Breaking the rules – Whyte S 150 review

For years the rule was 26” despite its poor performance. And that is why dissenters have been saying, since the eighties, that the wheel needed to be bigger. Then someone threw away the rule book and, easy, fast, comfortable and confidence inspiring riding arrived. The 29er went main stream and life was sweet. Or so we thought.

There were two voices challenging the new norm. The frame designers were struggling to deliver the handling  for full suspension bikes given the technology of the time. The other voice was that of the conservatives who could not cope with rule change and looked for anything that wasn’t so big. Thus the 27.5” gained popularity. Such was the movement that strange concepts were born. It was said the women would be better off with the smaller wheel, that smaller riders would be more suited to the 27.5 and full suspension bikes would be better with smaller wheels. I am not sure why women would want slower less comfortable bikes but the marketeers surely knew more than us, the riders, at the time.

But as technology progressed, notably with one by transmission systems and boost technology, the rule book was re written and 29ers came back again, many of the remaining 27.5” gained size with Plus technology where the tyres grew to 2.8”, these wheels were close in size to a 29er. The 29er was reborn and even World Cup Downhill Races were being won on the big wheels. We had a new rule book but long travel trail bikes were still generally based on the 27.5” wheel size.

Whyte S-150 S

Then someone had the audacity to disregard the rules altogether. Ian Alexander, the Whyte Bikes guru and frame designer produced the S 150. It is a mid – long travel suspension 29er that feels livelier, quicker and more exciting than a short travel bike like the T-129. When I had the nerve to suggest to Whyte that there was a growing market for 29ers and they should revamp the 120mm travel T129 I was informed that it was going to be ditched and replaced with a 150mm 29er. I told them that they were mad.

However, the S 150 is here and has taken the market by storm, most notably in the USA where it has stunned various magazine testers. This bike wins Enduro races whilst at the same time is at home cruising the South Downs! It is the Swiss Army knife of bikes. It has rewritten the rules for long travel big wheel suspension bike design.

Ready to rock!

I have finally had a chance to ride the Whyte S-150 S. As you may well know I ride a 100mm Scott Spark RC 900 WC, a racing cross country bike, and have often said that you, I, don’t need a long travel bike on the South downs. But I am wrong. I got hold of a medium S-150 which is a perfect fit for me (our demo is large) and headed up to try it on our local trails. I am a good person to test this bike as I may well be experienced but I am not a top level enduro racer. There are enough of them and they have already had their say. I am closer to our customers than to being on the podium at an EWS event. I was suffering from a cold so wanted to take it easy which could have normally have been a problem with a bike weighing almost 5 kilos more than my own bike. However, I never once thought that it felt or rode heavy. What was really bizarre was that on the long gentle trek up to the Steyning trails the steering felt much like my XC rocket (68.5°). In fact it never felt like a long travel bike at all.

We played around the Steyning trails and found the extra travel and grip inspiring. I let some air out of the shocks and the tyres (I had originally set it up with 20psi rear and 18 front) Given my poor health I packed in early but can report that the combination of Sram Eagle, the 29 inch big hoops, Maxxis High Roller II and, of course, the frame design ensured that the bike was easy to climb even those steep north side ascents.

If you want to read about the S 150s prowess going down lunatic trails at 50mph you’ll have to read other tests, look at the videos or speak to Tim and Oli in the shop. I am not the guy. What I can say is that I’ll be taking this long travel baby out for a ride just as soon as I can. Now that is a first. It totally transformed the way that I could tackle the Blue Run. I now need to hit the Lion Trail and Whyteways and more to see just what it will let me do.

Whyte S-150 S specification.

I was riding the standard Whyte S 150 £2,850. It has a Boost frame design, Sram GX Eagle 12s  (lower end but better than XTR),  Rock Shox Revelation 150mm forks, RockShox Deluxe RT Debonair rear shock, RockShox Reverb dropper seat post, Sram Level TL brakes, WTB STP i29 rims with Maxxis High Roller II 2.3 front and rear. The standard set up is to have a Maxxis Cross Mark II 2.25 on the rear. The tyre upgrade is perhaps the only thing that I’d recommend changing, everything else is spot on.

The most interesting thing about the design is that Ian Alexander got Rock Shox to change the fork offset to 42mm. This has increased the trail of the fork. That is the distance between where the wheel touches the ground and the imaginary line the runs though the centre of the head tube hits the deck. The result is, according to the theory, a more stable bike at speed but at my level it feels quicker and livelier than the slack bikes that we have got used to like the T-130 even though the S-150 head angle is slacker 65.6°. The T-130 is 67°. There is a bit more detail here on Quest Adventure.

It needs to be run with at least 30% sag and there is compression lever on the rear shock which is useful on hard climbs although it never felt like bobbing under power even when set soft. The chain stays are an unbelievable 435mm which is the same length as my World Cup XC racing bike! That adds to the agile nature of the S-150 and allows you to pop the wheel over routes and rocks. So any detractors of the big wheel for trail and enduro riding ought to swing a leg over the S-150 before throwing the rule book at Ian and Whyte.

Finally, the “S”. S stands for switch and Whyte have designed the bike to be ridden with either 29” wheels or 27.5Plus using a 2.8″ tyre. The geometry changes with the slightly lower BB height using the smaller wheel have been taken into account. For the record I have two or three pedal strikes every time I go out on my Spark. I only had one on the S-150. More details of the Whyte wheel sets can be found on our website: Quest Adventure/Whyte wheels

We have a demo Whyte S-150 C RS large if you want to try it yourself.

If you are confused by any of the terminology you can get some explained in the Quest Adventure Mountain Bike Glossary. 

More on Whyte

Post Script

I have had another session on the S-150 but this one was really tough, flat out and entirely on single track. The conditions were terrible with the only consolation that it was unseasonably warm but very, very wet. Two of us on our Whyte S-150 C RS joined a regular group of trail mashers on an evening blast at Whiteways to learn a few new routes.

The start meant a long climb punctuated by a few steep, heart stopping, drops. Even in XC thrashing mode it never occurred to me once, as I made it to the top first, that I was on a long travel bike. The suspension remained active for the whole ride.

Once up top and on trails that I knew the S-150 became a beast. Running Maxxis High Roller 11 on the front and Minion SS behind combined with 150mm travel the bike railed around every bend. Whilst the locals on their 27.5 Plus were complaining about the lack of grip and horrific conditions we were just cruzin’! On that night and in the wet and soft dirt 29ers ruled! I have been trying to go fast here on my Scott Spark RC 900 WC 100mm 29er in the dry but on the S-150, in terrible conditions, I was finding it easier, the corners were faster and the jumps were higher.

I’m sold.

Finally I ought add that the lights helped. I was using a Gemini Titan. We did a comparison with the Exposure Six Pack. There’s more to read in our review.




2 Comments Add yours

  1. Barney Cooper says:

    Really unpretentious review in layman’s language. As someone in the same position as you – I ride (an admittedly low-end) xc hardtail -this gave me a really good feel of what the S-150 might be like.

    1. Thank you. These used to be weekly but I have got out pf the habit. JP

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