bottles. I have to say thank you Tim! because all the cables are external but one. That one is so you can run an internal dropper post if you want to and even then the cable is run outside until the seat tube. A million pro and home mechanics will rejoice at this! Also external thank goodness is the bottom bracket, allowing easy installation/removal. The threads on the bottom bracket were all chased and the BB went in easily and there were no creaks or build issues throughout the test. The frame features a 44mm head tube so if you want to fit a tapered carbon fork you just need the correct bottom headset cup. The supplied fork is also steel and comes with 1-1/8″ steerer so I used a reducer cup in the standard headset*
The paint is well applied, I stuck on some protective film where the cables might rub the frame but even after a month of hard riding through all sorts of weather and stone strewn trails the finish cleaned up to look as good as the day I unboxed it.
When you sit on the saddle and look down the top tube of the Warlock looks very skinny compared to an alloy or carbon frame but the best steel frames are are like this and the tube profiles contribute greatly to the much talked about “springy” ride feel of a great steel frame. The welds are neat, the rear seat stays have been designed so you can fit a post mount adaptor to the frame’s flat mount which gives you the option of running old style calipers or flat mount ones. I used a pair of Shimano Deore MTB calipers mated to some 11sp 105 Brifters. Tim has brought experience learned of the previous Fearless frame to bear in this as he told me that in a great majority of pictures he saw of riders Vultures the owners had built them with 1 x gearing. With this in mind, to allow extra room for tyres etc the Warlock is 1 x specific. You can, using the supplied adaptors also run a 1 x MTB chainset. I fitted a 38T chainring on a Shimano Ultegra crank with an 11-42 cassette and GRX rear derailleur. So if you are building a during/post pandemic bike this frameset can accommodate parts scoured from your local bike shop/shed/internet warehouse/marketplace to get you up and running until your favoured parts come back into stock.
*The headtube size 44mm is and takes an internal headset, at first I fitted an external headset on the bottom of the head tube, this does work but alters the geometry slightly. Tim saw this in a picture and messaged me to say he’d send out the correct lower cup. Fair enough, the bike should be tested as the designer meant it to be and with the headset he recommends buyers set it up with. Some pictures show the original cup I installed, others the intended cup.
The seat tube is 30.9mm so lots of choices when it comes to a dropper post. I didn’t have a spare dropper so fitted a 27.2 rigid post shimmed to fit the frame.
The frame has clearance for 700 x 47c, 650b x 58c (27.5 x 2.25″) wheels and tyres and during the test I fitted the following, 650x42mm, 650×2.1” and 700x42mm all fitted with loads of clearance. The Fearless website says a 650×2.25 will fit as well as 700x47mm (link below)
The Ride is exactly what you’d expect from a well designed steel frame, very comfortable and sprightly. In fact that’s not correct, this frame rides as you’d expect a bespoke hand made steel frame costing probably four times the price to. At the start of the test we’d had a long dry spell so the off road around here had been baked hard, but not for long enough that foot, hoof and wheel traffic had worn down the bumps of winter. Rides on this stuff give you a proper battering on a bike made of aluminium or carbon due to their stiffer nature. The warlock though seems to soak a lot of this up even on 650x42mm wheel and rubber. It doesn’t though come at the price of power transfer, press on the pedals and there is little side to side movement at the bottom bracket, this again is testament to the design. The Warlock will bowl along happily on broken roads (the majority of tarmac near here is like that) bridleways, towpaths but point it downhill on a twisty section of singletrack and you’ll come out the other end with a big smile. The ride has that springy feel, but not “twangy”! it’s hard to explain but if you come hot into a corner and deliberately apply some rear brake (skids are cool and not just for kids!) there’s no rear wheel chatter or lateral flex that can be felt in the cockpit. I’ve ridden some bikes that seem to dig the rear end in then release all that energy in one go making it feel like the rear axle is loose, this frame is well mannered and goes where you point it. The wheelbase is a good mix of confidence with a touch of puppy dog exuberance, push it on and your smile gets bigger. Talking of which, big tyres.
The 650×2.1 combo was a LOT of fun off road. I’ve ridden a fat bike for years and that gives a Tonka toy (google it kids) invincible, roll over anything feeling and the fatter tyres on the Warlock gave a similar ride. Hands on the drops, stay loose, let off the brakes this bike is so much fun! It certainly builds your confidence and encourages you to go faster.
Tim was happy for me to use the bike as I would my normal bikes so it’s been commuted to work, ridden on MTB trails, been on 100k+ day tours, stopped at many cafes and pubs, pounded some back roads, been loaded with bags, got absolutely filthy and soaked and just came back for more. The paint still looks fresh and I think it has classic bike looks.
And the reason this has been one of the most tricky reviews to date? Well, there’s nothing really negative I can say about this frameset and I like to balance the good with what I think would improve the product I’m reviewing but here I’m scratching my head to come up with something so the following is really all good but it think the bike build you do around the Warlock will depend on the following.
If you are lucky to live in an area where you ride off road from the door and 95% of your ride is off road fit the bigger tyres, they absolutely make this bike invincible, off road touring loaded with bags where there’s not much tarmac, fit the big tyres you’ll be grinning all the time uphill and down.
If you live like me in an area where to get to the off road there’s quite a bit of tarmac go with 700c/650 wheels x thinner rubber as they’ll bring you as much joy as the big tyres mentioned above. Ideally have two sets of wheels!
If you are new to riding off road on a skinny tyred bike then the Warlock will help you grow confidence in your new journey. If you are a seasoned rider then the Warlock will only enhance your skills. In a world of marketing where everyone claims their bike is a true all rounder the Warlock stands out as just that, messing about in the park, shopping, day touring, heck, world touring! This bike could be adapted to do it all with the right set up. But in the end it all comes down to one thing, this frame is FUN! and really that’s all you need in a bike.
So, no downsides just choices, which was what Tim set out to design in the first place. He has hit his own design brief perfectly.
Oh, I’ve thought of two negatives! I prefer the other colour is comes in and I’ve got to give it back!
You can find all the frame and more details from The Fearless Bikes website here
for more pictures and owners versions of the frameset have a look at Fearless bike’s IG here
As with all my tests, this is a real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of you reading this. companies sometimes send me things to test but i always let them know it will be an honest review good or bad