Whyte 901 2018 Review
Cons: Geometry could be awkward for some, no dropper post, long wheelbase
Our Analysis and Test Results
The main attributes that impressed testers on the 901 were its stability and predictability. It craves high speeds and fast corners. The traction the 901 provided seemed to increase with speed. This bike loves fast flow trails and allowed testers to enter corners hard, fast, and with confidence.
Every tester was uncomfortable on this bike during setup and the first ride or two. Not so fun. The reach and wheelbase on this hardtail are longer than at least half of the full suspension enduro and trail bikes we've tested. Due to the particularly long geometry, it takes a while to adapt to the 901 as it can make the rider feel stretched out. Once familiar with the geometry, our testers started to like the 901 more and more. By the end of testing, we were impressed. This bike is among the very best hardtails for descending and operates with confidence and traction on all areas of the trail aside from the tightest switchbacks.
The recent trend of long, low, and slack geometry is clearly embodied in the 901. The long wheelbase and low bottom bracket give this bike confidence-inspiring high-speed stability and oodles of traction. After the awkward getting-to-know-you phase, we became more and more impressed with the Whyte's downhill skills.
Given its sheer length, the Whyte struggled through tight switchbacks on both steep and more moderate descents. The long-wheelbase can be downright cumbersome. Once you get longer straight sections of trail or fast pace corners where you can let off the brakes, the 901 really shines. Our testers agree that this was among the best hardtails we have tested for a majority of downhill conditions due to its blend of stability and traction.
It all comes down to what type of terrain you ride most often. If you have tight weaving slower speed trails, we suggest you look elsewhere. The Whyte is also not the best option for low-angle technical terrain. If your trails have lots of tall roots or flatter rock gardens that require you to pedal through them, you will strike your cranks and pedals often. Given the low bottom bracket, you need to be very careful about where you try to slip in a pedal stroke. If your local trails allow you to carry a healthy dose of speed with open turns or berms, this bike will excel.
The 901 felt balanced, but not particularly playful or "whippy", in the air. It feels more at home on natural style jumps and side hits than it does on BMX or bike park style jumps with a lot of lip. Taking drops or jumps at slower speeds is an adjustment. Given the long wheelbase, it feels like a long period of time before the rear wheel comes off the ground. Awkward. The Commencal Meta AM HT would be much better suited if you are looking for a bike to ride steeper jumps as well as tackle singletrack.
If you're looking for a more aggressive hardtail that you can also utilize for bikepacking, the 901 is a nice option. This bike has more space within the main triangle than any of the other hardtails we've tested. You have plenty of room for a large frame bag to keep the cargo weight centered and low within the bike. The aggressive geometry also lends itself well to remaining stable and confident with the extra weight of any bikepacking necessities.
The 901 felt sluggish, yet, capable on the ascent. The same long, low and slack geometry that makes this bike excel on descents detracts from climbing performance. Few major brands have manufactured a hardtail with such a downhill oriented geometry as the 901. The geometry made the Whyte a noticeably different climbing experience from most other hardtails we have tested.
The 901 has a 468mm reach measurement, a very low bottom bracket, and long wheelbase. The long reach is an attribute instantly noticeable as soon as you swing a leg over the bike. The bars feel very far from the saddle, even with the saddle shifted forward on the rails. If you find yourself with a sore back from long, hard, climbs, this bike will most likely make that problem worse. Being forced into a hunched over position reaching for the bars makes it feel like you're grinding up a steep climb even on relatively moderate climbs. Conversely, if you're typically in between sizes or have a particularly long torso for your height then the long reach may help you fit into a smaller size frame and be comfortable.
The components were a good match for the Whyte and likely aided some of the climbing characteristics. 1x11 drivetrains are commonplace on bikes at this price point. The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain shifts smoothly and didn't cause any trouble during the test. The 42-tooth climbing ring is low enough range for a majority of climbs and trails. The Maxxis Forecaster tires were a surprise. Our testers haven't spent tons of time on this model of tire. It provided a great mix of traction and lower rolling resistance that helped this bike feel both quick and connected to the dirt.
The 901 provides good uphill traction when seated or out of the saddle. The front end doesn't lift and wander on steep climbs, though it doesn't feel as planted and connected as the Specialized Fuse, or some of the other hardtails tested with steeper head angles. Climbing with the longer wheelbase also takes some adjustment. For a handful of rides, the Whyte feels clumsy and awkward in tight turns or technical sections. The low bottom bracket had testers hitting pedals and crank arms more often than expected when navigating technical climbs. Over time all of our testers adjusted to the bike and it didn't feel nearly as disconnected.
Whyte built the 901 with a pretty impressive set of components given the $1,499 price tag. There are a few items we suggest adding or upgrading to the bike. For the most part, the 901 should provide good, reliable, performance for the majority of riders and trails.
The 901 comes with a RockShox Recon RL Gold fork with 130mm of travel. The gold is a step up from the standard Recon RL fork and the performance improvements are noticeable. It still features 32mm stanchions as the standard Recon RL but has the "fast black coating" found on some higher-end Rockshox forks. This fork was noticeably smoother and plusher feeling than the base-level Rockshox Recon RL that is found on the Devinci Kobain Deore. Despite the improvement, the Recon RL Gold still falls well short in stiffness, tunability, and performance compared to the RockShox Yari found on the Commencal Meta AM HT. Our testers found that the fork needed higher air pressure than expected to provide the necessary mid-stroke and bottom-out support. The higher pressure decreases the small bump sensitivity.
Wheels and Tires
The wheel and tire specification on the 901 add to the performance of this bike. The Whyte branded hubs have impressively quick engagement making it easier to stutter pedal through uphill rock gardens or accelerate out of corners on the descents. The hubs are laced to WTB rims with an internal width of 29mm and sport 2.6" Maxxis Forecaster tires. When ordering a bike from Whyte customers have the option to have the wheels/tires set up tubeless at the factory. A service that may run you an additional $50 when done at a local bike shop. Most of our previous hardtails tested have 2.8" or 3.0" tires. The 2.6" tires on the Whyte don't provide as smooth of a ride as the wider options yet the 2.6" tires still offer a ton of traction without the vagueness while cornering often found on wider tires. One of the strong points of the 901 was its predictability. Testers could feel when they were approaching the limits of starting to slide the bike instead of tracking through corners. This predictability makes it easier to control the bike once it broke loose into a slide. A limitation of this particular WTB wheelset is the rim width. A 29mm internal rim width creates a great tire profile for almost all tires ranging in width from 2.2" to 2.6". It is on the narrow side once you start mounting 2.8" or 3.0" tires. We would like to see a rim with closer to 35mm internal width for those wider tire options. It appears that Whye agrees as they chose a 35mm WTB for the 905.
The 901 is equipped with a full SRAM build kit. It features an NX crankset, drivetrain, shifters, and derailleur. To finish off the build it has SRAM's latest Level T brakes. The NX drivetrain was reliable. We experienced clean consistent shifting throughout the test period. The NX drivetrain lacks the crisp of a lever feel compared to nicer drivetrains, but it works. The newer Level T brakes that came on this 901 had better stopping power than most of the brakes we find on bikes in this price range. They had notably better stopping power and consistency compared to the Tektro brakes on the 2018 Specialized Fuse. (The 2019 Fuse uses the same SRAM Level T brakes as the 901). The stopping power, adjustability, and lever feel are still a far cry from SRAM Guide RS or Shimano XT brakes.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost
The 901 was built with a Whyte branded cockpit. The 760mm bars had a unique look and had a comfortable back sweep to them. We always appreciate seeing wider bars on bikes because you always have the option to trim them down to fit. That being said, 760mm is a comfortable width and provides a good amount of control and leverage over the bike. The 901 does not come equipped with a dropper post. Dropper posts offer an amazing amount of added convenience and control to a bike. Another important note is that our taller testers (6' and above) needed to have the seat post all the way up to the minimum insertion line in order to reach a comfortable saddle height. This may limit some riders from being able to ride with the stock seat post. A long travel dropper post would easily solve this problem and be a major upgrade to the bike. It is easy to view a dropper post as a luxury item when shopping in this price range, but the Specialized Fuse includes a dropper post and is only priced $150 more than the 901.
Whyte only offers two build options for this hardtail. The 901 is the lower of the two build kits and retails for $1,499.
The 905 is the step up from our test bike and it carries a $1,899 price tag. It features a Revelation RC fork with stiffer 35mm stanchions and more adjustability than the Recon RL Gold on the 901. The drivetrain is upgraded from SRAM NX 1x11 to a complete SRAM GX 1x11 build. The 905 utilizes the same SRAM Level T brakes as the lower level build. The wheels are built with a 35mm internal width WTB rim to better accommodate wider tires. To take advantage of the wider rims the 905 ships with 2.8" wide Maxxis tires front and rear. The final notable upgrade on the 905 compared tour our test bike is a 150mm travel Whyte branded dropper post.
The 901 offers an above average build kit for the price, very capable and predictable descending and more aggressive geometry. No doubt Whyte is helping change the status quo of how a hardtail should be designed and ridden. For a uniquely different type of hardtail at a competitive price the 901 set the standard.
The most obvious place for upgrade on the 901 is the addition of a dropper post. There are a few good options on the market starting at $199. We have had consistently positive experiences with the Tranz-X and X Fusion Manic dropper posts. Both posts can be easily found online for under $200.
If you're thinking of using this fluorescent bicycle for any bikepacking, we would recommend more powerful brakes. If you were to load this bike up with cargo, there may not be enough braking power to compensate for the additional weight. For day-to-day riding, the Level T brakes should be sufficient for the majority of riders.
A stiffer, more adjustable, fork would certainly enhance the ride. Although, if you're thinking you'll want to upgrade the fork we would suggest spending the extra $400 to step up to the Whyte 905. The upgraded build kit runs a RockShox Revelation RC fork and a dropper post. It could be also worth checking out the Commencal AM HT Essential that ships with a RockShox Yari and similar trail capabilities at a similar $1,599 price point.
The Whyte 901 is an aggressive hardtail that craves high speeds and delivers loads of stability and traction. The $1499 price tag buys you decent components and makes this bike a strong value. If you have the chance to test ride the 901 or a bike with similar geometry numbers we highly recommend doing so. You will quickly find out whether or not the very long and low design is right for you. The long reach makes the fit noticeably different than the majority of the bikes in this category. That said, if this bike fits you, there is no doubt it rips. Hard.
— Kyle Smaine, Paul Tindal