The Propain Hugene was crowned our Trail Bike of the Year in 2020, winning the contest thanks to its great balance of fun handling, capable geometry, sorted suspension and great value.
2021 sees a refresh of the bike, though, with Propain updating the frame’s geometry and increasing travel in a bid to make one of our favourite trail bikes even better.
Propain Hugene Custom frame and geometry
Those changes increase the Hugene by 10mm, from a 130mm trail bike to a 140mm trail bike, to better balance the 140mm and 150mm travel suspension options delivered by the fork.
By better balancing this travel, the Hugene should be easier to set up, have a consistent feel between the wheels and provide a bit more give at the back when hitting bigger bumps.
Within the frame’s architecture, Propain has squeezed in a longer stroke shock, too, for lower stresses through the frame’s linkages and shock – this should also make it a touch easier to set up.
The bike’s kinematic has been designed to keep anti-squat high enough for composed pedalling characteristics, while the progression through the stroke should result in small bump sensitivity and composure on bigger impacts.
Propain has been careful to ensure the carbon frame’s stiffness is still on point, though, and the frame’s silhouette has straighter lines to reduce stresses.
As you might expect, the geometry gets longer, slacker and lower, and is lighter weight to boot – my medium test bike weighed 13.96kg without pedals.
My test bike is fitted with a 140mm fork and there’s a steeper 76.5-degree seat angle and 65.5-degree head angle than last year’s model. With a 150mm fork fitted, you can knock half a degree off each of those figures.
The rest of the geometry chart sees a 480mm reach, 445mm chainstays and a 1,242mm wheelbase, again with a 140mm fork fitted.
|Seat angle (degrees)||76.5||76.5||76.5||76.5|
|Head angle (degrees)||65.5||65.5||65.5||65.5|
|Top tube (cm)||57.7||60.4||63.1||65.9|
|Head tube (cm)||10||11||12||13|
|Fork offset (cm)||4.2||4.2||4.2||4.2|
|Bottom bracket drop (cm)||3.4||3.4||3.4||3.4|
Propain Hugene Custom kit
During the planning for 2021’s Bike of the Year, there was an unfortunate communication error on our part, which led to this version of the Hugene coming in above our planned limit of £3,500. This was in addition to the extra costs we’re now regularly seeing in the UK on bikes shipping from the EU.
The UK price for this model is £4,284.90 plus import duties. So, if you choose to purchase a bike from Propain (or any other EU brand) from the UK, be aware of the potential costs that you will be liable for paying – such as import duty, tariffs, shipping, etc. So do your research!
However, Propain is one of a growing number of companies that are able to adjust the specification of a bike depending on your preference or budget.
The Hugene range starts at €3,300, and includes a 140mm travel RockShox Pike Select fork, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM G2 R brakes, wheels with Stan’s ZTR Flow S1 rims and sticky Schwalbe tyres.
This is a very similar spec to a number of contenders in our 2021 Trail Bike of the Year test and, in our opinion, still offers good value for money.
Due to the pricing error, this review is largely based on the performance of the frame, but I will cover the componentry a little too, bearing in mind the extra cost involved.
Propain Hugene Custom ride impressions
While this updated model might not have won the top spot this year, losing out to the Bird Aether 9, Propain has succeeded in making a great bike even better.
If you’re looking for a real all-rounder, it ticks an awful lot of boxes, simply getting on with the job with minimal fuss.
Changes to the bike’s geometry with its new straighter-lined silhouette gives a better strength to weight ratio. It’s also a touch longer than before, with a 480mm reach, but slacker at the head and steeper at the seat (65.5 and 77 degrees respectively).
The shape really works, with a length that’s long enough to give plenty of stability when the trails get steep and loose. Nose it into a steep section of trail and the Hugene is more than happy for you to let off the brakes, pick up speed, and grip the bar.
The rear wheel hugs the ground, tracking every lump and bump, whether large or small, with little drama – whether you’re freewheeling or absolutely hanging off the brakes.
Regardless of how choppy the ground gets, the Hugene was quiet, too, with the new chainstay protector and overall demeanour of the bike almost silencing the ride.
When it comes to corners, the Hugene is no slouch here either, with a ton of personality.
It’s an agile, playful bike that encourages you to tip it from side to side, whether slaloming through trees or laying it flat through a berm, where the Schwabe Magic Mary and Big Betty tyres hook up into the dirt and deliver you to the exit barely breaking a sweat.
That’s despite 445mm chainstays, which naturally lend themselves to plenty of stability and calmness. Propain does seem to have built a bike that can be both stable and snappy.
If, and when, you do get the Hugene to break traction, it’s very controllable, with little in the way of oversteer to throw you off the bike. This was the first time I’d ridden the new Schwalbe Big Betty at the rear and I was impressed by its high-volume and aggressive tread.
Pedalling the Hugene is a composed affair, with seated climbing showing nothing in the way of noticeable pedal bob, despite the rear wheel rarely spitting dirt out behind it.
The seated position is comfortable too, with a roomy front end that doesn’t feel cramped and allows you to move over the top of the bike to maintain traction.
Under bursts of power, there’s perhaps a touch of lag, partly due to those grippy tyres, but also a touch of bob when really mashing on the pedals. I only really noticed this on flat, pedally trail-centre straights when stood on the pedals and putting all my effort through the rear suspension.
Despite the bike coming in above the planned Trail Bike of the Year budget, I’m confident that the spec (either stock or custom) available at a price more in line with the other bikes in this year’s test would still score as highly.
A massive thank-you to BikePark Wales for granting us access to its trails despite the bike park being closed to the public.
And not forgetting Muc-Off, for its help keeping the bikes washed and lubed throughout testing.
Bike of the Year 2021 contenders
A decent trail bike should also be fast and capable on the descents, but with less weight and travel (130–150mm) than enduro bikes, they’re nimbler on flatter trails, less of a drag on longer rides and better on the climbs.
The following bikes were shortlisted for our Trail Bike of the Year award, with a price range of £2,999.99 to £4,695.
- Bird Aether 9 (winner)
- Canyon Spectral 29 CF 7
- Intense Primer 29 Expert
- Lapierre Zesty AM CF 6.9
- Privateer 141 SLX/XT
- Propain Hugene
- Saracen Ariel 30 Pro
- YT Jeffsy Blaze 29
|Weight||13.96kg (M) – without pedals|
|Available sizes||S, M, L, XL|
|Tyres||Schwalbe Magic Mary 29x2.4 Super Trail Addix Soft (f) / Schwalbe Big Betty 29x2.4 Super Trail Addix Soft (r)|
|Stem||SixPack Millennium 50mm|
|Seatpost||BikeYoke Revive 150mm|
|Rear Shocks||Fox DPX2 Performance Elite|
|Rear derailleur||SRAM X01|
|Handlebar||SixPack Millennium 805mm|
|Bottom bracket||SRAM DUB|
|Fork||Fox 34 Performance Elite 140mm|
|Cranks||SRAM Descendant Carbon|
|Brakes||SRAM G2 RSC, 200mm/200mm rotors|
|Wheels||Newmen Evolution A30|