We first met the all-new 120mm 29er at a washed-out Whyte 2013 press launch in Cannock Chase, the Midlands. If we’re honest it was eclipsed on the tighter, stop/start trails by the 100mm travel M-109 S. But as soon as we hit the more testing trails of Wales it was obvious that this was the bike the other 24 in the What Mountain Bike Trail Bike of the Year lineup had to beat.
Video: Whyte T-129 S
The Monarch shock and Reba fork of the 129 felt a lot stickier and more reluctant than the plush Fox dampers of the 109 on their first day, but after a couple of months of testing the seals had bedded in and there was no sign of hesitation from the RockShox pairing as we peeled off the fireroad at Coed-y-Brenin and hit the Beast trail proper.
We weren’t paying much attention to the suspension at all, because the handling balance had us hypnotised. The 68-degree head angle pushes the big Maxxis Ardent tyre a fair way out front, but the balance in your hands via the 80mm stem and 710mm bars is spot on.
Whether we were hooking tyre-carved berms on cheeky trails in steep, wet woods or clawing our way round switchbacks and loose cobbled corners at stalling speed, it never strayed wide or flopped over – just dropped perfectly into place.
The short back end enabled by the switch to a new four-bar-style linkage means the front wheel pops and pivots like a 26er when you need it to. Even testers who hadn’t ridden a 29er before felt instantly at home on technical trails, with no need to remap their riding style or line choices.
Okay, that’s not strictly true… We did need to adjust to significantly faster speeds every time we jumped from almost any of the other test bikes and onto the Whyte. With the spot-on geometry giving no reason to brake, Maxxis tyres gripping extremely well (despite very shallow fast-rolling tread) and the Reverb dropper post allowing unrestricted weight shifts and pedalling support, the 129 simply flew in every situation.
The low mass, tubeless-ready wheels light up impressively well under power and, once rolling, the speed sustain of the bigger diameter is excellent, particularly on the rough, rock-studded trails that made up a lot of our riding.
We never got tired of hustling the Whyte up hill for another shot – or even just for the hell of it – even after four long days of riding.
The suspension remained trouble-free throughout testing. It’s not as plush or floated as the best Fox dampers on certain other bikes here, but it never undermined the control of the stiff through-axle rear end or noticeably hung up or bounced around, however hard we tried, and however hard we hammered the T-129 S along the trail.
And as well-balanced as the spec is, the Whyte’s low cost also means easy access to its excellent upgrade potential.