Germany’s Haibike is part of the huge Accel group that also includes fellow Deutschland bike builders Ghost and France’s biggest cycle brand Lapierre. Indeed, the eagle-eyed among you may recognise elements and tube shapes on the Challenge that bear plenty of similarity to Lapierre’s sportive special the Sensium. The frames do differ internally, however, as both companies specify their own carbon and the way in which it’s laid-up in the mould.
Highs: Smooth riding and well equipped
Lows: Average brakes
Like the Sensium the Challenge is categorised as an ‘Endurance’ bike, for which read sportive special. It’s a little taller (by around 10mm) at the front than a traditional race bike, and slightly shorter in the top-tube too. Thankfully the wheelbase has been kept at around a metre, rather than lengthening it so much that it starts to have an effect on the agility of the bike. Here the Challenge scores well: it’s just the right side of flickable, without getting into the nervousness that can affect much more full-on race bikes.
Haibike should also be commended for the way in which this frame deals with coarse road surfaces: up against its close cousin the Sensium, the Challenge feels a little more floaty and smooth on the worst rain damaged surfaces. That’s despite it only having the 23c Aksion tyre compared with the Lapierres 25’s.
On climbs the Challenge feels light and easy to make decent progress with, even when the percentages are well into double figures. It’s helped obviously by its sportive-friendly gearing combining a wide block and compact chainset. Gear shifting is spot on: rapid, smooth and bang up to date too. That’s all thanks to the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain; Haibike has even managed to include the latest Ultegra chainset on this modestly priced machine, something that’s usually the first thing to go.
Where the manufacturer has cut corners is with the brakes. Shimano’s BR-RS561 units are overall a decent budget brakeset – with improved pads over previous years’ models – but they do still lack overall bite especially compared with the brilliant performance you’d get from the matching Ultegra brakes which follow the same design as the flagship Dura-Ace units.
The bar, stem and post are all alloy units from XLC. The bar is a little on the harsh side but its well shaped; the stem offers all the stiffness you’d need, and the fact that Haibike has specified a slender 27.2 seatpost leaves good room for a decent extra comfort upgrade to carbon should you feel the need (we were perfectly happy with the standard alloy post fitted).
Overall the Challenge is a smooth, perfectly functioning sportive bike. The handling has just enough of a mix of stability and speed – it’s light enough for most climbers and snappy enough for those who like to push the limits whilst descending. So that really makes it a decent option, at good money an all-round bike. It does lack the sparkle that would push it into the podium places – paralleled in the automotive world it would be more Vauxhall than BMW – but there really is nothing wrong with that.
This article forms part of Cycling Plus magazine’s Bike of the Year 2014 Awards. Cycling Plus is available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.