Cube Reaction Hybrid Performance 500 (2021)
- Has few rivals at this spec and price point
- Powerful, efficient mid-drive
- EMTB mode a plus for steeper trails
- Front fork has its limitations
- Not particularly light
- Bottom exit battery and low down charge port in the way wheel spatter
Cube has a huge range of e-bikes, all using Bosch mid-drive motors. Rather than come out with any radical new designs, the Bavarian-based company usually prefers to evolve its range, taking on new Bosch motors as they come along and opting for incremental improvements on current model designs with the more occasional totally new model design. Cube's current e-bike range takes in everything from full-sus eMTBs through trekking and urban models to 20 inch wheeled compacts, e-cargo models and, for 2022, an e-folder.
They have become probably the largest manuacturer of premium quality bikes and e-bikes in Europe, partly by achieving economies of scale and using 'lean' production techniques, meaning their German assembly plant produces up to around 3,000 units daily.
I would class the Cube Reaction Hybrid Performance 500 as a leisure e-MTB despite the fact the frame clearly has conventional MTB geometry that gives a fairly aggressive riding position; the leisure tag is largely due to the modest 100mm travel coil sprung front forks and nine-speed derailleur gearing.
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Cube Reaction Hybrid Performance 500 (2021)
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It's billed as a 'do anything' bike, with the ability to cover moderately challenging cross country trails despite the fact it can be easily turned into a serviceable commuter or tourer with the addition of Cube's own-branded Acid fullish length mudguards, kickstand and rear rack, which the bike comes with attachment points for.
If you are buying the bike with the idea of retrofitting these, note the pricier All Road version comes ready equipped with them, which is no doubt a more economical option - you might be able to fit cheap and cheerful extras but it might not be as easy as you expect, as Cube try and tie you in to their proprietary frame mounting point system .
Similarly whilst the most basic Purion display this model comes with can be upgraded if you feel the need, note the 2022 range of Reaction e-MTBs features plenty of pricier, higher spec models that come with the latest Kiox 300 display (as well as other upgrade features like more gears, bigger batteries, plusher forks etc etc)
There are some trade-offs Cube have taken to hit the really competitive price point on this bike which are more in the detailing than the fundamentals, including rubber friction fit grips, plastic platform pedals and a plastic chainring guard. It also features strong looking but rather visible welding at the top front end of the frame, not visible on higher-priced models. There are also quick release wheel skewers over the supposedly more solid thru-axle design.
It's hard to criticise Cube for this seemingly penny-pinching approach as this is just how they've managed to hit such a budget price for a powerful, off-road capable e-bike. Perhaps the biggest trade-off is the basic Suntour steel sprung fork with pre-load adjust only (no lockout) and heavy steel stanchions. Despite its basic spec on paper the spring stiffness felt nice and light, which I like for comfort on bumpy trails, and the construction seemed very good with minimal rattle or other movement - features which can bedevil some cheaper forks.
I would like to see the on bike charging port moved to the top of the frame, away from the muck it can attract low down on the down tube. Similarly the frame integrated battery drops down from underneath the down tube if you prefer to charge it inside, but for similar reasons (and also because they are simply less faffy to use) I prefer the designs that exit the top or side of the down tube.
There are lots of frame size options to suit all shapes and sizes of rider incuding a dropped top tube option on the so-called trapeze frame design and, logically, the larger frame sizes feature 29inch wheels over 27.5inch ones on the smaller frame sizes. My model weighed 23.5kg - certainly no lightweight but about what you would expect for a powerful mid-drive e-MTB with lower mid-range component spec.
I loved riding the Reaction Hybrid and much of that had to do with the impressive performance of the Bosch mid-drive they have opted for. We've tried Bosch's second highest spec motor, the Performance Line, before and liked it very much, as the totally redesigned 2020 version turned out to be quieter, smoother, and easier to pedal when there is no motor assist compared to the previous, clunky by comparison, version.
It has more complex software than the Active Line range too. This allows for more sophisticated power delivery in the form of EMTB mode. This sits just below Turbo mode when you toggle through the power level selection. Whilst it can deliver the same 340% assistance as Turbo, EMTB mode won’t always do so; it automatically varies power to match the conditions, responding to various sensors within the motor that feed back info such as wheel speed, and pedal speed.
I did two contrasting twenty-plus mile test rides; one on the spectacular Cinder Track railpath from Scarborough to Whitby and the second on much more testing bridleways and minor roads in the Pennine foothills around Huddersfield.
The first was a little rough in places with some uphill pulls that are steep for railpath but certainly not challenging; the sort of adventury family route that attracts riders who might well value a bit of assistance. The second was something approaching the gradients and terrain full-on MTBers might consider a serious challenge, though without big drop-offs or rock steps that are simply beyond my ability and comfort zone.
On the Cinder Track I used the bottom-of-four Eco level support for looser uphill sections and turned the motor off elsewhere; no power at all was fine for this kind of easy pedalling and with no power it just felt like a rather heavy conventional MTB. One of the five battery bars popped off just before the end of the twenty mile ride, suggesting an 80 mile range was easily within the bike's capability over this kind of forgiving terrain and even 100 miles might be in its grasp if ridden very carefully.
On the tougher ride the bike was nearer the limits of its ability but even then I never needed to call upon the top Turbo mode, even for the steepest and loosest climbs, where the semi automatic EMTB mode powered up anything I could put in front of it. Naturally, estimated range was affected, but 40-50 miles was still well within its remit.
In short it confirmed my previous experiences of it being a star performer and a very efficient one to boot. Why would you need a bike with the top of the line Performance Line CX when the Performance Line is so good (and is usually featured on cheaper e-bikes)? If you are considerably heavier than my 11 stone and/or less fit than my average level of athletic ability then the CX might be for you, as it might if you are towing heavy loads regularly. Otherwise look no further than the Performance Line.
Other spec was bang inline with the keen price; sharp and effective hydraulic disc brakes, 9-speed Shimano Alivio gearing and general purpose all rounder Schwalbe Smart Sam knobblies on decent quality Alex rims.
Competiton for mid-drive models at around the £2K mark is, perhaps surprisingly, fairly limited.
Looking at the latest 2022 Cube version of the same model it's hard to see any actual changes in spec other than a change of the model of Suntour fork used (though it still gives 100mm of coil sprung travel). What has changed markedly is the RRP - up from £2,099 to £2,399. A 14%+ rise on the same model spec is pretty signigicant but there have been significant external factors at play - Covid and Brexit related issues are the usual culprits mentioned. Having sounded gloomy about the price rises I did note whilst Googling prices that one retailer had discounted the 2022 model to £2,029 - so definitely worth shopping around and trying to beat retailers down on price.
Having said all this, Cube, along with Haibike, Decathlon and Halfords' Voodoo, are probably the best value high quality mid-drive bikes avaialble in the UK when you look at their ranges overall.
It's hard to separate the Raleigh-distributed Haibike HardSeven 4 (RRP £2,199) from the Cube; both have the same Bosch Gen 3 drive system and 9 decent quality derailleur gears. The Cube scores over the Haibike in battery size (500Wh vs 400Wh) but the Haibike has 20mm more travel in the front fork. The Voddo Bizango hardtail also has a smallish 418Wh battery but otherwise the Shimano E7000 mid-drive and other spec mean the £2,199 price tag is also comparatively excellent value. Despite having risen in price by an eye-watering 25% since we reviewed it in Feb 2020, Decathlon's E-ST900 is still probably the best value mid-drive powered leisure e-MTB out there, with its powerful Brose Drive T and 500Wh battery - but others like Cube, Haibike and Voodoo have certainly closed the gap. One other notable mention in the value leisure e-MTB mid-driven stakes is the Orbea Keram 30 (£2,049) though again it features a smaller battery than the Cube.
So if you looking for a high-quality, off-road capable e-bike for trails and general use, with a powerfully effective and efficient mid-drive that won't break the bank, this model is one of a select few to fit the bill.