German brand Cube offer a choice of this, an identically equipped big wheel version at £529 or a rim brake equipped 26er for £399. We have ridden – and really liked – the 29er, but going for smaller wheels trims about 0.5lb in weight and results in a livelier ride.
At 14.2kg (31.3lb) the Aim Disc 26 isn’t among the lightest bikes at this price, but its fast-rolling tyres and an excellent value componentry package go a long way to making up for that.
Ride & handling: Fun but with fork issues
The knack of getting reasonable control from a low budget fork with little or no rebound control is to keep your weight over the front of the bike. It takes a bit of nerve to do this initially but it’s just enough to stop the fork from rebounding back to full extension after every little bump. Lifting the front end slightly on bumps helps too.
A sticky compression feel doesn’t help, and our experience with this fork tells us that very wet rides often result in the compression becoming even more sticky, to the point where regreasing the seals is necessary. But the 2.25in tyres help to offset some of the fork’s performance limitations – they have a big enough profile to add confidence via extra control and comfort and the spacey tread profile doesn’t block in mud.
A relatively high bar position, with about an inch of stem adjustment potential, combines with confidently neutral geometry to create a rock-steady and very comfy ride and the sort of handling that feels nimble at high and low speed on any sort of trail. Fork performance is the single limiting factor when the terrain gets rough. Everything else is good enough to make an eventual fork upgrade worthwhile.
The 29in wheel version of the Aim is more confident at speed, like on the long descents that showed up the fork’s limitations, because big wheels roll smoother and general stability is better on a bike with a longer wheelbase.
The extra 0.5lb in weight and £30 in price of the 29er might put off some riders but it’s good to have a choice. The Aim is great value for money.
Frame & equipment: Full Shimano drivetrain and brakes for £500
The Aim’s 6061 aluminium frame is a nicely constructed offering with a variety of tube shapes designed to increase strength and stiffness without bulking up the weight.
The oversized down tube is biaxially ovalised, flaring into the head tube and the bottom bracket shell to give maximum weld contact areas, there is generous standover height, the head tube is ring reinforced and there’s lots of mudroom around the 2.25in tyres.
Seatstay rack and ‘guard eyelets are there and Cube also include a fat chainstay wrap to deflect chain slap and a tough stick-on strip under the down tube to protect the tube from stones flicking off the front wheel. There are two sets of bottle bosses and a cage is supplied.
The Suntour XCM is the most frequently fitted fork on bikes at this price, and as usual it’s compromised in performance by an uncontrolled rebound. It’s OK on non-technical trails but becomes a bit of a handful when the square edged bumps come in quick succession. The preload dial on our sample didn’t make much difference to the spring strength, and we never got more than 60mm (2.4in) of the claimed 100mm (3.9in) travel, but the lockout was very effective.
This particular fork carried on working throughout the test period but the same fork on other bikes has been prone to ingesting dirt and water through the seals at the top of the sliders. Suntour say this may be a batch problem with the seals, but we won’t know until we’ve tested more forks later in the product year. In short, you generally need to pay more money for a bike with a fork that’s guaranteed to work well without regular servicing.
It’s good to see a full Shimano drivetrain and brakes on a sub-£500 bike. The shifting performance on the Aim was smooth and instant, front and rear, and the brakes offered excellent bite right from the off, with better modulation than most of the other brakes in this test.
The wheelset is a highlight too – it comprises Shimano hubs laced to tough eyeleted Alex rims shod with grippy but fast rolling Smart Sam Schwalbe treads. An Easton handlebar, stem and two-bolt seatpost are also very welcome finishing touches on a bike at this price and Cube’s Scape saddle is more comfortable than a lot of budget offerings.