Whyte are launching two new bike ranges for 2011: we looked at the R7 series of fast urban bikes on Friday so today it's the turn of the C7 all-terrain series, bikes that mix road and trail.
The C7 bikes are intended to do a bit of everything, and all three models – the Malvern, Caledonian and Coniston – are priced under £1,000 which should, Whyte doubtless hope, make them attractive to those getting bikes through the government’s Cycle to Work scheme. The Malvern and Caledonian come in women’s versions too. They split the difference between mountain bikes and road bikes in that they can handle a bit of rough riding but are designed to be quick and efficient around town too. Sounds like what in olden times what we used to call a hybrid.
So you get a strong, durable frame and mountain bike components, along with a suspension fork that you can lockout on the Tarmac, road bike-esque 700c wheels with mid-width 35mm tyres, and hydraulic disc brakes that’ll haul you to a halt in double-quick time whatever surface you’re riding on. Of course, that also sounds a bit like what in modern times we call a 29er. The C7's certainly share some common ground with the big wheeled breed of mountain bikes – they've got big wheels for a start.
Whyte say that they’re responding to the need that many people have for a single bike that can be used for the commute to work, weekend rides and a bit of off road with the kids. Many people want all this, but they don’t want a full-on mountain bike.
The C7 bikes, like the R7s, are built around 6061 hydroformed T6 aluminium frames that are custom drawn and multi-butted. Essentially, the design is similar to a hardtail mountain bike frame with a tweaked geometry. You get open-ended gusset reinforcement where the head tube joins the top tube, for example, and the slot at the top of the seat tube is forward facing so it’s less exposed to water thrown up by the rear wheel – a feature taken straight from Whyte’s off-road range. Plus, you get eyelets for a rear rack if you want to fit panniers, and mudguard clearance.
The fork brand varies between the different models, Whyte’s priority being that they spec lockout-able options rather going with any particular manufacturer. As for the groupset components, it’s virtually all Shimano kit, from Alivio on the entry-level Malvern to a mix of Deore and SLX on the range-topping Consiton. They all come with triple chainsets and wide-ranging cassettes while the hydraulic disc brakes come from Tektro, Hayes and Avid.
We took the Caledonian for a decent-length ride at Hog Hill track in north London and initial impressions were really positive. For a start, the SR Suntour NCX-E LO Lite forks locked out properly on the road, which is a good start. Sometimes lockout forks don't actually lockout completely, so they’re just annoying as soon as you get out of the saddle. Not here though; the front end holds firm – and so does the rest of the bike, come to that.
The ride position is pretty relaxed, similar to a mountain bike’s, with your head up and not much stress on your back. You’re going to appreciate that whether you’re in the urban jungle or venturing off road. You get a good amount of stability and the bars are reasonably wide (62cm) for plenty of control without limiting your ability to nip through traffic too much, that width does mean that steering is slightly slower for town riding than on more the more point and shoot variety of urban bikes but then this is a machine that's attempting to do a bit of everything.
The 700c wheels spin along quickly on the road – you can always swap to some skinnier tyres if you want a bit more speed in town – and the wide-ranging gears will both get you up virtually anything and allow you to keep the power on for most downhills too. You spin out on the fastest descents but, hey, just enjoy the rest.
The real benefit of the C7s, though, is their versatility. Just flick the fork lockout and you can go and play off road… and that’s exactly what we did on the Caledonian at Hog Hill. In fact, although we call ourselves roadies, we spent a lot more time riding it on the trails than on the Tarmac. It brought out the mad, bad, rad mountain biker lurking within. Hmmm!
Admittedly, conditions were bone dry at Hog Hill so we’re not sure how those 35mm tyres will handle the mud – you might have to swap them for something knobblier if you want more grip. And, while we're admitting stuff, we never got so far off the ground that we had to inform air traffic control, so we’re not sure how the 700c wheels will handle a heavy landing. But, although we wouldn’t advise you to take this bike on a World Cup downhill track, the 63mm of front-end travel takes the sting out of bumpy trails and the bike itself is easily strong enough to cope with a bit of trail-whacking.
The C7 range is set to reach the shops in September. Although we know they’ll all cost less than a grand, final pricing has yet to be set.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.