German manufacturers Haibike are a huge deal in central Europe. So while they’re relatively new to us, this brand are arriving fully formed. Or, at least, that’s the theory…
The Light SL 20 is, to all intents and purposes, a replica of Haibike’s Greed Team race bike, as ridden by Sabine Spitz. Only a minor downspec in carbon fibre and some heavier components split the two. The 1.7kg (3.7lb) difference is mostly due to the componentry, so the frame remains ripe for upgrading.
Ride & handling: A little dull but stable
Ride feel wasn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from a rider-tuned, carbon 29er chassis. It’s a little duller than we like, though not totally lifeless thanks to relatively skinny seatstays and the flex-friendly 27.2mm seatpost. It’s not as compliant as some competitors, and while the cockpit is generally well appointed it would be high on our list of upgrade to-dos. We flipped the alloy stem to get the alloy bar as low as possible.
Slightly on the dull and harsh side the ride may be, but we found it sliced up the local singletrack, nailing balance-sensitive tight uphill turns and open downhill sweepers. Steering stability from the boxy front end is impressive, and the decent Schwalbe tyres help.
The mass melts away once you’re rolling, and only long climbs and sudden accelerations cause you to remember it. Being a 29er it rolls smoothly through the average UK singletrack, making you look good and feel confident, whatever your fitness and technical ability.
Haibike’s own-brand cockpit is average
More surprisingly, we had serious issues with the rear brake hose, the routing for which runs under the left-hand chainstay. The hose sits inboard of the chainstay and very close to the tyre, where it serves to stop trail debris passing through – to the point where it jammed solid, halting our progress every 20 yards on muddy trails.
With the rear brake issue sorted we’d be happy to use the Haibike Light SL for all types of cross-country riding and racing. Geometry wise it’s somewhere between pure XC race and trail.
Frame & equipment: Modern touches with Deore XT
The frame has all the mod cons – tapered head tube, 12mm thru-axle rear, enclosed rear brake calliper and internally routed cables. Production bikes should have a RockShox Recon Gold, but ours came with a Reba Solo Air QR15.
The Shimano Deore XT transmission is only broken by a SRAM 11-36T cassette and, as we’ve come to expect from XT, the shifting’s perfect. The custom-spec Magura MT brakes take time to bed in but provide useful and effective – if not exhilarating – braking. Overall, the bang-for-buck quotient makes the Light SL 29 an enticing prospect.
In summary, the ride is ‘ordinary in a good way’, as one tester remarked after another completed test loop. While Haibike have it up on blocks, we’d prefer a smaller front rotor for reduced weight and less tendency to grab, for the tyres to be set up tubeless as standard, and – this might just be us – for the whole thing to wear a little less green.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.