CUBE Bikes Stereo Hybrid 160 SL 500 27.5 2018 Mountain Bike Review

CUBE Bikes Stereo Hybrid 160 SL 500 27.5 2018

Reviews / Electric Bikes

CUBE Bikes 358,773

At A Glance

Cube has been in the ebike game since the start, and are now refining their mountain bike offer into an even more sleek package. For this year the Stereo Hybrid hides it's battery inside the down tube to create a fully integrated system.

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The Hybrid 160 is their biggest hitting ebike with 160mm of rear travel coupled with a 170mm of travel up front. Geometry gives a head angle of just under 66-degrees, chainstays sit at a lengthy 473mm and the reach is a very conservative 446mm on the largest size.

Equipment is understated in its blacked out livery but features some fine kit. A Fox 36 Performance Elite fork takes the hits up front matched with a DPX2 out back. Bosch handles the power output with their CX motor and this is matched up with a Shimano drivetrain of XT components and some ebike ready 165mm Race Face cranks. Braking is also Shimano with XT handling things along with some big rotors. The wheels are Shimano hubs paired with Cube 30mm rims, mounted with heavy duty Schwalbe tyres in Super Gravity casing.

Race Face finish off the cockpit to produce a sorted bike with little to moan about and it looks ready for serious action. The integrated battery gives a smooth and sleek finish but does quite have the good looks of Cubes latest Stereo 150 29er. It's certainly an ebike designed from the ground up, with those long chainstays, short cranks and big heavyweight tyres, this is not just an existing bike with a bolt on motor.

On The Trail

The power is unmistakable. The Bosch CX motor delivers it in spades and surges forward with a serious urgent need to get you moving as fast as possible. All ebikes may be limited in top speed, but not in how quickly they get you to that speed. The Hybrid 160 is an ebike designed specifically for that purpose and as such feels a little different from your average mountain bike. Long chainstays and a higher bottom bracket with short cranks imply clearly it's designed to climb and keep pedal strikes to a minimum.

Setting off it's evident that the front of the bike is rather short, with only a 446mm reach, is very compact, even with a medium length stem. Having ridden the latest Stereo 29er, it's a shame Cube haven't overhauled the ebikes in the same way and grown the little in the reach!

We had a shaky start, this bike and I, and it took some time before we really understood one another. The long chainstay and short front is completely opposite from current trends on standard mountain bikes and takes a bit of getting used to. Feeling short and difficult to get onto the back wheel, it requires a different approach.

Climbing is where it all makes a lot more sense and those huge chainstays keep your weight forward from the rear axle without the need for a super steep seat angle and the nose of the bike is held firmly down on the ground. It's a difficult balance to get right, but the higher bottom bracket allows for better pedal clearance, but felt a little unbalanced at slower speeds or over really rough, stepped terrain. Get things moving and the ability to add in pedal strokes on the short cranks everywhere is a real bonus and can be the difference between cleaning a section or not.

One aspect that lets the bike down on climbing is the rear tyre, which although is robust is made of the harder compound (SpeedGrip) from Schwalbe. This may give it a long life, but during that life, it will offer you hardly any grip. Swapping out for a softer, Magic Mary was the answer, and totally changed my opinion of the bikes climbing abilities. With a claw-like tyre on the back, we finally had a way of laying that power down on the trail and the Stereo became the climbing machine it was designed to be. In terms of steep climbing, this is the best and most powerful ebike I have had the pleasure of pedalling. Its ability to scramble up the loosest and steepest gradients is incredible thanks to the power, but also the geometry, which is heavily weighted towards climbing.

Descending it was a similar story, it took a while for me to get the hang of this machine. The rear tyre upgrade improved things here, giving a balance of grip between wheels and minimising the terrifyingly sketchy back end breaking loose in corners. Adding a wider bar further sorted things out for me, as 760mm on an XL is just too narrow for such a big bike.

Once I'd sorted these minor tweaks, it became clear that the depth of travel allows this bike to really fly. Letting off the brakes, it barrels along with stability and stays planted thanks to the weight, and sits happily into its travel and feels lower with it. Recalibrating my riding stance helped get the most out of the performance, with a rearward bias needed to things keep in balance and really drive the bike through the pedals. Riding forward over the bars was a recipe for disaster and best saved for longer enduro sleds.

Bosch recently updated the software on their motors to add an eMTB mode to the existing options. This varies the power input to match your effort, allowing more consistent and predictable power. On steep technical climbing, it works very well, keeping traction in control and feels more 'natural'. This all works very well, but if you happen to be fit, strong and hammer the pedals, it's also a good way of draining the battery pretty quick! I found a mixture of Tour and eMTB for climbing to worked really well and I switched between them to try and stretch battery life. I would still like the option of a Sport mode so I could really be frugal with my battery life.

The Powertube 500 battery is removable by simply taking off the panel and sliding the battery out allowing a second battery to be carried to extend the range. Spare batteries cost about £700, but it's great to see an integrated system that still allows easy swapping.

It may have been a shaky start, but the Stereo Hybrid 160 is a great example of a modern ebike designed to maximise what ebikes are able to achieve. The geometry may look unconventional, but for climbing up the steepest terrain around it's hard to argue with. I would love to see the reach on this bike extended on future versions to open up the descending capabilities without compromising the climbing.

I've mentioned the rear tyre and handlebars, which are small issues but need to be considered. Elsewhere, the Shimano XT brakes lack a little top end power but other than that there is little to complain about. The rest of the components have performed flawlessly and the combination of superb suspension and raw Bosch power is a great mix.

Overall

Competitively priced and exceedingly well specced, the Hybrid 160 is a real powerhouse, but despite the long travel, it doesn't excel on the most technical and challenging terrain. Climbing, raw power and comfort are where the Stereo shines, and there are few bikes that can match the ascending ability of this powerhouse.

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This review was in Issue 55 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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