Residing in Southern California isn’t always easy. With so many trails and consistently superb weather we often find ourselves seeking the answer to a very difficult question. That is, what bike do I ride today? Here at Gearminded we grew up on mountain bikes and over the past few years have developed a deep interest in gravel bikes. This is exactly why we sought out the Whyte Saxon Cross Team for a ride and review.
This unique bike blurs the lines between a cross bike and gravel grinder in a very consumer friendly package. With an attractive aluminum frame with carbon thru-axle fork, friendly price tag, and true trail ready demeanor the Whyte Saxon Cross is seriously fun.
For the past two decades Whyte Bikes has been building award winning mountain bikes in the UK as well as serving as the European distributor for Marin Bikes. From their backyard in Wales they are a big player in the cycling industry and are a very common name on the trails. Just under a year ago they made the jump to the states with a direct to consumer sales model and haven’t looked back since. If you haven’t already noticed, all good things in the cycling start in Europe and eventually make their way to the U.S. What really makes this operation stand out is the sales model that we just mentioned. Direct to you, the Saxon Cross Team has an MSRP of $2099 but is currently available at $1679. Being that we have worked in this industry for a while we can attest that this is a stellar deal. In a crowded market it’s already difficult to find what you truly want within your budget and this bike offers a competitive kit.
“We don’t just stick to the UK though – our race teams compete on existing and prototype Whyte bikes across the globe, from the gravity enduro circuit to endurance races in Nepal. It’s all valuable feedback that allows us to constantly improve our designs and make Whyte bikes better each year.”
Get to know the Saxon Cross Design
With a healthy design influence from cyclocross and very wide tire clearance from gravel riding it’s no surprise that this bike can handle the dirt just fine. Fortunately for us “just fine” wasn’t exciting enough to the Whyte design team so they went ahead and threw in a bit of MTB magic into the Saxon Cross. In return the rider receives a longer top tube, short seat stays and low bottom bracket similar to that of a hardtail. It just so happens that we grew up on this style of bike and have never let go. What might this mean to you? The Saxon Cross provides you with a very different breed of bike. If you know for a fact that you don’t want a race cx bike and are even more sure that you will spend more than 50% of your riding time on the trail than this is your ticket.
With our local trails only a few miles from the house this bike provided us with on road efficiency for the “commute to fun” as we call it. Although it’s no speed demon it gets the job done well and is considerably more lively on the pavement than even a race hardtail. Once in the dirt it didn’t take long to clearly see the trail bike resemblance that Whyte was aiming for. The slack front end on this bike can’t be matched on most cx bikes and when in the dirt it truly feels confident and playful. The dirt here can range from super dry and rutted out to loose and rocky which presents a big problem to most gravel bikes. The intelligent combo of a slack front end and shallow drop bars really allowed the Saxon Cross Team to show some aggression in the dirt. When simply standing over the frame you are left with a feeling of confidence and I can’t say that this is uncommon for a cx/gravel bike. We all know just how exciting this style of riding can be but that’s usually attributed to the sketchy behavior that these bikes display in the dirt. This simply isn’t the case with the Saxon Cross.
With regards to fame design most riders believe that you have to sacrifice performance for this slack head tube. Almost shockingly we didn’t experience any issues with making our corners after taking a descent much faster than we felt comfortable. Many of you reading this may be asking how this is possible but I can assure you that this question leads us directly back to the idea of combining mountain bike geometry with cross bike design. Similar to a 29’r hardtail, this bike incorporates a short 415mm chain stay length to keep it compact and super maneuverable without having to swing the bars around. It’s differentiating factors such as this that make this a stellar bike for the adventure crowd. Adventure crowd – You bring your bike everywhere just in case you find an opportunity to pedal. It may be long or short distance and may include both pavement and trails. Either way you want the ability to just go.
Let’s go back to the 70-degree head tube angle here for a moment. This is a trend for this review as it’s one of the key points for this design. If your in the process of purchasing a gravel bike then you are probably asking yourself why other brands aren’t combining these off road features in their bikes. It’s a crowded space at the moment and just the term wheel size has been used as a marketing ploy to re-categorize older bikes. If you truly want to ride dirt trails on a cross bike and be somewhat comfortable than this is a “Real” bike for you. If you want to race local events on the weekends and hit a trail every once in a while than there are better options for that routine.
The Saxon Cross is by far more stable than most cx/gravel bikes that we have ridden and we didn’t even swap tires on this test bike for a wider variety. We rode multiple trails that presented smaller rock gardens and rutted out sections that should have led to carnage on anything other than a mountain bike. By the grace of God and Whyte’s engineering crew we powered through with some chatter and surprised looks on our face. We truly didn’t feel the bone shattering treatment that one would expect from a lack of suspension. Don’t get us wrong, your trail ride won’t be smooth in the rough stuff but you have to give and take in the world of cycling.
All of the climbing that we did on the Saxon Cross was at a moderate incline and steep enough to determine it’s overall capability. Our crew members are all around 5’10” and had zero issues with a loose front end that would be common with a compact frame geometry. Although the bikes weight of 19lbs may have helped it stay put on the ground we were able to really power up climbs even passing others on hardtails. The great thing about a gravel bike is its ability to be picked up when the trail says “NOPE” to riding any further. The rounded top-tube is counterintuitive to a cross bike design for shouldering but it does make ti easy to carry in the palm of your hand. There is no question that this bike isn’t meant for steep and technical uphill battles but it holds its own on everything else. When you really get out of the saddle whether it’s for a climb or technical maneuver you discover another gem factor with the geometry of the Saxon Cross.
With a moderate size 10 and 11 riding shoe we never came close to making contact with the front wheel. Truthfully, we completely forgot to check this aspect of the bike before the first ride and hit a loose turn within the first 15 minutes. Since our group had a number of other bikes you could see them checking their toe distance to prevent a strike. When on the Saxon Cross there was no need to look anywhere else but forward as the spacing was dialed.
Understanding The Build Kit
A consumer direct sales model has its perks. It may not be ideal for your local shop that you enjoy supporting but it does save you serious money that can later be spent on quality service and maintenance. In terms of the Saxon Cross Team, you receive a killer component package and frame for an MSRP of just over $2,000. If you are in the market right this moment you can pick up this adventure ready bike for $1,679!
The most notable features from the kit are the Easton ARC-24 Tubeless ready rims and complete Sram Force drivetrain. The ARC rims are everything that you need to be trail ready on a gravel bike. They are stiff enough to feel fast and efficient yet wider than most to give this bike a true advantage in the dirt. Running these tubeless allows for a lower minimum tire pressure which in turn adds a bit of suspension when you have a tough ride ahead. The durability of this rim is also a reason for consideration. Sure you can always go lighter but the Saxon Cross Team build is meant to keep you riding without the need for constant adjustment and concern of mechanical failure. In comparison to the available tire clearance for this frame we still want to ride a true gravel tire.
The stock Maxxis Mud Wrestlers look cool but are much too narrow at 33c for this bikes capability. We have been riding Conti’s for the past few years and had a pair of 42c cross tires that would be absolutely perfect for this bike. We understand that this stock option makes for a happy middle ground and are only providing a possible upgrade opinion if you purchase this model.
At $1,679 a full Sram Force drivetrain is a steal. This has been one of Sram’s best selling groups for years and will only make you a much more content rider. The carbon crank arms and shift levers reduce weight while adding rigidity to the aluminum frame. The shifting between the Force crankset and Force 1×11 rear derailleur is consistently smooth and very durable for trail conditions ( it looks B.A. as well). Components such as these help you feel confident in a new bike purchase.
Pretty much every bike these days other than the road race category, is running a 1×11 setup for good reason. It’s much more simple, much faster shifting and easy to maintain. Although all of this makes sense for this style of riding in terms of simplifying your decision making process while riding, it doesn’t add much benefit for longer distance adventures that require a more dynamic gearing range. On a similar note, before you jump into this 1×11 system you want to familiarize yourself with the Sram double tap levers. Some riders love them while others can’t stand their simplicity. As with any skill it’s all about experience and touch when using these. We routinely missed shifts while scrambling for a gear change on climbs and descents due to the method of swinging the lever halfway or completely in to hit the shift. The more that we rode it the more that we accepted it. For a straight answer it’s not the best solution on a gravel bike but it’s certainly lighter than most importantly simplifies the overall riding experience.
As impressive as the Whyte Saxon Cross Team is on descents it requires even more impressive stopping power. The Sram Force Hydraulic disc brakes are just that. As a premium offering these are beautiful brakes that have more than enough stopping power with a very smooth feel. With room for much larger tires and given the tough 6061 Triple Butted Aluminum frame these brakes allow this bike to feel pounds lighter and significantly more graceful.
In the beginning we set out to ride a bike that is as dynamic as it is fun and exciting. We wanted an adventure ready bike that still incorporated premium level components and the durability to be ridden where no cross bike should be ridden. We found this in the Whyte Saxon Cross Team and with a few minor aftermarket changes we would be more than pleased to add this bike to our lives.