With the Saxon Cross, Whyte have tried to extend the radical trail handling recipe of their mountain bikes to the cyclo-cross world. We can see exactly why they want to do this but while the 386 bottom bracket and cable disc brakes are great, the tall gears, harsh fork and slippery tyres stop it reaching its full potential.
The Saxon Cross has been designed from the ground up to push the limits of what you can expect a cyclo-cross bike to cope with. A classic clean look is sacrificed in favour of bolted cable guides on top of the top tube for easy servicing and a self-draining downward alignment of the rear disc brake cable.
The broad spaced, bridgeless rear stays maximise tyre clearance and sprout from a wide oversized bottom bracket shell running FSA’s latest universal fitment BB386 standard. A slack head angle pushes the front wheel way out front in technical trail bike style and the widest off-the-peg FSA bar available and a 70mm stem give a maximum control cockpit. The first impression isn’t nippy and agile, but something of a gate.
Talking to designer Ian Alexander it turns out our test sample was 4mm longer than production versions will be, but the traditional shaping is deliberate. “Our first two frames were more compact, but when I saw them built they just looked too mountain bike in their style and aesthetics," he said. "Cyclo-cross is a pretty conservative, almost road, segment, and I felt it needed to look a little more road with a semi-compact frame."
Neat touches like the Union Flag peeping out through the seat collar windows and two-tone colour-matched stem give owners plenty to be proud of. The stability and full rack and mudguard fixxtures make it ideal for exploring/commuting work too and it’s responsive enough to run with the tarmac training pack all winter – particularly on sketchy back road descents.
It's no lightweight at 9.86kg (21.74lb) though, and the close ratio rear block and 46/36-tooth chainset limit both top-end speed and climbable gradient potential to a noticeable degree. We had to shoulder and carry the Whyte up climbs we could crank up on other 'cross bikes – and irritatingly, it doesn't have a flattened carry spot under the top tube.
Although the broad bars and kicked out handling of the Whyte give it a real swagger on smooth, grippy, swoopy trails, they can also create a sense of false security. Several times we sailed into corners with arrogant speed, only to find ourselves slammed into the ground without warning as the slippery Maxxis Raze 33c tyres couldn’t match the handling.
The massive tapered aluminium steerer and thickset legs of the fork resist braking twang but make it very stiff and unforgiving too, which means pain tolerance rather than steering precision provides the real limit off-road. On a bright note, massive tyre clearance means fitting fatter rubber – which potentially eases both problems – is easy. Our scabby, bruised hips and elbows just wished Whyte had specced 35, 38 or even 40c tyres from the start.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.