I rolled out of the Forest of Dean car park, packed as it was on our half term visit with mountain bikers of all ages making the most of the unseasonably nice weather, on Whyte’s brand new carbon fibre 29er hardtail, the 29c.
Up and over the first ramp, through the trees and, as I shift into the large chain ring and gently feed in some power, the stiffness of the frame makes itself immediately apparent. The rush of acceleration as I continue to apply power on the opening section of singletrack, as it meanders gently up the slight gradient, is astonishing. I never failed to be impressed by carbon hardtails, and the Whyte is no exception.
There’s no trace of any of the often cited drawbacks of 29in wheels, it just feels quick and the handling is sharp and razor focused. That said, by adopting the same 69 degree head angle as on the 829, the British company’s first 29er hardtail, which by 29er standards is on the slack side, it doesn’t feel twitchy and nervous like you might expect such a light and stiff race-ready bike to exhibit.
As we begin to traverse across the hillside and gravity is now on our side, the 29c barrels through the wide open turns and negotiates the berms, their surfaces rippled from so many mountain bikes passing over them, with astounding ability. By pushing the head angle back, Whyte have produced a bike that will appeal to trail riders looking for a fast yet relaxed hardtail. Of course, weight weenie cross country racers will relish in its pure speed, quick turn of acceleration and unrivalled stiffness.
I’ve ridden the 20c, the 26in carbon hardtail upon which the 29c is based, and where I found the smaller wheeled bike unrelenting and harsh on regular trails, the bigger wheels contribute to a ride that is noticeably smoother. It’s still incredibly stiff, you need to tune your riding style and get your head around how to get the best out of the 29c when picking lines and applying power, but it doesn’t beat you up anywhere near as much. For that reason it’s even more suited to trail riding. Long distance endurance events, 24-hour races, short track XC blasts, all situations we reckon the bike will shine.
We rode the Whyte 29c C, which costs £1,999. That gets you a RockShox Reba RL fork with 100mm of travel, tapered steerer, quick release axle and remote lockout facility. A mix of X9 and X7 from SRAM dominates the drivetrain, with the exception of the FSA twin-ring chainset providing a 2×10 transmission. A SRAM Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket keeping everything down there stiff. There are Avid Elixir 3 brakes with 180/160mm rotors front and rear.
For the wheels Whyte opted to design their own. The XC-202 features their own design rim which uses 32 spokes front and rear, in an effort to place extra stiffness in the wheels, an common area of concern when upsizing 26in components to 29in. Hubs roll on double sealed cartridge bearings and Continental Race King 2.2in tyres are a fast, if limited for most UK conditions, tyre choice.
Finally, finishing the bike off are Whyte branded components, including the generously wide 700mm flat bar and the 70mm short stem, both smart choices that will please UK mountain bikers. The handling is improved immeasurably by these simple choices that we wish other manufacturers would pay attention.
First ride verdict
Too soon to call a final verdict, but based on our quick spin, we’re hugely impressed. It manages to appeal to our two sides, our lust for cross country racing with a stiff and light build, yet also satisfies our lazier trail riding persona, with its slack, stable and planted yet seriously quick over all terrain feel.
29ers are developing at a rapid rate, and if the Whyte 29c is anything to go by, we’re reaching a point where there’s only advantages to going to the bigger wheels, as any previous ‘issues’ have all but been designed out.
Geometry for the Whyte 29c (based on the 18.5in size)
- Head angle: 69°
- Seat angle: 73°
- Wheelbase: 1130mm
- Chainstays: 438mm
- Top tube 24.68in
- Head tube: 110mm
- Bottom bracket height: 12in