Whyte has been a serial mountain bike innovator since the mid-90s, and expanding into the world of drop bar bikes hasn’t stopped it trying new things – in this case playing with accepted cyclocross frame angles.
Highs: Composed handling, specification
Lows: Aluminium refinement can cost
The Cross Team’s 70-degree head tube angle is more relaxed than the 72 degrees used for many cyclocross bikes, and at first the frame looks stretched, the 80mm stem making us worry that we’d hit our knee on the bar.
But compared to our ideal ’cross setup, the Whyte’s extra 25mm top tube length and 30mm shorter stem give an almost identical position. What this means is a subtle repositioning of the rider’s weight within the 30mm longer wheelbase, the results of which are more intuitive than expected.
Easton’s beefy fork and that head angle ensure tracking accuracy, making the bike super stable on most terrain, while the wide 44cm bar and short stem give it fast, accurate steering.
There’s an undeniable mountain bike feel in the way it rapidly dispatches whatever it’s pointed at, but with the reactions and manners of a road bike. The front wheel stays planted on steep off-road climbs, but when descending, you feel less like you’re on top of the bar, improving confidence and control.
Aluminium still has a lot going for it, and the Whyte frame is exceptionally nimble, with good clearances and intricate dropouts. The underside of the hydroformed top tube isn’t flat, but shouldering isn’t uncomfortable, and the rear brake cable and mech hose are routed through the top and down tubes only, with weather-proofed grommets sealing the frame.
SRAM Force CX1 is a firm favourite, with perfect gearing for typical British riding. Its 38-tooth ring and 11-32 cassette allow you to ride almost anything and still not run out of gears on road descents, when the hydraulic brakes’ 160mm rotors anchor even the most ambitious rider.
The excellent tubeless-ready wheels and tyres come with tubes, the 23mm wide rims making the most of the Maxxis tyres’ grip. The low-profile tread blocks roll quickly on tarmac and hardpack, bite hard in the mud and clear well, but running them tubeless with lower pressures offers even greater performance potential.
Sound finishing kit completes a strong package, with a first-rate supportive saddle a highlight. There are carbon ’crossers with similar kit at a similar price, but the Whyte is fantastic fun, and makes ’cross more accessible than ever.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.