For those who have experienced it firsthand for themselves before, there really is nothing quite as satisfying as going through the process of a full custom bike build. It may take a significantly larger investment of time compared to just walking into a bike shop and picking up a whole bike, but for those of us who are particular about the finer details, it’s time well spent.
For this bike check, we chat with Whyte Bike’s Neil Halcrow, about an uber-stealth hardtail build that he’s recently completed.
Neil’s build is based around a Whyte 909 frame. Technically the 909 is only available as a complete bike and isn’t an aftermarket option on its own, but when you work for a bike company, you can usually pull a few strings to make these things happen.
For those of you who know Neil or have met him before, you’ll be aware that he’s an absolute shredder on two wheels. He’s heavily involved in the British mountain biking race scene, being both a racer and manager for the Whyte Enduro Team. And it was at the most recent TweedLove Whyte Vallelujah Enduro that we caught up with Neil to get a closer look at his new hardtail, and to find out how he’s set it up for his personal riding style.
ST: Alrighty Neil! Tell the folks who you are, what you do and who you work for.
NH: My name is Neil Halcrow and I’m a sales and training manager for Whyte Bikes, plus team manager and racer on the Whyte Enduro Team.
ST: And this stealthy hardtail of yours – what’s the dealio?
NH: I’ve been riding bikes for about 25 years now, and am head over heels with everything to do with cycling. Mountain biking is my main passion, but I enjoy all aspects of cycling. The frame is a 2017 Whyte 909 Trail Hardtail, size Large. I’m 6ft tall and it fits perfectly.
ST: So why a hardtail? Why did you choose this frame?
NH: I chose to build this bike for a couple of reasons. I spend most of my time on a mixture of bikes but mostly on suspension bikes like the T-130 and G-160 for training and racing, but have always wanted to build up a bling hardtail for local rides and winter training. This year Whyte produced the 909 hardtail in a black frame with some gold decals, and i thought it would be a neat idea to build up one of those frames with black parts and a gold SRAM XX1 Eagle groupset (Ed: As you do!).
So I got hold of a frame, which is not normally available, and got to work building my dream hardtail with kit I knew would be a good mixture of bling and durability. For me, that meant opting for a Hope Pro4 wheelset, Hope brakes and finishing kit, a SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-speed groupset, a 130mm travel RockShox Pike fork, a 150mm Reverb, a very, very lightweight carbon Fizik Gobi saddle and RaceFace SixC bars. Plus a set of trusty Maxxis tyres.
ST: Nice! Can you tell us a bit about your suspension setup? Are you a hard ‘n’ fast man, or more soft ‘n’ slow?
NH: I am unashamedly a massive fan of Rockshox forks, so for this build the obvious choice was the trusty Rockshox Pike RC3 130mm fork. Set up wise I like my forks a little on the firm side with about 75 psi and 2 tokens with the rebound more towards the faster side. Again that’s more of a personal preference as I’m usually riding quite fast and rocky terrain.
ST: What about other setup preferences like tyre choice, tyre pressure, bar width and such?
NH: Setup wise, the beauty of a custom build is that I’ve been able to spec it exactly for my needs. The obvious choice for rubber was Maxxis, with a High Roller 2.4in EXO tubeless up front run at 25psi, and for the dry conditions of late, a Maxxis Minion SS 2.3in on the rear for super fast rolling run at 28psi, plus running them on the new Hope 35W rims really opened up the tyre width for maximum control.
Race Face Carbon 35mm SIXC bars cut down to 780mm fitted to a 50mm Hope AM Stem. I also opted to fit a longer 150mm travel Rockshox Reverb, which has been really good for getting the saddle right out of the way on steeper descents.
ST: Any particularly special parts on your build?
NH: I’ve gone for Hope Race Evo E4 brakes with 180mm Hope Floating Rotors front and rear, which for me offers the right mix of 4-pot braking power with a nice lightweight lever. Then there’s the added bonus of a titanium bolt kit that saves a few extra grams even though light weight wasn’t the main main of the build. But every little bit helps, or at least, it does in my mind!
I have always been a fan of the Fizik Gobi saddle, so when I spotted Fizik do a bling carbon railed M1 it had to go on the build – no ifs or buts. Recently my go to grips have been the DMR Deathgrip in a slim grip with a soft compound, so again this was an easy choice for the build.
ST: Are there any custom or specific setup tricks you use for your bike?
NH: I haven’t use any specific set up tricks really, just proven trusted kit that I know will be reliable for lots of riding in a mixture of conditions and trails.
ST: And what would you change about it? Have you got any further upgrades planned?
NH: The only thing I would change on the bike is the rear tyre for less dustier conditions, opting probably for a Maxxis Aggressor tyre. I have recently swapped the Crank brother Mallet E pedals for the new DMR V-Twin pedals as I run another pair of these on my other bike, so that keeps the shoe/cleat combination consistent between my bikes.
ST: Most importantly (and we know you’re a little biased), how does it ride?
NH: This bike always seems to surprise me with just how fast and how well it manages techy trails. It’s got a 66.5° head angle and a long and low frame design, so it feels super stable over rough rocky ground, which is what I like to ride. It took me a couple of rides to get back to the feel of a hardtail after spending so many years on full suspension bikes, but once I got used to not having any rear suspension again it flies! I’ve actually nicknamed it “the hooligan hardtail” because it’s so fast and such good fun to ride!
ST: Is this bike destined to race against the clock? Or is it simply a fun machine?
NH: It’s a fun machine that’s for sure! I haven’t raced the bike and I’m not really intending to, as I only race on stock Whyte bikes like the G-160 Works and T 130 Works (Ed: Lucky for some eh?). This bike is just a personal project for training and winter rides, mostly around my home in north Wales.
Neil Halcrow’s Custom Whyte 909 Specifications
- Frame // Whyte 2017 909, 6061-T6 Hydro Formed Alloy
- Fork // Rockshox Pike RTC3, 130mm Travel
- Hubs // Hope Pro4 Evo, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Hope Tech 35W, 32h
- Tyres // Maxxis High Roller 27.5×2.4in EXO 3C MaxxTerra Front & Minion SS 27.5×2.3in EXO Rear
- Crankset // SRAM XX1 Eagle, 34T X-Sync 2 chainring, 175mm crank length
- Bottom Bracket // Hope Stainless Threaded Bottom Bracket with GXP converter
- Rear Mech // SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed
- Shifter // SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed, 10-50T
- Brakes // Hope Race Evo E4, with Titanium Bolt kit, SRAM direct shifter mount, and 180mm Floating Rotors Front and Rear
- Stem // Hope AM/Freeride Stem, 35mm diameter, 50mm length
- Bar // Race Face Stealth SIXC 35mm Carbon Bar with 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
- Grips // DMR DeathGrip, Black, slim and soft compound
- Headset // Hope HSC2 and HSC3 Headset, 2x10mm and 1x20mm Carbon Spacers
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth, 150mm Travel
- Saddle // Fizik Gobi M1 Carbon Saddle
- Pedals // Crank Brothers Mallet E
- Weight // 12.31kg (27.1lb)