By Colin Dennis
First and foremost: Whyte have produced a performance road bike that you can’t moan about the wheelset – that doesn’t happen very often.
‘Aside from being one of the nimblest bikes that I’ve ridden for quite some time, the carbon wheels really help set this bike alight – the Whyte Stowe Ultegra Disc climbs like a mountain goat and won’t beat you up on the descent.’
I first spotted the Whyte Stowe Ultegra at the ATB-Sales stand at the 2014 NEC Cycle Show, what stood out for me was the clean and uncluttered lines of the frame and the purposeful nature of the bike as a whole. The Stowe is a good looking machine and is currently available in two disc options but not as a frameset – neither is it DI2 compatible.
But Whyte aren’t exactly new to the road game either, and apart from they’re innovative MTB range, they excel at both fast commute and cyclocross bikes, all having a distinctive feel and ride to them. But the Stowe is a step up the ladder of development into the race and endurance market and I was keen to see how it performed.
The Stowe comes in two guises: the Ultegra Disc, as featured here, and the less expensive SRAM Rival disc. Both models are built around the same uni-directional Multi-monocoque frameset and have evolved from Whyte’s RRD development platform.
With Whyte’s past emphasis on MTB, cyclocross and fast commuter bikes, I was also keen to see what influences, might be carried over from the other ranges of bikes – if any.
The springboard for the development of the Stowe road bikes came from Whyte’s county class RD-7 range of fast commuter road bikes such as the Dorset and Cornwall where carbon frames and disc brakes have been the norm for some time.
The understated and tasteful matt finish and aqua coloured graphics to the frame and forks are certainly tougher than they first looked. Our test bike has been carefully packed and air-shipped twice since we got our hands on it without any scratches or damage. The cables neatly enter and exit the frame and forks without producing any internal rattle even on the roughest of surfaces.
One influence from Whyte’s commuter range remains here though: there’s just a bit too much cable left dangling at the handlebar end of things, it doesn’t affect performance in any way, it’s just aesthetically less pleasing. The only other commuter-esque influence that I could find is the inclusion of a band-on front mech. Again, performance has never been an issue, but I would like to have seen a braze-on front mech here, this I feel, would give the Stowe an even greater edge when pitting it against other bikes at this price-point.
These two minor niggles pale into insignificance though when you look at the full spec of the Stowe Ultegra Disc. Aside from being one of the nimblest bikes that I’ve ridden for quite some time, the carbon wheels really help set this bike alight – the Whyte Stowe Ultegra Disc climbs like a mountain goat and doesn’t beat you up on the descent either.
This ability to propel you up the climbs is also enhanced by the fitting of a pair Maxxis Relix tyres. At 220g each they complement the lightness of Whyte’s in-house wheelset, which at 1480g for the set is a very respectable gram-count. There have been to trueing issues at all with these wheels and the sealed bearing units ensure everything has run smoothly over the 2000+ miles that our test bike has covered.
Another factor that makes the Whyte Stowe such a nimble ride is the tight geometry, there’s no commuter influences here - this is the real-deal. It may not be an out-and-out race bike but the tight 1005mm wheelbase, 430mm chain stays and 74 degree head angle on the medium size ensures the bike keeps you on your toes.
Although there is a little overlap with the front wheel, you’d have to work hard to catch it - it’s never once been an issue for me. Typically with Whyte’s British design mantra, there’s plenty of tyre clearance at both ends but we haven’t changed size from the 25mm tyres that came fitted.
The ubiquitous Ultegra groupset is as reliable as ever, it shifts light and faultlessly every time and you have to take a long hard look to spot the difference between a disc brake version of the shifters and the standard ones.
Shimano Ultegra hydraulic discs are about as reliable as it gets, they are powerful and modulation and control are all you could ask for. The long, steep and sweeping bumpy descents of the Marrakech Atlas-Etape were all taken in its stride. The pads did squeak a little at the front (where all the braking effect goes on) in the rain at first, but once bedded-in things soon quietened down.
The groupset is enhanced by an FSA SL-K carbon 52-36 pro-compact crankset and further lightened-up by matching SL-K carbon seatpost and compact bars. I really appreciated the fitting of the SL-K cranks for several reasons: first, I thought they suited the handling and performance of the bike, the lightweight and nimbleness can easily handle the extra gears.
Furthermore, I recognise that bourgeoning club racers might appreciate the extra inches given to the length of their pedal strokes when engaged at the business end of the cassette. The cassette is a Shimano 105 11-32, thus giving plenty of climbing options to ease the larger chainrings for those riders more used to compact chainsets.
The combination of the compact bars allied to a forgiving but still performance orientated headtube length of 155mm allowed me to drop into a tight aero positions with ease and the look ties-in very nicely to add to the attractive but understated looks of the bike. The handling and performance of the Stowe Ultegra Disc does all the talking for it.
The Fi’zi:k Aliante Delta saddle supported my frame without any discomfort as much as any quality saddle might do. The sloping sides to the saddle took me a while to get used to but this would be the same for any change of saddle – being a little delicate down there, of course.
In summary: Whyte’s foray into producing a performance road bike really hits the mark. The Stowe Ultegra Disc is light, tight and very nimble. It will get you up the hills much quicker than you expected and there’s enough compliancy built into the frame to keep you fresh on the longest and toughest of sportive events. Personally I think the Whyte Stowe Ultegra would also make a near-perfect criterium race machine.
Pros: Light and nibble performance frameset, lively ride, lightweight carbon wheelset, excellent range of gear selection.
Cons: Not Di2 compatible, limited frame size options