I have just bought a Whyte S-120C RS and as always when buying a new bike, I’ve brought it into the studio to get a few pictures. I also sometimes like to write mild reviews of the things I buy and/or photograph, which can be taken with a pinch of salt, but may offer some insight if you are considering an ownership prospect yourself.
In the case of this bike, it was on my part a very considered purchase. A huge amount of research and calculation took place before jumping in and it may be that if you are reading this review, you have ended up here as you are having similar thoughts. I think in reality this bike is one of only a handful in a brand new category of mountain bike and one that suits me down to the ground.
I had a Cube Stereo with 150/140mm of travel (that you can find pictures of on this site if you track back) and had become convinced I had too much travel for the terrain I was riding. While I was feeling this the industry and certainly the bike buying public seemed to be getting more and more travel, so I became quite used to having the least travel when riding trails, but was still feeling as though I needed less.
I do understand why this was happening. The geometry changes that were making bikes both descend and, to a lesser extent climb so beautifully was making it seem as though big travel had no downsides. Imagine though if you could apply the same forward thinking geometry to a shorter travel bike and rather than allow an enduro bike to climb, you could allow an XC bike to shred on the downhills.
The SRAM problem
It seems as though some bright sparks working at bike companies had been doing their jobs very well and had come to this conclusion way before I had and seemingly created a category known now as downcountry. Cross-country bike that can also go downhill. I was fairly sure this what I was looking for, so now just the matter of finding the bike for me. This was pretty easy in reality because of a few things going on in the MTB market right now. Most significantly the SRAM Eagle NX groupset.
As you know pretty much all bikes are 12 speed now and not so long ago the entry point was SRAM Eagle GX, a really nice group boasting 500% range from a 10-50 cassette. Coming from a 2×10 setup this pleased me greatly as I could achieve the same spread of ratios with only one chainring. However, that was a couple of years ago and now there are two groups below GX both offering 12 gears, but these two do not use the XD freewheel driver that allows for the 10 tooth cog and so has to use an 11 tooth one.
This is a pretty familiar setup as the SX and NX cassettes use the Shimano freehub bodies of old. This means the spread of ratios is less than my old 2×10 setup and only so the manufacturers can save the money on an XD driver. Please guys, just use XD hubs and save the money elsewhere. Changing some finishing kit is easy, but getting a new wheel built up is a pain. Some hubs do have easy to find replacement drivers, but many do not and it’s not always obvious with some of these OEM wheels.
In many cases, this is not a problem as the range is easily enough for most trails in this country, but I use my bike to commute some times and that involves rough tow paths, but also some fast road sections. Going from 11 to 10 teeth adds so much at the top end it is almost unbelievable, but I really have to have it or be changing over chainrings all the time. This is where the problem now lies as the manufacturers are fitting NX without the XD driver where they once fitted GX with one. It makes all the difference and it is happening on bikes up to £4000 or just over, which just seems nuts.
Step in Shimano with the new micro spline and a 10-51 cassette which is available in SLX, XT and XTR groupsets covering a wide range of price points. This means an entry level bike with Shimano kit on will likely have a 510% range, where one with SRAM kit will have 480%. So for me it was simple. Find a downcountry bike for under £4000 with micro spline, preferably in blue, maybe British to suit British riding and carbon. One choice then. The Whyte S-120C RS.
The Whyte S-120C RS review
The truth is from my understanding, all the S-120’s are all brilliant and it just comes down to budget. Over £4000 just seems too much to me and it’s nuts that bikes can be over double that. I’m sure many of you will think £4000 is mad, but £3600 for the RS seems like good value to me. I have had the opportunity to take the bike out twice to my favourite trail centre and it has been nothing short of a marvel. All of those tweaks in design make clear and logical changes to the way the bike rides and they all seem to be positive. Comparing directly to the few bikes I have used at this particular place, this Whyte blasts them all out of the water.
First off I am very happy that my gamble on the travel proved to be a good one. On the roughest sections and biggest drops that I am ever likely to face I have not yet felt as though I am after any more travel. It is an odd experience. With the 140mm travel of my last bike, I could feel it moving all the time. In one way it’s nice to know it’s doing something, bouncing you along, but with this Whyte you can’t really feel the suspension at all and it’s far better for it.
Of course, it is working with every drop absorbed and if you lockout the shocks you really do know it. They have managed to allow you to feel what is going on with the trails as though it were a rigid bike, but with all the advantages of full suspension. The geometry is exceptional and I’m sure there will be an eventual clean sweep of this increased reach, reduced offset, slack head angle style of setup in all but pure bread XC race bikes. The slack front end makes it feel as though you have an extra 20mm, not to mention the step cast fork which I was a little worried about, but has so far given nothing away to the RockShox Pike that preceded it.
I always take a medium size and the reach on this bike is longer than the reach on the large version of my previous bike and yet, I feel perfectly balanced. More of a feeling of being in the bike rather than on it, which is to be expected, but no feeling of being stretched out and actually a more comfortable position generally. In contrast, when trying the large size for my last bike, it felt far too big. Naturally the increased overall length has improved the stability, but seemingly the reduced offset has kept just as much manoeuvrability, which is doubly amazing as I have moved from 27.5″ wheels to 29″. This must go some way towards the quite stunning turn of speed, I have been blitzing segments and I have only been on the bike twice.
The drivetrain is full Shimano XT, which I like very much. I am new to 12 speed and it suits me more than I thought it would. I won’t dwell on it too much as you’ll have your own feelings on it and I cannot make much of a comparison to the usability compared to SRAM Eagle, but I can mention that it works flawlessly. The ability to shift up in batches of 4 gives as much of a drop as if you had shifted chainring on a 2×10 setup, except that you don’t have to drop 4 as 1,2 or 3 are on offer too. This means smoother progress, being in the correct gear more often and maintaining better cadence.
I know that the extra weight of the cassette almost negates the removal of a derailleur and extra chainring, especially as it is rotational and unsprung weight, but I really do think the improved usability not only makes up for it from a speed perspective, but wholeheartedly from an enjoyment one. Another nice touch I am am unsure of the reason for, is some kind of decoupling freewheel on the XT rear hub, meaning when up to speed the freewheeling is silent and as the bike is quiet anyway, cruising through the woods is eerily hushed.
Brakes and post
The brakes are Shimano’s new XT 4 pot and are a joy compared to the SRAM Guide R’s I am used to. They have some nice adjustable levers that suit one finger braking, where the SRAM’s forced me to use two more often than not, having great power and modulation. The dropper post is a BikeYoke Divine that I am told is very good and self bleeding. I can’t pass judgement on it’s reliability, but it goes up and down when I want and they have included a Shimano operation button that matches the shifter paddles and attaches to the brake lever to save on clutter, which is a nice touch.
I should point out that the internal seat clamp, although very nicely integrated needs to be carefully torqued. Any less than 14Nm and the post will swivel and any more and the post will stick half way up, so be aware. The finishing kit is all Whyte stuff and seems good. I have replaced the saddle with my regular Fabric one and I have fitted Hope F20 pedals, which suit it wonderfully.
The only really negative things I can mention are the tyres, which are quite fast rolling XC tyres that most definitely match up with the market position of this bike, but as it turns out to be so capable I feel it may be used on a wider variety of terrains than perhaps the maker had anticipated and possibly tougher rubber might be best. I have not had any problems with these tyres though and they are fast, which will benefit my commuting. Maybe I will get a second set of wheels and fit some Minions for trail days.
And then finally there is the rear axle which keeps coming undone no matter how much I tighten it. As long as I check it a few times through the ride, it never comes undone completely, but it does mess with the indexing a little bit. It may be that I am missing something in its operation, but I have read others making the same complaint.
I know there are probably a few people out there feeling the same as I was. With trail bikes now boasting more travel than downhill bikes did when I first dabbled in that, it is surely only a matter of time before the trend reverses. If I can help at all it would only be to say, give it a go. The reduced travel is so much more fun to ride and still manages to take the hits when they come. A beautiful bike to look at and at the cutting edge of development, it is as good as I could have hoped for.
Many thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the pictures from my studio. I will likely update this after a few more miles on the bike in case it has been useful to anyone. It is not the most reviewed bike out there, but I have a feeling it is a type of bike that is going to build quickly in popularity.
As a personal side note, the bike pictured below was the first full suspension bike I owned. It’s a Marin B-17 from 1998 and it was designed by a chap named Jon Whyte, the later founder of Whyte bikes. I’m sure you can see that things have moved on a lot since then, but it does somewhat complete the circle for me.