Whyte 46 - Bike Magic

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Whyte 46

Marin were early off the blocks with long-travel all-round bikes, pushing the envelope of “climbable” travel up to five and six inches while most people were still debating the merits of three. For 2004 designer Jon Whyte has taken the TARA travel adjustment from last year’s single pivot bikes and combined it with a modified version of the Quad-Link suspension previously only found on Marin’s shorter travel XC bikes. The Attack Trail is the top of the resulting Quad-TARA range.


Big Gripper dropouts boost rear-end stiffness

The 46 came about thanks to a chance meeting between Jon Whyte and Maverick’s (and founder of RockShox) Paul Turner. Much chatting later and Paul had agreed to supply ultra-rare Maverick forks to Jon, who’d design a frame around them. The result is the 46.

The frame bears a clear family resemblance to the Whyte-designed Marin TARA series. Indeed, the back ends are all but identical. There are differences in the sections and shapes to increase stiffness, but the Quad-Links are present and correct and the four-to-six inch (hence “46”, geddit?) travel adjustment is there too. The links are one-piece units and all of the bearings are identical – they’re the same items used in the older single-pivot bikes except that there’s eight of them rather than just two. A Fox Float RL ProPedal shock does the rear springing.

A key difference is the dropouts. Rather than regular dropouts, the 46 uses Whyte’s Big Gripper design, with cam-locking clamps holding machined “bobbins” on the hub axle. They’re pretty fiddly at first but once you’ve got the knack they’re fine and certainly hold the back wheel with authority. Interestingly, it was the dropouts that helped to forge the Whyte/Maverick relationship, with Turner’s fork axle clamps being not dissimilar in concept to Whyte’s.

The front end is all-new. It’s still a semi-monococque design, with left and right halves welded together, but the whole thing’s been designed with the Maverick fork in mind. Being a twin-crown unit, the fork puts different loads on the front of the frame and the 46 is built to take it. Jon Whyte has also gone for graceful curves rather than corners to increase clearance for the front wheel under full compression and the rider’s undercarriage under falling off.

It all looks fantastic. Whyte’s previous bikes have definitely fallen into the “quirky” category as far as appearance goes, but the 46 is, to our eyes at least, a real looker.


Now that’s a fork

Clearly the Maverick fork is the key to this bike. Only Whyte and Santa Cruz have access to the fork as OE spec, and in the aftermarket they’re as rare as the £700 (plus the hub) price tag might suggest. It’s an amazing bit of kit, offering six inches of travel and bags of stiffness in a 3.5lb package that’s barely longer axle-to-crown than most five-inch travel forks. It’s an upside-down fork, with the lower legs running inside the uppers. That allows the bigger tubes to be at the top of the fork to improve stiffness, and the Maverick’s baseball-bat uppers and welded box-section lower crown certainly do that. The upper crown clamps around the top of the fork tubes and the steerer and includes mounts for the Maverick-specific stem – no stem slippage here. With an upside-down design it’s tricky to include a conventional fork brace, so the Maverick relies on a big 24mm through-axle and cam-locking dropouts to keep everything going in the right direction. The fork legs are offset forwards to maintain a decent amount of steering lock.

The rest of the spec is pretty much faultless. Hope Mono 4 brakes grab 205mm front and 185mm rear rotors attached to a Maverick front and Hope rear hubs. Mavic 717 rims are shod with 2.3in Continental Gravity tyres (although the test bike had a Vertical Pro on the back). Transmission is all XT, with Hollowtech II crank/bottom bracket teamed with a conventionally-sprung rear mech and good old RF+ shifter pods. The Maverick stem holds an Easton Monkey Lite carbon bar finished off with WTB grips, while a Whyte-branded post is topped off by an SDG saddle. Attention to detail is excellent – you even get Goodridge braided brake hoses. There’s absolutely nothing on this bike that doesn’t do an excellent job. And the whole lot weighs in at just 28lb…


Ready for action

If you read our recent review of Marin’s Attack Trail, you’ll recall that said, “It’s a measure of how well the back end works that the excellent TALAS fork sometimes felt rather overwhelmed. We’re looking forward to trying an Attack with one of next year’s long-travel lightweight forks…”

Well, the 46 is in many ways next year’s bikes now. There aren’t all that many six-inch travel 28lb bikes currently on the market, although we expect them to be everywhere in 2005. The Maverick fork and TARA back end are all but a perfect match, and Whyte’s work on the frame has been entirely worthwhile. The fork tracks fantastically well and the rest of the bike follows through without a hint of a wobble and the actual suspension performance is unparalleled. The fork is testament to what can be done with finely-tuned but gizmo-free suspension internals. There’re no platform valves or other trickery in there, just ports and shim stacks, but it works superbly. You get two travel settings, a stiff four inch or a plush six inch, but even fully extended any bob is entirely inoffensive and it’s well-controlled under braking. The entire gamut of trail knobbliness is hoovered up but it’s surprisingly communicative – you don’t feel isolated from the trail, and despite all the bumps being absorbed the front end feeds just enough of them back that you can tell what’s going on down there. And with the back end working in perfect harmony and big, grippy tyres the whole thing just feels so controlled and unshakeable that you’ll be glad of the generous portions of stopping power on hand…

Going up, the shorter fork setting is a boon on the real nose-of-saddle steeps although we didn’t feel any particular need to knock the travel down on the back end – even at 6in it’s stable under power but will find every last scrap of traction. Running less travel just gives you exactly that – the same stability and grip but you run out of movement earlier. We suspect that most riders will leave it in 6in.

Handling is finely balanced and the impressive weight/travel ratio and well-controlled suspension makes the 46 excellent even in the sort of tight and twisty situations that you’d expect a six-inch travel bike to be a handful in. We can’t think of another bike that feels as at home in the woods as it does rock-blasting out in the hills. The Whyte 46 doesn’t just move the goalposts, it changes the shape of the pitch…

Positives: Faultless spec, awesome performance, light weight

Negatives: Only 500 available and Whyte had this one back…


During our formative mountain bike years there weren’t XC bikes, freeride bikes or downhill bikes. Just mountain bikes that did everything. The 46 is a return to that ethos only far, far more capable. Despite the looks of the fork, it’s not a downhill bike but it’ll take pretty much anything that you can chuck at it. It had us looking at our armoury of FS and hardtail bikes and wondering why we didn’t just have one of these. It’s even good value in an expensive kind of way. But with only 500 being made, you’ll have to be quick…

Performance: 5/5
Value: 5/5
Overall: 5/5


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