by Wil Barrett
January 12, 2017
So, what does 900 quid get you these days? The Whyte 529 is an alloy hardtail with a 66.5° head angle and a penchant for speed.
Rewind to the Humble Hardtail group test in Issue #109 of Singletrack Magazine, for Wil’s review of the Whyte 529.
When it comes to entry level hardtails, UK-based Whyte offers up two distinct options: the 800-series that is built around 27.5in wheels, and the 529/629 series that is built around 29in wheels.
The 529 and 629 share exactly the same frame, which is brand new for 2017. Built around a 120mm travel fork, the new alloy frame utilises reworked geometry that draws from Whyte’s higher-end trail hardtails. Whyte is well known for pushing the boundaries of contemporary frame geometry, and its designers have sought to bring this progression to the entry-level models as well.
Compared to the previous iteration, the 529’s geometry has made a considerable transition away from the cross-country side of the spectrum. Highlighting this transition is a very slack 66.5° head angle, along with radically lengthened frames across the board. Our medium test bike runs a 63.3cm effective top tube length, which is over 2in longer than the Diamondback. That gives the 529 quite a long wheelbase, with most of its length in the front centre (the distance between the BB and the front hub). A twitchy cross-country race bike the 529 is most definitely not.
With its low-slung top tube and curvy hydroformed alloy tubing, the 529 certainly has the best looking frame on test. Even the matte green colour proved a hit amongst testers. It features a zero-stack tapered head tube to keep the front end low, a gently curved seat tube to increase tyre clearance, and shapely S-bend seatstays to help encourage compliance. Other neat details include the wedge-style QR seat collar, internal cable routing along the downtube, and the ability to fit a stealth dropper post.
In terms of parts, the Whyte substitutes some of the bigger brand names for some cheaper alternatives in order to get the price down below £900. Up front is a good-looking SR Suntour Raidon fork, with 32mm alloy upper tubes and a tapered steerer tube. It’s air sprung, has adjustable rebound damping, and employs the innovative Q-LOC 15mm thru-axle.
SR Suntour also provide a two-piece crankset for the 529, which drives a nine-speed Shimano 11-34T cassette that’s been using a black finish since way before it became cool. Deore derailleurs take care of shifting, while a set of Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes cover stopping duties.
Riding the 529 provided my first experience with the SR Suntour Raidon fork. For my 70kg riding weight, I played around with air pressures between 55–65 psi in an attempt to find the sweet spot between support and suppleness. Regardless, I could only ever get 110mm travel out of it. After speaking with SR Suntour, it turns out that, by design, the Raidon will never achieve that last bit of travel. So it’s really a 110mm travel fork. I ended up settling on about 25% sag, which although a little less responsive on the smaller chatter, kept the fork higher in its travel so I didn’t catch the pedals so much.
As with the Genesis, the 529 features shifters with non-removable displays. This means you’re forced to run the brake levers outboard, making it tricky to set them up for single-finger braking. Much less of an issue was the long seatpost, that Whyte specs in order to fit more riders’ potential saddle heights. Two minutes with a hacksaw, and the post can be shortened for those with stubby little legs like me.
Setting off on the 529, it’s not long before you’re alerted to this bike’s ability to go fast. The Maxxis tyres use a steel wire bead construction, and their extra heft does hamper initial acceleration somewhat. But with its smooth-rolling 29in wheels and slack geometry, it doesn’t take too long for the 529 to begin gathering momentum. And as the trail turns down, it can gather momentum with alarming pace.
True to Whyte’s word, the 529 is a very stable bike at speed. As the trail begins to get blurry around you, the 529 remains highly calm, competent and in control. Unfortunately, the fork just can’t keep up with the frame, with the damper struggling to deal with bigger high-speed hits. That said, it’s fine for 95% of the time and copes well with most trail centre-type riding.
Despite the 529’s high-speed sure-footedness, it’s surprisingly easy to change direction when asked. Whyte has sped up the steering with a minuscule 45mm stem on the 529, and with your weight biased over the rear wheel, it’s quite happy to trim the apex off corners, with the rear Crossmark tyre seemingly drifting at will. The only downside to Whyte’s new geometry ethos on the 529 is that it can feel a little sluggish at slower speeds, and the front wheel does exhibit more wheel flop on the climbs. But that’s a pretty acceptable trade-off in my opinion.
Many brands describe their bikes as ‘confidence-inspiring’, but few would inspire as much confidence as the 529 does. The frame shows great attention to detail, and its contemporary geometry is the beating heart of the 529. Its white-knuckle high-speed abilities are hampered by the underwhelming fork performance, but that’s only made apparent when riding at the outer edges of the bike’s abilities, and the rest of the spec does work well for the price. For a beginner rider, the 529 provides a great platform to grow into over time, allowing you to add upgrades like a wider bar and a dropper post as your skills progress.
Whyte 529 Specifications
- Frame // 6061 T6 Multi-Butted Alloy
- Fork // SR Suntour Raidon 120mm, Tapered, 15mm Thru-Axle
- Hubs // Alloy Cup & Cone, 32h
- Rims // Whyte Trail-21
- Tyres // Maxxis Ardent & Crossmark II 29×2.25in
- Chainset // SR Suntour XCM 36/22T
- Rear Mech // Shimano Deore Shadow
- Front Mech // Shimano Deore
- Shifters // Shimano Acera 2×9 Rapid Fire
- Cassette // Shimano HG-200, 11-34, 9 Speed
- Brakes // Tektro Auriga, 160mm Rotors
- Stem // Whyte Custom 45mm
- Bars // Whyte Flat 29er 720mm Wide
- Grips // Whyte Custom Lock-On
- Seatpost // Whyte 6061 Alloy 30.9mm
- Saddle // Whyte Custom
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 29.56lb (13.36kg)