Whyte 901 - First ride review

Bargain trail hardtail

BikeRadar score4/5

The UK designers at Whyte were some of the first to blend race responsiveness with the geometry and tenacity of hardcore hardtails to create ultra involving trail hardtails. The new 901 lets you experience all the thrills and fun of a true trail hardtail without blowing a fortune on bling.

Whyte have always known how to put a great bike together in frame tech and geometry terms, but the 901 shows how smart they can be at creating complete packages. The addition of a more accurate steering tapered front end is a great ride and upgrade-enhancing move. The fact it’s got lighter without getting more expensive or less capable is clever. The result is a superb singletrack fun bike that’s also an absolute bargain.

Ride & handling: Way more confident and secure than your average hardtail

The ride feel is one of several reasons that we enjoyed this bike so much at the Whyte 2012 demo day at Cannock Chase. With the full range including state-of-the-art suspension bikes almost five times the price, the 901 had every right to feel intimidated. Like a cheeky kid brother it relished the chance to prove it was every bit as entertaining as its more expensive siblings.

At nearly 12kg (just over 26lb) it’s quick to pick up speed and only got dropped by the lighter, slick-tyred carbon bikes in the range on the longest hills. Otherwise the extra bit of traction let us stamp power down hard through triple-butted rear stays evolved over a full decade of design.

Once we were used to swinging the slack front end up the outer berms of the climbing switchbacks it muscled and hustled well on the linking sections. The longer fork and quick and light steering reactions meant we had no trouble switching lines in a split second and popping the front to maintain momentum on the crumbling sand and cobble surface.

While the stem’s short there’s no shortage of breathing space between the tips of the trail width bars. As much as we were impressed with the speed it got us to the viewpoint benches at the summit, it’s the more gnarly and gravity assisted bits that this bike is mainly about.

The 120mm RockShox Recon Gold fork gets the basic Turn Key damper but the 15mm version now shares its chassis with the company's Sektor fork. That means a stiffer all-round unit from steerer/crown interface right down to the screw-through Maxle axle, increasing steering accuracy and stopping the shearing forces that caused spiking in previous versions.

It can still get slightly random on longer rockier/stepped descents as the rebound becomes inconsistent but it’s definitely a much more capable fork than before. The days of Fox forks on £1,000 hardtails are gone now, so the best you can expect on bargain bikes is a RockShox Reba with the slightly more consistent Motion Control damper. What Whyte have done though is fit the stiffest version possible topped with a tapered steerer and tipped with a 15mm axle.

After a decade of developing tough trail frames the Whyte design team have got it down pat. There’s enough stiffness to handle whatever hammer you want to put through the pedals, but enough tube working and thin wall profiling to reduce ground shock. It’s still a bike you’ll want to hover above over rough sections, but it’s comfortable enough to head out into the hills all day on. There’s loads of tyre room if you want to soften the ride with bigger rubber too.

With a slack head angle giving steady, self-correcting steering and a short stem keeping reactions quick, the Whyte feels way more confident and secure than your average hardtail. The tyres are pretty average in grip terms, but we had no worries pushing them right to the edge of traction or beyond, confident we could catch them back before they properly left the building.

Because the bike is naturally stable it encourages the rider to get more mobile and extreme with body language to get maximum grip out of every situation. If you really want to throw your weight around the seat post will drop right down to the collar for radically steep sections. The Avid Elixir brakes are powerful with decent traction control in slippery conditions and the smaller outer ring of the double means more ground clearance for log hopping.

Frame & equipment: Now with tapered head tube and the right key components

The big news for the 901 in structural terms is the addition of a tapered head tube. This means it can handle a stiffer tapered fork, but also means a larger connection with a wider mouthed end of the curved, rib-strengthened down tube. Otherwise, the frame is identical. Follow the tubes round with a clipboard and you’ll be able to tick off mounts for a Crud Catcher mudguard under the down tube, a pair of bottle mounts and threaded mounts for a rear rack.

There’s no fancy oversized or press-fit bottom bracket and the rear brake is old school IS (International Standard) rather than post mount. That’s allowed Whyte to keep the cost unchanged from this year to next year. With the price of every bike piece from tyre rubber to frame materials rising significantly they've also had to shed some spending out of the specification to maintain the price. It’s credit to Whyte’s brand manager that the company have managed a down-spec on paper while actually improving performance on the trail.

The SRAM X5 shifters don’t feel any different to the X7s, the Whyte own-brand bar is well shaped and the new Whyte seatpost is a particularly nice facsimile of the top dollar Fizik item. The double chainset suits the bike brilliantly and the whole bike is around 450g lighter than last year’s 901, which is damned impressive.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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