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Aluminium 650b road bike with progressive geometry + interview with Whyte's head designer

Take the rough with the smooth says Whyte on the webpage for its new £1,299 Glencoe, a 650b Road Plus bike which brings together a lot of the emerging trends in the road bike market into a really compelling package that will appeal to anyone wanting a smooth, comfortable, stable and confidence-inspiring road bike. 

The 650B alternative: Is this smaller wheel size right for you?

The Glencoe combines an aluminium frame and fork rolling on wide profile WTB tubeless-ready rims and WTB Horizon 47mm tyres, and the stop and start are taken care of by an SRAM Apex 1x11 groupset, with an 11-42t cassette and 44T  chainring, and TRP HyRd hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors. The finishing kit is all Whyte branded, including the 50cm wide handlebar that is unique to the Glencoe. Yes at 11.56kg (25.48lb) it’s heavy, but weight isn’t everything.

The frame is neatly appointed. There are mudguard mounts, and our test bike has the optional mudguards that Whyte has designed for the Glencoe, as well as rack mounts so you could use it for commuting, Audax and touring if you wanted. The seatclamp is a neat internal design with a rubber bung to stop the bolt head filling with dirt. Cables are internally routed and there’s an externally threaded bottom bracket.

whyte_glencoe_-_down_tube.jpg

whyte_glencoe_-_down_tube.jpg

What sort of bike is the Glencoe?

Whyte pitches it primarily as a road bike, albeit one that is intended with its big tyres and relaxed geometry to be able to better tackle the poorly surfaced roads most of us have to contend with better than a conventional road bike. It's intended, perhaps rather boldly, as a better road bike than your last road bike. That's based on the fact it has a lot of good technology, the wide tubeless tyres on wide tubeless rims, a simple and wide range drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes and sensible finishing kit.

But it's the geometry that really sets it apart from a conventional road bike. The focus with the numbers and angles is on providing much more stability when riding rough roads and descending tricky rural country lanes, and boosting confidence for those cyclists that might find handling a typical race bike a nervous affair.

The key changes include a long front centre that is designed around the use of a short stem and very wide handlebar, which shows a hint of mountain bike influence. The length added to the top tube has been taken out of the stem, so the overall reach is more or less the same as a regular road bike.

Lastly, the head angle is slacker than most road bikes at 70-degrees and the fork offset is 38mm (a typical road bike is about 51mm) to increase the trail which has the effect of producing very calm and stable steering. The wheelbase is also long, 1,077m on the 54cm bike.

Fat tyres FTW

650b isn’t a new wheel and tyre standard, it’s actually quite an old one, favoured by French touring cyclists back at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s reappearance in the mainstream is as much a direct response to the deteriorating state of our roads, with potholes and gravel certainly a common occurrence in my local rural lanes. The 47mm WTB Horizon tyres on the Glencoe provide roughly the same outside diameter as a 28mm tyre on a 700c rim, so the geometry of a regular road bike can more or less be preserved.

whyte_glencoe_-_tyre_and_rim.jpg

whyte_glencoe_-_tyre_and_rim.jpg

However, the key benefit of the 650b tyres is obviously the big volume they provide. Installed tubeless, as this Glencoe is, and run at low pressures, they provide a very smooth road that helps to smother all the imperfections in a badly surfaced road and cushioning you from bigger holes and impacts.

Improved traction is an obvious bonus in bad weather, when the roads are covered in mud, grit and water. And rolling resistance, despite their appearance, is not at all dreadful - they’re surprisingly quick. Lastly, they can, weather dependent, cope with a bit of off-road action as well.

There is a weight penalty to the bigger tyres, and an aero impact as well, and if racing or fast sportives is your sort of cycling these probably aren’t the tyres for you. But if your riding is steady cruising speeds, the sort of speed that lets you enjoy the views and the company rather than chewing on the stem, then 650b tyres are an interesting and exciting alternative to 700c.

Understanding the Glencoe with Whyte’s Ian Alexander

I've covered the key details of this new bike above, but to get a better understanding of the Glencoe, I went for a ride with Whyte’s designer Ian Alexander and put a few questions to him.

road.cc: Who is the Glencoe aimed at, and what sort of riding is it intended for?

Ian: The versatility designed into the Glencoe should mean it will appeal to almost any road rider (or off-road rider who wants to ride on the road for that matter) in the UK who likes to keep off the main roads, stick to the lanes and go exploring at their own pace.

As anyone who rides regularly knows, the condition of the roads across the UK has been deteriorating it seems for many years, to the extent that some lanes and back roads are nearly approaching the status of well kept bridleways…

Unfortunately the random nature of these roads and lanes means it can make riding very unpredictable. With the Glencoe we wanted a bike that was so confidence-inspiring, stable and safe to ride and yet still rolled like a fast road bike. To do that we felt that the new WTB Road Plus tyres were going to be a big step to achieving the levels of comfort, impact compliance and an all-round capability quite unlike any conventional road bike could ever get near.

This means whilst one minute you can be on a great tarmac surface, more often than not you can soon be plunging down a steep lane with mud, gravel, water run-off, pot-holes and corners and really be searching the limits of your confidence and to this end, the Glencoe should expand your limits and allow you to really attack and enjoy these challenging terrains rather than fear them.

650b tyres are popular right now, why do you see them as the right fit for this bike?

Well, I’m interested in the large volume these tyres have. The physics behind larger volume tyres rest on the relationship between the air volume, which is the combination of the tyre width together with the internal rim width, the pressure in the tyre and thirdly the vertical stiffness of the tyre carcass, often referred to as the casing tension inside the tyre itself.

Essentially as the volume of the tyre increases the pressure can be lowered for the same vertical stiffness of the tyre. This means that although the pressure in the larger volume tyre is lower than it would be for a smaller volume tyre, it can maintain the same vertical stiffness and hence roll along the road without feeling any slower at all.

Of course, because the pressure is lower, when it comes to a square-edge impact such as a pothole, the large volume tyre can deform against this obstacle much more easily and give much greater compliance and comfort compared to a higher pressure tyre.

The usual pressure in a 700c x 23mm tyre can be anywhere between 110-120psi, but for the same feeling in vertical stiffness, a 27.5” x 47mm tyre can be run at 40-50psi.

With this huge increase in compliance of the tyres as well as the increase in grip and traction it really boosts the all-round capability of the Glencoe. So with the limiting factors of braking and traction hugely improved, it allows us to really push forward in other areas of the bike’s development, namely the Geometry.

The geometry sets the bike apart from regular road bikes. What have you tried to achieve with the angles and numbers?

In 2010 I wanted to have a crack at the 3-Peaks Cyclo-Cross race, so I designed a cyclocross bike which was pretty progressive in geometry. It was built around a 70mm stem, a longer than usual frame, a slack head angle and disc brakes. It really gave me the confidence to tackle such an extreme race which is closer to a fell race than a bike race.

whyte_glencoe_-_cable_routing.jpg

whyte_glencoe_-_cable_routing.jpg

We put those ideas into production very successfully with our cyclocross bikes and more recently the Whyte Gravel bike range of the Friston and Gisburn. So I felt with the Glencoe that the same radical approach to confidence-inspiring geometry should be designed into the bike.

The combination of hydraulic disc brakes and RoadPlus tyres mean that the geometry of the bike is the next limiting factor to be addressed in road bikes. So the Glencoe uses the same concept of added length in the frame, approximately 50mm longer than a traditional road bike, with a correspondingly 50mm shorter stem length to keep the cockpit and fitting length the same.

A slack, but not super slack, head angle of 70-degrees can then work much better with the shorter stem. We have designed our own 500mm (centre-to-centre) handlebar which is wider than anything on the market currently, to again work best in conjunction with the short stem.

This bar has a conventional shape but with a short reach, to give the feel, not unlike stubby bar-ends when the rider is on the brake hoods and a shallow drop to aid comfort on longer head-wind road sections. The final piece in the overall geometry package of the Glencoe is a custom offset fork which has allowed us to fine-tune a very critical parameter of the steering kinematics.

Fork offset isn't something that's talked about much on road bikes, but it's been pivotal to the design of the Glencoe. Where did the thinking for the shorter offset come from?

The Glencoe fork is a special offset specification for Whyte of 38mm (usually the offset on gravel bikes is a more common 51mm) so that allows us to develop a totally homogeneous geometry concept for the bike including handlebar width and shape, stem length as well as frame geometry including length, bottom bracket height, rear centre and head angle among other critical dimensions for the feel and handling of the bike.

We have been working and riding prototypes of this reduced offset concept in a lot of different bikes in recent years, both road and MTB hardtail and full suspension bikes, and our pioneering and award-winning MTB designs have benefitted from this new thinking in fork offset design. It seemed obvious to test the general concept on the road with a RoadPlus bike that we wanted to have the best most confident inspiring geometry possible for road riding in the UK.

whyte_glencoe_-_fork.jpg

whyte_glencoe_-_fork.jpg

Fork offset is a key way of controlling the amount of trail and a whole raft of complicated and multi-faceted steering related geometry parameters. Trail is the generating and stabilising effect of the forward motion of the bike and is defined as the distance by which the contact patch of the front tyre ‘trails’ behind the steering axis when we extend the steering axis down to intersect with the ground. The more trail a bike has, generally speaking the more stable, calmer and predictable (confidence-inspiring) the steering of the bike is. The bike is less affected by knocks, potholes and undulations in road surface that cause destabilising forces to be introduced to the steering system.

In recent years we have generated larger levels of trail by reducing the head angle and making the bikes slacker. This only works up to a point. However reducing the fork offset has the effect of moving the front wheel tyre contact patch further rearward and increasing the distance the contact patch is ‘trailing’ the steering axis. This has the same effect on steering kinematics as reducing the head angle as well but without the flopping from side to side often associated with very slack head angles and still maintaining a light and neutral steering feel when out of the saddle climbing on the Glencoe.

Reducing the trail from 51mm to 38mm is a significant increase in Trail, but also a significant reduction in the bike’s front centre dimension, and this is why the reduced offset concept is part of a total homogenous frame length, geometry and component spec concept and not just fitted to a standard geometry frame and finishing kit.

Overall it’s been a big step forward in the control and confidence of the Glencoe and puts the modern road rider firmly back in control over the prevailing road conditions that we all have to live within the UK.

Brief first ride impressions

After a couple of rides around my local lanes in the Cotswolds, it’s clear the Glencoe is very different to any regular road bike.

It’s the handling that sets the Glencoe apart. It’s so impressively stable and planted on tricky narrow descents, with a feeling of control more akin to riding a mountain bike with wider riser bars than a conventional road or gravel bike. You can bomb down descents with much more confidence, and that’s great regardless of your experience level, but a boon to less experienced cyclists for sure.

whyte_glencoe_-_bars.jpg

whyte_glencoe_-_bars.jpg

The steering is slower and measured, there’s nothing twitchy or nervous about the handling at all, and that is really highlighted at higher speeds. Yet it’s still agile enough if you need to suddenly carve around a massive pothole you’ve only spotted at the last moment. The short offset of the fork ensures the slack head angle doesn’t lead to a flopping steering sensation that I have experienced with some bikes in the past.

I’m used to narrow handlebars on road bikes, but the wide bars, in combination with the short stem and long top tube, gave a familiar riding position that was comfortably stretched with a clear emphasis on maximum control. Pushing your hands out wider gives a relaxed and commanding position that lets you really control the Glencoe to the full.

- Review: WTB Horizon TCS Road Tyre

Despite their girth, the 650b tyres are deceptively quick. They don’t feel sluggish and draggy, but if you do try and push on at higher speeds your effort level can rise dramatically as the extra weight and drag become apparent. They have a definite speed sweet spot that I found is about 25-30kph give or take a few clicks, what you might describe as a steady cruising speed.

The Glencoe is no lightweight road bike, but it doesn’t ride in a heavy way. It’s not as swift up climbs as a lightweight race bike for sure, but it’s actually a really nice bike to climb. Out of the saddle the Glencoe feels very like a mountain bike with stubby bar ends, and the wide bar and compact SRAM hoods provide a very nice climbing experience, if climbing can ever be described as nice!

And best of all, where even 28mm tyres transmit a lot of the road surface to the contact points, the 47mm tyres run at about 45psi simply soak up all the bumps and holes in the road. It doesn’t matter that the frame and fork are made from aluminium, the big tyres provide all the suspension you need.

So first impressions are very good. This isn't a bike that will appeal to everyone, it’s not a bike for hammering the local chaingang or hanging with your mates on their lightweight carbon aero bikes. But it’s really not trying to be that. If you want a versatile, comfortable and capable bike for cruising around the country lanes, training and commuting on, with the cushioning, traction and bombproofness of the big tyres, you’ll get on well with the Glencoe.

The handling is a highlight, it’s a fun bike to ride and makes riding on dodgy lanes and at high speeds as safe and easy as it could be on a road bike, and it’s packed with nice details and attention to detail. The Glencoe represents an exciting and radical reinterpretation of what a modern road bike could be.

There'll be a full review of the Glencoe soon.

www.whyte.bike/glencoe/

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.