- Whyte E-120 XT
- “Entry level” full carbon Whyte
- Straightforward spec, great ride
All dimensions based on Medium frame
|Effective top tube length (TT)||595mm (23.4in)|
|Chainstay (CS)||420mm (16.5in)|
|BB height (BB)||345mm (13.6in)|
The Whyte E-120 debuted in 2008 as the company’s first all-carbon full suspension frame. Last year it ran alongside the alu front/carbon rear E-5, but for 2009 the E-5 has gone and the E-120 range has been expanded to include four complete bikes, plus a frame-only option. Top of the tree is the E-120 Superbike, laden with DT Swiss suspension components, titanium bolts and so on to bring the weight down to an impressive 23.5lb. The price, though, is an equally impressive £5,382. The XT model we’re looking at here features exactly the same frame and comes in at a more accessible £2,935. Clearly that’s still a fairly considerable sum, so what does it get you?
From the outside the 2009 E-120 frame is unchanged from 2008, and in fact there are very minor changes generally. Inside the curvy monococque sections there are some subtle differences in the carbon fibre lay-up that are said to slightly improve stiffness, but good luck noticing – it’s not as if the 2008 frame was wanting in that department. The E-120 was Whyte’s first full-carbon project, following on from the magic blanket swingarm on the E-5, and it’s a measure of how much design effort went into it that so little has changed. It may, of course, also be a measure of the terrifying cost of moulds and tooling for carbon fibre frames and parts – no-one redesigns this stuff if it doesn’t need it.
The beauty of carbon fibre for bicycle frames is the amount of control that can be exercised over how much of it ends up where in the frame, and the ability to make different areas behave in different ways by tinkering with the thickness and alignment of individual layers. On the E-120, that flexibility of design manifests itself with massive “tube” sections up front – the headtube/down tube/top tube area is enormous.
The Quad-Link suspension design that Whyte shares with Marin has been gradually refined over the years, although it’s stuck with the same pivot geometry from 2008. It’s a uniquely packaged suspension design, with two of the four pivots doubling up as shock mounts, and the shock (a Fox RP2 on the XT bike) nestling within the short carbon fibre linkages. It all runs on long-lasting sealed bearings, with neat O-ring sealed covers providing an extra line of defence against dirt.
Whyte is known for adding some unique details to its frames. The Big Gripper dropouts at the end of the swingarm have been a regular feature on Whyte’s FS bikes going all the way back to the controversial-looking PRST-1 (and when we say “controversial”, we mean that some people argued that it was spectacularly ugly, while others swore blind that it was eye-bendingly weird). The system uses a pair of hinged, locking clamps that wrap around special “bobbins” threaded on to the ends of the rear hub axle. It’s certainly secure, you’re guaranteed to get the wheel in straight every time and there may be stiffness benefits (although without the opportunity to run the same swingarm with regular QR dropouts it’s hard to say), but removing and fitting the wheel is an acquired skill.
The XT model is the cheapest of the full-bike E-120 options, but it’s still a high-end bike. Whyte has gone for a fairly straightforward spec that includes nearly all of a Shimano Deore XT groupset, including a Shadow rear mech and the M775 wheelset. Whyte has passed over the XT brakes in favour of Avid Elixir stoppers, though. The Elixirs are Avid’s high-end brakes, featuring innovative “Taperbore” master cylinders in preference to the usual reservoir/port arrangement. They have a distinctly softer and more linear feel than Avid’s Juicy brakes, but there’s no shortage of power.
As a mildly interesting aside, while the spec list calls for Centerlock rotors at both ends (which would mean mixing and matching rotors and calipers from different manufacturers), the test bike arrived with the standard 160mm Avid rotors mounted using DT Swiss Centerlock/six bolt adaptors. These use a splined carrier with six pegs that locate in the rotors’ bolt holes, with the usual Centerlock lockring holding everything in place. It seems a little Heath Robinson, but didn’t give us any problems.
Up front, the 15mm QR through-axle on the Fox F120RL fork brings forward axle retention up to the standards of the rear. It’s a user-friendly system (if you’ve ever used a Maxle you’ll feel generally at home), the front end gets noticeably more accurate and the security of closed dropouts inspires confidence. We’re still not convinced that there’s much point (beyond market segmentation) to another axle standard, though – 20mm stuff is stiffer again, can be made more than acceptably light and for our money the Maxle, with expanding wedges that lock in to both sides of the fork, is a better system. We’ll take QR15 over conventional dropouts any time, though.
Finishing kit includes an Easton stem and MonkeyLite carbon bar, Whyte-branded lock-on grips, a Thomson layback seatpost and a Fi:zi’k Gobi Wingflex saddle. It’s all unarguably good stuff, with only the Continental 2.2in Mountain King tyres possibly not suiting all riders or conditions. We got on fine with them, but we know that that’s not a universal sentiment.
Obvious competitors for the E-120 include the Gary Fisher HiFi Carbon (£2,899 with largely comparable spec), Trek’s all-XT Fuel EX9.8 (£2,999) or Specialized’s Stumpjumper Expert, with a slightly lowlier spec but a somewhat lower price at £2,739. Despite the relatively lower buying power of Whyte, the E-120 stacks up well on value.
Whyte bikes have featured some mildly idiosyncratic geometries in the past – we’ve generally got on fine with them, but they’ve not necessarily been to all tastes. The E-120 plays safe, with entirely conventional geometry for this kind of bike, and really is all the better for it. It’s neutral, poised and confident, helped considerably by the stiffness of the structure and the balance between the front and rear suspension.
The Quad-Link back end is one of the more sensitive in the business, taking out pretty much everything that passes underwheel but giving just enough feedback to let you know it’s doing it. Earlier incarnations of this system ramped up rather quickly towards the end of the travel, making it hard to make full use of what was theoretically available, but here it’s pleasingly progressive – it’ll certainly tackle the big hits with aplomb. The Fox fork up front is a more than capable ally, too.
One inevitable consequence of such a large volume frame is, well, volume. Any component-related noises tend to get amplified by the huge hollow box to which they’re bolted, with downshifts at the front being particularly clanky. It’s not something that affects performance in any way, but it’s mildly distracting at first.
Aside from that, the E-120 is almost the definition of a “transparent” bike. It’s bereft of idiosyncracies – it just sits there and uncomplainingly and efficiently does as you ask. It’s perhaps not as overtly inspiring as some, but knowing that it won’t turn and bite you brings its rewards with time.
Ups and downs
Positives: Looks good, rides great, light, one of the best back ends in the business, competitively priced
Negatives: Occasional clanking
It’s hard not to feel just a little bit proud of the E-120. This is a British-designed bike from a comparatively tiny company that can more than hold its own against products of the world’s biggest bike manufacturers. That’s no mean feat. The E-120 is a seriously good bike, and in XT guise is even fairly sensible money. There are certainly no obvious weak points in the spec, and the blend of suspension sensitivity and control with neutral, vice-free handling is hard to beat.