CUBE Bikes Stereo Hybrid 160 HPA Action Team 500 27.5  2016 Mountain Bike Review

CUBE Bikes Stereo Hybrid 160 HPA Action Team 500 27.5 2016

Reviews / Electric Bikes

CUBE Bikes 354,485

At A Glance

The new 2016 Stereo Hybrid Action Team appears to be taking e-bikes to the next level by combining a top-end enduro bike and adding a power boost in the form of a 250W pedal-assist motor. With a redesigned frame adorned with some of the finest components and equipment available, the Stereo looks to be one of the most capable e-bikes on the market. Cube's 'Action Team' label is awarded to their top bikes, implying exceptionally high levels of performance.

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A redesigned aluminium frame for 2016 and the latest Bosch motor, the Stereo is a top end piece of kit. The new Fox 36 and Float X shock handle 160mm of front and rear suspension, also a SRAM XO1 drivetrain, DT Swiss Wheels, RockShox Reverb make this build hard to fault.  Raceface bars, stem and cranks finish things off in style, and as usual for Cube we see quality tyres in the form of Schwalbe Super Gravity Hans Dampfs. Speed is controlled by a set of 4 pot Magura MT7 brakes, suggesting it may take some force to keep it under control. The Agile Trail Geometry has attempted to keep chainstays as short as possible (which can be an e-bike issue) and is matched with a slack head angle and a 'bit longer than last year' reach, which is good to see.

The debate on e-bikes is still raging, and what constitutes an electric bike varies from country to country. In Europe, the legislation is clear, with bikes like this considered to be a ‘pedal assist’ bike and definitely not a motorbike. Bikes are limited to 25kmh, above which you get no assistance. I shall dodge the crossfire (leave the debate for another day) and concentrate on the bike itself and how it performs.

On The Trail

My initial childlike enthusiasm was channelled into two questions. How fast? How far? To answer these questions, I rode out from my front door to ride a very long way, very high up, and as fast as I could. I had it all planned in my head; the first 10k down the road would be a breeze, followed by a mere 850m vertical off road climb then a long technical mountain descent and a 10k road spin home. Two and a half hours later I was attempting to propel a rather weighty bike up a substantial incline having run out of power. It turns out the Stereo is an e-bike, not a magic bike, and does have some limits...

The spin from my house was not quite what I expected. I don’t usually think much about how fast I’m actually travelling, but with a large digital display on the bars you can’t miss the numbers. 25kmh is the magic speed; above that you are left on your own with only your legs providing the power, and it turns out that this is far too easily reached with a bit of motor assistance. This led to my first reality check; when the motor stops helping, the illusion of super-powers quickly evaporates! I found myself sticking to the top limit of assistance and cruising at that speed, maintaining it regardless of incline, and coasting down the hills. This bike would not be getting me to my trails much quicker than usual, but I would certainly be fresher.

Once off road, with the magic top speed less achievable, things got very fun, very fast. Along the flat and gently rising trail the pace felt incredibly fast, the boost from the motor was powerful and intuitive, never feeling too urgent, but matching my input and encouraging more from me always. I was certainly not expecting to be breathing this hard, but rather than compensate for my lack of effort, the bike boosted my effort and asked for more.  During this time I had been adjusting the settings, which vary from Eco to Turbo and had settled on using the Tour setting, but as the terrain started to get steep I found myself getting involved in Sport and Turbo!

The 15% gradients required a bit more power and I boosted into Sport mode and dropped my chin to the stem. At this point on the steep ground and damp rocks the power had nowhere to go and I found myself slipping out a few times and starting again. This excess power requires some thought to keep things gripping. To put this increased power into context a specific climb that usually takes me 35 minutes was reduced to a mere 20 minutes. I may have got there faster, but I was still a sweating mess at the top!

On the summit, things were not so good and my battery was down to the last bar as I dropped into the first part of my descent. Steep, awkward and technical this perhaps is not the best terrain for a chunky bike. Lifting and placing of the rear wheel is not impossible, but it requires some muscle, making slow speed manoeuvres tricky. Once the trail opens up, the low slung weight keep it running straight, and very little can knock it off line. With my battery quite depleted I found I could descend without any assistance, and once the bike was up to speed it started to behave more predictably and became lively once again.

With enough momentum behind it, you can start to forget the weight, and handling returns to something more familiar. Running out of battery makes life pretty hard, and pedalling without power is an arduous affair. Any trail that requires any carrying or hike-a-bike is definitely going to be tough, but there is a handy button for pushing the bike along, but this only gets you so far, especially on rough ground.

The bike has a series of live and dead spots as you accelerate. From the off, you feel like a powerhouse accelerating with buckets of instant energy at your disposal and up to 25kmh life is good, fast and efficient.  The bike feels light and effortless (nearly). Get off road in this speed zone and the bike really feels great, and thoughts of how heavy the bike is drift away as a huge grin spreads across your face.

Above this speed the bubble bursts, as the assistance stops and the reality of pedalling a rather portly bike returns. This dead spot is not a place you wish to stay in for long: options are either stay below 25kmh or point down hill and get some momentum. As things point downhill all, that weight can be put to good use and speed again can be generated. The next sweet spot comes once the bike hits somewhere around 35kmh: at this speed the bike feels light again and all that mass can be used as momentum to smash corners and get airborne.

After my initial ride out I took the Stereo out over a variety of terrain. I smiled smugly at trail centres as I demolished the climbs, wishing for berms on the uphill switchbacks, and I played in the mud in the woods.  Throughout the different trails, the character of the Stereo remained the same, happy to plough through anything at speed and demolish the trail as fast as you dare.

Getting off line and trying to muscle the beast back in line was a tricky task, as once a line was committed to, there is no going back. Trying to scrub speed off was a challenging affair, with the Magura brakes proving to be spongy and nowhere near as powerful as needed. Perhaps they needed a bleed, but out of the box, I was expecting better on a bike of this calibre. As mentioned, the momentum involved in the bike meant a wider handlebar would have been appreciated to keep control when things got exciting.

When the weather turned, the mud proved too much for the drivetrain and as the chain is held in place by plastic guards on each side of the chain ring, this became clogged with mud and vegetation, causing the chain to jam. The way the gearing works means the cranks don't turn the chain backwards, so unjamming required the bike to be rolled backwards to extract the chain. The battery life seemed to be about 800 to 900m of vertical ascent, so my dream of huge days out in the hills would not be realised, but smashing out laps in the woods was immense fun.  When I tried running Eco mode on all climbs and Tour for descending, I managed over 1000m of ascent before it drained.  However, this still isn't going to cut it on big days out.

Overall

I can't deny I had a huge amount of fun playing on the bike, and although I only had it for a brief couple of weeks, I had it out as often as possible. I could get so much done in a short period of time, which certainly allowed me to ride far more off road miles than I would usually in a week. Currently, big mountain adventures may not be possible, but it's only a matter of time before battery technology improves and weight is reduced. It's hard to imagine a more capable and well-specced enduro e-bike.

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This review was in Issue 38 of IMB.

For more information visit CUBE Bikes

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By Ewen Turner
Ewen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.

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