Whyte 146 X - First ride review£4,999.00

No-holds-barred kit selection

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As slack as most downhill bikes but as light as most short-travel trail bikes, Whyte’s 146 is an outstanding machine if you like your bikes to be radical and flexible not neutral and rigid. For 2012, the new X version gets itself a proper wishlist, no-holds-barred kit selection that will push the bike’s potential to the limit.

The super-slack wandering front wheel, frame twist and pitch under pressure, and pedal kickback through the suspension really annoyed some testers. However, while there are loads of more neutral options there’s nothing that matches the 146 X in terms of dynamic, permanently playful, flat-out, balls-out, all day long technical trail fun or Versace kit value.

Ride & handling: Ultra responsive fast and loose lunatic

First impressions of the 146 are as radical as the spec. The super-slack steering initially feels like you're trying to drive a distant wheelbarrow along the singletrack. Get some speed up though and you’ll realise just how hard this lets you push the front end through corners or hammer down loose/ rocky descents without losing stability.

The short stem gives snap reactions for grabbing back front wheel traction. Despite noticeable fork flex the Easton rims still give very precise trail feel, making riding the Ardent tyre right at the sliding, scrabbling limit a default setting. Even with the wide-stance screw-through axle, the long, shallow swingarm flexes enough to almost touch the seat tube.

Feeling the tail twisting and slewing sideways to find the easiest path on cambered surfaces or loose rocks is really distracting at first. The spring effect also loads up and distorts dramatically under cornering load either twanging out of traction, or whipping back as you leave the turn. You need to pause noticeably to get the back end straight before going full gas out of turns too or you will just push it out of shape.

Add low overall weight that tends to skip rather than stick the bike down and a suspension system deliberately designed to stand up under power, and the first few descents can be a nerve wracking, death grip, pinball experience. But keep relaxed and focused on exit lines rather than trying to bully the bike and it reveals an amazing ability to auto pilot through the most gruesome geology or treacherous root knots.

Whyte 146 x: whyte 146 x
Whyte 146 x: whyte 146 x

After a few runs, having a spring loaded limit to traction rather than a finite edge is not only forgiving but enormous fun to play with. It encourages you to surf the slide rather than suddenly snapping out sharply without warning and slamming you onto the ground. The way the suspension tightens under chain torque or sinks down and lifts the front wheel up with effortless ease when you shift back also creates an addictively interactive character.

Riders who never loft their wheels will suddenly start manualling stuff and those with skill will jump and pump the Whyte off every possible lip or lump in the trail. The super-supple shock and high initial leverage creates a very absorbent, fatigue-reducing, small bump ride. The extra volume air sleeve on the Fox Float RP23 shock gives a more linear spring curve which lets you push deeper into the stroke to suck up hard and fast square edges and big drops.

Total chain security and a dropper seatpost are invaluable for immediate radical descent and short sharp climb readiness. While the 146 X turned out to be over a pound heavier than Whyte claim, it’s still bloody light for a long-travel bike that’s so much fun downhill. Add the immediate pedal response and long top tube breathing space and mauling the single ring and its slightly grinding chainguide uphill is remarkably easy.

Even at the end of proper cross-country epics the 146 X is still eager enough to surge ahead on the last climb and blast back to the car park with your legs screaming and the tyres scattering gravel through corners. You will need to make full use of the ProPedal platform damping lever on the shock to cut out obvious pedalling bob though, and we also left it on for a sharper and more precise overall feel on ‘race’ runs.

Frame & equipment: Already radical 146 gets a hardcore trail kit makeover

The five-year warrantied carbon frame (when registered under Whyte's Platinum Care Scheme, which also includes a lifetime warranty for bearings), with its downhill-slack tapered head tube, Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket, modular dropouts and massive mud clearance, hasn’t changed, apart from the mostly raw carbon ‘murdered’ finish. It gets a full Kashima coated Fox RP23 shock with the new extra volume air sleeve.

The top-level 150mm Fox factory fork gets Kashima coated legs, new SKF seals, a tapered steerer top and 15QR screw-through axle tips. Clamped into the fork and the 142x12mm dropouts are £1,950 worth of Easton Haven carbon tubeless wheels. An Easton Haven carbon bar and 70mm stem add cockpit collar to the wheel cuffs. Avid’s lightest XX World Cup brakes do the stopping while RockShox’s excellent Reverb dropper seatpost holds the Fizik Gobi saddle.

The full-blown single-ring e*thireen crankset and full-wrap chain guide team with a new XTR Shadow Plus rear mech for total chain calming. Whyte even supply 32- and 36-tooth rings with the bike in case the 34 doesn’t suit your legs or location. For those who want a slightly higher belly and steeper head, Whyte will also be offering a slightly shorter aftermarket linkage.

The wishbone linkage is slim enough to keep out of the way of knees: the wishbone linkage is slim enough to keep out of the way of knees
The wishbone linkage is slim enough to keep out of the way of knees: the wishbone linkage is slim enough to keep out of the way of knees

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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