Bavarian bike maker Cube has had an on/off presence in Britain for a few years now. This time it's hoping to make it stick with aggressive pricing and some very polished hardware in the Cube XMS 100.
There's no escaping the fact that it's the handlebar and stem that dominate first impressions of the Cube. The combination of a narrow 24in bar and retro long 120mm stem makes steering very stubborn to turn, but then prone to dive in savagely once it deviates from a straight line. This is fine if you just want to hammer along at high speeds on broad trails, but it's seriously restrictive on tight singletrack. You've certainly no chance of making subtle small corrections if you need to feather traction or lines through corners and it swings and swerves alarmingly at low speeds. Otherwise, conventional geometry means a bit more width in the bar, but a couple of centimetres less in the stem will sort it out though, so see if you can negotiate a change before you buy.
The FPS frame layout is one that's been popular for years (particularly in Europe) and Cube has certainly been using it for a while now. We've nothing against proven designs though, and it's crisply executed.
The tall head tube houses an integrated Aheadset, with a slight backslope to the ovalised top tube and a large throat gusset under the big ovalised down tube. Another small plate gusset reinforces the top tube/ seat tube junction, while a pair of long triangular plates run underneath to hold the front end of the shock - another short bracket anchors the rocker pivot a few centimetres ahead of the seat tube. The main pivot sits just above and behind the bottom bracket shell (offset to the left for chain clearance) and the chainstays are asymmetrically arranged, too.
A pivot just ahead of the heavily CNC-machined dropouts gives a true 4 bar axle path and the cleft-ended seatstays extend beyond a horizontal brace pipe to drive the back end of the rocker linkage. All-round cartridge bearings make movement free and easy and there's also plenty of mud room included.
It's the only bike here with two proper bottle cage mounts inside the frame, which will please thirsty racers. The redundant V-brake stumps on the seatstays look slightly ugly but the textured matt black paint with picked-out polished bits looks very pimpy indeed.
You'll have to conduct your own negotiations with the stiff and reluctant shock too, as the short stroke Suntour unit is very touchy about what pressures and damping settings it likes to run. Have it soft enough for fluid comfort and you'll be relying on the lockout lever to stop excessive movement under power and it'll slam straight to a thumping stop off the first step.
However, have it hard enough to only hit full travel occasionally - the normal recommended setup - and it'll shake your kidneys into oblivion over rough ground. You can compromise between the two, but it's more of a bearable medium than a happy one and it spiked and kicked throughout the test when we did it.
This is a real shame, as otherwise it's a naturally stiff frame with a crisp response to pedal push or steering inputs and no slur or twang noticeable when we started really working it through the turns.
Aside from the shock and oldskool cockpit dimensions, Cube has provided some quality kit for the price tag. The Recon fork becomes smoother the more you ride, contrasting the back end dramatically, and the basic but perfectly functional rebound damping and compression lock out is controlled from the handlebar PopLoc switch.
The Shimano drivetrain performs very accurately and consistently too, making the most of the Cube's ability to transfer power. Schwalbe's Smart Sam tyres are fast rolling as well, and while they're slippery on roots or rock edges, they gripped better than we expected in wet and muddy conditions. The ample 2.25in girth definitely helps smooth out the small stuff, too.
Shimano Deore hubs are relatively heavy but they run smoothly for years if you take the time to keep adjusting the bearings and regreasing them occasionally. The Taurus rims have proved stout on more impact-prone bikes in the past too, so the Cube's racey nature shouldn't dent them.
The stubby levers of the Magura Julie brakes take some getting used to the first few times you take the bike out, but stopping power is boosted by the 180mm front rotor and control is fine for XC work. It's also easy to switch hoses left to right if the bike comes set up Euro-style like ours did.
The Scape saddle is suitably firm and skinny for a bike designed for mile eating not meandering too, though novices might find it a wee bit knobbly.
The XMS is basically a good bike. It's well equipped for the money and the handling-hampering cockpit issue isn't a deal breaker if you can find some way to sort it out at source. Unfortunately though, the notchy, nasty rear shock really spoils what could otherwise be a rapid and responsive mile-friendly machine.