This article first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.
Like many gravel bikes before it, the Otso Warakin Stainless — with its Tuning Chip rear dropout system and big tire clearance — seems to offer a solution to the indefatigable n+1 dilemma. Of course, with so many gimmicky gravel bikes crowding the market these days, I maintain a healthy skepticism about any bike that claims to do more than one thing well. But after putting the Warakin through its paces, I’m convinced: it’s difficult to imagine how a bike could be more versatile. The Warakin makes having separate gravel, mountain, and touring bikes seem downright excessive.
Unsurprisingly, the combination of a steel frame, all-carbon fork, and tubeless tires on Otso’s Warakin Stainless make for a comfortable ride on smooth roads and rutted singletrack alike. Off the bat, the bike’s capable handling on rough terrain impressed me. It made me feel more skilled than I usually feel riding trails on a gravel bike — like being on a lightweight, twitchy mountain bike.
The frame geometry is reminiscent of a rigid, cross-country MTB with a longer top tube and shorter stem, so it strikes a balance between comfort and responsiveness. On the Warakin, I found myself confidently venturing onto more technical trails than usual, where I often seemed to be the only one on a bike without suspension.
The HED Emporia gravel wheels contributed to the mountain bike–like ride experience, thanks to their 650b diameter and generous 25mm internal width, yet they never felt sluggish, even on the road. Gravel tires are getting skinnier and smoother across the market, but these chunky 48mm Panaracer GravelKings on wide-rimmed aluminum wheels were fun — especially well-suited for those newer to off-road riding or tackling tougher terrain — and still fast.
Running the tires tubeless, I could adjust the pressure to capably ride almost anything, dropping as low as 30–35 PSI to tackle steep climbs with loose gravel or bomb bumpy descents with unexpected obstacles. Unlike riding smaller tires, I didn’t have to carefully pick my lines. I could pretty much just point the bike and go, feeling confident that I’d stay rubber-down. Of course, the SRAM Rival hydraulic disc brakes didn’t hurt here. I found myself collecting PRs on some of my favorite dirt descents, which I attribute to the confidence generated by the responsive and reliable braking power.
As for versatility, the Warakin’s massive tire clearance means you have ample options to customize the bike for your type of riding. The frame comfortably fits anything up to 700c x 51mm, 650b x 51mm, or 29 x 2.1in. You could purchase multiple wheelsets for this bike and be ready for anything: off-road riding, mixed-surface touring, cyclocross racing, mountain biking. That said, I was very pleased with the performance of the 650b HEDs with 48mm tires, and I liked how I could effortlessly go from smooth road to challenging singletrack with just a small tire pressure adjustment. I’d be happy riding all day on this setup.
The one part of this bike that wasn’t optimized for all terrains was the groupset. Even with its generous 11–42T cassette, the 1x11 SRAM Rival drivetrain with a 42T Wolf Tooth chainring left me pining for lower gear options. Although 1x drivetrains are popular in the gravel community, I find this configuration to be limiting. Most of the off-road riding I do in the Bay Area includes punishingly steep climbs in the 15–20 percent gradient range. This type of climbing can be challenging (and sometimes not very fun) with a 1x drivetrain. Throw in bikepacking gear, and you’ve got a recipe for sore knees and too much hike-a-bike.
To be fair, I’m used to gravel riding and touring on a triple crank, which I think is excessive for a bike as light as this. But a 2x gravel-oriented drivetrain would have helped me conquer tough hills, especially on bike tours, without straining my knees. Otso offers various 2x drivetrain options for a Warakin Stainless complete, including Shimano GRX 600 and 800 as well as SRAM Rival eTap.
Based on my experience with both steel bikes and touring bikes, I expected the Warakin Stainless to be heavy. To my delight, my assumptions were wrong. The 49cm Warakin Stainless I tested weighs in at just 21.25 pounds — and with higher-end parts, you can shave off some of that weight. Even riding tough dirt and gravel routes on the Warakin, I kept pace with friends on ultra-lightweight carbon builds, and (in my opinion) looked much cooler doing it.
Riders on the Otso Warakin Stainless should be prepared to stand out. This bike is eye-catching — a bare stainless-steel frame with a matte-black carbon fork. This isn’t just another big-name carbon fiber racing rig; it’s clean, simple, and unique. When’s the last time you saw someone shredding the trails on stainless steel? Plus, if you’re a fan of the appearance of naked titanium, you can get something similar both in look and feel without the high price tag. Beyond the obvious aesthetic appeal, the stainless-steel frame is also practical. It’s strong and resistant to rust and corrosion, which means you can load it down with bags or ride in wet weather without worry.
Otso clearly put a lot of thought into the details of the Warakin, and it shows. The Tuning Chip, for starters, is Otso’s proprietary rear dropout system that allows for adjustable bike geometry. It’s fairly easy to adjust at home with a couple of wrenches and hex tools. In tandem with the wide tire clearance, this feature makes the Warakin an incredibly versatile bike.
After a few months, I was content with the longest wheelbase configuration, but it was cool to have the option to shorten up the wheelbase and raise the bottom bracket height for a cyclocross race or something similar if I wanted to. I think that’s where the Tuning Chip comes most in handy: for special occasions. It’s not necessarily practical to adjust for every single ride, but before a race or a long tour, for example, you could shorten or lengthen your wheelbase and adjust your clearance to tailor your ride experience.
Another highlight of this bike was the Lithic Hiili full-carbon fork. I’m accustomed to chunky and heavy steel forks; this was actually my first experience with a carbon bikepacking fork, and I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to steel. With three eyelets on each side, this fork easily supported extra water bottles or camping gear, and it was lighter and more comfortable than I thought possible for a touring-capable fork.
Something unexpected that did impress me was the Wolf Tooth Supple Bar Tape, which was the perfect combination of bouncy and soft. It didn’t get slippery even when sweaty, and I could ride gloveless on bumpy gravel without worrying about blisters. I also loved the Warakin’s minimally flared Lithic Corundum handlebar. I’ve always found super-flared handlebars to be excessive and sort of annoying, so I like that these strike a middle ground between narrow road and wide gravel drops. Once again, Otso found the sweet spot to facilitate comfortable riding in pretty much any context.
With its stainless-steel frame, HED gravel wheelset, full-carbon fork, and Tuning Chip, the Otso Warakin Stainless is ready for anything. The full build starts at $3,550, which may seem steep for a steel bike, but I’d say that the high-quality components, the durability, and the versatility make it worth it. And the bike configurator on Otso’s site offers customizable component options, so if the build I tested doesn’t sound quite right for you, there are ample adjustments you can make so that this bike arrives ready for the type of riding you want to do. Frameset-only options start at $1,640 and opens you up to build this bike pretty much however you can imagine. Thanks to the versatility of this frame, the sky’s the limit.
Sizes available: 49cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 60cm
Size tested: 49cm
Weight: 21.25 lbs. (without pedals)
Head tube length: 87mm
Head tube angle: 70°
Seat tube length: 470mm
Seat tube angle: 75°
Top tube: 510mm (effective)
Bottom bracket drop: 68–72mm
Fork offset: 47mm
Standover height: 735mm
Frame: Warakin custom butted austenitic stainless steel, three bottle mounts, rack and fender mounts, Tuning Chip adjustable dropout
Fork: Lithic Hiili carbon, triple mounts, hidden fender mounts
Handlebar: Lithic Corundum alloy, 380mm width, 16° flare
Stem: Alloy, 90mm
Rear derailer: SRAM Force 11spd
Shifter: SRAM Force
Brakes: SRAM Force hydraulic disc
Rotors: SRAM Paceline Center Lock 160mm
Bottom bracket: SRAM, threaded
Crankset: SRAM Rival 1x, 170mm, Wolf Tooth 42T chainring
Cassette: SRAM Rival, 11–42T, 11spd
Headset: Wolf Tooth Performance Headset
Seatpost: Alloy 27.2mm, 350mm
Saddle: WTB Volt Comp, 142mm Hubs: HED GP Performance, 142 x 12mm rear, 100 x 12mm front, thru-axles
Rims: HED Emporia GA Performance, 24h, tubeless ready
Tires: Panaracer GravelKings, 650b x 48mm, tubeless ready
Chain: SRAM PC-1170
Grips: Wolf Tooth Supple Bar Tape