Whyte T-120S review£1,999.00

British company's most exciting bike to date

BikeRadar score4/5

Whyte Bikes are on the move, shedding their well-worn ‘sensible bikes for sensible folk’ skin to emerge as a more potent brand with products on the sharp edge of mountain bike design. 

While we liked the previous Whyte E120 XT for its fun posture on the trail and solid climbing pedigree, the new T-120S is evolution in progress, and we think it’s Whyte’s most exciting bike to date.

The T-120S proves you can make bikes with slack 68-degree head angles that still go cross-country. There’s little to criticise here and the company should be commended for pushing the boundaries of 120mm trail bike geometry.

Ride & handling: This bike will make you ride like a gleeful kid

We’ve had more seat-of-the-pants near misses with trees, rocks and assorted trail furniture while riding the T-120S than with any other bike in recent memory. That’s because it makes you ride like an idiot.

The bike has an eager puppy attitude to the trail that never threatens to become tiresome or ruin your shoes. On anything remotely downhill, the combination of the slack front end, technically sorted supple suspension and bolt-through axles front and rear give you the confidence to leave it wide open and hold on for the ride.

Adjustment of the platform gate dial on the rear shock can dramatically alter the feel of the rear suspension, so we ran zero platform for messing around and hitting up the downhills, allowing the rear end to react with unhindered action to every last rock and ripple. Crank on a few turns and the shock holds back some mid-stroke for you to make use of when hammering away at the pedals.

We appreciated the extra precision the T-120S seemed to have, at least part of which we’re attributing to the tapered steerer, Maxle fork and Maxle rear end. Load the bike in a long, fast turn and you sense that both wheels and the bottom bracket shell are all pointing in the same direction. As the exit of the turn approaches, lean back a bit and the bike seems to squirt forward like a wedge of soap between wet hands. It’s a lot of fun and highly addictive.

We found numerous new bits of trail while testing this bike as it seems to sniff out launch pads and berms automatically. Suiting up in Lycra, the bike pinged out respectable times on our cross-country test laps, with only the occasional bit of calf rub on the linkage clouding an otherwise fine performance.

Whyte t-120: whyte t-120
Whyte t-120: whyte t-120

Frame: Reworked chassis is better than ever, although calf rub is still an issue

Take a quick glance at the E120 XT and T-120S side by side and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference, but the T-120s is completely new. Front and rear ends have been reworked from the ground up, using the old version only as a bar to be exceeded in all respects.

The medium-sized frame fitted our 5ft 9in tester to a tee. The bike has a tricky balance to strike between being long and low enough to put on a good show if you want to pin a few miles of fast rolling singletrack, yet short and tall enough to feel right when you let the bike do what it urges you to do: leave the brakes alone and trust it.

If anything, it errs on the side of the former, and a plentiful stack of spacers under the stem gives you the option to go taller if needs be. The low-rise Whyte alloy stem and riser bar could also both be swapped for taller models too, although we never felt the need.

The front end of the T-120s is double-butted alloy built into a heavily sloping top tube with a small buttress. A waisted head tube is welded on at a refreshingly slack 68 degrees, and flared to accept an integrated tapered steerer for a precise and stable front end.

The carbon swingarm has seen changes and Whyte claim it’s torsionally stiffer, lighter and stronger than before. Having ridden both bikes, we’d agree. The rear end has been made for the emerging 12mm through-axle trend using a RockShox Maxle Lite QR, although it has bolt-on alloy dropouts.

Although Whyte have slimmed the linkage down for 2011 we still rubbed our calves on it occasionally; Whyte do make a narrower Y-link for their new 100mm-travel bike, and we’d like to see it on the T-120s for 2012.

A rockshox monarch keeps the back end smooth and supple: a rockshox monarch keeps the back end smooth and supple
A rockshox monarch keeps the back end smooth and supple: a rockshox monarch keeps the back end smooth and supple

Equipment: Quality RockShox suspension, SRAM transmission, WTB wheels and own-brand kit

Whyte have used their own-brand finishing kit to keep the price down but it functions well and looks stunning, especially the comfy saddle and elegant custom-painted stem. The savings made there have allowed Whyte to spec a complete 2011 SRAM X9 2x10 transmission and Avid Elixir 5 brakes: sex appeal and performance in one hit.

Suspension is an all RockShox affair, with a new Monarch rear shock and a Reba RL Maxle fork to raise the spec even further. The WTB LaserDisc Trail wheels are stout enough to take the side loading and landings that are standard fare for this bike without compromising its ability to spin up on a climb or launch a sprint.

The capable 2.2in WTB Wolverine treads only weigh 610g for a full-sized tyre to give the bike some cross-country legs, although we swapped the front for a 2011 Continental X-King 2.4in for extra front-end hold and even more smiles.

We had very few niggles, but if we had the chance we’d up the front rotor from 160mm to 180mm. This bike commits so readily to high-speed action that the negligible extra weight of the rotor is worth it for the extra control. The 27.2mm seatpost is a bit cheap looking and the diameter – welcome on a hardtail for the extra give – isn’t needed here; we’d prefer a 30.9mm instead.

The drop-outs are modular so  can be swapped out for 9mm  qr drop-outs if needed: the drop-outs are modular so  can be swapped out for 9mm  qr drop-outs if needed
The drop-outs are modular so can be swapped out for 9mm qr drop-outs if needed: the drop-outs are modular so can be swapped out for 9mm qr drop-outs if needed

Tester says...

Justin Loretz: "This bike could be your one and only steed, but cross-country racers should keep moving, since this is a chugger's ride, preferring steady pedalling interspersed with bouts of vertical mayhem. For those moments, we'd get a set of spare all-mountain wheels with serious single-ply tyres for aggro trail fun and a 180mm front rotor. Whyte can expect our test bike back in 2012 – enough said."

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