There was a time when the UK hardcore hardtail was very much the ‘in thing’ — people were going flat-out on hardtails, with the new breed of semi-decent suspension forks meaning the front end was no longer either a bouncy pogo stick or a shower of elastomer rubbish. But with full-sus bikes now coming to the fore, the fun, trail orientated hardtail is in the shadows, especially at the price points where full-sus bikes start to have some serious trail clout. Fortunately Whyte, among a few others, is sticking its neck on the line and saying the venerable trail hardtail still has a place, with the 909 taking pride of place.
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£2,199 is a fair old whack for an alloy hardtail, so it’ll take a committed hardtail fan to take the plunge, but those who do will be rewarded with a bike that’s far more capable than the lack of rear suspension suggests.
This is largely down to the geometry and wheels. Whyte has long gone down the longer and slacker route, and it’s no different with the 909, which punts the 130mm Fox Performance 34s out at a slack-ish 66.5 degrees, while the rider will benefit from a reach of 459mm in a size large — this is about average for a full-sus, but fairly long in the world of hardtails.
When combined with reasonably short 425mm chainstays you have a geometry that gives high-speed confidence without compromising on manoeuvrability.
This is further boosted by the chunky 2.4in rubber, mounted on wide rims, both supplied by WTB. Wider rims can support a larger volume tyre at lower pressures, meaning both traction and comfort are maximised. I’d perhaps like to see clearance for even wider plus tyres too. However, I reckon the new breed of 2.6in rubber should just squeeze in there, so long as you’re not after masses of mud clearance.
Jumping back to geometry, I’d say that while the bike behaves itself well when pointed down hills, it’s not all perfect on flat or climbing trails. At 73 degrees the seat angle is a touch slack for my taste — a steeper seat angle puts your hips better over the cranks for improved pedalling.
That said, the seat angle is for an un-weighted bike — with a person on there the forks will sag a touch, slightly steepening the seat angle, but I’d like another degree on there at least.
My main issue, though, is with the conical headset top cap, which shoves the bars higher than I liked, with no option to drop them lower. A low-stack top cap can’t be any more difficult to source, while stem spacers give those who like a higher bar the ability to tune fit. As a result I found the bars too high, giving a more sit-up-and-beg posture on the bike and a less aggressive feel to the bike as a whole. Swap this for a different top cap and it’d be an absolute ripper.
As we’ve come to expect from Whyte, the spec on the 909 is well thought out. The aforementioned wheel/tyre combo is a welcome relief as the alloy frame isn’t the most compliant. The rubber gives that bit of comfort you need for longer days in the saddle, while the Trail Boss/Riddler tyre combo is a decent option for trail centres and dry days in the woods, giving confident grip and fair rolling speeds.
The drivetrain and brakes come courtesy of Shimano XT, save for the RaceFace Turbine crank. I’ve mixed feelings about the current generation of XT and on the 909 the cable pull is very stiff. I think this is likely down to cable routing, as even with the mech’s clutch off, it’s still stiff. While I’ve had bite-point issues with XT brakes in the past, it seems that our 909 has avoided these issues, so braking power is more than adequate through the 180/160mm rotors.
Most of the finishing kit is Whyte’s own, with a short stem and wide bar aiding control. The RockShox Reverb post is held neatly in place by an Intergrip clamp. The frame also features Boost spacing and an external bottom bracket shell. Up front there’s a Fox Performance 34 fork, with GRIP damper, but it isn’t the most refined fork and doesn’t feel as supple as pricier 34s. Here, the large volume tyre again makes its presence felt, giving a touch more subtlety to the front end, in terms of feel and grip.
The 909 is a bit of a mixed bag then. It’s very capable, fun and involving with well thought-out geometry and kit. But I want to drop the bars a bit, steepen the seat angle and have a plusher fork.
If you can work around these issues, and want a bike to hit steep, gnarly tracks in your local woods, but don’t want the maintenance of a full-sus bike, you could do far worse than the 909.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.