The Whyte 901 has a seriously slack 66.5 degree head angle. The last time we rode a hardtail with a head angle this slack the designer admitted it had been a mistake during prototyping. Even we mistakenly thought it said 68.5 degrees on the website, because 66.5 degrees is full-on full sus downhill territory.
But no, there's no mistake here. Whyte fully intends to kick the front wheel way out front on an already generously long frame, then let you steer it with a super-fat 70mm stem and ape-hanger 750mm bars.
- HIGHS: Responsive and confident, great spec for the money
- LOWS: Head angle takes some getting used to, some transmission components may need upgrading
- BUY IF… You want the sort of bike that makes any kind of mountain biking fun
There's no doubt it'll feel weird at first if you haven't ridden a big travel all-mountain bike recently, and some traditional hardtail fans just aren't going to be able to get their heads around it. And even once you do, the mix of the super-capable front end but rigid – rather than squishy 6in travel – rear end is a potential head twister. The fact you can't help carving and scything down the road or round the car park with tyres growling as soon as you get aboard this bike is a sign of very good things to come.
This addictive swoop and swagger from the long front end, short rear and 'won't be bullied by anything' bar width is immediately obvious on the trail. The big-volume Maxxis Ardent front tyre and surprisingly smooth RockShox Sektor fork mean the front wheel can hold super-aggressive lines accurately even when the back end is all over the place. Leading with the suspension (and your shoulders) and letting the rest of the bike fend for itself is the default method on techy trails. Once you crack it, the 901 squares up to almost anything.
Don't be put off by the Sektor fork – it's very well behaved in most trail situations
While the Sektor can feel harsh on bigger slapdowns, the balance of the bike makes getting off the back and popping the front up easy. The rearward weight distribution means you can properly haul on the anchors on steep descents without worrying about tucking the front or going over the bars.
You do have to work your weight forward on slippery, fall away corners, loose drifts or particularly steep climbs, of course, and it takes a longer front wheel track around really tight corners too. However, it never flops or falls off line awkwardly, and it self-corrects neatly every time you tuck it a bit too far. With plenty of room to move around, it responds superbly to the dynamic body shifts that are essential to riding a hardcore hardtail really well.
Like any hardtail it will punish you if you get caught in the saddle by a sudden slam, but there's enough subtlety in those curved and heavily butted rear stays to take the worst edges off the rocks, roots and lips despite a relatively small volume tyre.
The pressure-shaped main tubes also play a big part of the low weight of the Whyte – and stopping your wrists and knees crumbling to powder if things get super-rocky or step infested. It's telling that the CrossMark rear tyre survives remarkably well over rocky ground without excessive pressures.
The comparatively low weight and fast rolling tyres mean it makes the most of any pedal strokes you can get in between turns or techy bits. It's also long enough to let your lungs sustain race-pace efforts as long as your legs can manage. The Whyte will genuinely turn its hand to anything you fancy, from black runs to day-long singletrack sessions, or even a pure cross-country race.
Given the price of the bike, Whyte has had to choose the componentry with care. It's to the absolute credit of brand manager Andy Jeffries that it's only the transmission components that are likely to need upgrading. The chain control of the Type 2 SRAM X7 mech is a big help in quietening chain slap across rough ground, but the X5 shifters are likely to need more maintenance and ultimately die sooner.
You can get a Deore reach mech and shifters for £110 or SLX for £140 without even looking for deals though, so it's hardly a deal-breaker. Alternatively, the £1600 Whyte 905 comes with Deore and SLX as standard, as well as a lighter, smoother RockShox Revelation RL fork. Don't be put off by the Sektor though – you may be surprised at how well it behaves, as the occasional split-second choke on big hits is its only major vice.
We've no complaints about Whyte's own-brand finishing kit, which is all templated on established favourites. We didn't have any trouble from Whyte's own wheels either, despite thrashing several sets through most of last year's wretched weather. A neat front-closing seat collar, Crud Catcher mounts and generous tyre space mean you and the bike are similarly well-proofed from the worst weather.
There's ample mud room here
Whichever option you pick from Whyte's new 650b Trail hardtail range, you're onto a winner. Radical handling means none of them are for sit-and-spin-everywhere riders, but the 901's mix of a proven tubeset, a great choice of wheel size and sorted componentry is fantastic. It's a blend of responsiveness and confidence that makes any sort of mountain biking a whole ton of fun.