Whyte's high-end 19 hardtail has already been a cult success with singletrack aficionados and speed demons, but 2007's line-up has had a complete makeover. The Trail spec takes the tried-and-tested 19 chassis and adds a long travel fork, chunky tyres and a bigger front disc rotor to the mix. It promises pace with a big-hit edge. The question is, does it deliver?
Aluminium hardtails don't come much svelter than the 19. Of course, losing weight is the easy part - you just use less metal, and that means thinner tube walls and narrower tubes. But losing weight while maintaining strength, stiffness and durability? That's the hard part. Luckily, the 19 was penned by ex-Formula One designer Jon Whyte, a man who's well acquainted with the conflicting demands of speed, low weight and strength.The result is an elegant concoction of subtly curved and shaped tubes, put together with obvious care and boasting some unique design touches. The top and down tubes are both on the slender side of normal for an aluminium frame and they morph gradually along their length from a round cross-section up front to square sections at the rear. A strengthening gusset at the head tube join provides some extra frontal impact resistance, while the proprietary seatpost clamp uses Whyte's unique system to fasten directly onto the seatpost, minimising stress on the frame.
The rear end is a masterpiece of frame-building sculpture, boasting curved and flared stays that flow through several changes of cross-section along their lengths. Bolt-on dropouts give 19 users the option to tweak the wheelbase, head angle and bottom bracket height to a small degree.
A frame this good deserves a fork to match. Luckily, the RockShox Revelation 426 Air U-Turn is up to the job. Boasting 100-130mm (4-5in) of travel and all the adjustable bells and whistles, it's a reliable and solid performer over everything from ripples to big, square-edged hits.
Coming from a line of bikes designed with an emphasis on speed, the introduction of a long travel fork gave the 19 Trail's product managers a minor headache: how to maximise the bike's potential without weighing it down unnecessarily. The answer was to change the parts that matter most at high speeds - the tyres and the brakes. So you'll find chunky, 2.25in Panaracer Cinder treads - Kevlar beaded to minimise the weight penalty - for better grip and shock absorption, plus Avid's peerless Juicy Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes with a big 185mm front rotor for tread-ripping stopping ability. The rest of the kit is all top drawer, cross-country kit - strong enough, but plenty light.
You can tell as soon as you swing a leg over the 19 Trail and pedal off down the road that this is a bike with a racing pedigree. The compact frame exudes an eager, 'tight' feel that will remind trail-hardened veterans of high-end steel frames. It's oddly fidgety though, without any noticeable frame flex or sway, even under hard pedalling. Low wheel weight contributes to the snappy feel, delivering instant acceleration and demanding more from the rider.
Point it uphill and those nervy responses propel the bike skyward at unseemly speeds, although the twitchy rear end makes it harder to keep the rear wheel planted and gripping than, say, the Santa Cruz or the Cove. The front also has a tendency to wander, but a quick twist of the U-Turn adjuster and a forward shuffle on the saddle brings things back under control. Wind the 19 Trail up to
speed on fast, twisty and rocky singletrack and it's more of the same: snappy responses and instant acceleration at the expense of a noticeably high-maintenance feel that demands constant rider attention to keep things on course.
And it's here that this bike's only potential downside becomes obvious: although the fork has plenty of boulder-swallowing potential, the frame's low weight and lively feel gives the rider plenty of work to do. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on a combination of personal preference and what sort of day you're having. Get out of bed the wrong side and the Whyte 19 Trail will kick your arse. Get out of bed the right side and it'll kick everyone else's arse. You have been warned - this is not a bike for the nervous or clumsy.