When Whyte revealed the carbon M109C at its 2014 launch, few were surprised. The M109 and M109S frames are great shapes, excellent prices and ride really well, but their use of alloy makes them seem lardy against the carbon competition.
The new carbon mainframe of the M109C saves a serious 800g of mass over the alloy bikes, and the £1,000 price increase includes Whyte going up a whole level of Shimano, Fox and FSA finishing kit too.
Frame and equipment: shop bike at an online price
While the best part of £4,000 (AU$7,500) can’t be called cheap, the the new M109C Team is outstanding value. You can get a similar level of component quality by buying through an online seller, but with a Whyte you still get all the setup, servicing and other customer benefits of a proper bike shop. Not that you’re likely to need help in a hurry, because the Whyte is designed to be impressively UK-proof.
The suspension bearings are lifetime warrantied (so they’ll be replaced free if they do wear out) and there’s tons of mudroom around the tyres. Staying with the alloy rear end of the 109 and 109S bikes offers extra accident durability too – most of the carbon fractures we see are back-end breakages. According to Whyte, the weight loss that could be achieved with a carbon rear end was nowhere near as cost effective as the front either.
The Shimano XTR gears and XT chain are the longest-lasting conventional transmission components you could hope for, and while triple chainrings add weight they spread wear over more gears. We’ve had no longevity issues with long-term sets of the Whyte-branded wheels we’ve been using all year in all weathers.
The only other obvious cost-cutting exercise besides that metal rear is that Whyte only offers this carbon-fronted frame in medium and large sizes – the all-alloy M109 and M109S bikes come in small and XL options too. It’s worth noting that while the dimensions are a direct copy of the proven alloy frames, the carbon somehow feels smaller in practice. As you can demo one via your local Whyte dealer, that’s an easy issue to solve.
RIde and handling: way more than a marathon steed
As soon as you get the M109C onto the trails it’s obvious that its dimensions and weight distribution play a big part in its character. Specifically, they’re the main aspect that makes Whyte’s ‘marathon bike’ tag something of an undersell.
As the name suggests, a lot of marathon bikes are designed for the pursuit of speed, and nothing else – and for gear churning, leg burning, face gurning uphill fire road speed at that. That generally leaves bikes like these as head-down, arse-up suffer-fest machines that prioritise lifting your heart rate over lifting the front wheel.
In contrast, the Whyte’s obviously light-feeling and light-steering front end is a real treat for those who like to play with the trail, not just plough along it. Even with flat bars, the front pops up without hesitation for drops, ditches… or just manualling through sections for the hell of it.
The relaxed (for a racer) 69.5-degree steering angle means the front wheel holds sketchy lines and steep or rough control much better than most in its category. The short stem and hint of self-straightening slackness, plus the superlative levels of control from the single-digit XTR brakes, make it much easier to snatch that control back if you do lose it.
Switching to a Maxxis Beaver or similar tyre up front for winter is definitely wise, but it’s a tribute to how well sorted the Whyte is that you can get away with a surprising amount on the practically bald Ikon rubber.
As you might expect from the low slung and lightweight mainframe, there’s a noticeable amount of twist in the front end in high-grip, hard-turning situations. The Whyte carbon rims and supple Fox fork mean it rarely becomes unmanageable or breaks free completely, and it’s no more twangy than most of its weight and purpose peers.
The low bottom bracket and the tendency for the short rear end to slide out before the front end further encourages a real seat-of-the-pants attitude to riding – again, it’s offering a lot more than much of the competition. Switch the shock to 'descend' mode and the rear takes surprisingly big debris and some decent drops in its stride. Fitting a dropper seatpost opens up its latent lightweight trail bike potential.
Alongside a naturally effervescent and rudely entertaining nature on technical trails, the carbon Whyte can hang with the pack in classic cross-country pain- cave situations just fine too. At close to 25lb with light wheels it picks up speed easily, and the Ikon tyres don’t drag it down.
The Fox shock is best switched to the middle 'trail' setting to keep power delivery bob-free, but there’s no sense you’re wasting wattage if you stand up and kick hard. A full range of fine compression damping control on the fork means you can set up a very balanced (or peculiarly individual) response front to rear.
Once you’ve found the pressure sweet spot it sucks an impressive amount of traction and speed sustain from rough rock and boulder-studded moorland trails. This is exactly the sort of terrain that kicks all the momentum out of less compliant bikes (and hardtails) in metres, and we relished the arrival of rougher sections on fast-paced group rides.
The same confidence and surefooted smoothness pays big crash-saving dividends on those final sections of a long epic when you’re dog-tired and your reflexes are trailing behind you as well.
The M109C may also surprise you with how often you end up gladly dropping into that granny ring – just because it’s a bike that encourages you to stretch your wild ride horizons as far as you can go.