The Cycle Life

First Look: Otso Warakin

We predict lots of people will fall in love with this stainless-steel gravel bike, thanks to a smart design that allows users to customize the ride

First Look: Otso Warakin

This versatile stainless-steel Otso Warakin road bike is also geared for gritty off-road adventure. Photo: JJAG Media

Otso, the tiny Minneapolis-based bike brand from the guys behind Wolf Tooth Components, launched last year with just two models. And I love them both.

The Warakin, a stainless-steel adventure-oriented road bike, might look like a very different machine than the carbon-fiber Voytek—and it is—but it borrows some of that bike’s design cues to keep the brand DNA and push the innovation. Namely, the rear end gets the same Tuning Chip dropout, which lets you adjust the rear chainstays in three equal increments, from 420mm to 440mm. This change also slightly raises and lowers the bottom bracket, as well as slackens and steepens the head angle, which effectively makes it possible to toggle the Warakin between two, if not three, very different bikes.

I was skeptical of the claims, but after spending a few months riding the new bike, I’m convinced it’s more than just a marketing gimmick. I haven’t raced the Warakin yet, but in the short chainstay setting, it feels nimble and responsive enough to make me comfortable in a big pack of riders on the road. In this setting, it’s a fast-handling cyclocross machine. Mostly, though, I’ve run it in the middle or longer setting, the latter being ideal for the punishing forest-road climbs outside Santa Fe. Between the squat frame geo, tall headtube, and flared handlebars, the bike is truly stable while bombing chattery washboard descents. The steel frame sponges up vibration as only steel can, and the carbon-fiber fork helps with the ride quality.

Otso chose stainless steel for its smooth ride qualities and sharp good looks. Few companies are building frames with the material, and the matte, bead-blasted logos are eye-catching enough that I’ve had several strangers ask about the bike. (“What the hell is an Otso?”) Personally, though, I might have preferred a natural black finish on the carbon fork instead of the attempt at the paint match, which is ever so slightly off.

Otso wisely went for full versatility on the Warakin, including braze-ons for three bottles, mounts for racks and fenders, and clearance for 50mm tires. Our tester is the stock build, including hardworking Shimano 105 components and fast-rolling 35mm Schwalbe Sammy Slick tires. At 22.5 pounds (size 54) and $3,200, this bike a very good value, especially for such a versatile machine.

This time of year, when the roads are gritty with salt and gravel and I’d rather not bang up and sully my high-end carbon-fiber roadie, this workhorse is the perfect compromise. And honestly, the Warakin decked with lighter wheels and skinnier 28mm tires is adept enough that I’m tempted to make it my year-round ride. It’s hard to argue with such a multitalented road bike.

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