Surpassing all expectations!
Whyte, as you may or may not know, have been at the forefront of trail bike development over the last few years, in fact for over a decade. They have followed (or lead) the demands of UK riders one of which was the desire for 27.5” bikes and that brought about the demise of one of their true all rounder trail bikes: the T-129. Great though it was the sales figures told a different story. The bike was axed along with the M109.
The M-109 was another story deserving another write up but it was ahead of its time and has been replaced by the Scott Spark RC which now carries the mantle of being the ultimate lightweight XC race bike with all the trail handling capabilities that you could ever want.
Whyte have deservedly gained many accolades for the T-130s and hard tail 900 series trail bikes. Not many brands even have bikes like this let alone ones that are better. In the excitement for these trail 27.5 bikes the 29er all rounder got forgotten. In the last couple of years whilst the market lapped up the ever fatter tyred trail 650b models there was a growing demand for a faster bike that can only come from the bigger wheel. Technologies have helped designs improve so that now a 29er can be as nimble and lively its smaller wheel rival. This has been proved by the demand for the 29 inch Scott Spark. When I challenged Whyte on this they gave me a very sensible response. They agreed with me and said that they were much smaller than some of the other brands and had less resource to develop all the models that they knew they needed. To be fair, they said that they would rather do 5 things excellently rather than 10 things averagely. Hats off to Whyte! And that is why we love them so much.
They did, though, design the S-150 and in doing so shook up the mountain bike world with such a lively, easy to ride 29er 150mm travel enduro bike. The S-120 is more than just a reworked T-129, it’s a mini S-150. It is fast, super stable and really confidence inspiring with its 65.6⁰ head angle. You’d never know that it only had 120mm of travel. I love it. Watch out Scott! For the record there’s new Scott Spark with the same price and NX Eagle. A shoot out beckons.
The carbon main frame is, like most carbon bikes, super strong and aesthetically beautiful. The rear linkage and stays are chunky enough to withstand a huge amount of abuse. They are workman like and look indestructible.
The Whyte S 120 ticks all the boxes. The geometry is spot on and enhanced by the custom shorter 44mm fork offset (like the S-150) it is incredibly stable at speed. The design is boost giving clearance and increased cornering stability. As it is an all rounder the climbing position is good too with no compromises when the trail goes down and turns nasty.
Our demo is a large and is seems to fit like glove so, like the T-130, the S-120 comes up quite small to size. The S-150 is pretty average in that the medium fits a medium rider whatever that means. The suspension is provided by Fox Float DPS rear shock with rebound control and 3 position compression lever. On our ride with some really tough hills I seemed to climb well without the need to stiffen the suspension despite running 30% / 17mm of sag. The fork is a Float Performance SC34. Transmission is Sram’s GX Eagle, what can I say? “Perfect”. My bike has X0 Eagle with the cassette costing virtually 50% of the entire GX package and, as I am not known for carrying a set of scales on a ride, I never noticed the difference. The brakes are Sram Guide RS. They stop and have excellent modulation. The Bike Yoke dropper seat post was a revalation. It is the best I have ever used. Is it is super smooth, the lever is in the right place and needs the lightest of caresses to drop the post. There seems to be a slight sag when set up so you may need your seat post set 5mm higher. The wheels are Race Face AR27 tubeless and the tyres Maxxis Forekaster TR 29″ x 2.3 EXO Sidewall Protection, Front, and Maxxis Crossmark II TR 29″ x 2.25 EXO Sidewall Protection, Rear. Now what would it be like with a wider rim/tyre? I had trouble with tyre pressures. My pump did not give an accurate reading so I needed to drop the air several times on the ride. Nothing to do with the bike design – user error. Checking this morning I ended up with 11.5 psi rear and 11 front.
The argument over whether a 29er is better than a 27.5 with a 2.5 or 6 or even 2.8 inch tyre will the subject of pub debate for decades but for me the speed over distance advantage of a 29er will always win out over the, questionable, better grip of 27.5 plus tyre. On our ride it was fast which is a necessity here as there is often a fair distance between each single track section. My legs were tired from a heavy week so I was slower climbing than my colleagues with their 11kg XC hardtails.
The only let down was that it didn’t take me over the jump that I wanted it to do. I couldn’t find the autopilot button. Whatever the design, you still have to get your head in the right place. I even got some advice from a local trail vixen but despite her words I still bottled it despite going big on all the preceding jumps.
How could it be improved? I would prefer it to be lighter, but this is the budget option (£3,499 – you get a lot of performance for your money) and there is always the Works model. That is the one me. That is really good value! Don’t forget that my own bike is 3.5kg lighter but £2.2k more. Hopefully the Works has that all elusive autopilot button.