After months of back-to-back testing all over the south west of the UK, before heading to BlackTown Trails in Spain for our final deliberations, the Propain Hugene has won our coveted Trail Bike of the Year award for 2020.
We were looking for a bike that was not only heaps of fun and truly capable on descents of all varieties, but one that also gave little in the way of excuses when hills needed climbing – whether that be on fire road drags or technical singletrack.
We pitted ten trail bikes against each other, with 120mm to 140mm of rear wheel travel and all priced from £3,000 to £3,500 (give or take a few £ here or there for currency fluctuations). Throughout an exhaustive winter of testing, the Hugene proved itself time and time again.
The Propain Hugene, our 2020 Trail Bike of the Year.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
The Hugene is German direct-sale brand Propain’s 29er 130mm travel trail bike. It features front and rear carbon triangles connected with a pair of rotating links to deliver the travel in a well-controlled package. Stock builds come with either a 140mm or 150mm fork plugged up front.
While we’re used to seeing great value from German direct-sale companies, Propain seems to have taken this to another level, with one of the best value packages we’ve ever seen.
On top of that, the spec can be customised within certain component parameters to match your kit preferences or budget. As such, we took a standard build for this test and added one or two extras to bring it to around the £3,500 limit for our Trail Bike of the Year test.
Bike of the Year 2020
The Propain Hugene is part of our annual Bike of the Year test and our Trail Bike of the Year winner.
The Hugene’s 130mm of travel is controlled by two counter-rotating links that join the front and rear triangles together, dubbed ‘PRO10’.
The shock sits between these two links in a fully floating design that means the shock is actuated at both ends.
The frame is furnished with underbelly protection, as well as some along the chainstay, to protect from rock strikes and chainslap respectively. Cables run through the down tube, but along the stays.
There’s a mount for a high-mount chainguide for added chain security and a threaded bottom bracket for easy maintenance.
Two counter-rotating links join front and rear carbon triangles.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Propain Hugene geometry
The Hugene doesn’t have particularly stand-out geometry, it’s fairly middle of the road in terms of its shape. This isn’t a criticism by any stretch, but if you’re looking for more ‘radical’ geometry you’ll have to look elsewhere.
What it does mean, is that it’s very easy to jump on the bike and just ride it, without having to address your riding style to account for a more stretched position. At the same time, it’s certainly not so short as to compromise the bike’s capabilities.
The Hugene is more than happy carving through corners.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Seat angle: 74.5 degrees
Head angle: 67 degrees
Chainstay: 44.5cm / 17.52in
Seat tube length: 47cm / 18.5in
Top tube (effective): 62.8cm / 24.72in
Head tube length: 11.5cm / 4.53in
Bottom bracket drop: 2.8cm / 1.1in
Wheelbase: 1,208mm / 47.56in
Stack: 62.4cm / 24.57in
Reach: 45.7cm / 17.99in
Propain Hugene specifications
For a touch over £3,500, I was bowled over by the spec available on the Hugene, to the extent that I sent two emails to Propain to confirm the price.
I took the Hugene Start model (€3,149) and added a number of optional extras, which raised the price, and Propain suggested a few others, too.
A Pike Ultimate sits up front.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Highlights included the Ultimate level RockShox Pike and Deluxe shock, the SRAM X01 drivetrain and the BikeYoke dropper post.
Propain Hugene ride impressions
Our 2020 Bike of the Year testing predominantly took place in the south-west of the UK during winter. This included loops round trail centres, natural muddy and rooty tracks dug in to Welsh hillsides, as well as laps at BikePark Wales.
A number of bikes, including the Propain, were also taken to Spain for the final set of tests, where we rode on dry, rocky flow trails, super technical rock gardens and some loamy enduro tracks. Thanks to BlackTown Trails for their help finding these test tracks!
A RockShox Deluxe Ultimate shock controls the rear end.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Setting the Hugene up took a touch longer than some bikes, to get the balance of its suspension right. When the rear compresses it can do so more than the fork, which led to a relatively pronounced slackening of the head angle – if this happened before a corner I found myself understeering at times.
It was, however, possible to get the balance right, either by running a touch more air in the shock (which gave the bike a peppier ride quality) or by running the fork a touch softer to give a really plush all-round ride.
This is not so much a criticism, but a case in point whereby getting the suspension just right took marginally more thought than some other bikes. It is, however, perfectly possible to get the bike set up just so.
Stan’s rims are a solid bet.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Propain Hugene climbing performance
Propain has the climbing balance of the Hugene just right. While the 74.5-degree seat angle could be steeper, the bike tended to sit up nicely in its travel, rather than wallowing backwards, so the seat angle never really felt too compromising.
On long, smooth drags there’s enough stability in the back end for the bike not to feel too active, and when spinning in circles, the rear shock remains fairly static.
Stand up and there’s some pedal bob as you’d expect, but it rarely felt like I was riding through treacle.
There’s a compression switch on the shock, so for smoother climbs where I wanted to stand up and change position occasionally, I flicked the switch to Climb mode.
Agile handling yet plenty of stability is provided by the Hugene.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Where the Hugene excelled was on more technical climbs. The 445mm stays are relatively long, which helps maintain traction at the back on steep climbs, while keeping the front easily under control. With the front end under control and the rear gripping, it felt almost unbeatable.
The suspension doesn’t lurch as you crest a step, and the back end seemed to deliver inordinate amounts of grip via the soft compound Hans Dampf tyre.
The low overall weight and X01 groupset, which was crisp and accurate even under power, give you even fewer excuses.
A SRAM X01 groupset is almost unbelievable at this price point and on a carbon bike.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Propain Hugene descending performance
As clichéd as it sounds, the Hugene is a bike that feels like it has more than the 130mm listed on the spec sheet. This is a feeling that one often gets from bikes where the shock floats between two links, rather than being joined directly to the frame.
The suspension is delivered via a pair of rotating links that join front and rear carbon triangles – there’s enough stability when you put stabs of power through the cranks to boost corner to corner acceleration, but through impacts big and small it slides smoothly deeper into its travel, before ramping predictably later on.
The BikeYoke Revive dropper proved smooth during testing.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
This gives an almost bottomless quality that encourages you to ride faster and hit bigger obstacles than you might otherwise on a 130mm travel bike.
Once you’ve worked through the suspension balance setup, the Hugene’s ride is fun and zippy, the sort of ride I’m looking for from a trail bike.
It’s a nimble feeling bike that easily chops and changes direction – great for playing around on the trail or for quickly re-assessing what line you’re taking.
Once the suspension’s balance is sorted, the Hugene loves tracking over rocks.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
While some bikes really reward an aggressive, rather than passive, riding style, the Hugene felt at home either being man-handled over and around the trail, or almost left to its own devices, popping over roots and sliding round turns with plenty of enthusiasm.
The combination of the faster-rolling Schwalbe Hans Dampf at the back and the super-grippy Magic Mary, in their Soft Addix compounds, meant there was a decent mix of easy rolling and predictable grip in most situations.
Chart-readers might look at the geometry and wonder how it descends with the confidence it does. The 460mm reach on a Large isn’t particularly long, nor is the head angle slack at 67.5 degrees.
However, the test-leading spec list from suspension components through to the wheels and tyres, as well as suspension that once tuned was capable in virtually every situation, managed to overcome a relatively traditional shape.
Arguably a more ‘radical’ shape would help it on the fastest, loosest descents, such as a longer front end and slacker head angle, but with the longer rear end providing plenty of high-speed stability it was rare that I felt the Hugene holding me back on the trail.
While direct-sales bikes almost always come out highly in the value stakes, Propain seems to have taken it to another level, with top-spec componentry throughout the parts list.
Riding since the age of 13, Technical Editor Tom has ridden hundreds of bikes over the past few years, from aero race bikes to EWS-ready enduro rigs, with a fair few others in between. Most likely found in the woods practicing his scandi-flicks.