Cube’s Stereo 160 has been on our last two Trail Bike of the Year podiums, and this Team issue version gets the latest Fox fork and flagship Shimano stop/go gear to turn performance up to 11. Trapdoor suspension can really catch out all but careful tuners though.
Frame and equipment: still ahead of the game?
Cube’s Stereo was one of the first 650b bikes available before other big brands wheeled out the new size in anger. It also introduced a lightweight, 160mm travel full carbon frame with excellent kit at a price most manufacturers couldn’t match in alloy.
While nearly everyone is now rolling out a 650b enduro machine, that Twin Mould Super HPC frame is still tight, light and tough enough to be totally competitive on the scales and in stiffness terms. Really low standover height means you can go up a size from your normal frame without hitting straddling issues, although you’ll definitely need to be wary of that if you’re ordering it without trying it first.
Shimano XTR makes a great first impression in single ring format
Cube hasn’t lost its ability to beat others to the parts punch either and the Action Team is the first production bike we’ve ridden with Shimano’s new XTR transmission and brakes. Interestingly while Shimano has been heavily pushing the 33-speed sequential shift triple ring capability of the group, Cube has stripped it back to a 1x11 setup.
This draws immediate parallels to SRAM X-Sync groups on some of the Stereo's peers. Initial impressions are that the cranks are definitely stiffer, the shift levers are dual directional and slightly lighter in action but the optional clutch spring on the rear derailleur allows more clatter and the gear range is smaller (11-40T rather than 10-42T).
Ride and handling: get ready for some tweaking
The bars are plenty wide enough, the Reverb Stealth dropper post is a flowing trail essential and the grippy front, slick rear Schwalbe combo add easy speed to an already naturally rapid ride. The switch from Fox’s 34 fork to the revamped 36 fork with 170mm travel means far more consistent control and steering accuracy when you’re smashing through savage terrain or hooking a berm flat out. While the four pinch bolts and Allen key axle release are a real pain in the arse compared with a cam-style skewer, downhill styling also includes a world of tuning subtlety in the separate high and low speed compression dials.
The 160mm rear suspension is positive and solid when pedalling and sucks up big stuff, but control and feedback between the two extremes is lacking
Unfortunately the fork highlights significant issues with the back end. There’s a ton of low speed threshold damping to keep it stiff and stable under pedalling even in Descend mode but that makes it chattery and limits traction over small stuff. Hit something bigger or drive through a corner and the shock lunges deep into its travel and wallows about somewhere between the mid stroke and bottom out until things smooth out. Patient pressure and damping juggling can create some sort of balance between the two extremes, but it’s still definitely the Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent trail warrior.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.