One of the things that has motivated me to write this blog, as well as the riding, has been the testing of new products. I was lucky in that the time that I opened the shop and started writing was the time that Jon Whyte left designing Marin and Whyte and the new team took over. They were producing new designs every year. This may have caused a few logistical headaches for them but for me it was a delight to catalogue to evolution of the brands over the last eight years. I had all sorts of preproduction prototypes to ride; often sworn to secrecy and having to wait months before I could publish my analysis.
Then along came the 29ers and I was determined to make this our own. I wanted to become an expert. I tested anything and everything that I could get my hands (bum) on. It became an obsession and the one thing that I learnt, which is sadly lacking from some magazine reviews, is to keep an open mind. Everything is changing. For example, I have discovered that I climb better in the more upright and comfortable position inherent in a 29ers geometry than the racy bum in the air 26” position.
By the time that this year’s bikes arrived all that I had to do was review the new crop of Whytes, do a comparison of the 29 and 27.5 Scott full suspension and I was done for the year. I have literally hardly tested a mountain bike since and just road my 29er thinking that nothing could be better……
27.5/650b – Whyte 909: trail demon
A few weeks ago I tested a Scott 740, this is racy machine. It was blisteringly quick and as a consequence relatively harsh. I then saw the 2014 Whytes and had a quick go on the 909. This bike needed a proper test. I had a quick ride over the weekend and was struck by how unremarkable it was. Nice ride, fun, easy but nothing stood out.
On Monday I took it to Queen Elizabeth Country Park to give it a thrashing. My last visit there was to test the Scott Genius 900 and 700 (29 & 27.5). It had been pouring for 24 hours and never stopped during the ride. My time was so slow that I had promised myself a return to get my rightful place on the Strava scoreboard.
On Monday it was dry and warm and the trails had been dampened by the recent rain so grip was perfect. The trails couldn’t have been better. The 909 is designed and marketed as a trail bike with its 130mm Fox Performance 32mm CTD Fit fork, Sram X01 1 x 11 transmission and Shimano XT brakes – built as I would have done so for myself. However, don’t always believe the marketeers. It is just a bike! Too often bikes are pigeon holed and riders think that the design is inappropriate before they have even tried it.
As far as I am concerned the best thing about the Red Route at QECP is that it resembles an old school cross country race course (years ago I raced there). The main pleasure/aim of riding it is to ride as fast as possible. The 909 delivered on the very first pedal strokes of the first climb. I did two laps and really felt good on the second. The bike did everything that I wanted in my XC style climbing mode. I only used the lowest gear once on the first lap. The second lap I was used to the 27.5 wheels so was able to climb the loose, steep, clay climb out of the saddle with no wheel spins. I couldn’t think of any way to improve the ride on the climbs.
Downhill, QECP provides some interesting challenges and excitement and this is what the
909 was designed for. The bike forced self confidence, so much so that I could experiment. I tried landing by touching down with the front wheel first (old blokes like me don’t do that sort of thing!), I experimented with no back brake to get through the berms faster, I forced myself to look at the exits of the berm not the berm itself. I was having fun. The Whyte 909 was awesome.
The very fact that my first impression was that the 909 is unremarkable is exactly what makes it so good. Nothing stood out. The wheels don’t feel big nor do they feel small. It felt perfectly balanced, long forks without being noticeable. Often a trail bike compromises climbing performance for DH prowess. Not so this Whyte. It needs to be burly but at just over 26lbs/11.94kg it may be a lot heavier than my Whyte 29C but it never felt heavy to ride or climb. You can’t measure how good a bike is as it is a personal thing but the 909 did enable me to move from the nether regions of the Strava table to 15th overall for the Red Route. Imagine what the bike could have delivered if the rider hadn’t gone the wrong way on both laps.
So what about the wheel size?
My open mind means that I am not going to be 29er prejudiced against this bike. I wouldn’t have used it to do the South Downs Way, but you could. I would not use it to race a Gorrick, but you could. I would use it to blast around Whyteways, Steyning or Stanmer because it will be easier through some of the tight sections than a 29er. Unlike the Scott 740, or maybe because I have adapted to the slightly harsher ride of a 27.5, I found the ride comfortable. It must be noted that Whyte have an uncanny knack of getting their aluminium frames to feel really smooth almost like steel or titanium. Comfort and straight line speed: 29er. Acceleration, fun and single track: 27.5. Both will do both types of riding, you takes your choice.
Would I change anything? I used the Prologo Nago Evo saddle because I had it but it comes with a Fi’zi:k Gobi – no need to change that, tyres are WTB Wolverine front and WTB Beeline rear – perfect for current conditions, a 180mm front rotor (the demo had 203mm – over the top, the production has 180mm), and finally, this may shock you, I might trim a few mil of the bars as it is so quick though single track and so good at climbing!
If you only want to buy one bike to do everything there probably isn’t a better choice than the Whyte 909. There are two budget versions in the 905 and 901. By the way, our demo arrived yesterday, who’s going to be first?