Fast and sporty, with all the practicality and dependability of hydraulic disc brakes, wide tyres and space for full-length mudguards, the brand new Whyte Wessex is a bike that is up to the task of taking on the roughest roads and toughest weather.
Racing aside, it's all the bike you really need for year-round riding in the UK, fast enough for sportives and pacy training runs, comfortable and reliable for grinding out winter miles, and at home on longer commutes. Only a British company could design a bike that is absolutely, perfectly, 100 per cent suited to the demands of year-round UK road cycling.
The Wessex has been a long time coming from Whyte. Although the traditionally mountain bike-focused company has gradually moved into the road bike market with the likes of the Suffolk we reviewed last year, the brand new Wessex 'is conceived to be the ideal British road bike' and has only been made possible with the advent of the latest technology – advances such as wide tubeless-ready rims, decent tubeless tyres, hydraulic disc brakes and thru-axles.
With those technologies now readily available, Whyte set itself the goal of creating the most dependable, reliable, comfortable bike for surviving the worst conditions, and it would appear it has ticked all those boxes. This is a very impressive bike.
Ride and handling
My first ride on the Wessex was an enjoyable, if tiring, 140km loop of some of the finest Cotswolds countryside, the testing ground that helped form Whyte designer Ian Alexander's blueprint for the new bike. With a change to a 120mm stem and the saddle set to my height, I immediately felt at home on it, and that's always a good sign of a test bike – that no radical changes are required and the fit and position feel natural.
Rolling along country lanes, it's immediately obvious that the bike benefits from a stable and surefooted balance, a result of the long wheelbase – 1003.3mm on this size 54cm model. The steering feels predictable and relaxed in a straight line and weaving through the turns. Out of the saddle and up steep and long ascents, the Wessex climbs authoritatively, the front end displaying a crispness with no hint of flex from the fork or rub from the disc brake.
As you settle into a steady rhythm, the 30mm-wide Schwalbe S-One tyres roll with surprising pace for such a big tyre. There's no hesitation in the way they pick up and maintain speed, and no concern that they generate any excessive drag compared with narrower tyres. The large volume tyres, run at a low pressure – between 70-80psi (it's worth experimenting with these wider tyres to find the sweet spot) – really take out the hard edges of some of the more badly surfaced roads sadly in abundance in the Cotswolds.
When the pace picks up the Wessex displays the direct handling of a race bike, nimble when asked to perform sudden changes in direction. The get-up-and-go response of the bike is incredible. That it can on the one hand travel along at a serene pace with ease and then react so positively to more aggressive riding, and be as fast as you like, is a big appeal of the Wessex. It's no slouch, that's for sure, yet it's as comfortable as you like if a relaxed cruising speed is your highest ambition for a cycle ride.
It corners enthusiastically too, with the wheels tracking any line you want to pick, no matter how rough or chattery the road surface might be through the apex. The hydraulic disc brakes play their part here, providing unparalleled control and precise speed adjustment when needed, all with one-finger braking. Both frame and fork display a high level of lateral stiffness, ensuring the Wessex has a very direct and responsive character when piloting through the bends.
The geometry of the Wessex allows for a comfortable riding position. Whyte has used a long fork to provide the necessary wide tyre and mudguard clearance, but has kept the head tube short. This has the effect of preventing the front end from looking tall, and also preventing too lofty a handlebar position. To provide some context with numbers, the reach and stack figures (the horizontal and vertical measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) for the size 54cm bike I rode are almost identical to the medium size Canyon Endurace CF SLX I recently tested. The 382mm reach is the same while the Whyte has a 5mm longer stack, 583mm to 578mm.
Other numbers for you: the top tube is 555mm, the head angle is 73 degrees, the head tube is 160mm, and the chainstays are 425mm.
It's a geometry that works really well if you value comfort for banging out the long rides at the weekend, but if you slam the stem (remove all the spacers) and make use of the compact drops, you can get a low position that should satisfy any aero enthusiasts.
Whyte has designed a very modern looking bike, using a full carbon fibre frame and fork with aero shaped tube profiles and a wide stance fork, providing huge clearance around the 30mm tyres – space to accommodate the custom full-length mudguards. Whyte has cleverly designed the mudguards to fit seamlessly with the Wessex's appearance; it's probably the smartest mudguard-equipped road bike to ever pass through the road.cc office. The mudguards are an optional extra, with a price yet to be confirmed...
The curvaceous fork has the same axle-to-crown length as a cyclo-cross fork, which provides the necessary tyre and mudguard clearance, but Whyte has sliced the bottom of the head tube away to push the fork crown higher up to prevent the front from getting too high.
The aero-shaped down tube gives way to a regular seatpost with a 27.2mm round diameter, chosen because it allows a rear light to be fitted easily and also provides a bit more comfort. The seat clamp is integrated into the top tube with a rubber flap shielding it from the elements.
Also contributing to the comfort are the skinny seatstays, while chunky chainstays provide the stiffness necessary when stomping on the pedals.
There are 12mm thru-axles front and rear, with Shimano's flat mount standard fixing the hydraulic brake callipers in place. All cables and hoses are routed inside the frame and fork and there is a tapered head tube and externally threaded bottom bracket, used over a press-fit BB because it is simple, proven and works.
There is just one model of Wessex available (though Whyte did show a very pimp SRAM eTap bike at the Cycle Show) and it comes with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed drivetrain with an FSA Gossamer Pro EVO-386 50/34 compact chainset and an FSA Evo bottom bracket.
The brakes are Shimano ST-685 levers, containing mechanical shifting internals with hydraulic brake levers, operating BR-805 flat mount callipers. It's all solid and dependable equipment, smooth shifting and powerful brakes.
The 11-32t cassette helps on the hills, especially the steeper gradients where you can begin to notice the weight of a bike. At 8.8kg (without mudguards) the Wessex is comparable to similarly equipped bikes, but you can get lighter: the Orro Gold STC Disc is similar money but comes in at 8.5kg, so the Whyte is carrying a bit of excess. The weight is rarely an issue on the road, I hasten to add.
Displaying its mountain bike background, where tubeless tyres are pretty much the standard, Whyte has specced Easton AR-21 tubeless-ready rims with equally tubeless-ready Schwalbe S-One 30mm tyres. Tyres are getting wider, that much we know, but the key to unleashing the full benefits of wider tyres is the use of wider rims; these new Easton rims are wide, 21mm internally and 25mm externally, to be precise. That gives the tyre a broad platform for good stability at lower pressures and means they measure up a bit wider.
The rims are laced to Whyte's own aluminium hubs with double sealed bearings, with 28 DT Competition butted spokes in each wheel.
As for the S-One tyres, there's not much I can say that Mike didn't already gush about in his review last year. Considering the size and the tread pattern, they're a fast-rolling tyre and provide stacks of traction in tricky conditions, when the road surface is coated with rain, mud and gravel. The V-Guard technology ensures the tyres withstand flats impressively well, even at lower pressures and slamming into rocks and holes. They also, via the larger contact patch and the dimpled tread pattern, let you make the most of the powerful hydraulic disc brakes.
Whyte has finished the bike off with its own label parts for the handlebar, stem, seatpost and saddle. The compact wing-shaped handlebar has a comfortable shape and generous length drops, and the stem length is size-specific, 110mm on the 54cm bike, but I upsized to a 120mm stem. The saddle has a fairly generic shape but it's comfortable for longer rides and is well padded, providing extra comfort over rougher surfaces.
What a bike! For grinding out long winter rides with mudguards or tackling summer sportives without, the Wessex is the ideal choice. Okay, so it's not the lightest option, but it's more than comfortable and smooth enough and is fast and fun when you want to up the pace, but calm and collected when pedalling at a steady clip. And at £2,150 it's (relatively speaking) good value too – cheaper than the similarly specced Cannondale Synapse Disc.
It's very much a bike of the moment. It meets the needs of British cyclists wanting a dependable and reliable bike for riding in all weathers, and the equipment is smartly chosen to ensure it delivers brilliant performance and reliability. For many people, this is going to be the perfect British road bike.
A British designed bike that is perfect for year-round British road cycling
road.cc test report
Make and model: Whyte Wessex
Size tested: 54cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Uni-directional Multi Monocoque with Flat Mount 160 Disc mount, DOX internal cable routing, Verti-Grip integrated seat clamp system, concealed eyelets for Mud Guards and 142mm rear dropouts with 12mm through axle
Fork: Straight Bladed Carbon Front Fork, Tapered Alloy Steerer with, 12mm x 100mm through axle, concealed eyelets for Mud Guards
Rear Shock: N/A
Headset: FSA No. 42 Integrated Road, 1 1/2" lower and 1 1/8" upper Sealed Cartridge Bearings
Rear Hub: Alloy, Double Sealed Cartridge Bearing Hub, Centre-lock, 12mm x 142mm Through Axle, 28 Hole
Front Hub: Alloy, Double Sealed Cartridge Bearing Hub, Centre-lock, 12mm x 100mm Through Axle, 28 Hole
Spokes: DT Competition butted, Black Sandvik Stainless with Black Brass Nipples
Rims: Easton AR-21, 21mm wide Tubeless Ready Rims, 28 Hole
Tyres: Schwalbe S-ONE, 700 x 30c, TL-Easy Tubeless System, MicroSkin Puncture Protection, Folding
Shift Levers: Shimano ST-685 Ultegra, 11 Speed
Front Mech: Shimano FD-5800 105, 11 Speed
Rear Mech: Shimano RD-6800 GS Ultegra, 11 Speed
Cassette: Shimano CS-5800 105 11-32, 11 Speed
Chain: Shimano, HG-601, 11 Speed
Crankset: FSA Gossamer Pro EVO-386 DB 34-50, 11 Speed, Compact Double
Bottom Bracket: FSA EVO-8681, 68mm
Seatpost: Whyte 20mm Offset, 27.2mm x 350mm, 1pcs 3d Forged 6061 Alloy, 2 Bolt Clamp
Saddle: Whyte Custom Road, with lightweight foam, Triple Panel Design
Handlebar: Whyte Road, 31.8mm, Compact "Wing" Bar
Stem: Whyte -6 Deg/6 Deg, 100mm 52cm, 110mm 54cm, 120mm 56/58cm
Grips: Whyte Anti Slip with 3M Reflective logos on tapes
Front Brakes: Shimano BR-805 Hydraulic, Centre-lock 160mm Rotor, Internal Routing
Rear Brakes: Shimano BR-805 Hydraulic, Centre-lock 160mm Rotor, Internal Routing
Brake Levers: Shimano ST-685 Ultegra
Pedals: Fibre Reinforced Composite Platform
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
"The all new Wessex is conceived to be the ideal British road bike. Developed and specified for riding on all road surfaces, the Wessex uses the very latest in tubeless ready, high air volume Schwalbe tyres on 21mm wide Easton AR rims.
Whether you're commuting longer distances, winter training or entering summer sportifs, the Whyte Road Disc range offers Cyclo Cross durability with pure Road geometry.
12mm through axles, tubeless tyres, disc brakes and the ability to fit full length mud guards makes the Wessex arguably the most versatile and capable carbon road bike we have ever made."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre frame and fork with internal cable routing, tapered head tube and external bottom bracket.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Endurance road bike geometry.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Very good, with a change to a 120mm stem I achieved a good fit on the bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable, the bike handles rough roads really well.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's stiff when you put down the power.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Predictable.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very stable and predictable handling at low and high speed.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The 30mm tyres make a big contribution to the performance of the Wessex.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The Shimano/FSA package worked very well together.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The wide profile rims balloon the tyres up bigger than the stated size, and provide a very secure platform for the tyres.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?
They tackle all sorts of conditions really well, and are faster than you might expect them to be.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Comfortably shaped handlebar and saddle.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The lines of endurance road bike design are all gradually heading in the same place, and the Whyte Wessex is a fine demonstration of a bike that meets the requirements of most British cyclists.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.