Whyte Gisburn – not a cross but a gravel bike
It is October, my favourite month, I’m feeling very fit after my epic road ride and I am desperate to ride on the Downs. So with no off road bikes of my own I grabbed the Whyte Gisburn for a spin. I had previously tested the Whyte Saxon Cross, its predecessor, which was a good bike but lacked some of the finishing touches needed to make a cross bike a gravel bike. I was keen to see what the updated version would be like.
The 54cm Whyte Gisburn somehow looked too big and put me off but it isn’t, the fit is perfect and the same cockpit as my old Niner RLT9. Whyte have stuck their necks out and fitted their own custom 48cm handle bar, are they mad? Riding home on the road the wide bar and high front end felt really odd. I left the stem rising but lowered it as far as it would go before venturing off road. With any new bike you should keep an open mind especially with a Whyte. They have track record for doing things differently but better than most.
I headed for the hills I was going to ride the Lion Trail and the Blue run. That would even be a good test for my new mountain bike (Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup – due January) so would be an awesome trial for a gravel bike.
How did it perform?
Climbing to Chanctonbury was a breeze. On open fire roads a cross or gravel bike is always better than a mountain bike. I soon got used to the wide bars and when on the tops the position felt more like a mountain bike. On the first stony and rooty single track the 40mm and tubeless tyres came into their own (35mm on the previous incarnation) and I cleared it all, no dabs! On the descent I realised that I hadn’t ridden there in the drops, I often jump my road bike but jumping downhill hunched in the drops was going to be interesting. Riding fast on the hoods even with good hydraulic disc brakes is not the safest way down on any bike - road or off road. I soon notice the thump of a rigid, albeit carbon, fork. Maybe not as good as the Niner’s but I quickly improved my landings. With the first bit over I could now try the steep and rooty second section. This is where the Whyte’s handling came into its own. You can’t just look at the numbers. It has a 70° head angle but as with all Whytes, they seem to get the front axle further out than other brands. So, despite being in the drops and the saddle high, I felt confident enough to let the bike do its own thing and get me to the bottom in one piece: no wipe outs. Whyte have an uncanny knack of giving a rider that little bit of extra confidence just when they most need it.
The next test would be its climbing ability. The positives: I rode up from Mouse Lane to the top of The Blue Run and it felt nimble, light and fast - easily floating over the roots. The handle bar width was a real bonus either on the hoods or on the top. So far so good, but on the tricky steep and technical section I only made it because it was dry. I know how tough this bit of the climb can be and I also know how good my legs are. I only managed it by climbing out of the saddle. Fortunately the trails are in perfect condition: dry and no dust. In the wet I will need more gears. The one-by with a 38X42 was too much for me. I finished my test with The Blue Run and then a fast blast to back.
I came back loving the Gisburn and revelling in the sheer joy of riding on the Downs in October.
I ride a bike like this for the pleasure of riding, I don’t feel that I have to perform which often happens on either my road or mountain bikes. I ride these all-rounders anywhere and everywhere and my favourites are any technically demanding mountain bike tracks. It is a lot to ask of a cross bike. This is where the Whyte performs. It is actually a gravel bike. Cross bikes, at the end of the day, are designed for riding round a muddy fields for an hour. As far as I am concerned a “Gravel” bike is a bike that will go anywhere. It needs a slack head angle, at the very least to be able to run 40mm tyres, it needs rack mounts for adventure riding, it may even need a dropper post. This is where the Whyte scores and gets full marks.
I love the positive feel of the Sram Force shifting, the Sram hydraulic brakes are awesome (I’d like a reach adjuster), the saddle is really comfortable and the handle bars a revelation. The WTB 37mm Riddler tyres were perfect in these conditions. The Whyte website says 47mm and I thought they were 40 but the pictures shows 37mm. That is great news as, even though they come up big on the 23mm rims, I'll have even more grip when I fit 40mm WTB Nanos when it gets muddy.
What changes would I make?
I would have fit a smaller chain ring, however the 38 is the smallest Sram do. To be fair, it is part of a road groupset and most riders probably would not expect to ride up where I went. I'll add to this once I have ridden it in the wet, maybe I'll man up! I might change the tyres when the mud comes although on recent wet rides they have been fine. I might remove the dropper post and save some weight. I’ll swap the bar tape for ESI silicon. If I was going for the ultimate upgrade I'd go for external cable routing, let's just make life simple again!
This is our demo bikes so feel free to call and ask for a ride.
Tyres update 17th Oct '16
So far, I have ridden on a damp morning and in pouring rain (it had rained all night too) and whilst some of the mountain bikers in the group were being over cautious I felt that the WTB Riddler gave me more than enough grip on the wet chalk. Too soon for mud yet so we'll see what happens next. For now I am confident with the grip and, as we all know round these parts, confidence is the key to survival.