From: Cycle Surgery
Shock horror!…I’ve bought a new bike!
And no, it’s not a road bike alright? It’s a rigid 29er ATB (remember that term?) with drop bars innit.
Short stem and wide bars? Check.
1×11 gearing? Check
See, told you…a mountain bike. Not a road bike.
A mountain bike.
Now that I’ve convinced
myself you, I’m pretty stoked to be honest. Ok so I do already have a ‘CX’ bike with my Genesis CdF that I’ve had for 5 years and it’s been a great bike and I’m still keeping it. The ‘problem’ is that it’s my daily commuter bike so 28c road tyres and full-length mudguards are a necessity for wet rides to and from work but are a faff to remove/swap and swap back when I want to take it out for some off-road ‘lite’ riding. So making the most of the end of season sales, a ‘calculated impulse buy’ (basically, “Ooh, that bike I liked the look of a few months ago is going cheap”….”Hmmm, I could afford it on 0% finance…”…”Argh, the shop seems to be selling them quickly at that price?!”…”BUY, BUY, BUY!!!”) means I’ve picked up this beauty, a 2017 Whyte Friston ‘gravel’ bike.
If you’re wondering what a ‘gravel’ bike is, just like a CX bike is essentially a slightly slacker road bike with more mud/tyre clearance, a gravel bike is essentially a slacker CX bike with even more mud-tyre clearance. The term comes from these sort of bikes being designed for the thousands of miles of unpaved roads in the American mid-west rather than the granite chippings on your driveway but as we’ve just moved house to a place with a gravel driveway, this goes further more to justifying my purchase!
Frame and fork
The Friston is made from metal…none of that fancy carbon malarkey, and some wonder metal known as ‘aloominum’ at that. Whyte Bikes are well known for producing lightweight and strong bikes and this forms the basis of a nice and light bike. The welds are smooth almost entirely throughout that you barely notice them, although the non-driveside chainstay has a chunky connection with the drop-out/disc mount area.
What sets this apart from CX bikes and many gravel/adventure/gnarmac/enduroad >insert gimmicky marketing name here< bikes is the MTB-esque design of a long toptube and reach and short stem combo. We’re not talking MTB long and short here but CX long and short. That said, being used to my CdF, the Friston is noticeably longer and generally bigger feeling. The frame is designed for 1x gearing as is hinted by the slightly kinked seat tube to keep the chainstay length short and has full internal cabling to keep things aesthetically neat, though more faff when it comes to renewing cables. There are two bottle cage mounts in the usual places and a Crud Catcher mount on the downtube for old-school off-road mud protection. Do people still use Crud Catchers?! I don’t know bu to be fair, ‘enduro’ Mucky Nutz-type guards won’t fit, so I guess a Crud Catcher might be the best off-road mudguard type for this type of bike. If you’re going to use it for the commute, then there are also attachments for full-length mudguards on the fork dropouts and crown but no mounts for a rear guard strangely, although there are mounts for a pannier rack.
The signature Whyte internal seatpost clamp consists of a cam inside the frame to tighten the seat post and a rubber grommet around the interface stops crap getting down inside the frame, which is a really nice detail. I’ve no idea how it actually works, but it does.
The fork is made from that fancy carbon malarkey, with a tapered steerer, internal cable routing for the front disc brake and, just like the rear axle on the frame, is a bolt-through set up to keep the wheels in nice and securely. I’ve had the quick-release skewers on my CdF loosen in the past either through braking forces or simple user error, so bolt-throughs provide great piece of mind as well as keeping your wheels in check…and in the frame & fork.
One of the reasons why I wanted this was to be able to run tubeless tyres, which as an MTBer who’s run tubeless by and large trouble free for a few years, was something I really wanted. The rims are WTB Asym i23 hoops which have an asymmetrical spoke hole arrangement, allegedly for even spoke tension across the wheel and so a stronger wheel. I’ve no idea if that’s true in practice but it sounds good. Speaking of tyres, I’m a big fan of Maxxis tyres so pleased to see tubeless ready 40c Rambler tyres with EXO protection provided. They have a low tread pattern so good for mixing up road and dirt paths in the depths of Cornwall. Hubs are Whyte own-brand with cartridge bearings and in anodised orange, so look nice too.
The first thing I did when I got the bike home was to set it up tubeless. I’d bought some WTB tubeless rim tape already but was pleasantly surprised to find the rims already wrapped in tubeless tape when I got the tyres off. I was expecting some stress setting these up tubeless due to the asymmetric spoke holes which sit towards the rim edge and create gaps in the rim bed for air to escape, but the rear tyre inflated perfectly without issue first time. On to the front wheel, and this did end up being a right faff and I wasted two CO2 cartridges (I must get an Airshot!) trying to get it seated. Fortunately having the rim tape to hand, I wrapped two more layers around the rim on top of the existing and then my last remaining cartridge got it seated. Thank feck for that.
As mentioned, this is 1×11 (SRAM) with a 38 tooth chainring and 11-42 cassette. I have a 42 tooth chainring on my CdF but only a 11-32 cassette so off-road climbs should be less of strain on this, although the trade-off is lower top end speed when on road.
The shifters use SRAM’s ‘Double Tap’ system where a single lever controls both upshifts and downshifts. Push it inboard to the first point of resistance and it shifts up; push it past the point of resistance and it shifts down. Being used to Shimano’s dual lever set up on my CdF, this took a while to get used to and there have been several times I’ve gone to shift down but not pushed the lever far enough or my finger’s slipped and it’s shifted up! One nice little touch is that when on the drops, you can pull the shift lever towards the bar and keep it there in the crook of your finger where you can shift up and down without loosening your grip on the bars.
Just like their MTB components, the shifting is clunkier than Shimanos but gear changes are crisp and the clunks are kind of reassuring in that you know audibly that the gears have changed. They do feel and sound a bit more agricultural than Shimano which is something you’ll love or hate….or like me, be fine with either way!
I had Avid BB5 cable discs originally on my CdF. They were shit. One caliper seized up after a few thousand miles so I replaced it with an equivalent level Shimano caliper. That was also shit. I eventually upgraded both ends to BB7 calipers and it was a massive improvement. But still, just less shit. I always wanted hydraulic discs, not just for more power but for less faff, for example, brake pads self-adjusting for wear.
The Rival 1 brakes on this are very good and SO much better than cables. Power is very good but even with 160mm rotors, aren’t so powerful that you risk skidding too easily when pulling off quick stops on the road. These aren’t MTB brakes tweaked for road but rather designed for use on road as well as off-road so the modulation is very good.
The bars on this thing are wiiiiiide…480mm to be precise. Being used to 420mm bars on the CdF, the extra width is bloody noticeable!
Combined with a 6 degree rise 80mm stem, it gives a fairly neutral (for a drop bar bike) ride position. The wide bars feel a little weird when riding on the hoods but feel much better down in the drops but either way, really come into their own off-road, especially bombing downhill, giving a more stable base and more control when pinging off exposed rocks and small drop offs. Combined with hydraulic brakes, there’s so much more confidence descending off-road when compared to the CdF/traditional geometry.
A bonus of having wide bars is that if you want to do some bike-packing, you’ll easily attach a dry bag in the large space between the drops.
The saddle is a Whyte own-brand jobbie and is firm enough for a few hours of comfort. After 70 odd miles however, it started creaking annoyingly which I’ve pinpointed to where the rails join the base.
What’s it like to ride?
Fun. As a mountain biker, it’s all about maximising the grin-factor and this bike does it in spades. There’s something hugely enjoyable about taking a skinny-tyred, rigid drop-bar (and slightly inappropriate) bike off-road! The combination of longer front-centre, large volume tubeless tyres, wide bars and hydraulic brakes gives bags of confidence when descending off-road on flowy singletrack or stoney tracks and you can get away with going faster than you think. Sure, it’s not a mountain bike so you won’t be setting KOMs on the descents…that’s not the point of this kind of bike…but you will be having more fun on the mellower trails than you would on an MTB. That small rock garden you normally pedal through on your 160mm travel bike without even thinking now becomes a bit of a trialsy challenge. That path in the woods you don’t even notice on the MTB on your way to the technical stuff, now becomes a sweet bit of trail. Of course, this is applicable to pretty much any CX bike but the Friston, with it’s MTB heritage, just makes the off-road bits more fun.
When just riding along, again the large volume tyres (I’m running about 45psi) give a nice comfy ride and even on rough tracks, there isn’t the feeling of being rammed up the rear end by a pneumatic drill. Slender chainstays probably also help with some compliance there – aluminium frames don’t necessarily give the harsh ride they are said to have, it’s all about the frame design and manufacture and Whyte have done well to give a comfy ride to the Friston.
At 22lbs, it’s light and picks up speed really well and is easy to bunny-hop. I’ve found it perfect so far for a lot of local riding, including out on the coastal path. In the past, having a full-suss and a hardtail mountain bike mostly felt like too much overlap whereas now, with a full suss and a gravel bike, there’s enough difference to justify both and still have a rad ride even on trails that are simply too tame for the Rallon.
One other thing to note with Whyte Bikes, which I like, is that you can buy touch-up paint from them to repair scratches. Almost no other manufacturer does this (why the hell not?), so kudos to Whyte for doing this.
So far, I’ve done over 200 miles on the Friston on a mix of road, gravel paths, and stoney bridleways and have had just a couple of tiny, tiny niggles. The first is that the stick-on rubber chainstay protector started peeling off after only a couple of rides so needs re-sticking. The chainstays stick out a little and I ride slightly ‘heels in’ so I think my heel catches it and has pushed it up from the frame. New protectors can be bought from their website so either I will source a new one, or more likely, I’ll put some ‘helicopter’ tape on to add some protection from future heel-rub.
The other issue is that also on the second ride, the own-brand saddle started creaking which is irritating. The solution seems to be to drop some dry lube in where the saddle rails attach into the base of the saddle, but it doesn’t last long.
The 2018 spec is almost identical with the only real differences being a 500mm handlebar up from the 480mm , and the upgraded transmission which goes up to a 10-42 cassette and 40 tooth chainring from the 11-42 & 38 tooth combo here. In my opinion, the transmission upgrade is definitely a bonus although moreso if you’re going to be riding on road more than off of it. I do think the 500mm bars could potentially feel too wide for many people, especially smaller riders. If you’re tall or built like an Olympic Swimmer however then they’ll feel bob on, but if not then it’ll be easy enough to swap for a narrower bar down the line.
Quick on the road and quicker than you expect off of it, the Friston is a helluva lot of fun. It’s designed for mountain bikers looking to ride drop bars, whether that’s just for a change, to make the commutes a bit more interesting or to smash out some training miles in the winter. Hell, if you’re a roadie who can’t quite bring yourself to getting a proper bike ( ;-p ) then this is also right up your Tarmacced street.
A really fun, versatile bike!