Whyte’s designers admit their inventory would be simpler without a 29er in the line-up, but they reckon the T-129 is the best bike they’ve built. We’d actually go further and say the new RS is one of the best bikes anyone has ever built, in price for performance terms.
Frame and equipment: subtle tweaks and high-value kit list
While it looks much the same as last year's model, the new frame has a one-degree slacker head angle, 25mm longer top tube, 35mm longer front centre and is 8mm closer to the ground. All the T-129 bikes now get the much stiffer, single-ring specific main pivot and chainstay design of last year’s Works bike but in the latest extra-wide Boost 148 format.
Race Face Turbine cranks transfer your input
The internally clamped seat tube gets a neat rubber collar and the bearings are lifetime warrantied. Rear space is still limited though, with 2.2in rubber the muddy maximum.
That means Whyte has sensibly specced a 2in WTB tread at the rear, relying on easy tubeless capability to add impact survivability. Hope provides the bombproof Boost 148 compatible rear hub, which carries the wide-range 11-speed cassette for Shimano’s brilliant new XT gearing.
Shimano’s new 1x11 XT gearing left us impressed
Brakes are also XT, while Race Face supplies the single-ring Turbine cranks and the well-shaped cockpit is Whyte’s own. A wipe-clean Whyte saddle tops the RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost to complete an excellent value and usefully light complete bike package.
Ride and handling: 29er pace, small-wheeled flickability
If we had to sum up why the big-wheeled Whyte has consistently been one of our top bikes it’s because it always manages to place its wheels perfectly for minimal correction and total confidence. The 2016 geometry gives it even more self-corrective stability at speed and the new pivot architecture makes the back end feel even more tight and agile. While there’s some twist in the skinny seatstay terminals and the big wheels inevitably flex more than smaller hoops, the big bar cockpit and Fox 34 fork still transmit feedback well.
While it’s not as accurate in feel as BMC's Speedfox 29er, the long front end feels almost as swaggeringly arrogant as Mondraker's crafty when you’re surfing the very edge of traction. Crucially for the fun levels of the T-129, you can flick the back end round easily, meaning it naturally hops, pops and plays with the trail like a smaller-wheeled bike.
The easily flickable back end makes this a standout fun ride among 29ers
The new Fox EVOL shock has a more sensitive start than the 2015 Float but ramps up more through the midstroke. This gives excellent traction but also increases support so you can really scythe the super-surefooted geometry through corners. The ‘trail’ setting moves this noticeable firmness into the start of the stroke for a powerful pedalling feel without kicking about too much and knocking you off your rhythm.
The RS is very composed deep in the stroke too, making the 120mm (4.7in) of travel feel like a lot more. The short back end also decreases the effect of the bigger wheels’ unsprung mass so it doesn’t hang up or get caught on the bounce.
This all means that, while the 2015 model soon felt short on control when trying to chase 650b wheeled enduro bikes down serious descents, we had to properly smash the new Whyte through boulder runs or send it off 10ft (3m) step-downs to find its limit. The shock is really setup-tolerant too, so you’ll get a great all-round feel even with a provisional sag setting. The smaller volume rear tyre also feels more stable when you’re getting sideways, though you still need to keep pressure relatively high.
A wipe-clean Whyte saddle tops the RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost
The new Fox 34 is an excellent ally up front too. The new FIT4 damping is seriously smooth off the top but stays composed and predictable deeper in the stroke, refusing to waste travel or lose the plot however hard you dare push it into rocky, rooty, steppy or otherwise high-risk situations.
The way the bigger diameter wheels naturally carry speed better across rough surfaces is obvious compared with 650b bikes too. The rowdy Hope rear hub doesn’t spare the feelings of frustrated smaller-wheeled riders when you sit freewheeling behind them as they mash the pedals. The light wheels, impressively low overall mass and purposeful pedalling mean the Whyte wastes no time leaving them for dead when you stop coasting and get on the gas either.