Before I start I ought to declare that I am not a “Cross rider”. However, I am a bike rider. Ignore the labels: enduro, road, XC, TT, marathon, tourist... yawn. I just ride bikes! They should all do the same thing: excite, go fast and encourage you to live - be it an off the lip on an XC hard tail or a carve on a road bike. Bikes are for fun.
Whyte seem to have locked in on the fun side. Maybe that’s down to their roots in the windsurfing wave market. Windsurfing in part was responsible for the initial rapid development of mountain biking in the UK. Whatever the reason Whyte can produce a bike that inspires confidence and releases the fun gene. Their trail bikes are the ones that grab the lime light but compare any of their road/commute machines with other brands and you will see what I mean. They are just fun to ride. What a great way to start a day if you ride to work?
I have just ridden the Saxon Cross. I am still grinning from the experience. I have been late to get on this bike because I miss understood the geometry and some of the early comments by cross racers. The cockpit of the 54cm measures up 10 millimetre longer than my Niner RLT9 53cm but, reading the geometry charts, it’s 29.5mm longer??? Head angles and bars are the same and there is just 10mm difference in the stems. Only goes to show that you can’t buy a bike on numbers alone.
The first thing that I noticed was a harsh ride. The previous rider was heavier and a bit road focused. I kept dropping the air pressure and seemed to find 30 rear and 25 front did the trick. This set up assumes reasonable bike handling until it is set up tubeless. With my Niner I was getting pinch punchers every descent until I went tubeless. I have said before that I am not a cross rider but I do like riding off road and I especially like the challenge of combining my road biking with my favourite mountain bike trails. Tyres sorted I could enjoy the ride. I did puncture but with a thorn not a pinch.
The WTB Cross Boss 35mm tyres have all the grip you could need now in May and the
clearance is fine but there is no way that I could run my WTB Nano 40s in there. I’d prefer a higher volume tyre. My bike has Shimano 105 and Avid BB5 cable disc brakes. The Saxon Cross has Sram CX1 and hydraulic discs which is awesome. The shift is far more positive which I like off road and the brakes work either on the hoods or drops. The cable brakes just don’t work on the hoods, there are a collection of trees in the neighbourhood that bear testimony to that. The Sram gearing has a more practical range than my 46/36 – 12/32. One clever bit of the specification choice is that Whyte have mixed a Shimano 11s 11-42 with the Sram CX1, this saves you money and keeps the rear freehub standard. Nice touch.
Overall, the cockpit felt just a bit better on the Whyte and the handling was awesome. The Saxon felt every bit as good as the Niner. Amongst other routes I rode the bike down The Blue Run and on the rooty single track around the top of the Steyning Horseshoe. It did everything that I would want from a cross/gravel bike, it made me ride light and smooth.
Geometry and handling, tubeless ready rims and tyres, value for money (£700 less than the equivalent spec Niner RLT9), Sram CX1, hydraulic discs, standard rear freehub.
Lack of room for a 40mm tyre, but it is a "Cross" bike isn't it? Good news is that the Friston and Gisburn (2017 replacements) are true gravel bike: 40mm tyres and 50cm bars - mountain biking with drops" Awesome. We have ordered a demo Gisburn - it even has a dropper post!!!
The pros win by a mile! I notice that Whyte are now marketing the Saxon Cross as a “Gravel” bike, oh so many different names. I’ll pass on the feedback to increase the clearance for the “gravel” rider.