While some companies choose to head off to far flung locations and luxurious resorts to launch their bikes, Whyte want their bikes to do the talking. Considering that wet British woodland and trail centres will be where most of these bikes spent their working lives, it was somewhat fitting that a torrentially rainy Cannock Chase was the location for the release of their 2013 range.
They’ve finally waken the plunge into the world of full suspension 29ers, releasing not one but two full sprung big wheelers. Long time Whyte fans nay be surprised to hear that this has necessitated a move to a new suspension design – Quad 4. It’s markedly different, being a four bar style design rather than the virtual pivot-esque Quad Link II, which remains on the 26″ wheeled 146 trail bike.
Talking of the 146, that’s had a mild redesign for 2013, with a new braced front triangle offering a claimed 11% increase in torsional stiffness. We got on well with the Whyte 146S we tested a while ago, so this update should improve it further. The last year’s incredibly well specced 146X is now replaced by the 146XI, which uses the brand new SRAM XXI 11 speed drivetrain plus Rise 60 carbon fibre wheels.
They’ve also introduced an aluminium framed big wheeled trail hardtail called the Whyte 929, using a 120mm travel Fox fork up front and 1x10spd drivetrain with chain guide. It’s set to cost £1,999.99 and although we didn’t ride it, it looks like a bundle of fun…
Whyte go big wheeled and bouncy
The big news is obviously this pair of brand spanking new big wheelers. Both bikes are made from 6061 T6 aluminium alloy with tapered headtubes up front and 142x12mm thru axle rear ends. The ‘XC/marathon’ focused M-109 has 100mm of travel front and rear while the T-129 is aimed more as a trail bike with 120mm of travel.
Designer Ian Alexander firmly believes that to get a 29er handling properly, you need short chainstays. In theory this means the bike is happier to pop and pivot around the rear wheel; the sort of thing that makes a bike feel lively and fun. It also allows you to put length in the front end for a spacious cockpit feel while having a reasonable overall wheelbase, quite useful if you live anywhere with lots of twists and turns.
Despite the difference in travel, both the bikes have equally short rear ends – at 431mm long, they’re actually 9mm shorter than the 26″ wheeled 146. That move to a four bar is, according to Whyte, driven entirely by the problem of how to package a short rear end, and still allow for enough wheel travel. They also reckon that the attributes of the larger wheel make the axle-path trickery used on the 26″ Quad Link II less important.
Though the design is different, Whyte still offer a lifetime warranty on the bearings and the same neat covers seen on previous bikes are used to protect against British summertime weather. Mud clearance is also plentiful, the seattube being curved in at the bottom to maximise it. This does meaning the post itself is quite kicked back, but the effective angle is around 72.5° – depending on the size.
After donning wetsuit and snorkle, we headed out onto the trails of Cannock Chase. The classic British woodland tree-weaving singletrack has an extra element of fun added by the polished baby-head sized rocks embedded in the surface, meaning mid-corner shifts a few inches to the side are a feature of every turn. With received wisdom having it that big wheels are best on the more open, high speed terrain, picking somewhere with sections as tight and wiggly as this was a confident move.
Whyte T-106 S
The T-129 was up first. Geometry is classic Whyte, with a nice rangey top tube exaggerated by the laid back seat tube, a head angle that’s slacker than the norm – 68° is what most people are using on their 140mm bouncers – and relatively short stem and wider bars than you’d expect. For the standard model (£1,749.99), drivetrain comes from SRAM and is mostly X7 but with the important addition of a X9 Type 2 clutch mech to tame the chain. Suspension units are also from the SRAM banner, with Rock Shox Reba RLT with 15mm axle up front and a Monarch RL at the back. The ‘S’ model (£1,999.99) offers SRAM X9 for your money, plus an upgraded Monarch RT3 shock. Production T-129 S bikes will also get a X-Fusion Hilo dropper post, but our test bike had a RS Reverb fitted.
The work to keep the back end short is instantly obvious. Lofting the front wheel through the hub deep puddles that littered the trail instantly brought the feeling of a well sorted 26″ bike to mind, with an immediacy to the reaction that it often absent from many big wheelers. There was no sensation of being disconnected from any control over where the back end could be placed, steering being possible with input from the pedals as well as the bars. The four bar rear end was utterly unobtrusive in the way something well designed should, dealing with bumps, compressions and the like without any wayward behaviour, consistently giving supple but supportive traction.
The front end was sharp without being prone to flopping over and really complimented the front to rear balance or the bike. Sat down, it’s stretched out in the way that makes you feel confident that you could get your head down and pedal all day long without any undue aches or pains, although that kicked out seattube does mean you need to get you saddle height and fore-aft adjustment well sorted. Stand up and the geometric conjuring we first saw on the Whyte 146S happens – you’re suddenly riding a bike that happily darts through tight corners but is stable at speed. It’s masses of fun and also covers ground at a startling pace.
Mid way through our loop, it was time to switch to the shorter travel bike. Again, there are two models, the M-109 (£1,999.99), with Fox Evolution suspension and a 30spd Shimano Deore/SLX mix drivetrain. The M-109 S (£2,999.99) has Fox Performance CTD shocks and a Shimano SLX/XT mix for the drivetrain but the major upgrade is in the form of Whyte’s own brand carbon fibre rims.
While the 120mm bike has been fun, the M-109 S was a whole new level of entertainment. The loss of 20mm of travel and a considerable amount of rotating mass made for an incredibly lively, reactive and rapid bike. Stomping on the pedals the bike is razor sharp, confidently surging forwards and darting between corners. The bike is perfectly suited to Cannock but it’d quite happily destroy most trail centres, even on the rough stuff.
It pops between berms in a way that makes you think of a big wheeled BMX due to the utterly involving nature of it. If you wanted to ride for mile after mile after mile and still be grinning, then this is the bike for you. As a marathon race bike you’d be able to put distance into people uphill, on the flat and then extend your lead even further on the descents. It’s the second 100mm travel 29er we’ve ridden recently that’s blown us away with speed and capability lately. Must be something in the water.
All the bikes are going to available from the end of July and Whyte will have demo bikes available from dealers around that time too.