The name’s fairly new on the scene but Haibike are certainly not just another ‘catalogue aided design’ company flogging open mould Chinese frames out of their garage. In fact, together with Lapierre and Ghost, Haibike are part of one of the biggest bike building groups in Europe – and that shows in the quality of their Challenge SL frame.
The naked alloy fork tips look a bit basic but, crucially, the top of the fork is not only tapered but full carbon too – and, at 440g, usefully light. The steering bearings sit directly in the tall head tube of the carbon frame rather than using glued-in alloy inserts, and the rear dropouts are also full carbon.
The bottom bracket is a press-fit BB86, which again means less mass and more stiffness, and at just over 1,200g for a large frame the bike is light for its price. The front mech is band-on rather than direct frame fit – this might add 20g or so but removes any worries about damage to the mounting plate.
All cable routing is internal and there are threaded mounts for a Di2 battery under the offside chainstay. In other words this is a totally modern, fully featured all-rounder frame from a very reputable company with full dealer support.
Mavic Aksium wheels aren’t the lightest but run smoothly
Just as importantly, it rides with an equally assured character too. The tall head tube gives a classic cruiser/sportive position that new riders or those with a more relaxed attitude to speed will find immediately welcoming.
While the seatpost and saddle combo aren’t light they didn’t upset any of our testers from underneath. There’s enough flex in the post to shave the sharp edges off potholes and the textured handlebar tape also went down well with our team.
Having come straight off testing half a dozen £1,000 aluminium bikes, the improvement in general ride quality and smooth comfort was palpable and appreciated more and more as our test mileage increased. Add a better grade of gears and chainset and it’s comparable with bikes from high value brands such as Cube, and well worth the extra cash over most bikes around the four figure mark if you can afford it.
The SL’s easygoing rider-friendliness is also enhanced by the distinctive rear mech and cassette combination that Haibike have chosen. By pairing a mountain bike-style, 30-tooth large sprocket with Shimano’s rarely seen long cage 105 rear mech – to cope with the extra chain needed to wrap round the cogs – Haibike have effectively created the Shimano equivalent of SRAM’s WiFLi system. This has several much lower than normal crawler gears without resorting to a triple chainset, allowing you to spin up the steepest hills around in a relatively easy, efficient cadence.
The long cage rear mech on the Haibike Challenge SL allows a 30T sprocket to be used
It’s light enough overall to be encouraging when the road turns upward, and weighs only 200g more than the £1,100 dearer Challenge RX with Ultegra Di2 and the same wheels and kit. Its smooth-riding nature means it’s not the sharpest sprinter we’ve ridden at this price but there’s still enough pep in its press-fit bottom bracket step to make your kick count on more combative rides.
The direct bearing, tapered front end means there’s definitely no doubt about where it’s putting the front wheel no matter how quick you whip it round a pothole. As long as you get low in the drops to offset the high front end it’s reassuringly secure – however low you try to drop your shoulder and push your luck round the scrolling apex of a twisty back lane descent.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.