CUBE Bikes Stereo 120 HPA SL 2016 Mountain Bike Review

CUBE Bikes Stereo 120 HPA SL 2016

Reviews / XC Bikes

CUBE Bikes 386,031

At A Glance

The Stereo range from Cube is large, and the name doesn't best describe the bikes which are grouped within it. Featuring the 120, through 140 and 160, with many options including wheel sizes and frame materials, it is a large line-up incorporating a lot of different bikes, styles and intended purposes.

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This is the shortest travel of the Stereo range and is the 120 HPA SL. Cube are aiming this model at the 'ambitious singletrack warrior' and those looking for 'alpine epics or endurance events', which makes it a very different machine from the opposite end of the Stereo spectrum, the 160 Enduro machine.

Living up to the aims of long distance travel, the Stereo features 120mm of travel controlled by Fox, and the forks come in 32mm version, suggesting comfort and lightweight over stiff downhill performance. On this XL size model, we get 29er wheels, whereas the smaller sizes get 27.5, which is great to see a brand adjusting for different rider sizes. This extends literally to longer cranks and a change in gear ratios for bigger sizes, a nice touch.

The drivetrain is a two-by setup, controlled by Shimano's always reliable XT kit, and the front mech may look old fashioned, but they've come on a lot in the past few years and look pretty neat in their side-pull set up. Other missing modern trends can be found in the seatpost, which is of a non-dropper variety, but with the price of £2000 something needs to be compromised. Also, given the type of riding this is aimed at, it's probably not an essential.

The rest of the ride is covered by Cube finishing kit and Fulcrum wheels. A mention needs to go out to the 100mm stem, which is longer than that on my cyclocross bike, a bit much I think...

On The Trail

It's clear from the get-go that the Stereo is going to want to travel a long way. This isn't the bike for thrashing in the woods, or hitting the bike park; this is all about covering distance. Big wheels, stretched out XC geometry, and more gears than you can shake a stick at, the 120 want to gallop off into the sunset and through the night.

The fit is roomy, very roomy on this XL, but mostly due to the 100mm stem, which frankly I think is excessive, even for a bike like this. It does, however, keep the front down on climbs, but at the detriment of any quick handling. While climbing there are no excuses in the gearing department, and with the double chainset, there is always one more gear. I can't say I used the 24t very much, but the 11-40 cassette it wasn't possible to stay in the big ring the whole time. There is still a place for the front mechs on mountain bikes, but I'm sure its days are numbered.

The big wheels do their thing and coupled with plenty of gears and a forward weighted geometry; climbing is quick and easy. On simple roads and tracks, miles are eaten up with a healthy appetite, and it's a pleasure to punish your legs and lungs on drawn out fire-road climbs. When things get technical, the Stereo does come a little unstuck with the Performance tyres from Schwalbe not giving the grip needed in wet and muddy conditions. A tubeless set up with some better rubber would certainly bring another dimension to climbing on the Stereo. Put simply; it deserves better tyres.

Suspension performance is good as always on the Stereo, the same platform being used across the range. On this model, the 120mm on offer felt stiff and firm for pedalling, rather than super supple and wallowing. Again, it proves itself as a pedal machine as Cube intended it to be. Up front, the 32s can flex a bit when pushed, but that is to be expected, especially on the XL, with 29” wheels and a heavy rider. They do however keep the whole bike light and nimble, as always it is a compromise.

Handling on singletrack is lively yet predictable, the tyres once again not allowing full potential to be released, and the long stem was not helping either. Hopping and skipping around, or precision line choice is the preferred mode of operation, rather than any extreme manoeuvres. The bike stays composed on reasonably technical terrain, but its heart lies in wide trails disappearing into the distance, or smooth sweeping tracks of endless corners. After all, this is an endurance and alpine touring bike.

Next year will see few changes, but this Stereo will remain mostly the same. A little drop to SLX over XT in a couple of places, but this bike is still available now and at some great prices.

Overall

I firmly feel that any bike can be improved with a little influence of modern geometry and that the days of huge stems are behind us, regardless of rider size. The Stereo is a good value bike for covering as many miles as you can put in front of it. It will do so comfortably, and get you far away from the madding crowds while still enjoying the descents. A cockpit tweak and a couple of new tyres would transform this bike for the better and release its true potential.

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This review was in Issue 45 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.

Tried this? What did you think?