Fist of all, riding, testing and reviewing the Cube Stereo Hybrid was a blast. Maybe its my penchant for new stuff, being curious about facing my prejudices or at least presumptions, to check what i thought was, or would be true. I wrote a short preview blog (in dutch) about the concept of the e-mountainbike, inspired by a number of other blogs, the most memorable of which was titled: why e-bikes are the spawn of the devil. In my blog i romised to judge only after riding an ebike extensively. And luckily our friends at Cube Bikes lent me a factory fresh Cube Stereo Hybrid.
So what are the prejudice I had or what did I read floating around on the interwebs?
- E-bikes are not bikes, they’re motorized vehicles. They have no place on trails.
- E-bikes are heavy, burly, ugly and handle horribly.
- E-bikes are for old people and/or pussies. If you’re a real man you want come within an inch of an e-bike. Real mountainbiking is about killing yourself in various ways.
There are many variations on the theme that riding an e-bike in some way is not “real” mountainbiking.)
I took the bike to ride it in France (midi-pyrenees) and Spain, (Pyrenees), and also road it on trails in the Netherlands and spent some time in a rock garden doing a few jumps. I did quite a few trails in the mountains, hitting technical en fast descents, steep climbs, did some shorter and longer routes. Sand, rocks, forest ground, dry and wet, I rode the bike on quite a few types of surfaces.
The first thing you just immidiately notice is the weight of the bike. It’s a really heavy bike, certainly when you’re used to 12 kilo bikes, this 23 kilogram heavyweight was a challenge to lift onto my car. The first thing I did when I got home was play around with it on the street. There i noticed a few things:
- The acceleration is really impressive: certainly in the highest power setting (more about that later) you feel just launched.
- Above the 30kph there is no extra acceleration, actually you feel the motor’s resistance to further acceleration. (slightly annoying)
- Doing a bunny hope is really difficult. It’s just difficult to get the bike off the ground. Wheelies take some practice, and the acceleration is a bit too much at time (looping out backwards). Endo’s are not a problem, though you have to watch brining the bikes weight forward to quickly.
Soon after my street tests I took the bike to France and Spain and hit some serious trails. Those who follow my MTB posts know I am not a very good nor enthusiastic climber. I only do climibing because at the top is where the descent begins. So, any help on climbing is welcome. And that is what the Cube Stereo Hybrid does exceptionally well. First of all there’s the frame geometry: it is compact, the reach is a bit shorter, your body position is right for climbing. You can keep the pressure on your front tire and keep delivering power to the cranks. I had already noticed this testing the Cube Stereo 140 Carbon and the Hybrid delivers as well.
But where the Stereo Hybrid really bring to the table 500w of power through the Bosch engine delivering 75 newton meter of torque to the bike. At “Turbo” the highest power setting, you can climb up any incline, drive through and over roots and rocks on the way up without missing a beat. Due to that torque you can stay on the saddle and keep the pressure and grip on that rear tire that is so enthusiastically eating up the trail for you.
There is one thing that startled me: on a narrow uphill trail I accidentally put the power setting on turbo, pedaled and the torque on the bike almost pushed me straight off the trail in the direction of a bit of a steep slope. So beware of your power settings, they might kill you up hill.
So anyway, if you love climbing, if you love sweating, breathing like you just spent 8 hours under water holding your breath, snow and mucus running down your face, than the Hybrid is not really for you.
So for a non-climber like me, the Cube Stereo Hybrid is a godsend. But how about downhilling, which I love. Would such a heavy bike perform nearly as well as bikes i have ridden hat are half as heavy? I really like light weight MTB’s, being able to throw them around, shoot through corners, easily jump to reposition the bike on the trail in full speed, etctera. The Cube Stereo Hybrid does not offer that, but instead it offers a very different kind of fun.
First of all, the bike handles surprisingly well. The weight that it has, has been placed very low on the frame. That means the center of gravitity of the bike is also low, which helps handling and makes the bike grip like a crazy. So even though you cannot throw it around, you do feel a lot of control on fast and rocky downhills. The 160 mm travel on the front and rear shocks helps the Schwalbe Hans Dampf Kevlar 2.35 tires stay in contact with the trail. I never felt the bike get away from me on downhills.
Longer trails and battery
So does having a battery mean you can just put two fingers in your nose (as we say in Holland) and mozy your way up the mountain? Well, yeah in a way, but if you do that, set your power settings to max, and start climbing, the reach of that battery will run down from the available 50km to much, much less.
So if you do longer trails, and you don’t want the risk of running out of electrojuice, than you need to pace yourself. I did a trail of about 45 km and only by playing wisely with the power settings I managed to have a charge on the battery till the end.
So what about those power settings I’ve mentioned so often. There are four settings on the bike (not counting “off”), namely “eco”, “tour”, “sport”, “turbo”. You can adjust these with a control on your left handlebar. The higher the setting, the more power you drain from the battery, the less kilometers you can make. Logical. Steep and or longer climbs will costs more power as well.
So there were many moments I turned the engine off completely, especially on downhills, and for the most I did climbs on the “eco” mode. And in this mode you really still have to do a lot of work. The difference is that on those really sharp bits, that can break your rhythm and kill you momentarily, you can just up the setting momentarily and you’ll not die.
Spec wise the bike is a-ok. Shimano XT derailleur, XT Shifters, XT Brake system and Shimano CS-M8000 11x cassette. I love the dropper post. The front Rock Shox and rear Fox Float dampers are just great, handling the weight of the bike (and my weight with ease) even on some heavy jump landings on flat.
And last but not least, the frame itself, the HPA – High Performance Aluminium – is well up to the task. It is stiff, but not too stiff, it is responsive and forgiving.
So what about those prejudices?
Debunked as far as I am concerned. And moreover, they are beside the point as far as they look for a comparison between a regular bike and an e-bike.
Riding an e-bike is just different. It brings you another kind of bike riding. But it is not lazy riding. The pedal assist will only help you so far, the limited battery life forces you to do a lot of work yourself and you will be spending a lot of energy on this bike. Two things are really different:
- Along flat or gently flowing parts of the trail your average speed will just be higher than you would do without the pedal assist. But what I noticed is that that power asked you to deliver even more: In stead of doing the work for you, the pedal assits invites you to bring more. To go even faster, and flat trails become much more fun. I actually blew my tire on a rocky flat run along a river, just due to the speed of the bike. However, don’t count on going faster than 30kph, because that is where the pedal assist stops and you are left trying to force the bike to go faster, which is near impossible.
- Having some juice to expend, I found myself eager to do some exploring off the trail. I biked up some rises that I wouldn’t normally do, and did a few descents that I knew I had to climb back up, just for the fun of it, and because I knew l had some assistance from the engine.
I had a lot of fun on this bike, it powered me up climbs I would shamefully walk up agains, it made flat parts of the trails fun, I went exploring more and downhilling, once I got up to speed, was great.
The drawback of the pedal assist engine is it topping out at pedaling through 30kph (to be clear, downhill was not a problem because above a certain speed (i toped 60kph on a dowhill) you are not pedaling anyway). What you need to to take into account, again, is planning and pacing your battery life to last the entire trail. Because pushing this heavy bike along a climb without power is not something I would recommend.