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Whyte S-120 Carbon R Review

A new-school short-travel 29er that lacks the components to back up its aggressive attitude
Whyte S-120 Carbon R
Photo: Jenna Ammerman
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Price:  $3,399 List
Pros:  Cutting-edge geometry, proper reach measurement
Cons:  Weak tire specification, heavy for carbon fiber, harsh fork
Manufacturer:   Whyte Bikes
By Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Apr 16, 2019
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68
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#19 of 20
  • Fun Factor - 25% 5
  • Downhill Performance - 35% 7
  • Climbing Performance - 35% 8
  • Ease of Maintenance - 5% 5

Our Verdict

The Whyte S-120 is an efficient and fun short-travel 29er. The aggressive geometry and practical suspension numbers are a recipe for a sensible daily driver. Unfortunately for the Whyte, performance is significantly hampered by a few poor component specifications and the tires are the most egregious. In addition, this bike is significantly heavier than other 120mm carbon fiber bikes. We'd rather have a full aluminum frame with a better component spec instead of a carbon fiber front triangle with some corner cutting. Complaints aside, this is still a rock-solid bike. Descending is stable and confident making this bicycle quite capable of handling high speeds and a little bit of chunk. Despite its 31lb+ weight, the S-120 scoots uphill efficiently. At $3,399, this bike is a decent value as it delivers nice performance, but will need a couple of upgrades to reach its full potential.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Whyte S-120 Carbon R
Awards  Top Pick Award    
Price $3,399 List$4,300 List$3,999 List$3,199 List$2,999 List
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Pros Cutting-edge geometry, proper reach measurementHighly adjustable geometry, adaptable for terrain or riding style, SWAT storage, plush suspension, very stable and confident descenderConfident descender, stable at speed, reasonable price, efficient climber for how well it descendsAffordable, versatile, good build for the price, lively and playful, DW-Link suspensionAffordable, quality suspension, excellent tires, solid all-around performance
Cons Weak tire specification, heavy for carbon fiber, harsh forkOverkill for tame trails, Fox 36 Rhythm fork, moderate weightTall seat tube limits dropper length, a lot of bike for mellow terrain, underpowered brakesHeavier weight, shorter travel-requires skilled rider in super aggressive terrainHeavy, may be overkill for some riders and locations
Bottom Line A new-school short-travel 29er that lacks the components to back up its aggressive attitudeA heavy-hitting longer travel trail bike with an innovative, highly adjustable geometryA longer travel trail bike with respectable climbing abilities that excels at higher speeds and in aggressive terrainJust as versatile, fun, and playful as the carbon version in a more affordable but slightly heavier aluminum-framed packageThe aluminum framed Ibis Ripmo AF is an aggressive trail bike with a reasonable price tag
Rating Categories Whyte S-120 Carbon R Stumpjumper EVO Comp Canyon Spectral 29... Ibis Ripley AF Deore Ibis Ripmo AF NX Eagle
Fun Factor (25%)
5.0
9.3
8.6
8.2
8.0
Downhill Performance (35%)
7.0
9.4
9.2
8.0
9.0
Climbing Performance (35%)
8.0
8.0
7.6
7.9
6.8
Ease Of Maintenance (5%)
5.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Whyte S-120 Carbon R Stumpjumper EVO Comp Canyon Spectral 29... Ibis Ripley AF Deore Ibis Ripmo AF NX Eagle
Wheel size 29" 29" 29" 29" 29"
Suspension & Travel 4-Bar - 120mm FSR - 150mm Triple Phase Suspension - 150mm DW-Link - 120mm DW-Link - 147mm
Measured Weight (w/o pedals) 31 lbs 5 oz (Large) 31 lbs 14 oz (Large) 32 lbs 5 oz (Large) 33 lbs 3 oz (Large) 34 lbs (Large)
Fork RockShox Revelation - 120mm, 35mm stanchions Fox 36 Rhythm - 160mm RockShox Lyrik Select RC 160mm Fox 34 Performance - 130mm DVO Diamond D1 160mm
Shock RockShox Deluxe RT Fox Float DPX2 Performance RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ Fox Float DPS Performane EVOL DVO Topaz T3 Air
Frame Material Carbon Front Triangle, Aluminum Rear FACT 11m Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber Aluminum Aluminum
Frame Size Large S4 (Large equivalent) Large Large Large
Frame Settings N/A Flip Chip and Headtube angle Flip Chip N/A N/A
Available Sizes S-XL S1-S6 S-XL S-XL S-XL
Wheelset WTB ST i29 w/ Whyte Branded Hubs Roval 29 alloy rims with Shimano Centerlock hubs, 30mm id Race Face AR30 rims with Shimano MT400 hubs Ibis S35 Aluminum rims with Ibis hubs, 35mm ID Ibis S35 Aluminum rims with Ibis hubs, 35mm ID
Front Tire Maxxis Forecaster 27.5 x 2.35" Specialized Butcher GRID TRAIL T9, 2.6" Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 2.5" Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.6" Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5"
Rear Tire Maxxis Crossmark EXO TR 29 x 2.25" Specialized Eliminator GRID TRAIL T7, 2.3" Maxxis Dissector 2.4" Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.6" Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5"
Shifters SRAM NX Shimano SLX 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle Shimano Deore 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle
Rear Derailleur SRAM NX Eagle - 12 Speed Shimano SLX 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle Shimano Deore 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle
Crankset SRAM Descandent 32t Shimano SLX 170mm Descendant 6K DUB 170mm, 32T Shimano Deore M6100 30T SRAM NX Eagle DUB 32T
Saddle Bike Yoke Devine Specialized Bridge Comp Ergon SM 10 Enduro Comp WTB Silverado 142mm WTB Silverado Pro
Seatpost Bike Yoke Revive 160mm X-Fusion Manic 170mm (S4/S5), 34.9 diameter Iridium Dropper KS Rage-i 150mm(Large) KS Rage-i 150mm(Large)
Handlebar Whyte Alloy - 780mm Specialized 6061 alloy, 30mm rise, 800mm width Canyon G5 Riser, 780mm Ibis 780mm Alloy Ibis 780mm Alloy
Stem Whyte 35.0 - 50mm Specialized Alloy Trail stem, 35mm bore Canyon G5, 40mm Ibis 31.8mm 50mm Ibis 31.8mm 50mm
Brakes SRAM Guide T Shimano SLX 4-piston SRAM G2 R Shimano Deore M6120 4-piston SRAM Guide T 4 piston
Measured Effective Top Tube (mm) 643 625 636 630 631
Measured Reach (mm) 478 475 485 475 473
Measured Head Tube Angle 65.4-degrees 63-65.5 (adjustable) 65-degrees H/64.5-degrees L 65.5-degrees 64.9-degrees
Measured Seat Tube Angle 75.2-degrees 76.9-degrees 77-degrees H76.5-degrees L 76-desgrees 76-degrees
Measured Bottom Bracket Height (mm) 336 340 (adjustable with flip chips) 344 H/336 L 335 340
Measured Wheelbase (mm) 1227 1247 1251 1217 1239
Measured Chain Stay Length (mm) 432 438 (S1-S4) 437 432 435
Warranty Four Years Lifetime Six years Seven Years Seven Years

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Whyte S-120 Carbon R returns for 2020 with a same frame and geometry and a $100 increase in price to $3,499. That price increase gets you a Fox Float Performance 34 Step Cast fork, a Fox Float DPS Performance shock, and a KS RAGEi dropper seatpost. We don't expect any significant performance changes.

With a long wheelbase, the Whyte prefers to be on the ground rolling...
With a long wheelbase, the Whyte prefers to be on the ground rolling fast, but its not opposed to a little air time.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Should I Buy This Bike?


The S-120 Carbon R is an interesting choice for riders seeking a short travel bike with the angles to get radical. Although there are some glaring holes in the build kit, this bicycle has excellent bones and could easily be transformed into a shred-worthy bike with a minimal monetary investment. All-in-all, there is a lot to like with this bicycle. Stellar climbing abilities are met with stable and predictable descending prowess and a simple and proven suspension design. If this seems like the bike for you, we would recommend scrounging up an extra $600 and purchasing the $3,999 Carbon RS build with much-improved components.

Another bike to consider is the Giant Trance 29 2. The Trance 29 2 is an aluminum bike with 115mm of travel and a $3100 price tag. The Trance offers more confident downhill performance compared to the Whyte. If you frequently ride choppy or loose trails, we prefer the composure and planted feel of the Giant. Neither bikes are featherweights, both weighing about 31-pounds. That said, the Whyte has a better climbing position and the less aggressive tires roll quickly. The Trance is a better option for technical climbing thanks to its superior rear wheel traction.

A slack head tube angle delivers a stable ride at high speeds.
A slack head tube angle delivers a stable ride at high speeds.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The new and improved Ibis Ripley is an exceptional short travel trail bike. The recent redesign of the Ripley has made this playful trail more well-rounded and capable than the previous version. The whole bike has been stretched out giving it more stability at speed, but it's not so long, like the S-120, that it's difficult to handle in tighter terrain. The Ripley also has a slacked out head tube angle that make it confident on descents and a steep seat tube angle for comfortable and powerful climbing and mountain goat-like scrambling abilities.

This bicycle has a carbon fiber front triangle and an aluminum rear...
This bicycle has a carbon fiber front triangle and an aluminum rear end.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Frame Design


The Whyte S-120 rolls on 29-inch wheels but can also run 27.5+ tires up to 2.8-inches. This bicycle has 120mm of rear wheel travel and uses the tried and true 4-bar suspension design. It has a main pivot just north of the bottom bracket, a pivot on the chainstay just forward of the rear axle, and a pivot with a rocker link approximately halfway up the seat tube. The 4-bar suspension layout grants a lot of design freedom. Traditionally, this system delivers excellent bump compliance and a smooth feel. It does, however, rely heavily on the climb switch to reduce pedal bob.

The S-120 runs a 4-bar suspension design. It is simple and effective.
The S-120 runs a 4-bar suspension design. It is simple and effective.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

We measured our large test bike. It has a 643 effective top tube and a 478mm reach measurement. The chainstays are 432mm long and the bottom bracket sits 336mm off the ground. The wheelbase measures a lengthy 1227mm. The head tube angle is 65.4 degrees and the seat tube angle is 75.2-degrees. Our large test bike hit the scales at 31 lbs 5 oz without pedals and set up tubeless.

Design Highlights

  • 120mm of rear wheel travel, designed around 120mm fork
  • Quad-4, 4-bar suspension design
  • Uses reduced offset fork
  • 29-inch wheels come stock/can run 27.5+
  • Boost spacing
  • Press Fit Bottom Bracket
  • Carbon front triangle, aluminum rear end
  • Available in small-XL
  • Three build kits ranging from $3399 (tested) to $5299

The slack geometry allows this this bicycle to be confident on...
The slack geometry allows this this bicycle to be confident on steeper trails.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Downhill Performance


The S-120 has the angles and attitude to get shreddy on the descent. The long and low geometry inspires confidence on steep trails and when the speedometer gets cranked up. Unfortunately, weak cross-country tires really limit how hard you can ride this bike. This is especially frustrating because it is very close to being a shredder. Complaints aside, downhill performance is good, if not thrilling.

The Whyte isn't an especially playful bicycle. Given its length and relative heft for its travel class, it prefers to be on the ground, rolling fast. Manuals, wheelies, and bonks aren't necessarily its strong suit. It isn't opposed to some trailside shenanigans, but it's longer wheelbase creates a more business-like attitude. If you're looking for a more playful short-travel rig, the Ibis Ripley and Transition Smuggler are better choices.

This bike shreds fast and smooth trails.
This bike shreds fast and smooth trails.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

In years past, long and low geometry has been reserved for enduro bikes. The slack head tube angles and low-slung bottom brackets deliver excellent stability when charging downhill at high speeds. It also puts the rider in a better position on steep sections of trail. In the past year or two, short-travel bikes have been getting more aggressive geometry. When you combine a snappy and efficient short-travel design with aggressive angles, you are left with a shred-worthy, yet sensible, daily driver. This is exactly what Whyte was going for. When perched in the saddle, the S-120 feels like it wants to charge. The front axle is way out in front of the bars and it oozes stability. Shortly, we will get into some of the specification flaws that detract from performance, but it should be clear that this bike has good bones. The frame design is on point.

The 4-bar suspension design is both comfortable and effective. This tried-and-true design may not be the most exciting, but it works well. When charging over small to medium sized chatter, the rear end feels calm and composed. The suspension is quite muted and remains quiet as you pinball down the trail. The RockShox Deluxe shock is not a flashy specification, but it stood up well. We found the Whyte's suspension curve to be near perfect. It is supple enough on small bumps without blowing through its travel on bigger hits. This bicycle has a reasonable amount of anti-squat but trends towards the active side of things. This means the suspension moves under pedal loads. As you get on the gas on a downhill, the suspension isn't all that firm and you will move into the travel. This also lowers your bottom bracket and cranks. As a result, beware of high-speed pedal strikes on the descent. Nobody needs to clip a pedal at 25 miles per hour.

The Maxxis Forekaster front tire does okay on softer surfaces but...
The Maxxis Forekaster front tire does okay on softer surfaces but can be sketchy on hardpack.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

If you've been paying attention, we have a smooth and capable suspension design paired with aggressive, new-school geometry. You may be asking yourself "so what's the problem?" Well, the component specification, particularly the tires, are the proverbial party pooper. You have a bike that wants to go fast and be ridden hard, and Whyte outfitted it with weak rubber. The Maxxis Forekaster 2.35 front tire is okay at best. On the right soil, it can back up some aggressive movements. It performs best in softer conditions. In loose or loose-over-hard conditions, things get sketchy. The Forekaster has a tendency to wash out easily and it can be difficult to control. The Maxxis Crossmark II rear tire is drifty and has no braking bite. It works fine in a straight line but it is easy to lose traction in the corners. It is especially bad when braking through corners as the braking forces reduce the already poor traction. When it comes to shutting down speed, there is zero braking bite and the tire just slides.

For a 120mm bike, the Whyte does well on big impacts.
For a 120mm bike, the Whyte does well on big impacts.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The 120mm RockShox Revelation fork is decisively fine. We would never say it is plush, or that it feels good, but it works well enough as a stout fork. This bike came outfitted with SRAM Guide T brakes that needed a bleed immediately. Once we got the air out of the lines, they worked well enough. That said, mediocre brakes with mediocre tires is a recipe for disaster.

Weight distribution is important with the nearly slick Maxxis...
Weight distribution is important with the nearly slick Maxxis Crossmark II rear tire.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Climbing Performance


The S-120 is a capable and predictable climber. This bicycle is a little portly, but the extra weight isn't debilitating on the ascent. The Whyte is efficient although it does benefit from the use of the shock's climb switch. Handling is stellar for a bike this long, although proper line choice really helps in tight sections of trail. The components were a mixed bag on the ascent.

Despite its long and low geometry, the Whyte offers a pretty comfortable climbing position. The 75.2-degree seat tube angle isn't particularly steep or slack. A steep seat tube angle puts the rider on top of the cranks and transfers power more effectively. A slack seat tube angle puts the rider behind the bottom bracket and it can feel like the pedals are out in front of the rider's hips. 75.2-degrees is somewhere in the middle and delivers solid efficiency. The roomy 478mm reach measurement is airy. The cockpit is not cramped in the least and it offers plenty of space for the rider to shuffle weight around.

On smooth climbs, the S-120 scoots uphill effectively.
On smooth climbs, the S-120 scoots uphill effectively.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Whyte's 4-bar suspension is fairly active. Under pedaling loads, particularly while standing, the suspension moves quite a bit. This can be beneficial for technical, ledgy, climbs. While it seems like suspension movement always reduces efficiency, more active suspension keeps your rear wheel in contact with the trail surface when things get chunky. On smoother, buff, climbs, the S-120 benefits from the use of the shock's climb switch. When you firm the shock up, this bike cruises uphill.

Climbing handling was quite impressive. The 1227mm wheelbase and slack 65.4-degree head tube angle is definitely noticeable but doesn't feel clumsy or clunky. To be sure, bikes with more conservative geometry like the Specialized Stumpjumper ST or Ibis Ripley offer more direct steering, but the Whyte does just fine. The longer running length creates a rock-crawler feel, if you can line this bike up and punch it up a technical pitch, the S-120 will crawl right up. Tighter, technical switchbacks can require some attention. As with most bikes this length, a well-laid-out game plan goes a long way. A clean and smart entry into the switchback is a recipe for success.

On rocky climbs, it is beneficial to leave the shock's climb switch...
On rocky climbs, it is beneficial to leave the shock's climb switch open.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The component grouping functioned better on the climb compared to the descent. The less aggressive tires do have the benefit of rolling fast. When you're spinning up smooth trails, the Maxxis Forekaster/Crossmark II combination offers little resistance. As a result, this bike can feel pretty fast. Things go south when you are climbing loose or technical terrain while standing. The Crossmark rear tire has a tendency to spin out very easily given its lack of tread. As a result, riders need to be very careful not to lean too far forward and remove weight from the rear tire. The SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain is decisively fine. It certainly isn't the lightest or most crisp drivetrain, but it works and the 50-tooth climbing gear is nice and light.

Photo Tour


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Value


At $3,399, the S-120 Carbon R represents a decent value. Whyte can't quite match the component value delivered by other consumer direct-brands like YT, Commencal, and Canyon. Even though you are getting a carbon fiber frame with the S-120 Carbon R, the aluminum options from the other consumer-direct brands aren't much heavier with significantly better components at lower prices.

High-speed flow trails are a blast on the Whyte.
High-speed flow trails are a blast on the Whyte.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


The Whyte S-120 is a good bike that is hindered by some questionable components. Still, this bike has a good design platform. It scoots uphill quite effectively and has the attitude to shred the downhill. With a little bit of love, this could be an absolute weapon.

Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens