The Mark2 X-Cross 520 is a distinctly bicycle shaped object. In a good way. It doesn't have any crazy frame shape choices or weirdly curved handlebars. It's got a crossbar, suspension, mudguards and a rack on the back. There are disc brakes, normal tyres, a rear hub motor and a ten-speed chainset. It doesn't even come in a garish colour, though the yellow highlighting on the otherwise monochrome frame could be considered racy if you try hard enough.
Hybrid looks aside, it's also a very pleasant bike to ride, far from boring and full of thoughtful design decisions that mean it's an excellent commuting and leisure choice.
The one concession to wacky is the removable 375Wh battery, which slips into the frame from underneath rather than sitting on top. This means that the tube is rather thick compared to an acoustic bike, but the benefits of being able to carry a second battery (there’s a longer-range pack available as an upgrade) far outweigh any aesthetic concerns. It's not a particularly chunky bike anyway, and in fact looks extremely attractive when propped up on its stand. If you find bikes attractive, that is. We don’t judge.
Control comes via a simple but small screen on the left side of the handlebars. It's really not very big, but gives you all the info you need, with buttons to control assistance level, lights, odometer display, and to switch the bike on and off. That odometer is a rather stingy one, with four digits but no decimal point, so it will tell you if you've cycled 500 miles but not that you've cycled 0.5 more. A larger, brighter, centrally mounted LCD screen is available as an add-on, if you find the basic model just too small.
There's also a twist grip that activates walking mode, supplying just enough power to make pushing the bike up a hill less of a chore. It's good to see this feature integrated in such an easy-to-use way, the grip being much more convenient to use than holding a button down.
You won’t be pushing it much anyway, thanks to a 250W Promovec rear hub motor that’s extremely quiet when set to a low power level, but can really kick out the juice when you turn it up. It cuts out at around 16mph, but getting up to that speed can be surprisingly fast along a flat road, especially if you’re at assistance level five.
Lights are built-in front and rear, and controlled with a single switch on the power control cluster. It’s possible to knock them on by accident, but they’re not going to use too much power so we don’t see this as a big problem. The rear light has a capacitor that will keep it on even if the battery is flat or the bike is switched off – a neat idea that will surely have the side effect of loads of people warning you that you’ve left your light on while parked up.
Begin pedalling, and the power is right there, with five levels to choose from that, combined with the Shimano gears controlled by a standard shifter on the right-hand side of the handlebars, mean the X-Cross can be wrangled into something approaching the right configuration for every incline.
When you're coming down again, there are hydraulic disc brakes to hold you. It's a bike you can feel confident on, and doesn't suffer from the feeling you might just carry on slowly forward forever as if riding into a waist-high pool of treacle that you get from some. You will actually stop. The suspension is on the front fork, and lockable so you can negate the loss of energy it causes when riding on smooth roads and paths, and reach down to flip the switch and even out the bumps when you get to a stony section.
If we have any criticisms of the X-Cross 520, it’s that the screen is small, the power controls are a little hard to use with gloves on, and that the standard ‘sport’ saddle is a bit hard. Two of these can be fixed with optional extras (and you can add swept-back handlebars and some nice alloy pedals too) though they naturally push the price up a bit. Mark2 will even sell you a limited edition branded helmet for £150, and while a three-year warranty comes as standard, you can buy an extension to five years for £200. By adding all the optional extras, the price rises to almost £2,900, and while we’re sure that would be an excellent bike, before you hit that point your eye is likely to be drawn towards the likes of Ribble’s Hybrid Al e (£2,299) or Cube’s Reaction Hybrid Performance 500 (£2,499).
(The X-Cross 520 was £2,099 when we initially reviewed it, but Mark2 have since contacted us to say that the sale price of £1,599 will be made permanent from June 1, 2023.)
At around £2,000 in its basic configuration, the X-Cross 520 is in a competitive sector of the market alongside mounts like the Riverside 540e, while it’s more expensive than the Tenways CGO600 (though the latter is a single-speed city bike). Wisper’s Tailwind Comfort is another solid all-rounder for a couple of hundred quid more (£2,249). You can get hybrids, trekkers, commuters, folding bikes, mountain bikes and cargo bikes at this price point, meaning there's a lot of choice, so what is it about a bike like the X-Cross 520 that will snag a potential buyer’s attention away from the more specialised alternatives?
It’s that very lack of specialisation. A bike like the X-Cross 520 is a generalist, and as such is the ideal sort of bike for someone who wants to ride to work, with their family, or just for fun. We really enjoyed our time with the X-Cross 520, but worry that there's just a little too much competition out there for it to gain the popularity it deserves.