Whyte S-150C RS test and ride impressions
Pleasure delay has been the name of the game with Whyte’s new S-150C RS. Initially due in July, it eventually beat the first snowfalls of winter by just a fortnight. Since then however, it has had a very thorough thrashing up and down Alp, zipping through frost covered dust, smashing into snowmelt softened mud and heading sideways through greasy leaf litter mulch. I’ve been able to really get to know the bike and put to the test some of the questions and assumptions that many riders, myself included, have had about this new release from designer Ian Alexander and the team at Whyte.
Rather than go through the usual structure of frame, components, ride and so on I’ll just wade in and get right to the aforementioned questions.
It’s a 150mm 29er – is it a total beast?
Here was a real surprise for me – the Whyte S-150C is the very measure of poise, control and precision. I have previously spent a lot of time on a different 150mm travel 29er (an Orange Alpine Five, predecessor of the current Stage 5/6) and I absolutely loved it in a ‘savage beast that demands all out speed all the time’ kind of way. The S-150 is a different kettle of fish altogether. Equally as capable and confident at high speeds but also nimble and fun when just chilling with friends towards the back of the group.
Is it ridiculously fast?
Yes. It doesn’t even feel it. It’s only when I noticed I was riding lines that should only work at a fair lick that I realised how much the bike was shifting.
Here’s the best bit though – the reason it doesn’t feel mad fast is that it is so composed at speed that you will still want to hop, pop and pump your way down the trail. You aren’t the puking passenger in a fighter jet, you’re the cool arsed pilot buzzing the flight tower.
Are the 42mm offset forks weird?
Now comes the geekery! “Isn’t the reduced offset interesting on your bike?” said very few well-balanced people ever. The truth (for me) however is that it really is very interesting. Check out PinkBike’s interview with Whyte designer Ian Alexander for a very concise treatise of fork offset, trail and mass offset relative to the steering axis. Essentially Whyte have eschewed a traditional (for 29ers) 51mm fork offset in favour of a reduced 42mm figure (so have Transition this year, expect everyone else to follow suit soon). 51mm offset was originally established by Gary Fisher on 80mm travel XC race bikes. They were great but very much of a time.
This reduced offset (and resultant longer trail) ‘should’ make the bike more stable, not just at speed but also in rough terrain and with longer travel modern forks (more variable dynamic geometry). It ‘should’ also make the steering feel a touch floppy, especially at lower speeds.
So here comes the odd bit – the steering does not flop. I’ve noticed over the last 10 years that bikes have gotten harder and harder to ride no-handed up hills. It’s never bothered me much, even though with so few tricks in my bag it was a shame to lose one of them. Now the Whyte, with its longer trail, should flop like a dying trout held by the tail. But it doesn’t. It flops (that word has now featured so many times you will probably get Viagra ads in your timeline feed for days to come) noticeably less than any bikes I’ve ridden for a few years. Uphill no-handed is back on, rejoice. This might well be due to the reduced amount of offset mass that reducing the fork offset also creates – think of this as the weight of brake calipers, disks and fork legs which are offset from the main steering axis by the fork offset. More fork offset = more weight offset. It’s like the difference between the kid sitting smugly in the middle of the roundabout at the local park and their younger sibling hanging on for grim death at the outside, trying not to puke. Think of the Whyte as the smug kid and your former self as their wretching sibling… (physicists please don’t comment, I know it’s an abuse of forces but a nice image all the same).
What is also nicely evident is how the increased trail improves handling through super-rough, big-holed terrain. Read through the link and learn about negative-trail whilst riding as I suspect this is the key here – essentially negative trail is when bike geometry goes bad. On the Whyte this phenomenon is much less likely to occur and the result is very confidence inspiring through fast, rough terrain. It’s like the good 29er rollover effect on steroids.
How does that long front centre feel? Is it too long?
Back to the numbers again. Whyte have built much of their reputation on their ‘progressive’ geometry bikes. This basically means a long front centre (reach), low bottom bracket and slack head angle. If you don’t understand any of these terms then take a minute to watch this great video explaining it all from GMBN.
Traditionally, progressive (see what I did there?) bike companies have also shortened chainstays in order to keep overall wheelbase down and help make the bike feel nimble and easy to manual. Basically, they’ve all been scared that a long front centre will see their bikes labelled as tanks so hey, shorten the chainstays and solve the problem!
Those of us who were riding in the 90s have been here before with e-stay bikes bringing chainstays down to just over 400mm and we learnt the hard way that going to extremes on one geometry parameter with a view to improving overall handling is a fool’s game. The bikes rode like crap and we drifted back to longer stays for better climbing traction and a more balanced, centered ride feel.
Anyhow, enough reminiscing. The Whyte G-160 I rode all last summer definitely followed the ‘long front, super-short rear’ mantra, with 425mm chainstays and a reach of 495mm in size L. The bike was great fun but really rode like you were hanging onto its coat tails. It took a very conscious effort at times really keep your body shifted forwards, into the centre of the bikes’ wheelbase. This is certainly a good habit to encourage in terms of bike skills but at times it felt a bit too forced on the G-160.
Progressive geometry is dead. Long live progressive geometry!
Hats off to Whyte as they must have been thinking the same thing. I guess the key to truly progressive geometry lies in its ability to progress… Still, Whyte are pleasingly ahead of the curve in moving on from a clichéd ‘long front, super-short rear’ to a geometry more accurately thought of as ‘long front, shortish rear, nicely centred’. Catchy eh? You can maybe see why I don’t work in brand marketing.
So the S-150C, in a Large, is rocking 435mm chainstays with a reach of 475mm. The resulting ride feels so much more centred and planted than the older G-160 (it has already changed for the 2018 G-170) it really is quite remarkable. Every manoeuvre, weight shift, compression and extension feels like it starts from the heart of the bike. It’s like you are riding in the very core of the S-150 rather than hanging on at the margins.
Will the pivot bearings last?
Whyte have always offered a lifetime guarantee on their pivot bearings. On previous models this always came with the tacit understanding that you would need to use said guarantee, possibly several times. It was always the more delicate upper seatstay and rearward chainstay bearings that went.
It’s great to see these pivot points totally re-designed with clevis-style pivots, which means the bearing is supported on both sides so wont see nearly so much lateral loading. Hopefully this will mean that life really does mean life, in a good way.
Is it too much bike?
This was my main fear when I ordered the bike. It was compounded a couple of weeks before receiving the Whyte, during a weekend of riding back in the heartland of Peebles, when a friend very kindly leant me his spanking new Orange Stage 5. What a fun bike! And with 135mm of travel it felt like more than enough for the ‘off-piste in and around Glentress’ trails we were riding. Was the S-150 going to be too much bike?
Well that was pretty much the last time I even thought about that question. It has never felt too much bike and if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been asked the question a few times since I certainly would have forgotten to even mention it in this review.
It just always seems the right amount of bike, however fast and steep you want to go. I still haven’t found its limit but, unlike previous very capable bikes I’ve ridden, it doesn’t seem to mind how hard you want to rail it, it’ll always deliver an inspiring ride.
It makes me want to go out and ride more often and that is surely the highest compliment, especially given it’s snowy and cold as f**k in the Alps just now!
For the riding I do and for my own preferences, the Whyte S-150C RS is the best bike I have yet ridden in pretty much all the terrain I have ridden it in. Vive la progression!