Whyte Portobello – newish bike and a bit of a review and update

Well, folks back in August I got a new bike via the cyclesheme at work. I said then that once I’d given it a good test I’d do a wee review although I’ve no clue how useful my review may be as I’m not overly technical and can’t really discuss gears and brakes etc like a bike mechanic so I guess this will be a bit of a review of how the bike is to use.

Firstly this was a big change from the other bikes I’ve owned, not only cause I’ve bought Marin bikes for the last however many years but also because this is the first frame size specific to my height I’ve had. I’m a lofty 5ft tall but bike shops never carry a varied range of small bikes so I’ve always ended up on a 17-inch frame because that was the bike that was in stock. Can’t say I’ve ever noticed an issue though.

This however was one of the issues I ran into in buying a bike, I couldn’t actually get to try the bike out before I bought it, so I was trying bikes that the shop guy was telling me were similar because of this or that. So the first time I actually got to try it was after I’d bought it.

Now here is the scary bit when I first got the bike, I hated it. I tried to be positive and tell myself it was just different to what I was used to etc but I hated it. Here’s a few bits and pieces about what I wasn’t fond of and how I made the bike “mine”.

My new bike is the White Portobello 2016 in a small frame size. It looks lovely in a dark, mat, grey. Although Kate kept correcting me at first and saying it was black. It’s grey.

First impressions

ITS TINY! I mean really, it feels like a toy compared to my old Marin. OK so jokes aside (I’m not really joking), first impressions. It’s light. It feels light to the point that I took it on the scales, 24lbs with the mudguards fitted. OK so it feels lighter than that. Then I put a pannier rack on it and it’s not light anymore , ah we’ll, needs must.

How does it handle?

It handles really well, most of my journey are on the cycle path so I didn’t really notice until the first time l nipped into town and it really came into its own. It’s a nippy wee thing in the stop start of traffic, feels very controllable.

Also, the vibrations through your hands and wrists don’t feel nearly as bad. The guy in the shop said it was because it has carbon forks, I don’t know how accurate that is but you can feel a difference.


This is the first part that was disappointed at. I commute 7 miles each way, I don’t have time to dilly dally so I was a bit disappointed to discover that the Portobello is a good bit slower than my old bike, a good 4 to 5 mins slower on my first few rides and it was even commented on by one of the other women who use the path (white pinnacle bike rider) who thought maybe it was because it had commuter tyres.

Also I have to admit to not being a huge fan of the gears, well specifically the mechanism on the handle bars for reading which gear you are in. They have no markings so even now 5 months on I can only roughly tell what gear I’m in. It’s a small thing though and nothing that a sharpie pen couldn’t fix.

I had issues with the brakes from the start, my first set of disc brakes in years. They just kept rubbing badly and it was driving me nuts. It took 3 visits to the bike shop and being told the brakes were fine to eventually convince them that there was an issue. It only happened once I was using the bike and the bike began to heat up, so cold on a stand in the shop it didn’t happen. I eventually convinced them and they drained fluid from the front brake to increase the gap and that seems to have sorted things. So more about the bike set up than build.

Anything I think is bad design or not right?

To be honest just the one thing, the handle bars are far too short (look at my left hand – see how awkwardly turn it in it so I can reach). They are apparently 580mm, I guess it’s to do with making it nippy in traffic but I just found them really uncomfortable and most of the time I’d end up cycling with part of my hands off the ends of the bars. Oh yeah and the grips are awful, no grip on them so sweaty hands slipped like mad.

I’m making this sound like an awful bike but it’s not, it’s a perfectly decent bike. I’m just being picky about things that are very specific to me.

Good points

It’s a nice lightweight bike. Easy to lift up and down stairs. Feels smooth to cycle, enjoyable if you stop being picky about little things and let yourself enjoy the cycle. The wheels, this is going to sound like crazy lady talk but the wheels taper off and this seems to stop them accumulating crud from the road.

OK so I’ve complained lots but what have I done to overcome the niggles? First thing I did was take off the toe cage things from the pedals. Why do manufacturers put them on a bike? No one uses them?

Next switch the tyres. The bike came with standard, puncture resistant tyres. However, after a couple of punctures in the pissing rain and pitch black of the Innocent cycle path, those tyres got switched out for my old reliables, Continentals, properly puncture resistant. Thank you Edinburgh bike coop Cannonmills for doing this.

I’ve already mentioned the mudguards and pannier rack, but the biggie which had definitely made the bike much more comfortable to me, I switched the full-size allowing me to also switch the grips. I tried switching the grips a couple of times but the bars were too short and the grips were having to be cut shorter to fit meaning I was really feeling like I didn’t have much space for my hands.

New bars, 680mm and this meant I could have full size ergonomic grips. Oh how much more comfortable now.

So do I still hate it? No actually. All the things that I didn’t like we’re just minor and I am lucky enough to be able to tweak the bike. I now love my bike. I’ve accepted that it’s not as fast as a proper flat bar bike, and I’ve got used to the weird mountain bike geometry. I’ve made it me, made it feel right for my body and posture. Mostly I think it’s because I’ve stopped comparing it to my old bike and allowed it to be itself.

I think the big thing is that you NEED to try the bike before you buy it. No matter how good the descriptions on websites or reviews from people like me, there is no substitute for you trying the bike out. After all, we’re all different so there is no one-size fits all.


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