Every now and again, a bike turns up in the Singletrack office that I want to ride.
I want to take it away from its relaxed life as a photo model and rag it within an inch of its life until it begs me to stop. In the past few months, more and more of these bikes have been arriving. All of them aimed at the same thing. Going long, going far, and going fast.
Looks have sometimes been a bit hit and miss with Whyte bikes over the years. Remember the PRST-1? However, the recent offerings from Whyte, in my eyes at least, have been nearly perfect. They look like a full suspension bike should. Two triangles, some linkages, wheels, forks and bars. The M-109, T-129 and G-150 all look perfect this year and the colour matching between frame, stem, hubs and wheels only add to the bikes’ appeal. One of the perks of the magazine test machine is that it did come specced with Whyte’s own carbon tubeless wheelset. They look and handle brilliantly, but even switching to a more normal pair of Stan’s ZTR Crests, the characteristics of the M-109 were the same.
The Whyte M-109 has been the long-termer of Jorji and it took me a few months of effort to prise it out of her hands to test. The initial car park test ride of the M-109 showed its cross-country, race-inspired geometry from the start, with ample mud clearance and a lifetime warranty on the main pivot bearings making it a perfect UK set-up. A bike that should fit in with my normal style of riding. Fast uphill, normal downhill. Hopefully, it was going to be a race whippet’s dream. Probably an unforgiving and terrifying dream, but a dream nonetheless.
On receipt of the M-109 I took it for a ride around the trails of Hebden Bridge and realised that all was not as it seemed underneath the racing stripe paintwork. The first trail had me, as normal, reaching for bottom gear. But wait! Someone had put a triple on the front, a spec option I’ve not had in a while and something definitely pitched towards the marathon and endurance fields. Thankfully, Whyte have done away with press-fit bottom bracket nonsense for their cross-country bikes and the M-109 runs a normal, sensible, easy to replace external bottom bracket. Shifting duties were performed by the dependable Shimano SLX 10-speed clutch mech providing, as ever, silent and effortless shifting paired with a Deore front mech and shifter pods. Stopping duties were performed by the dependable Shimano Deore BR-596 brake set, which I already own on two bikes. An utterly fantastic brake for such a cheap price.
The combination of a shortish 70mm stem and relatively narrow bars, however, left a lot to be desired in my eyes. Maybe I’ve become used to wider bars and left my mid ’90s ideals behind, but it did cause the M-109 to be a bit of a twitchy handful on some descents. However, the racer in me did appreciate this the one time I raced the bike: narrow bars fit into smaller gaps when you’re overtaking.
Out front, the M-109 runs a 15mm bolt-through Fox Float 32 Evolution 29 fork with the normal CTD gubbins installed. This fork, for me, has never inspired, and would be the first thing to go with time. Overly soft in ‘descend’ mode, not hard enough when in ‘climb’ mode, it just never feels right. Just stick it in ‘trail’ and be done with it. Or, strip it off, sell it, then buy some SIDs. I’d normally say the same about the Fox Float Performance shock, but the Quad 4 linkage eliminated nearly all pedal bob and gave a ride not unlike a hardtail.
The small frame I was riding came with a head angle of 69.5º and wheelbase of 110.5cm with a 12mm bolt on the rear axle. When paired with super short 431mm chainstays the bike felt active and lively when going downhill at any speed, but never sketchy like some of the full suspension cross-country bikes I’ve previously owned. Popping off trail features and doing little manuals into depressions is the name of the game. The M-109 pays you back the more you get involved when riding it. Hopping over ruts, then roots, splashing through puddles, then drifting through dust. The bike gives an amazing amount of feedback and lets you know when you’re on the limit before it steps over it. Predictability is the name of the game, aiming to keep you safe when you’ve been riding for multiple hours and start to drift off. A joy during any marathon race.
As I only had the M-109 on loan for a month, I knew I had to make the most of it and ride it across as many varying types of terrain as I could. Initial trail riding duties around Calderdale showed that, for a marathon bike, the M-109 is capable of taking on technical trails. The speeds may not be as high as longer travel bikes, but in reality it’s only limited by the pilot. Longer cross-country rides around the Peak District and Wales allowed the M-109 to shine. Normally I feel battered after a five-hour ride in the Peak, but the M-109 gave me those extra gears to climb with, meaning less tired legs. The bigger ring helped finish road sections faster and had me linking up trails that I normally would ride in separate sessions. Racing the bike was where it shone, though; it just wants to go fast.
Combined with the predictable handling and a competitive set of components, the M-109 gave me what I needed to get up and down open mountain trails fast. It is not a trail bike or an out-and-out cross-country racer’s bike in this guise. The weight is reasonable and the build kit is solid and dependable. But it is an eminently capable all-day bike.
Overall: A bike just as happy taking you on adventures as it is racing around longer marathon-style courses.
|From:||ATB Sales, atb-sales.co.uk|
|Tested:||by Greg May for One month, ~ 500km|