A new suspension design for Whyte’s T-129s clearly takes its lead from the Specialized Camber, but can the underdog really beat the big dog at its own game?
The aim of the T-129s design was to combine the improved rollover of bigger wheels with the flickability of a 26er. To do that, Whyte needed to get the chainstay length as short as possible, and the classic Specialized FSR suspension design enables an impressively short 432mm back-end as well as a front mech. With chainstays that are almost 20mm shorter than the Camber and an even longer front centre, the geometry here arguably out-Specializes even the Specialized.
A relatively long, 63mm-stroke Monarch RT3 rear shock pumps out 120mm of travel and gives the T-129s a very low leverage ratio. As a result, even with one of the lightest damping tunes on offer, the rear suspension didn’t feel particularly active or springy.
It was, however, controlled and planted, with no unwanted mid-stroke wallow. Also, with the shock not being worked so hard, the bike pedals very efficiently; so well, in fact, that we never felt the need to use the firmer ‘Floodgate’ settings. While it was nice not to be constantly twiddling with adjusters, we would have liked the option to go softer on the rear shock to gain extra grip or more comfort on fast, rocky trails.
Up front, the 120mm Reba 29 fork was smooth, controlled and offered more support than the Fox CTD units featured elsewhere in this test.
Lightweight wheels completely transform a bike, especially a 29er, and none in this test are lighter than those fitted to the Whyte. The STi19 WTB rims are wide enough for all but the fattest 29er tyres, and with Maxxis rubber fitted as standard, it’s hard to put a foot wrong on the T-129s.
The 38/24t gearing on the SRAM chainset is standard for a 29er, but because Whyte specs a smaller GPX spider it is possible to fit a 36/22t combo if your legs or the terrain demand it. SRAM’s X9 shifter pods use bearings rather than bushings, so the shifting is much lighter and more positive than with the X7 units found on the Specialized Camber Comp and Giant Trance X29 1.
All of the components on the T-129s are spot-on. Factor in the 100mm drop RockShox Reverb post and slick seatpost QR for those ‘are we really going down there?’ moments, and the Whyte comes out on top once again.
The combination of the slack head angle and roomy cockpit provided us with all the confidence we needed to really let the T-129s run. OK, so the suspension wasn’t the plushest in the test, but it is very controlled and stable and doesn’t spike like the old Quad design.
Better still, the new suspension platform offers a very neutral pedalling response in any gear combination and is hugely effective at getting the power down without breaking traction.
Lofting the front-end for drops or manualling through the countless puddles littering the trails couldn’t have been easier, but the flipside of the super-short chainstays is that the Whyte also climbs more like a 26in bike — you have to get your weight forward and keep your head low to stop the front-end from lifting. As always, it’s a trade-off, but one that plays to the Whyte’s strengths.
Silent in action, stealth in appearance and blisteringly fast, the T-129s is much more than a new 29er from Whyte; it’s a turning point in the identity of the brand. It is also the most accomplished suspension bike the company has produced to date, and the only thing standing between the T-129s and a perfect 10 rating is the rear suspension’s slight bias towards pedalling efficiency over outright grip or playfulness. In that respect, Whyte hasn’t beaten Specialized at its own game — but in every other department the T-129s manages to inch ahead.
MBR rating 9
Frame: 6061 aluminium 120mm travel
Shock: RockShox Monarch RT3
Fork: RockShox Reba RLT
Wheels: Whyte hubs, WTB STi19 rims, Maxxis Ardent/Ikon tyres
Brakes: Avid Elixir 5
Drivetrain: SRAM S1400 Chainset X9/X7 mechs, X9 shifters
Components: Whyte bar/stem/ saddle, RockShox Reverb seatpost
Sizes: S, M, L
Weight: 13.2kg (29.1lb)
Size tested M
Head angle 68.3°
Seat angle 66.7°
BB height 335mm
Front centre 705mm
Down tube 695mm