Whyte 905 £1399

New long-fork whippet cuts cost but not corners for singletrack speed

BikeRadar score 4/5

While its suspension bikes get slightly more attention, UK trail specialist Whyte knows that a lot of riders still get a kick from riding half-rigid. The 905 simplifies the design of the multi-transmission 19 hardtail to create a more cost-effective but still immediately engaging lightweight all-rounder.

Ride:  sharp and responsive

With its long top tube and low weight, the Whyte instantly feels the most XC-friendly, picking up speed easier than the Orange and Saracen straight from the back gate.

The wide bars and relatively short stem hinted at more than a little hardcore attitude, even when we were just weaving the white lines and burning in the brakes while heading down to the first trail.

Get rolling into the rough, and the slack head angle combines with those big bars to set up an inspiringly confident and chaos-capable feel. It’s naturally stable and secure, even on the most random rock/root sections, and considering it’s the lightest bike here it feels remarkably rock-solid.

Once you’ve got used to the slightly lazy feel of the steering, the cockpit leverage makes it easy to manhandle across the natural grain of the trail to exactly where you want it. You still have to consciously push your weight forward on to the Whyte’s front wheel more than the other bikes in this test, but it’ll only take a few corners before you’re grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and wrapping it round stuff as tight as the rest of ’em.

Low weight and mid-length chainstays mean it’ll naturally slide/ whip through corners if you go in hard with a skim of back brake to break it out. It’s also easy to launch or float over any big blunt trouble you can’t thread it through, and the front end is well balanced between popping easily up steps and staying put for steerage when you need it.

It’s certainly a handling package that encourages you to go hell for leather into sections rather than holding back, even when they’ve been washed out by heavy rain and the lines are cut into mini ravines.

In terms of ride feel, it’s slightly sharper than we expected, which can leave a sting after big hits. However, its precision in tight situations lets you carry way more speed than seems wise through technical sections. There’s plenty of room under the frame to let you get pedal strokes in where other frames would be striking sparks.

The direct drive response rips it out of corners and off down the trail like it’s on fire, and it’s more than stiff enough to muscle stall situations on the crux moves of climbs. Even with the big tyres and wide Monkey bars, it’s as fast as most shorter-travel bikes, and we’d certainly have no trouble sticking on a number and taking it racing.

Frame: masses of mud room

Unsurprisingly, the Whyte 905 chassis shares a lot of similarities with the 19 hardtail. In fact, the hydroformed seat and chainstays are exactly the same as the all-alloy Merida’s, using a similar tall – triangular – round profile to the TFS Trail. The result is a tight feel that still gives masses of mud room, even if you’re a fan of really big tyres.

The main tubes are a slightly heavier 6061 T6 alloy rather than the 19’s AFS6 blend, but the overall layout – with shaped down tube and gussets at the seat tube and head tube junction – is the same proven plan. The major difference is that you’re getting a fixed position dropout, not the hinged chain line-adjusting unit of the 19, but it’s still a lovely piece of CNCing to look at.

Double bottle bosses are included, and the seat collar area is totally sealed from spray, thanks to the inclusion of an impressively secure ‘wedge in window’ mechanism behind the comfy, broad blade quick-release lever.

Equipment: needs a better fork

We’re not as impressed by the most important component on any long-travel hardtail – the fork. The Whyte may have a high-quality frame, but a RockShox Recon fork is definitely well below par for the price. It’s reliable and adequately controlled most of the time, but once you start working it hard it’s nowhere near as smooth or as floated as the Fox fork you’d expect at this price. It’s relatively heavy, too.

It’s all good apart from that, though, with Panaracer’s Cinder tyres being some of our favourite all-rounders and the Mavic/Hope wheelset a durable choice.

Avid Juicy 7 brakes add easily tuned control, and the Gobi saddle, lock-on grips and Easton bar are perfect contact points for high-comfort, high-control riding. We’d sooner have had an X.7 rear mech and snappier X.9 shifters than the other way round, though.

Summary

In terms of frame and handling, the light, laid-back yet agile 905 is the best bike here. It has the natural aptitude and attitude to tackle anything from XC racing and epic wilderness rides to techy singletrack, and it’ll instantly flatter whatever skills and fitness you have. However good the frame and other bits are, though, the Recon fork definitely makes it look a very average deal in terms of value.

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