Imagine a time when few people understood the fundamentals of mountain bike suspension (including those who manufactured it) and fewer still understood the metrics that made bicycles handle and steer correctly. Now, if you can, bend your thoughts further. Conceptualize a mountain bike community with minds flexible enough to embrace a bicycle that didn't look anything like a Trek Session - or any other mountain bike, for that matter.
Whyte PRST-1: From Concept to Production As told by Whyte Bike's Ross Patterson
Whyte's PRST-1, with its aluminum monocoque chassis and articulated linkage fork, would be passed off by most of us as a one-off trade-show concept bike. In fact, it enjoyed a successful production run and earned a number of victories in competition along the way. Thousands were sold, but its zenith would be brief.
The design was penned and "prototyped" using Meccano
toy parts and rubber bands while engineers Jon Whyte and Adrian Ward were holed up at Taipei's international airport, waiting out a massive typhoon in 1997. Staving off boredom, the pair outlined the three detrimental issues of telescopic forks at the time and challenged each other to come up with a solution. By the time the storm lifted, they had a working proof-of-concept linkage fork - the first steps of a three-year odyssey that would spawn a bicycle brand and challenge the industry to resolve steering issues that would linger on for another 15 years. Whyte Bikes' Ross Patterson tells the story:
While stuck at an airport in Taipei during a typhoon that had grounded all flights (circa 1997), mountain bike designers Jon Whyte and Adrian Ward had plenty of time to discuss the shortcomings of the current batch of available front suspension forks. They made a list of what they believed were the three main issues: flex, stiction, and loss of trail under compression. Their discussions led to a concept model made from Meccano and rubber bands, built on a table at the airport. It was a long typhoon.
Whyte Bikes is Born
When they finally did get home, they were hooked on the idea, and serious discussions about how to build a prototype were underway. They’d concluded that a linkage fork design that ran on sealed, full-complement aerospace bearings and paired with a reliable and consistently functioning Fox suspension damper (more commonly seen in the rear suspension), would offer huge gains in function and all-important, long-term performance and reliability. They anticipated a lifetime warranty.
The design and prototype work was carried out by Jon and Adrian, both having considerable Formula-1 experience, and later backed up by Nic Burridge. The prototypes were developed and tested, and they proved to be so much more superior to contemporary telescopic suspension forks that it was hard to resist pushing the button on series production. Those initial forks had virtually no lateral flex, no stiction and even at full compression, no loss of trail.
We offered the design to Marin (as we designed all their suspension bikes at that time), but they decided against it. Without an OE customer, we decided to go it alone, create our own brand and bring it to market. Whyte Bikes was born.
At this point, the enormity of the task of commercializing the bike was laid bare, and an experienced manufacturing engineer, Andy Jeffries, was hired to work with one of the finest Taiwanese factories at that time to understand and manufacture the frames. Unquestionably, the lessons learned at that time by Whyte and our manufacturing partners are still being felt today in what would become a career-defining project for all those involved.
The bike was definitely a ‘form follows function’ design exercise, and the unique aesthetic was quickly compared to ‘Preston’, the mechanical robot dog in the animated films of Wallace and Gromit. The nickname stuck. We abbreviated it to PRST-1 for production.
Unlike many other radical and off-the-wall bikes, both PRST-1 and later PRST-4 were commercially very successful. Over 2,800 PRSTs were sold. Rave reviews and critical success followed, as did multiple race wins and Endurance championships. The development of the concept continued and PRST-1,
with its single-pivot rear suspension was superseded in 2003 by Whyte’s 4-bar linkage Quad-1 design - one of the first short-link virtual pivot style suspensions. Our patent priority date was 1st November, 2001.
Cut Short in its Prime
The end of our PRST project was decided by the successful introduction of the Fox Forx - a 32mm-stanchion, 100mm travel, hydraulically damped fork, that worked really well, was very reliable, and it overcame two of the three main issues that lead us to create PRST-1 in the first place: flex and stiction.
The epilogue of the PRST-1's story was that we had been doing research on the next iteration of the PRST linkage fork. It was a six-bar linkage designed to sustain anti-dive while still maintaining a fully active suspension.
The prototype was remarkable to ride. The amount of dive was tuneable, from pro-dive to anti-dive. Riding a bike with genuine 130% anti-dive was very strange. You could ride down a slope, haul on the just front brake and there was no dive from the front suspension at all. Then if you performed the same thing with just the rear brake, the front suspension would dive. Aesthetically, though, it was even more challenging to look at – but it was even more amazing to ride.
As for finding ways to maintain trail? That’s been a preoccupation of ours for over 20 years now, and it's recently come back into clear focus [industry wide]. We benefit from that now with our current reduced-offset designs, with which you are familiar.