There's a place in every cyclist's lock-up for an all-purpose, take-it-out-no-matter-what-the-weather type bike like the Whyte Caledonian, and with the past couple of winters being harsh enough to make Dickens shiver in his grave, this is now truer than ever.
This kind of bike usually gets allocated names like commuter, urban, hybrid and the like, and sometimes the term 'all-terrain' gets bandied about, but is rarely genuinely applicable. So, with an all-terrain label firmly affixed to the Caledonian from Whyte, what's it actually capable of?
For starters, it's nice to see a bike of this ilk with a female specific frame - it's available in both men's and women's versions and we've ridden both – although it's the women's bike that I put through its test paces. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of women's frames vs unisex and men's frames, but, depending on your proportions and on the fitting skills of your LBS, sometimes it's nice to have an option pre-tweaked for the fairer sex. This is the kind of bike that will see many recreational cyclists and fitness cyclists out on the road, and as such, it's good to offer easy straightforward encouragement to female riders in this way. There isn't a huge amount of difference between our test bike and the men's/unisex version, but on the women's the top tube is slightly dropped. More on this later.....
I'm often a little dubious about the idea of the all-terrain bike, but the Caledonian was a pleasant surprise. Its 700c wheels work admirably with the mountain bike-esque frame geometry, giving an upright ride with good bump absorption, without the rolling resistance associated with chunky mtb tyres. The gear ratio that comes as standard is spot-on for pretty much anything you fancy doing on this bike and the riding position allows for a relaxed and confident ride.
But is it all-terrain?
Well, yes actually, pretty much. It coped admirably with forest trails and gravelly bumpy tracks, was perfect for canal tow paths and the like, and whilst the SR Suntour Lite 63mm travel fork wasn't the plushest, I'd be happy to take it properly off-road on all but the gnarliest singletrack or big drops. So much so, that if I'd had it any longer, I'd have been making plans for a mixed-terrain tour like the Great Glen Way! It would make an ideal tourer, even coming with mounts for a proper rear rack, although it would equally well take a beam rack. On the road the knobbly WTB All Terrain Comp tyres weren't too knobbly for comfortable and responsive riding, and were narrow enough to keep rolling resistance to a minimum.
Another surprise was the handling of the bike. Having frequently ridden mountain bikes on the road, as well as an assortment of hybrids, rough stuff tourers, commuter bikes and the like, I was expecting a certain sluggishness from the Caledonian. But I did it a disservice in this expectation. The ride was lively and assertive, with enough acceleration on the flat to happily negotiate busy traffic. Descending was a doddle, with confidence boosting Hayes Stroker Comp disc brakes front and rear and a riding position to inspire reckless turns of speed, and it cornered beautifully, sticking to the road like glue. It was only in the climbs that the Caledonian disappointed slightly, with the upright riding position making for soupy steering and some oscillation on hills, no matter what the riding position.
On the whole, the Caledonian managed to combine a sporty and responsive ride, with a good turn of speed and a massive dose of grin factor. Chuck some spokey-dokeys in the wheels and I'd have felt 7 again!
The transmission, Shimano Deore and SLX, gave reasonably smooth shifting, but was lacking in some crispness and a little tricky to adjust successfully. The brakes were effective and easy to take care of, giving good stopping power. Even the saddle, as provided, was comfortable, which is rarely the case!
It's a great looking bike too, with an attractive white frame and pleasing lines, sporty and sleek without being overly girlie. The dropped top tube enhances the looks, whilst also giving confidence and making the bike accessible to all styles of rider. It's also a look that spans the urban and off-road sectors with ease.
All in all, there's little to dislike about a bike that offers a relaxed but sporty ride, is versatile enough to genuinely cope with all but the most hardcore off-road riding, looks good and makes you smile. For £849, that's a lot of bike for your money in my book.
A versatile bike genuinely capable of handling all but the most extreme terrains. And guaranteed to make you smile.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Whyte Caledonian
Size tested: M
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
6061 Hydro Formed T6 Aluminium frame
-multi butted with Custom Whyte Dropouts
SR Suntour NCX-E LO Lite, 63mm travel, Hydro Lockout and Internal Rebound Control Forks.
Shimano Deore 9 Speed Front Derailleur
Shimano SLX Shadow 9 Speed Rear Derailleur
Shimano Deore M443 48-36-26 Octalink Crankset
Hayes Stroker Comp, 160mm Rotor Disc Brakes.
Whyte High Rise Bar, Custom Stem, Grips.
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?
All terrain bike aimed at women riders.
Great frame for female riders of all styles, especially suited to those looking for a confidence boosting bike, and excellent on all but the roughest terrain.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Frame quality is excellent. Well shaped and well finished.
Fork is capable of handling most terrains, with only the exception of larger drops or rockier trails. Lock-out is effective enough to make it good for the road too.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Aluminium frame was responsive, light and confidence inspiring.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Slightly sloping top tube makes this as easy-mount option for women, yet it's not sufficiently aggressive a slope to affect the handling of the bike in a negative way.
Fork angle and frame geometry is just right for a combination of comfortable and relaxed riding, in an upright but sporty position, with good feedback and confident handling.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Excellent proportions and with minimal tweaking, suitable for quite a broad selection of builds/heights even within just one frame size.
Available in small, medium and large.
More adaptable and rider friendly fit than many hybrid style bikes.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Bike was extremely comfortable to ride, giving good acceleration, a fun sporty feel with good responses. Rolling resistance was good on road, and comfort levels and handling were surprisingly excellent off-road.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Bike felt sufficiently stiff to give a fun and responsive ride. Nowhere felt too stiff or not stiff enough.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
I was amazed at how sporty the Caledonian was. Power transfer was very efficient and acceleration was good.
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? Neutral steering. Lively enough to make it fun, but stable enough for commuting.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Overall the bike was a pleasure to ride.
It handled well on the flat, with good acceleration, descended and cornered particularly well, and was great fun on or off road.
Climbing was its only problem, with any sort of sporting position make the steering much more difficult to control.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
No changes to suggest.
Tyres were particularly good for allowing genuinely effective on or off-road use.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Frame offered good levels of stiffness combined with comfort.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
No changes to suggest.
If you changed the frame or fork angle to make the bike a more aggressive climber, it would change the character of the whole bike. As is stands, it's a fun and capable all-terrain bike that would appeal to everyone from beginners to seasoned commuters and tourers.
Very nippy. Especially for this style of bike.
Not really that kind of bike.
Good and stable at high speeds.
A relaxed ride.
Stable and confidence inspiring at slow speeds.
Corners very well.
Sticks really well to corners when descending. Descends like a good mountain bike.
Mostly climbs OK if in the saddle. Out of the saddle the steering becomes unwieldy and difficult to control, with some oscillation.
A little on the mechanical feeling side.
Had some problems with spot rust even with care and attention.
Not the lightest, but fine for the rest of the bike.
Wheels and tyres
Great versatile tyres and wheels, easily capable of on or off road use.
High quality and should last well.
Solid and well built, rather than light, but by no means heavyweight.
Extremely comfortable on or off-road.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Both wheels and tyres worked equally well on and off-road. A good balance between comfort, rolling resistance and grip.
Not the slickest, but do the job just fine.
Easy to use and nicely positioned.
Good reliable control components.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Everything nicely positioned and considered for female riders needs.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes- a lot.
Would you consider buying the bike? Definitely.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Definitely one to consider for touring, commuting or just as an all-purpose, multi-terrain bike. Great option for those just starting out.
About the tester
Age: 37 Height: 1.65m Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, general fitness riding, mtb,
Lara has been riding bikes for longer than she'd care to admit, and writing about them nearly as long. Since 2009 she has been working as part of the road.cc review team whilst championing women's cycling on the side, most notably via two years as editor of the, sadly now defunct, UK's first and only women's cycling mag, erm, Women's Cycling.
Believing fervently that cycling will save the world, she wishes that more people would just ride a bike and be pleasant to each other.
She will ride anything with two wheels, occasionally likes to go fast, definitely likes to go far and is always up for a bit of exploring somewhere new and exciting.