Review: 2017 Whyte Gisburn Longterm Test Bike
In October of last year, we received a brand new Gisburn gravel bike from British brand Whyte. Five months on, how are things going with the bright green gravel machine?
A new model for 2017, the Gisburn joins the Whyte range as a reimagined drop-bar bike. It takes various design cues from last year’s Saxon Cross cyclocross bike, but adds in a whole host of new features to turn it into a much more versatile machine.
The 2017 Whyte Gisburn.
We tested and reviewed the 2016 Saxon Cross early last year, and absolutely loved its ripping ride and technical capabilities. But Whyte wanted to do more. Eschewing the typical restraints imposed by the UCI on cyclocross race bikes, Whyte made a conscious decision to unleash the Gisburn from the overlords of the racetrack so that they could give it bigger volume tyres, with more generous tyre clearance. (Current UCI rules state a maximum tyre width of 33c).
Whyte has moved the Gisburn away from cyclocross, instead labelling it as a ‘Gravel/Adventure’ bike.
A move to bigger tyres doesn’t sound that dramatic, but it proved to be the necessary tipping point for Whyte to shift its priorities away from producing a race-ready cyclocross bike, to a more relaxed and more versatile all-terrain gravel bike. As such, the Whyte Gisburn not only features wider tyres, but it also rocks wider bars, slacker angles, and …*gasp*… a dropper seat post. This is clearly a drop-bar bike built by a mountain biking company.
Wider tyres and more clearance opens up the possibilities for the Gisburn rider.
Backing up the decision-making behind the new Gisburn and Friston gravel models, Whyte claims that the vast majority of people buying cyclocross bikes don’t actually race them. So why limit the bikes to just racing?
That’s a question that we’ve been aiming to find out during our time with the 2017 Whyte Gisburn.
Aesthetically, the Gisburn shares a similar front triangle to the previous Saxon Cross, with a lovely 6061 T6 hydroformed tube set that’s used to impressive effect. Big tubes, large weld areas and simple lines give it a very purposeful but classy look.
The rear end is all-new, with a 142x12mm thru-axle and a tidy flat-mount rear disc brake.
Out back however, the rear end has changed significantly. There’s now 142x12mm thru-axle dropouts to match the bolt-thru carbon fork, and the seat and chain stays have undergone significant reworking to increase tyre clearance and vertical compliance.
Instead of a traditional seat clamp, the Gisburn gets an internal wedge that is much cleaner and better sealed too.
Like Whyte’s off-road lineup, the Gisburn shares the same no-nonsense British practicality approach. Internal cable routing is managed with plump rubber frame plugs, and the seat clamp uses an internal wedge to hold onto the post.
An additional rubber sleeve sits at the top of the seat tube to provide an additional barrier against filth.
This means there’s no split down the back of the seat tube, and to help further shield the frame’s guts from water and dirt ingress, a rubber condom fits around the top of the seat tube. Aside from being practical, it also results in a very tidy junction on the frame.
Lovely tapered head tube with large sealed cartridge bearings hidden within.
The flared head tube houses hidden sealed cartridge bearings, while the bottom bracket rocks the old-school threaded design for ease of maintenance compared to creak-prone press-fit bottom bracket cups.
There’s mounts for a rear pannier rack if you you’re looking for carrying capacity.
Other details include room for two water bottles inside the main triangle, and there are bosses underneath the downtube for a Crud Catcher. There are also all the necessary mounting points to bolt a pannier rack onto the rear of the frame. For those after a super commuter, the Gisburn is ready, willing and able.
The Gisburn is only available in this spec with the Matte Lime colour, though the cheaper Friston features an identical frame and carbon fork with a lovely Matte Orange finish. The Friston comes in £400 cheaper (at £1599) by losing the dropper post and some of the more exotic carbon components.
Equipped with a smart parts spec and confidence-inspiring geometry, the Gisburn is a highly versatile machine.
Geometry & Fit
Both the Friston and the Gisburn are available in four frame sizes: 52cm, 54cm, 56cm and 58cm. There are plans to potentially expand the size range for 2018, but we’ll have to wait for a little while longer to find out what that will entail.
The long top tube is offset by a short 70mm stem. That’s something you don’t see a lot of on drop-bar bikes.
At 175cm tall, I elected for the smallest 52cm size, which is what I’d typically ride in a road or ‘cross bike. Compared to more ‘conventional’ drop bar bikes, the Gisburn features a much more roomy top tube length that’s inspired by the Whyte hardtail range. As such, the small frame size gets a huuuuge 566mm top tube length, which gives it a reach figure of 400mm. To counter the long top tube, Whyte has spec’d a stubby 70mm stem and massive 48cm wide bars.
2017 Whyte Gisburn frame geometry.
The overall feel when sitting aboard the Gisburn is one of confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a drop bar bike quite like it. The wide bars allow you to get deep into the riding position when needed, and a low bottom bracket height helps to tuck your body down so you sit right behind the shifter/brake hoods. There is a distinct feeling of being ‘in the bike’, rather than being perched on top. The wide hand position delivers a very stable and sure-footed feel.
48cm wide bars offer masses of stability and control.
One thing to note about sizing is the dropper post. My preferred saddle height is around 71cm from the centre of the BB to the top of the saddle, and with the 100mm travel dropper post, the minimum seat height with the post in the extended position was still to high for my stubby legs. That has meant, on our 52cm frame, I’ve had to manually lower the dropper post to get the saddle to that 71cm height.
The KS dropper post is the crotch-grab style.
100mm of travel in total, which is actually a touch too much for my preferred saddle height.
I’ve been in contact with Whyte about this, and we’re currently working on getting a shorter 65/75mm travel post that should be about spot-on. In the future, Whyte is planning on fitting a shorter travel post to the 52/54cm sizes, and the 100mm travel dropper on the 56/58cm sizes.
And on that note, shorter riders may struggle to get the necessary dimensions they need with the smallest 52cm size. Although Whyte recommends the 52cm frame size for riders down to 160cm tall, in our experience, that would be a bit of a stretch. Of course frame sizing counts on so many different factors, but in general, I’d suggest that riders shorter than 170cm tall will struggle on the smallest 52cm Gisburn/Friston.
The SRAM brake hoods are quite massive, but in my experience, supremely comfortable and secure when descending.
Just as I’ve experienced with Whyte’s latest mountain bikes, the Gisburn also highlights an on-point spec choice that shows Whyte’s product managers have their fingers firmly on the pulse.
WTB Riddler 37c tyres offer tubeless compatibility and a sticky tread compound. Just don’t expect them to last forever.
Of course there’s the forward-thinking addition of a dropper post, but all the other mod-cons are found on the Gisburn too. That includes a thru-axle wheelset built upon Whyte’s own sealed bearing hubs, along with WTB Asym i23 rims that feature a massive 23mm internal rim width – a dimension that is still very much in use on modern 29in mountain bikes. The rims come taped and ready for tubeless installation, though the heavy offset makes ditching the tubes quite tricky – more on that below.
The SRAM Force drivetrain is absolutely bomber – this bike has seen some serious mud action, and the gears continue to bang out shifts with like-new accuracy.
As the Gisburn frame is 1x only (there is zero provision for a front mech), it’s fitted out with a SRAM Force 1 drivetrain and a massive 10-42t cassette. Crank arms are formed from carbon fibre, and use the GXP axle system to lock down on the bottom bracket bearings.
The 10-42t cassette offers a huge range, which has worked well with our uppy-downy local valley riding. For flatter terrain, the gear jumps are more noticeable to your cadence.
Out of the box setup tubeless and without pedals, our test bike came in at 9.8kg, so it’s not the lightest drop-bar bike around. The chunky WTB wheels and dropper post certainly contribute to the overall weight, and in the near future I’ll be testing the bike with some different components to see how it handles in a lighter configuration.
The roadies might scoff, but the Gisburn offers excellent response at the pedals.
Over the past few months, I’ve been riding the Gisburn across a wide variety of terrain under a broad range of conditions. It’s been used for everything from wet weather commuting to and from the office, to early morning bridleway exploration missions, to sunny Sunday road rides, through to muddy weekend racing in the local Yorkshire cyclocross race series.
For this hairy-legger, the Gisburn delivers the level of cornering stability and control that I need in a drop-bar bike.
First and foremost, this bike is fun. A boat-load of fun. It’s capable and stable, but it in a very non-boring way. The short chain stays deliver a snappy ride quality with excellent power delivery, while allowing you to carve corners intuitively.
Carving corners is wicked aboard the Gisburn, particularly with the grippy Riddler tyres.
That might sound like a surprise from a ‘cross bike that has a slack 70° head angle, but it’s true. A big part of the Gisburn’s handling package can be attributed to the short stem, which helps to quicken up inputs from the bars to the front wheel, just like it does on a long travel mountain bike.
I’m constantly surprised at what I can get away with when plummeting down singletrack on the Gisburn.
To explore the Gisburn’s handling limits, I’ve been riding it on more dedicated mountain bike singletrack in recent times, where it has consistently impressed with its technical prowess.
Drop the saddle and get ready to rodeo!
Dropping the seat out of the way has proven super handy for long descending sections, though the crotch-grab lever does mean you have to take one hand off the bars to adjust the saddle height. As such, it’s not the sort of thing that you want to do repeatedly on technical singletrack. It’s more of an adjustment you’ll make for a long descent.
I now believe that EVERY bike requires a dropper post – road, MTB or otherwise.
The SRAM hydraulic disc brakes have been excellent at reining in the Gisburn’s descending speed, with loads of modulation on tap even with the 160mm rotors. The pads can get a bit noisy when riding in the wet, but it doesn’t take long for the Centreline rotor to clear the pads and silence them.
The stiff thru-axle wheelset meant there was zero brake rub, even when out of the saddle on the climbs.
On longer and smoother bitumen sections, the near-10kg weight is noticeable alongside more sprightly road/gravel/cyclocross bikes. But unless you’re in a race, it’s not that big of a deal – it just makes you work a bit harder in a bunch ride. The fact that the Gisburn can be ploughed comfortably and confident into shitty B-roads and gravel when the road runs out is far more appealing than having something slightly lighter underneath you.
You can get away with a lot on the Riddler 37c tyres. And setup tubeless, they do surprisingly well in loose and moist conditions when you drop the pressure down to the low 20psi range.
Traction from the WTB Riddler tyres has been surprisingly good. At 37c wide, they’ve got decent volume, though you can fit up to a 40c tyre in the Gisburn if you want to go fatter again. However, the Riddler tyres have been a good all-round tyre, with the micro-knobby tread pattern keeping things quick rolling on the road, with sufficient cornering tread for digging into softer surfaces off-road.
The Gisburn constantly surprised with its poise and control.
Setup tubeless, I’ve had the tyres around the 20-25psi when darting around soft and squidgy cyclocross race courses, and as high as 38psi for more road-going duties. Which brings me to my next point…
Asymmetric rims feature heavily offset spoke holes that cause headaches with tubeless inflation.
Areas For Improvement
Tubeless setup with the WTB Asym i23 rims is a total pain in the arse. The heavy offset for the spoke holes on the rim helps to deliver a more evenly dished wheels for balanced spoke tensions, though it also means the internal spoke holes come very close to the bead shelf. Even with the tubeless rim tape installed, a small gap is present at each spoke hole around the rim, which means that air leaks out while you’re trying to pump up the tyres.
See that tiny gap around the bead shelf from the spoke hole? That lets air out, making tubeless tyre installation a total pain in the arse.
- Install a tube and inflate to seat the tyre beads initially
- Depressurise the tube
- Unhook the opposite tyre bead
- Remove the inner tube
- Install tubeless sealant
- Use a tyre lever to manually seat as much of the tyre bead on the bead shelf as possible
- Use a compressor or high-volume pump to blast air into the tyre as quickly as possible
- Pray that it holds air and inflates
The WTB Asym i23 rims are wide though, and they’re super tough too.
I spoke with WTB about this issue, and they admitted that setup was a faff – such is the nature of the heavy offset of the rims. Once you know the best way to go about tyre installation, you can usually get tubeless tyres setup OK. But most of the time I was left red-faced and shouting at the tyre as air (and sealant) leaked everywhere.
That aside, there hasn’t been too many issues with the Gisburn so far. The dropper post travel is a little frustrating, but in my follow-up review I’ll let you know how we get on with a shorter-travel post.
The dropper post is great, but I’m looking forward to trying a shorter travel option so I can get my seat height dialled.
What We’ve Loved So Far
I think the versatility and capability of the Gisburn are its most glowing attributes. Coming from a mountain bike background, I’ve found the Gisburn to be an intuitive and easy bike to get to negotiate different trail situations with. Unless you’re specifically a road warrior or a crit racer, it’ll do almost everything you want it to. Not only that, it’ll back all of that up with the ability to descend muddy farm tracks on Saturday, and follow it up by darting about on smooth, snakey singletrack trails on Sunday.
And come Monday, you can slap the mudguards and lights on and put it to task on the city streets on your daily commute.
For many riders, the Gisburn may appeal purely from a commuting standpoint.
In many regards, the Whyte Gisburn is pushing all the right buttons. It has a lovely alloy frame with impressive detailing, and it’s packed with all of the modern features necessary for an off-road drop-bar bike. The spec is on-point, and it helps to maximise the versatility of the modern geometry and confident steering package.
Yes, it’ll ride gravel. And lots of other surfaces too.
I’ll be swapping a few parts out on the Gisburn in the coming weeks, with the goal of dropping some weight and taking part in a bit more racing, and some longer distance gravel and road events.
Stay tuned for more updates, though in the meantime head to whyte.bike for more information on the Gisburn and Friston range.
The Gisburn is the mountain biker’s road bike.
2017 Whyte Gisburn Specifications
- Frame // 6061 T6 Hydro Formed & Multi-Butted Alloy
- Fork // Straight Bladed Carbon, Tapered Alloy Steerer, 15mm Thru-Axle
- Hubs // Alloy Double Sealed Cartridge Bearing, 100x15mm Front & 142x12mm Rear
- Rims // WTB Asym i23, TCS
- Tyres // WTB Riddler 700x37c, DNA Compound, TCS
- Chainset // SRAM Force 1, 38t X-Sync Chainring, 175mm Length
- Rear Mech // SRAM Force 1, 11-Speed
- Front Mech // N/A
- Shifters // SRAM Force 1, 1×11
- Cassette // SRAM PG-1175, 10-42t, 11-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Force 1 Hydraulic Disc, 160mm Rotors
- Stem // Whyte Custom, 70mm Length
- Bars // Whyte Gravel, 480mm Wide
- Bar Tape // Whyte Anti-Slip
- Seatpost // KS Speed Up Dropper Post, 100mm Travel, 30.9mm Diameter
- Saddle // Whyte Custom
- Size Tested // 52cm
- Sizes available // 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm
- Weight // 21.56lb (9.8kg)