UK brand Whyte has a history of making bikes that are either ground-breaking or quirkily eccentric, depending on your point of view. Few would deny, though, that the quirky quota has gone down over the years, and the 2008 range (and it’s starting to get quite sizable) is packed with bikes clearly designed with function to the fore but at least half a nod to appearance too.
The big news from Whyte for 2008 is the all-new E-120. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just a metric E-5 – about all the two bikes have in common is the brand name on the side and the Quad-Link rear suspension, and even that is set up differently on the 120. 120mm-travel trail bikes are clearly the current Big Thing, but the E-120 stands apart by combining impressively low weight (the top-of-the-line Team is claimed to come in at 24lb) with a stout feel and great trail manners.
It’s the first all-carbon bike from Whyte, and the designers and engineers have spent a huge amount of time with different grades of fibre, weaves, layup patterns and all the rest of it. To give you some idea of the hidden complexity of this bike, the swingarm alone is made up of 157 different pieces of carbon fibre, all of which have to be hand-laid in the right order and correct orientation. It’s a time-consuming process, which explains why the E-120 is not by any stretch of the imagination a cheap bike.
That said, the E-120 XT (Fox F120RL fork and full Shimano XT group, including the wheels) comes in at £2,899, which is clearly a lot of money but isn’t at all bonkers, all things considered. There’s also the Trail (RockShox Revelation, SRAM/FSA/Hope bits) at £3,299 and the fully-emblingerised Team, which will cost you £3,999 and packs an XTR drivetrain with Hope wheels and brakes.
We’ve got an E-120 to test, with first riding impressions being really very good indeed. There’s a lot of volume to the carbon frame and that makes itself felt in the accurate ride. The Quad-Link back end is set up similarly to the Mount Vision from sister brand Marin, rather than the E-5’s distinctly different arrangement, and delivers a pleasingly linear and well-mannered performance without losing the magic-carpet feel over smaller bumps.
Over in hardtail-land, the 19 Trail and Race platforms are carried over essentially unchanged apart from colours and spec. There’s a new “entry level” hardtail, though, in the shape of the 905. This shares the 19 Trail’s geometry but dispenses with the funky adjustable dropouts and is built from butted 6061 aluminium rather than the 19’s AN6 tubes. With RockShox Recon fork, SRAM X-9 transmission, Juicy 7 brakes, Hope hubs and Easton finishing kit, the 905 comes in at £1,399, making it the cheapest bike in the Whyte range.