If you know your onions, the photo to the right may bring tears to your eyes. That's right... no trick photography... that head angle is slacker than the seat angle. That makes one of the major differences of this bike. More 'stolen' than 'borrowed' from Mountain Bike design, this is an attempt to make a bike that decides where 't's going whether or not you want to take it there. Unless you're bobbling along the rough ground faster than 25mph, this is a bike that requires decisive steering and someone willing to tell the bike who is boss. It sounds dramatic, and sounds wrong, but it works. Take that logic a bit further: just try and get a wobble on the front end. Just try and get bounced off your line... it's not going to happen. You want steer... you have to damn well steer.
One thing that a slack head angle does to a bike with big 700c wheels, is make for a long (VERY long) wheelbase. The idea that cyclocross bikes have got shorter and taller in recent years - essentially becoming 'road bikes with lots of mud clearance' is chucked away on the Whyte. You're in this for the ride, not necessarily for the speed... it's a kick in the face to those fast, European cyclocross courses. This is for rough stuff.
In response to that, I've had to have some pretty big battles with the bike when setting it up. Knowing full well you can't assess a bike after a ride or two, this bike's been through a lot of tuning and manipulation. The saddle has worked its way forward more and more during testing. The handlebars seem narrow at 46cm and even with a short stem (50mm shorter than on my other 'cross bikes') it felt stretched out.
The length, much like the head angle, makes for a bike that wants to stay on the ground. 'Manual's and popping the wheel round little drop-offs seem such hard work that you eventually realise there's no need to do it. And that's sort of the point. Bumps and grinds that might hurt you on a normal 'cross bike are ironed out by this gutsy little beast. Just let it go. Nothing bumps, nothing clangs... it just, somehow, absorbs.
One down side to all this length is that your cranks are more exposed to what happens to be between that long wheelbase. I've caught my pedals on rocks and roots more on this bike than I have on any CX bike. It's something you get used to, but only after familiarity sets in.
I'm absolutely adamant that this doesn't become a review of disc brakes on cyclocross bikes. There's so much not to write about here. The UCI's approval of disc brakes in 2010 has made it inevitable that all cross bike manufacturers will head this way. My personal opinion extends to cyclocross racing is that braking simply isn't an issue. There are three or four courses - even in the UK National Trophy series that I could name where I haven't braked more than three times a lap. Mud just slows you down. That's it.
However, given the '70% rule' (see above) in the cyclocross market, I know that it's not just about racing. From a personal point of view, there's also one particular race that consumes me more than any other, and that does tend to have a bit more braking in it than your average Sunday belt round the park.
So ... the 'no big deal' brakes are quite something. After a faffy set-up (don't let anyone tell you that disc brakes - and in particular cable disc brakes are simple!) they stopped when I said stop. On a dry day they stop when only one finger says stop, too. Cheeky.
Cable discs have a weird modulation (or sponginess to you). When you ride hydraulic Hope discs on your MTB it feels wrong... but after a short time it starts to make sense. If you put power brakes on a bike like this you would be straight over the bars. Even with that wheelbase. It's a braking style that suits the bike and put in far too simple terms, it's somewhere in between well adjusted cantis and hydraulic disc brakes. If you're used to cantis you'll think they're amazing. If you're used to hydraulic discs you'll be gutted. But until the big three component manufacturers come up with a proper solution (and I'm not talking TRP Parabox at 450 grammes) cable discs will do the job on new generation 'cross bikes.
Luckily, Whyte have borrowed some common sense from their MTB pedigree and put full length cable housings in. 'Cross bikes will all start to head this way in the coming years. Keeps out the muck from course and jetwashes alike.
Wheels are the ride, and the ride are wheels. Golden rule number 1 for any bike, and the only golden rule. I've been lucky enough to get hold of a superb pair of very special handbuilt cyclocross wheels from Strada Wheels, where none of my current wheel collection would have done. (Discs!). Hope Pro 3 hubs adapted for the road-spacing laced with Sapim X-Ray bladed spokes onto wide-bedded Velocity Major Tim rims are a great luxury... so much so that a separate review is needed later...! Glued on are a strange choice, but something very 3-peaks, Tufo T34 34mm tubs. The ride from those is just what you need on moorland, grit and the like. They ride like you're on a finely tunes pair of cushions. Even a relatively high pressure lets them absorb the nasties and stay intact. Industrial fells need the right tubs, and these are they. (Thanks to Crossjunkie as ever for glueing them better than I ever could!)
Okay geeks... here's the stats
Tubing used is 6061-T6 Heat Treatment. Tubes are multi-butted prior to a hydro-forming process to maximise the strength-to-weight of each tube. In this technique, a tube can have as many as 5 different wall thicknesses along it's length depending on the analysis of stress that the product development team see along it. A nice detail here on this Whyte is the asymmetrical Chainstay tubes.... Larger on the Drive side to counteract chain-induced torque and fatigue loads.
(...for the 'large' size tested) is:
The ride is optimised for a short stem - 70-80mm even on the large size. With that head angle there's no choice.
This is going to be really hard to sum up. If you're a fully dedicated 'cross rider, then you are quite possibly going to struggle to adapt more than most. Notice I used the word 'struggle'. It's one of those things I've got somewhere with by working on it. It doesn't feel like another 'cross bike. That's it's hook I guess. It's not trying to be different for the sake of it - it's trying to incrementally break away from received wisdom. First ride: it's revolution; after that you realise it's evolution.
I've ridden and raced lots of bikes on the road and off road. I'm very lucky to have raced some of the top-of-the-range, big price-ticket bikes, as well as putting my own together on a very tight budget at times. This bike's certainly grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and made me take notice. Even after a hard race almost first time out (Hit the North in Manchester, Feb 2011) and various rides on moorland, road and field since, it's only just starting to come together. But that's the thing. It's clicking now for me and worth getting to know. I plan to ride this bike in possible perfect territory for it - the Three Peaks Cyclocross - in late September.
Right now, I like it a lot.
The DesignerWhat one thing do you think this bike should achieve?
Confidence. When I was researching the 3peaks for example I came across quite a few You Tube clips of these poor terrified people teetering downhill like they'd just learnt how to ride a bike, right on the nervous edge of their confidence, and it really all comes down to the Geometry I concluded... Riding a road bike down a steep rocky hill wasn't something I fancied doing, so I thought about combining some aspects of MTB geometry into the frames. I think we've managed to bring more stability and control into the bike overall, and that has a massive effect on you confidence on this bike, that and the disc brakes brings a huge step in performance.Do you see Whyte moving to a 'range' of CX bikes after this "testing the water"?
Yes, our range is 3 bikes in 2012, 2 commuter aimed CX bikes the Kings Cross, and Charring Cross, and then the Saxon Cross which is little more pure CX bike without the paraphernalia of the commuter bikes in terms of bridges and bosses and the condiments of the commuter.
You ride one of these yourself ... what's it like to race on your own "creation"?
Very satisfying when it comes out well, but very nerve wracking for the first few rides, and there is always refinement and optimisation going on. Working on set-up is very important. Actually it was on a Western Summer CX league event that I thought we were onto something, because I'd been out that morning up on the hill doing some pretty serious MTB trails on it, and then racing it around Pitville Park in a pure CX race that evening, and really fighting it out for the win with the CX regulars. So that showed me that while the bike was going to work really well off road, it was still competitive over 1 hour and 5 laps round the local park.
Do you see big manufacturers embracing hydraulic disc brakes for 'cross bikes in the near future? I see the component manufacturers doing it, whether the Euro race orientated CX brands embrace it I'm not sure, one or two seem to have got it, but we've all been here before in MTB racing, so I'm sure it'll come.
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