Last year this bike won What Mountain Bike‘s Trail Bike of the Year. Then, it stood out as one of the few truly sorted trail 29ers in a sea of 26in-wheeled bikes – but how does it fare now the big picture has flipped to a backdrop of newer 650b bikes?
The short answer is this: the Whyte remains our favourite affordable trail 29er, despite there being more competition for that title than ever.
Frame and equipment: hanging onto a winning formula
Its alloy frame with big tapered head tube and Quadlink four-bar is unchanged from last year, and that means the slack, long-fronted and tucked-in-rear handling balance is the same too.
It’s accessed with power-assisted leverage through Whyte’s 750mm bars and stumpy, wide-mouth stem and, generously at this price tag, you still get a hydraulically controlled, internally routed RockShox Reverb dropper too.
The T-129S’s 29er wheels add surefooted smoothness and easy speed, but it’s still an appealingly intuitive handler
The result is one of the few 29ers that practically everyone we know has synced with straight away, rather than having to think their way around it. The big wheels plot a steady, stable course but when you need to nudge it off line it falls easily onto the new bearing. There’s no unsteady lurch or need for over correction – just a quick, clean shift of direction that only occasionally needs an obviously wider line to get through tight stuff.
The geometry is so well-shaped and body movement so easy that it popped and manualled off the many drops and ledges of Finale’s rockier trails as easily as smaller-wheeled bikes did.
Ride and handling: fast rolling rubber
There’s a tyre change from Maxxis to WTB this year, though the theory remains the same. The grippy Bronson front and fast, centre-ridged Nano rear are rapid rolling and ready to hook up the front/spill the rear, and it suits the Whyte’s character down to the ground. The easy trucking speed of the tyres and the speed sustain that comes from the bigger wheels with their increased inertia and shallower impact angle is obvious.
Every time we hit flowing open trail we could only stay on the tail of the freewheeling T-129 S if we put a decent effort through whatever 650b bike we were riding. It didn’t spare the egos of the smaller-wheeled bikes when we were climbing back to the top either, whether that was via road or on sketchy, gravelly Jeep track.
Last year’s winner remains a superb ride, and a bargain too
Following the Whyte through rocky trails did highlight the obvious twist and flex in the wheels, fork and the back end, and it tends to smear and smudge around rocks and ruts rather than track straight over them. This approximate rather than accurate attitude to line holding gets more obvious the bigger the trouble and the more you try to fight it… relax into the bars and trust the handling, however, and the Whyte almost always wriggles its way out of the problem and gallops off down the trail – blatantly looking for the next bit of flat-out fun.
That said, while the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is usually a good one to live by, the pace of general geometric development – as well as the explosion of 650b wheels – means that, though the T-129 S is still superb, others have caught and overtaken it, especially in providing twitchy tech thrills and high-speed stability.