Whyte’s pitch for the T-129 is, essentially, a £250 cheaper T-129 S, crowned Trail Bike of the Year 2013 by What Mountain Bike. Given that the S demonstrates just how good a 29er trail bike can be at a very competitive price already, something similar for even less money seems like a winning bet.
But if the £1,999 S is extremely good value, has the T-129 cut too many corners? Fundamentally there’s very little difference between the T-129 and its pricier sibling. The bikes share the frame, which itself shares its layout with the shorter-travel M-109.
Ride & handling: Involving and rewarding
There’s already a lot of variation in the style and capability of 29er full suspension trail bikes. There isn’t really an accepted, or even common, way of doing things yet, but the Whyte manages to be different to pretty much all of them thanks to its short-rear, long-front and slack geometry.
It’s not immediately obvious that it works. Climb aboard and the front wheel feels way out in front of you, with an extremely light feel through the bar. If your ride starts with a steep climb there’s a good chance those used to more traditional designs will be wandering about the trail trying to hold a line. Shuffling forward and deliberately weighting the front sorts it out, and the T-129’s short head tube and low bar make that pretty easy.
The same is true coming back down the hill – hang too far back and you risk the front washing out, but shift yourself forward to a more central position and work the bar and the T-129 drops into turns with enthusiasm.
The screw-thru axle reduces flex – vital with big wheels: Seb Rogers/Future Publishing
The screw-thru axle reduces flex – vital with big wheels
Once in the corner it strikes a fine balance between holding the line you’re on and making mid-corner corrections easy. Some bikes get scary when there’s limited traction, but the T-129 happily slides both ends at once and delivers you to the exit gagging to do the same again in the next turn.
With a short back end the front is significantly more loftable than most big wheelers, although 26in bikes still have an edge here. There’s no getting away from the fact that the back axle is further off the ground, which matters when you’re trying to pivot the rest of the bike around it.
This is one of those bikes that you have to actually ride, rather than sit there, pedal a bit and point the bar in vaguely the right direction. The T-129 demands a little more involvement than that, and repays you in spades.
One thing’s for sure – it doesn’t leave many of those 29er myths, either new ones or old, standing.
Frame & equipment: Daring 29er design with good spec
Gone is the distinctive layout of earlier Whyte full suspension bikes, with a big swingarm arcing on a pair of short links and a shock nestling inside the front triangle. That layout, which Whyte have been using for years, is now only found on the 26in-wheeled 146. Whyte found the previous design lacking when it came to accommodating 29in wheels – to get the stiffness they wanted it was proving too heavy.
In its place is a more conventional four-bar layout, with chainstay pivots, a small linkage at the seat tube and the shock driven directly by the seatstays. You don’t have to be particularly eagle-eyed to spot the similarity to Specialized’s FSR bikes, although there’s no proprietary shock here – the T-129 sports a regular RockShox Monarch RL.
The new layout doesn’t have quite as much mud clearance as the old one, which made a particular point of tyre room. But Whyte have different priorities here, principally concerned with packaging big wheels into a compact, chuckable frame.
One criticism often levelled at 29ers is ‘excessive’ length. Conventional wisdom has it that the chainstays on a 29er frame have to be substantially longer to accommodate the bigger wheel, and if it’s a full suspension bike then they have to be a bit longer again to keep the wheel from swinging into the seat tube.
The short rear, long front combo works brilliantly: Seb Rogers/Future Publishing
The short rear, long front combo works brilliantly
With the T-129, Whyte tweak the nose of conventional wisdom and run away laughing, having managed to pull the back axle in to just 430mm from the bottom bracket. That’s very short for a bike like this – most 26in hardtails have chainstays only a few millimetres shorter.
It’s taken plenty of pivot juggling, seat tube cranking and front mech direct-mounting to get the back end this tight. Whyte have even eschewed a currently fashionable BB30 or press-fit bottom bracket on the grounds that a traditional threaded shell has a smaller outside diameter, winning back vital millimetres.
The similarity of the geometry numbers to a 26in bike doesn’t end with the chainstays. Up front you find a 68-degree head angle, which is unusally slack for a 29er. A longer fork offset (how far the axle is ahead of the steering axis) compensates for the bigger front wheel, although with a lengthy top tube and steep seat angle, the T-129 ends up with a particularly long front-centre. Thanks to those short hindquarters, though, the wheelbase remains notably compact.
Topping off the frame are a selection of neat details. There’s a 142x12mm Maxle holding the rear wheel firm, while the post mounts use steel threaded inserts so there’s no worrying about stripping threads in the frame.
Whyte’s unique seatpost quick-release puts in an appearance too – unsurprisingly, the Reverb dropper of the S is absent – with the lever driving a rectangular pad onto the post rather than squeezing up a slot cut into the frame.
Whyte t-129 : Seb Rogers/Future Publishing
Like the T-129 S, the T-129 packs an impressive specification for the asking price. Obviously that price is lower, and that’s reflected in most of the components being a notch down, but Whyte have focused their pruning on less fundamental bits.
So, you still get a RockShox Reba fork and Monarch shock – though the shock only has a lockout, and lacks the three-position compression damping of the S – and the same high-quality wheels.
The Whyte-branded hubs are laced to tubeless-ready WTB rims and shod with WTB tyres; a Wolverine front/Nano rear combination that emphasises fast rolling over ultimate grip. The tyres are also tubeless-ready, so conversion is just a rim strip and bottle of sealant away.
The most obvious ‘downgrade’ on the T-129 is the plain seatpost, but then we were impressed to see a Reverb on the sub-£2k S anyway, and at retail prices the Reverb accounts for almost the entire £250 difference between models. Overall weight is practically identical to the S, despite the absence of the heavy Reverb, thanks to the component downgrades elsewhere.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.