Cube EPO Reaction Pro Squares Up to Competition

Cube’s MTB big-wheeler, the Reaction Pro 29, gets an electric boost.

Cube have come a long way since founder, Marcus Pürner, was tucked up in the back of the family furniture warehouse, bashing out bikes to earn his way through college. Now a strong niche player on the European mountain bike scene, Cube in 2012 can boast 171 model variants that are being sold through hundreds of bike outlets in 34 countries. And an increasing number of them are electric.

Case in point – the 2012 EPO 45 Reaction Pro 29er, an electric injection into Cube’s top-of-the range big-wheeler MTB .

Working in the voltage

Admittedly it’s not a name to trip off the tongue (you just try and conjure up snappy monikers for 170+  bike models), but the EPO 45 Reaction Pro 29 is the sort of bike that Cube are hoping will take them on a new exciting journey: towards the e-conversion the committed mountain-bike massif. While auto-companies and start-ups have jostled to define – and carve out – new roles for e-bikes over the last couple of years, the bike manufacturers have been quietly working electricity into their ranges for a decade or more.

Not surprising, of course – it was the bicycle companies, like Taiwan’s Giant (we’ll check their e-mountain bike offering, the Talon, in the next post), that took the training wheels off the electric bike, and set it rolling into view, back in the 1990′s. But what is changing is that electric drive technology has reached the point where it can complement, and boost, bikes already on the company roster. Ugly bolt-ons and cranky designs are becoming a thing of the past.

The integration of electric drives into bike companies’ contemporary offerings has now achieved a level of refinement that defies the sneering of pedal-bike snobs. Take a look at the EPO 45 Reaction. You can see that this is a mountain bike first, and a pedelec second. Its pedigree, traced back into Cube’s Reaction Pro line, is obvious. It’s an e-bike that looks hungry – and ready – for the mountains.

But can it bite off what it looks so ready to chew?

Mounting the case for the e-MTB

Before answering that, let’s take a step back. Why bother putting a motor on a mountain bike in the first place? What possible interest could the über-fit MTB rider have in sullying the physical joys of conquering the peaks with motorized pedal-assist? Two words answer that – age and fun.

First, not all MTB riders are quite as fit as they’d like to be (with age, injury and genetics all playing their inevitable role). And second, what MTB enthusiast would deny themselves the opportunity to double up on their joy, by packing in more peaks, more ridges ascents, and more tumbling down-slopes?

With judicious use of a little motorized assistance – and the Cube EPO 45 Reaction keeps it subtle by using variable (and adjustable) power assist, directed through the pedals – new vistas can be opened up for many riders. You’d have to be pretty hard-bitten to deny that as an all-round good thing for mountain biking.

Frame, Suspension, Drive

Given that we’re dealing with a mountain bike demanding to be seriously used – and abused – as one, let’s run down the base kit that Cube have delivered with their EPO 45 Reaction. First off, that frame. It may give out the aura of carbon, but this black beauty is anodized 7005 aluminium alloy (of the HPA variety), with the tubing triple-butted for high strength.

The frame benefits from Cube’s Agile Ride Geometry (ARG), which aims to support those smooth-rolling 29” wheels with a chassis that claims to be as nimble as any 26” offering. Hanging off of that frame is some serious kit. Cube are known for indulging in quality MTB specs, and once again there’s no messing about with the components here. The pedal-drive and gearing is completely shot through with Shimano – Shimano Deore XT RD-M780 and SLX FD-M660 E-Type rear and front Derrailleurs, linked by a Shimano CN-HG54 chain to the Shimano FC-M552 Hollowtech II crank.

The front suspension is a moderate travel (100mm) Rock Shox Reba RL 29, with Motion Control and Poploc, while the wheels are Alex EN24 EPO Disc rims, booted by meaty Schwalbe Smart Sam Performance 29 tyres. Braking is delivered though a pair of front and rear 180mm Shimano 445 hydraulic disc brakes. Even the seating is a top-notch, top-comfort Selle Italia X1.

Motor, Battery and Charger

So the MTB foundations of the Cube EPO 45 Reaction shape up nicely, defining a reliable, top-performing, well-geometried mountain bike. But how does the electric drive add to (or detract from) this nicely proportioned framework?

The most visible part of the electric system is the battery unit, which is packed into the broad blade-like seat-post. This houses a 36V, 11.6Ah battery, rated at 418Wh, that can either be topped up through Cube’s frame charging system, or removed – via a simple quick release – for charging from a standard home or office socket.

That charging normally takes 3 to 4 hours, using the supplied 2A charger.  But you can also fork out for a fast-charger, which, being rated at 5A, manages to fill the battery back to the brim in  just 1 to 2 hours. The battery should be good for 1,000 charge cycles, if looked after properly.

Cube have taken an interesting slant to laying out the display, mounting a somewhat fragile-looking panel at an angle, to one-side of the handlebars. It displays the usual set of cycling stats, as well as indicating the charge level of the battery, and the current level of the motor assist mode. The motor can be be bought into play at 40%, 70% and 100% of the motor’s power, by pressing the handlebar-mounted buttons. All very functional, but somewhat disappointingly kludgey.

The motor itself is a rear-hub affair, a German/Swiss Dynamic Assist unit with a stickered power of 250W. It is limited to a 25 kph (15 mph) of assist, to comply with European legislation, and is able to squeeze 40 Newton-meters of torque out, at a push. Stand those numbers up against some of the more radical recent e-bike designs, and it has to be said that the Cube EPO 45 looks decidedly unremarkable.

The Ride

Judge it on those terms, however, and you’re missing the point. This bike is all about enhancing your pedal-driven experience, not about providing the ultimate all-electrical thrill ride. That motor is enough to get you into the hills and far away – and up some nasty-looking slopes, that may otherwise have defeated you. What really matters is how critical the mass of motor and battery is, in affecting the quality of your ride.

The overall heft of the Cube EPO, weighed down by its electrical components, is 20.5 kg (45.2 lbs). That’s pretty obese even for a 29er. But in the world of e-bikes, it’s a very commendable effort. The distribution of that weight is the key thing, however. With the battery slotted along the vertical axis, close to the centre of gravity, it’s the weight of the rear hub motor that gets felt the most.

Surprisingly, however, that doesn’t bother test riders in many typical MTB scenarios. When climbing, the pedal assist pretty much vaporizes that rear drag, and in trail riding, it fails to shake out the EPO’s generally nimble and pleasing handling. Downhill descents have also been described as reassuringly responsive and secure, provided the brakes aren’t hit too hard on loose surfaces. (when the rear has a tendency to run away with itself).

Bottom Line

So can Cube begin to win over the mountain-bikers to the merits of electric, with the EPO 45 Reaction Pro? It certainly presses all the right buttons. It’s an impressive MTB with added e-bike functionality, rather than an off-the-drawing-board e-bike, a million miles away from what hills and mountains demand of bikes, and their riders.

The electric drive significantly ramps up what riders can achieve with their time off the road, without taking the shine off what they already love doing with their MTB. That’s a big selling point, especially for those physically challenged by age or injury.

A big drawback, however, is the cost. The EOP 45 Reaction Pro is priced on the high side at €3100 (£2700), nearly double the cost of the Reaction Pro 29 without a motor. While not expensive compared to many mid-range e-bikes, those prices may be a bit much to swallow for mud-and-guts  bikers, when the equivalent MTB’s cost so much less.

But the e-MTB market is hotting up. Prices could tumble in the friction of competition. And there’s plenty of competition out there for Cube, among them the hefty presence of Taiwan’s premier bike manufacturer, Giant. We’ll be checking out their e-MTB offering in the next post.

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