Dressed in top-of-the-range Fox Factory suspension with Kashima coating there’s no quibbling with the spec of the Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 HPC.
The first full-suspension e-bike we ever tested at MBR was a Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 with 27.5in wheels and a Bosch motor way back in 2014. For £1,100 more you now get modern geometry, a hugely improved motor, bigger battery, carbon frame, wide-range gearing and a burly Fox 38 fork. Whichever way you slice it, that’s a tempting deal.
It’s a real eyecatcher too, with that hench, chiselled frame liveried in Cube’s racing colours, and the magpie-sparkle of those Factory-level Fox components glinting like golden leaves in the autumn gloom. Chamfers, fillets, creases and bisecting angles stud the High Performance Composite frame – subtle it ain’t.
Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 HPC review
Housed inside the boxy down tube is a 625Wh Bosch Powertube battery. To remove it you press a spring-loaded button behind the head tube, which releases the armoured cover, and reveals the battery lock. You need a key to release it, and keeping track of that is a stress we could well do without, in fact we criticised Cube back in 2014 for this very issue – some things never change it seems. Permanently attaching the cover to the battery strikes us as a simple step that would streamline the removal process.
We were also disappointed to see the speed sensor conspicuously bolted to the middle of the chainstay and a low-tech magnet clamped to the spokes. Not only do they look ugly compared to the rotor-mounted versions found elsewhere, were it to fall off, you’d be left stranded without any power.
Just like its analogue counterparts, the Stereo 160 uses a four-bar linkage with a rocker link driving the shock. This leaves enough room in the front triangle for a water bottle cage. Despite the carbon front triangle – the stays are alloy – smaller 27.5in wheels and boutique spec, the Cube is the second heaviest bike on test. Which just goes to show that carbon is more useful for its strength and stiffness benefits than saving weight on an e-bike.
Wherever we went the 38 suspension fork grew admiring glances, and although it has the older Fit4 damper rather than the latest Grip2, the performance was hard to criticise. It’s silky smooth off the top, and even with all that weight bearing down on it, there’s plenty of support in the mid-stroke when diving into steep turns. Steering precision is superb and those bleed valves are not just for show – it only took a few runs in the bike park before we used them to release built-up pressure in the lower legs.
It wasn’t quite the same story out back. Cube claims the Stereo 160 has 160mm of travel. There’s even a sticker on the seatstay to remind you. But our bike only had 150mm when we measured it. Yes, the other bikes on test all fell short of their advertised travel, but the Cube had such a linear rate that it was relatively easy to use all of this up on even modest bumps, drops and compressions. In turn, this led to a slight see-saw sensation on undulating terrain interrupted by regular pedal strikes. And that’s despite the stumpy 165mm cranks. Tuned for comfort rather than control on steeper, rowdy terrain, the Cube might be wearing the colours of its enduro Action Team, but it’s a bit of an imposter as it doesn’t have the suspension performance to fully back that up. And while a larger volume spacer in the shock would help matters, the digressive damping of the DPX2 means it won’t fully cure it.
Dominating the front of the bike is the Cube Performance E-MTB stem and Acros headset with integrated cable routing. Trying to hide the cables seems to be an emerging trend in e-bike design, and while we’re all in favour of a cleaner cockpit, we don’t feel it should be at the expense of adjustability. Unfortunately the Cube ships with this high-rise stem packed out with spacers underneath creating a sit-up-and-beg riding position that might be comfortable for cruising forest roads, but makes weighting the front wheel really difficult. And because the spacers are shaped and drilled for the cables, you can’t simply swap them above the stem if you want to lower the handlebars. Instead we had to source some regular spacers to get the riding position we wanted.
Shimano XT four-piston disc brakes with 203mm rotors provide ample stopping power with minimal lever travel – ours had a slightly inconsistent bite-point, but not enough to spoil the ride.
For an extra £200 you can get this exact same bike with the larger Bosch Nyon display, but we reckon that’s a waste of money, as the Kiox still gives you more information than you’ll know what to do with, and actually sits more neatly just behind the bars alongside the stem. However, the flashy colour display didn’t distract us from just how far behind Bosch is in terms of its remote control units, which are excessively bulky and vulnerable to damage.
Newman’s excellent Evolution wheels are well made and provide a solid platform for the blocky Schwalbe Magic Mary and Big Betty tyres. Although shipped with tubes, these converted to tubeless easily, and the motocross-style tread and armoured casing delivered massive grip in soft conditions and a surefooted response when loaded up through turns. The flip-side is extra drag, so if you’re looking to pile on the miles rather than pack in the downhill runs, we’d swap them for something with a more directional tread.
Cube has opted for a Shimano 12-speed drivetrain on the Stereo Hybrid 160, spiced up with a sturdy-looking e*thirteen e-bike cranks and upper chain guide. Inexplicably, the rear mech completely blew up on a descent, snapping the parallelogram and bending the cage. From talking to bike shops, apparently this isn’t an isolated incident, but have been assured that it would be covered by Shimano’s warranty.
Trying to ride the Cube aggressively with the stock bar height was challenging. The rear suspension yo-yoed and the bars were so high that the front wheel felt like it was in a different postcode. As such finding grip in turns was a binary affair. Dropping the stem really improved the balance and gave us the confidence to exploit the seriously solid chassis and superb fork, pushing harder into turns carrying more speed. At slower speeds the Cube was easy to maneuver, whether steering around tight switchbacks, hopping over trail obstacles or weaving through trees. Climbing was decent owing to the reasonably steep seat angle and commanding cockpit, but pedal strikes dented progress on more technical ascents. Ramp up the pace or the terrain and the soft rear suspension would ultimately temper our aggression.
As ever Cube has aced the spec, with top end components bolted to a fancy carbon frame, and if you walked into a shop and put the Stereo Hybrid 160 side-by-side with the others, there’s no question which has the biggest bang-for-buck. Get it out on the trail back-to-back with the other bikes and the hidden elements start to manifest themselves. The short reach, tall cockpit and comfort-orientated rear suspension combine to put a limit on how hard you can ride it. It’s still a good package with a great motor and fantastic spec, but it doesn’t quite live up to its racy paintjob and factory spec. Of course, if you’re riding mellower trail centre singletrack or natural rights of way, this won’t matter, and in which case you’ll be very happy aboard the Stereo. But if you crave a cutting-edge ride, the Cube needs sharpening up in a few crucial areas.