As ever I need to begin by framing my post with a little back story. For years I was as obsessed with the emergence of new technology, new concepts, new materials, in short new bikes. In fact for a long time I think the ‘bling’ was more important than the boom in terms of my trail riding. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a bit of shiny bike kit and I’m really intrigued to see where the sudden explosion in fundamental MTB changes will take us. As I’ve written on this fair site before its a very exciting time in Mountain Bike terms. But at the same time I’m arriving at a conclusion about equipment selection that may perhaps differ from the noise of the crowd. So here it is: A review of the On One Whippet (frame and personal build) and why it has a place in the market….
|My stripped down carbon anti hero: The On One Whippet.|
To start for those who aren’t familiar with the brand, On One is a direct to public producer of Mountain bikes and part of the same family as the Planet X Road bike suppliers. On One’s business model is to buy in bulk, primarily from the far East, and sell at slim margins mainly over the internet. They have now also a couple of retail outlets in the north of England and I understand them to be supplying in the USA as well.
On one is famous for supplying solid, reliable even ‘bomb proof’ bikes built to withstand the muddy British winters. Indeed the muddy British Summers! Prominent features would be the huge tyre clearances to run big tyres, full length outer cables to ward off the grit shifting issues on some frames and no nonsense steel single speeds for ultimate reliability. However All of this was alien to me until last year when I had the opportunity to visit the store and witness the On One carbon Whippet.
The Whippet is on the face of it a very aggressive, even racy carbon hard tail. Full of pretty curves and fancy, chunky shapes if your new to carbon bikes a close look will really get you understanding the potential of Carbon as a frame material and how far bikes are from their steel tubed descendants. Nothing on this thing is simply round. Swooping shapes, interesting lines, even flat surfaces make it an interesting thing to simply handle. The example I have is decal free and simply clear lacquer over unidirectional carbon. It reflects light in weird ways and can even look simply dull at others. I like it because its understated and (and this is a key ‘and’) it saved me £’s for the privilege of not have logos on it.
|A few moments exploring the swoops and curves is enough to learn that Carbon is a million miles from round tubes stuck together.|
I like to really think about how to build up my bikes. This one was purposely done on a budget. Components were weighed up in terms of performance V’s cost. For example I purposely decided to use Deore components over XT simply because the cost seemed on paper to out weight the performance benefits. Forks were selected for simplicity and a sound compromise on weight V’s cost, but also compatibility. The finishing kit was considered in the same way but with real attention paid to the set up of the stem and handlebars. In This case I utilised end of season deals to secure quality (to my mind) kit at discount prices, In this case Syncros for everything. I also chanced upon a set of the wonderfully pretty Crank Brothers Cobalt wheels. All together even with the basic Deore kit the bike weighs in at a healthy sub 11kg. On One set their complete build bike up with a short, low stem and flat bars. This makes for a very aggressive, fast body position for sure, but I was looking to recreate something a little ‘old school’ with this bike so went down a different path.
What I was looking for was to re-create that feeling of my early mountain bikes. Steel was king back then and the frames were long and ran very long stems for stretched, stable positions that were almost twitchy in steering. They had this eager, springy, fast feeling. Consider it the ‘Springer Spaniel’ of mountain biking. You could ride them all day, but you had to concentrate, and you had to be the boss. There was no ‘let the bike take the strain’ option. For a while before getting a hard tail I’d been riding a 140mm fully suspended trail bike with fairly burly forks, bash guard, big brakes and whilst the trail destroying properties were amazing I was kind of craving that direct ‘grab it by the throat’ type of riding that I reminisced about.
So why (I hear you ask in curious concern) would you purposely want to ride something twitchy and uncomfortable? My thinking is this: With the never ending march of bike technology trail bikes are more stable, comfortable, capable and ‘isolating’ than ever before. It seems that the marketeers approach every bike sale as if every bike will complete long dusty days in the mountains, or smashing PB’s in endurance races etc. Obviously we’d all like to live this way but I for one don’t. With work, family and other commitments I grab snippets of time as and when I can, usually in a local wood. An hour of single track, a thousand feet of up and a thousand down and its back to work, kids, life….
If I head out on my big trail bike its hard to challenge myself, the bike destroys the trail, descends like a demon lines being un-important. Enter the Whippet plan. No luxury, no forgiveness. One hour that you have no choice but to concentrate hard to survive, seek out those lines, put the power in at the right time. So imagine my surprise when I took this stripped carbon thing to my usual spot to get more than I bargained for.
In the first half a mile I learned that you could absolutely not relax on the Whippet. Sit back and the steering is optional, you have to really ‘ride’ this bike and that is when the magic starts. Spend a bit of time getting your set up right (I guess its a personal choice, I raised the bars with a longer stack to get my body more mobile into the handling) and the reward is remarkable. The Whippet is pin-head accurate. You influence turns with body position in ways even good suspended trail bikes simply can’t. The first time you move lines on the bike by simply out-boarding your weight you realise that your on something clever. Power is instant and moving your weight fore and aft makes the brakes a steering mechanism all of their own in tight technical spots. And weirdly its quite comfy. Well more comfy than you would expect for something that looks so decidedly un-so.
As for the build? The Deore kit has proved to be flawless. The shifting considerably more reliable than my XT and SLX trail bike with a weight premium I simply have’t noticed. The Syncros kit is quietly great, the first seat post that has refused to creak no mater then levels of dirt in the clamps. The notable exception were the Crank Brothers wheels. I lusted after these for a while having seen them at a show. I really wanted to love them, and simply couldn’t. Form over function springs to mind. They are light, and pretty, and about as ridged as a soggy potato chip. I’ve actually found myself heading into the brush as the wheels fail to track. My response? Ebay. The proceeds resulted in a profit and a set of old Shimano MT55 wheels. A little heavier and the bike runs all the better. Two years old, well abused and still spinning like a charm…..
|Pretty as a picture, and to my mind most likely best place for them: Crank Brothers Cobalt Wheels. Not a great buy, even at a discount.|
So my conclusion? The Whippet is possibly the best handling mountain bike I’ve ever ridden. Before you shake your head that a bargain Chinese mass mould frame could manage this award think this over. This is all about angles, flex, power transfer. It has no dampers to hide the surprises, no bolt through axles, no dropper posts, just angles and rigidity. Its also about value and compatibility. This bike was built to sub 11kg for well under £900. You can buy a fully built model for not much more From On One. You can build it with a full group or, as I did, a 1 x 9/10 set up. And with some thought you can tailer the handling with little more than adjusting the head stack or tweaking the bars. Try really changing your trail bike so easily. Add to this the apparent ability to run the Whippet as a successful 650b rig with a suitable fork (The rear tyre clearance is nothing short of vast and there are plenty of racers doing exactly this) and you have a huge contender for the ‘flexible’ bike award at the fun festival. Does it really re-kindle the ‘old school’ feel of my early bikes? Not entirely, gone is the springy wonderfulness of steel. When all said and done, carbon just doesn’t have that characteristic but its pretty darn close.
So what next? After all that the Whippet is heading to a new home. Why? Well we hark back to the question the marketeers ignore. My riding has changed. I don’t want frantic, challenging attacks on single track at the moment. Now its more about smooth. Carrying speed, pumping the bike through sections with as much power transfer as I can rather than attacking the pedals like a man possessed. Yes the Whippet is amazing, one of the best, so long as you want to attack. With more time on trail centre, sanitised, super-pump-track trails the Whippet is no longer the weapon of choice. Much as I try to ignore it bigger wheels go hand in glove with this type of riding. The mission (which I have chosen to accept….) getting a big wheel bike to demonstrate that excited puppy quality whilst still being fun in the tight stuff. Watch this space……