Propain Hugene Performance Review | One bike to rule them all?

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In recent months, you might be more familiar with Propain’s Spindrift being hucked off all manner of ridiculous gaps by crazy Frenchman Remy Metailler. If such gnarly sends aren’t on your agenda, then fear not, for the German brand has the trail focussed Propain Hugene instead. One bike to rule them all? Tour, trail, all mountain? Read on to find out…

Propain Hugene: The Frame

The Propain Hugene was the first Propain to make the jump to 29” wheels back in 2018, and following recent tweaks to the longer travel Spindrift and Tyee, it was only a matter of time that the trail focussed Hugene received an update of its own. 

All of the frame is now carbon, including the rocker link that drives the shock, and it’s a work of art. Unlike some manufacturers who’s carbon frames look like they’ve melted their way out of a Dali painting, the Hugene’s tubes have been straightened out to reduce stresses and bring it in line visually with Propain’s other bikes. There are some lovely details in the design too – I’m particularly fond of the shaping of the top tube/seat tube/rocker intersection. It’s all very neatly packaged, and adds up to a great looking bike.

This intersection of tubes is a work of art

The clean look is maintained with internal cable routing throughout, with channels in the frame to aid installation and prevent rattling. There are also natty cable clips that sit on the cables near the entry and exit points to prevent unwanted movement. Elsewhere, there’s space for a full size water bottle within the frame, and additional mounting points for tool kits or accessories on the underside of the top tube. 

A large downtube protector extends quite a way up the, umm, downtube, and a custom chainstay protector helps keep things quiet. The bottom bracket is threaded, there are ISCG05 mounts for a chain guide/bashguard, and as a pleasant surprise, the mech hanger is a SRAM UDH model.

Custom noise reducing chainstay protector

Finally, the Hugene is available in three colours; Raw Gloss, Safari Matte and Petrol Dark Gloss (as we have here), and each one is further customisable with a choice of headtube badges and frame graphics.

Propain Hugene: Geometry

An update to Propain’s Pro10 suspension sees rear travel increase by 10mm to 140mm, and it can run either a 140mm or 150mm fork. True to its trail riding intentions though, Propain recommends you run an air shock, rather than coil. As has become the norm, the frame has got longer, slacker, and saved weight over the previous model (when will it ever end?!). Specifically, with a 150mm fork bolted on, the head angle is now 2 degrees slacker at 65.1°. To help with climbing, the seat angle is now 76.1° (effective), and the reach has grown to 476mm on this size large, some 20mm longer than the previous model. 

In case this isn’t enough, the seatpost has been shortened by up to 20mm depending on the size, allowing riders to size up or down to really fine tune the fit. 

The wheelbase on this large frame now measures 1246mm, and there is no option to mullet the bike – it’s 29” specific, and don’t think about fitting plus size tyres. Just standard 2.4/2.5” tyres will be plenty.

Propain Hugene: Components

The Hugene is available in three base build kits, the Start, Performance, and Highend, all of which can be further customised to suit your own personal preferences and trails. In these somewhat testing times with constricted delivery pipelines, there’s also a handy traffic light system built into the website, letting you know if a chosen component will add delays to your chosen build.

Our bike started with the Performance Build Kit, and has been subtly tweaked, coming in at just over £3,500 (excl VAT & shipping). 

150mm of front suspension is provided by a RockShox Pike Ultimate RCT3, with external controls for high and low speed compression, and a single rebound adjuster. A fork with a larger chassis would be stiffer, but that would come at the expense of weight, and I had to keep reminding myself that this is a trail bike, so the Pike is just right. Stiff enough for all round trail use, but light enough to remain playful. The shock is a matching RockShox Deluxe Ultimate RCT, with adjustable rebound, compression and lockout lever. If RockShox isn’t your bag, then Fox options are available at both ends.

Shifter and mech are from SRAM, X01 Eagle to be precise, with a tidy Truvativ Carbon crankset and 32t chainring. The only fly in the ointment is the budget GX level XG1275 cassette. Ok, so it’s got a massive 10-52t range, but at 450g it’s a weighty beast. The gears shifted smoothly, with a great action up and down the block. If you’re of the opinion that cables are a bit passé and you have deep pockets, there’s always the option of going fully wireless with SRAMs excellent AXS XX1 Eagle shifter and mech. 

Brakes are SRAM G2 RSC, and I have to say I was very disappointed by them. In spite of the 200mm rotors front and rear, they severely lacked power and bite compared to Shimano XT 4 pots, or even the older Guide RSC which I ran for years without issue. Bleeding them didn’t help either, but other testers within the Singletrack Team have had similar issues with the G2 brakes and suggest that the stock organic pads are to blame. Pop in a set of sintered pads and you should be good to go. If this was my bike however, I’d probably be speccing the mighty Magura MT7’s from the get go.

Stans NoTubes provide the wheels, with Flow MK3 rims laced to Stans Neo hubs via Sapim Force spokes. The 29mm internal width gives plenty of support for the tyres and throughout the duration of the test they’ve spun perfectly. In spite of my best efforts, the rims are still intact and no play has developed in the bearings.

Schwalbe Nobby Nics are found on both wheels, in the SuperTrail casing and Addix Soft compound. Initially sceptical, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the level of grip on offer, and the high rolling speed (compared to a heavier and knoblier tire) was a welcome addition to the lively feel of the bike. When things got a little sloppier, I would have preferred a grippier front tyre at least, but I found the limits of the Nobby Nics were well beyond where I originally thought they might be. I wouldn’t run them all the time, but on Lake District rock and drier forest tracks, they were great.

Obviously if you absolutely must have a beefier set of tyres, then a Magic Mary/Big Betty set is a no cost option on the Propain bike configurator. Well, I say no cost, but it will add 400g to your bike, in the most noticeable place there is and would more than likely have a detrimental effect on the handling of the bike. Finally, the tyres and wheels came setup tubeless, which is a nice touch.

Bars and stem are from German brand SIXPACK, and are nicely finished, stiff and comfortable. The bars are alloy to keep costs down, but if you must have carbon everything then yes, you’ve guessed it, the option is there. 

Finally, a 160mm Bikeyoke Revive dropper post holds the rather comfortable SIXPACK Kamikaze saddle in place, and goes up and down like a rocket. If 160mm isn’t enough for you, then a 185mm drop post is available, again as a no-cost option.

Propain Hugene: Ride

My first impression of the Hugene was how light it is to pick up. Sure, I’m only comparing it to some pretty portly all mountain bikes, not featherweight XC machines, but still. And best of all, that light weight is even more noticeable when you swing a leg over it and start pedalling. A combination of the fast rolling Nobby Nics and taut suspension, means the bike shoots off up hill with ease. As for the shock lockout, I never touched it. Well, I did once, then realised it was superfluous so left it wide open for the rest of the test. Even sprinting out the saddle or on long fireroad drags, the Pro10 suspension didn’t cause a fuss.

Once at the top of the hill, when things start to pick up speed, you quickly realise the Hugene is no slouch on the descents either. It revels in tight, twisty trails and thanks to its light weight, is super easy to move about underneath you, flicking from one direction to the next. I’m no jibber, but the Hugene really does encourage you to hunt out and pop off those little crests and bumps that scatter the best trails.

I’m no jibber, but Ross is more than up to the challenge

It’s a fun bike on techier trails too, with the Nobby Nics providing a surprising amount of grip on Lakeland rock, whether wet or dry. The only issue when executing these slower speed manoeuvres, is the lack of confidence in the brakes. I could adapt to the reduced grip of the tyres and revel in their benefits of lighter weight and faster rolling speed, but the brakes were a step too far. They were severely lacking in bite and power, and for a bike that encourages you to muck around and to push harder into corners, you want, no, you NEED good brakes. As pointed out above, the issue could have been the stock pads, but I wasn’t able to try pad change during my time with the bike. On steeper, rockier trails in the Lakes, it made it really hard to relax into riding the bike, as you never quite knew if the bike would stop when you needed it to.

The suspension does start to get overwhelmed on fast, repeated big hits and rocky trails, but then you have to remember it’s only a 140/150mm travel trail bike. Compared to, for example, a Salsa Blackthorn, the Hugene does feel like a smaller bike in these situations. Even though the travel of the bikes is similar with the Salsa at 160/140mm, the Blackthorn feels scaled down from a bigger bike (which, to a certain extent it is).

Conversely, the Hugene is more agile, riding like a featherweight to punch above its weight, and being more comfortable on flowier tracks. Having said that, there’s nothing stopping you from speccing the bike with a set of Fox 36’s up front, a Float DPX2 out back and a Magic Mary/Big Betty tyre combo. With this set up, I reckon you’d have a much more versatile bike, at the expense of a little pop and fizz.

Three things we loved

  • Super fun, playful and agile. This is an outstanding chassis for mucking about it the woods or ripping round your local trail centre
  • Lightweight and efficient suspension design makes for a punchy climber
  • Surprisingly capable Nobby Nics

Three things that could be improved

  • The brakes. In spite of the 200mm rotors, they were lacking in power.
  • The tyres. As good as they are in the dry, it would be nice to have something with a bit more grip when things get sloppy
  • Thanks to component shortages and shipping delays, if you order one now you’re not going to be getting it until November.

Propain Hugene: Conclusion

There have not been many benefits to Covid-19, and I feel kinda bad even thinking this, but had ad man Ross not been incapacitated by it last month, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ride this bike, so thank you Ross for catching Covid and being unable to ride properly for the last couple of month.

Reading back over Ross’ review of the previous Hugene, it’s clear that Propain has been listening; the 2021 Hugene is longer, has a steeper seat angle and you can now choose between a couple of different bar rises, directly answering all the issues Ross raised. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the Hugene remains a really fun bike to ride, and it’s become my go to bike for mucking about in the woods. It’s also made me question quite a few things about my other bikes. Do I need quite as much travel, or do my tyres really need to be that knobbly. I imagine that slightly grippier tyres and better brakes would broaden the scope of this bike quite dramatically, and make many riders take a second look at what they think a trail bike should be used for. 

Propain Hugene: Specification

  • Frame // Propane Hugene, Blend Carbon
  • Rear Shock // RockShox Deluxe Ultimate RCT3
  • Fork // RockShox Pike Ultimate, 150mm, 29er
  • Shifter // SRAM X01 Eagle 12 speed
  • Cassette // SRAM XG-1275 10-52
  • Chainset // Truvativ Descendant Carbon
  • Rear Mech // SRAM X01 Eagle
  • Chain // SRAM 12-speed
  • Brakes // SRAM G2 RSC, 200/200
  • Dropper // Bikeyoke Revive 160mm
  • Saddle // SIXPACK Kamikaze
  • Grips // Propane Lock on
  • Stem // SIXPACK Millenium 35mm
  • Handlebars // SIXPACK Millenium 805
  • Wheelset // Stans NoTubes FLOW MK3 Team
  • Tyres // Schwalbe Nobby Nic Supertrail
  • Size Tested // L
  • Sizes Available // S, M, L, XL
  • Price // £3,509.33, shipping £163.93 (excl VAT)
  • From // Propain

Review Info

Brand: Propain
Product: Hugene
From: Propain
Price: £3509.33
Tested: by James Vincent for 3 months

Comments (17)

    Things we loved: Tyres.
    Things that could be improved: Tyres.

    Ha, ha….

    i thought it was cracked on the rear chainstay for a moment.

    @adam ha ha, glad you appreciated that one. Seriously though, the Nobby Nics are incredible and a hell of a lot better than I expected them to be. But… I wouldn’t want to run them all year round up here in the Lake District. A grippier front tyre would significantly broaden the capabilities of the bike and make a great bike even better

    It was only about 2-3 years ago that Pikes were stiff enough for all manner of hardcore riding but now reviews comment that they (and Fox 36s) aren’t burly enough. Lol.

    A Pike and a 36 are more than enough for me, I was even loving my 34 until I wanted more travel on the Izzo

    @zerocool – I guess it’s one of those things that you don’t realise until you try something else. I’ve recently tested a Salsa Cassidy with Fox 38’s and the increase in stiffness was noticeable and made the front end much more precise, especially on steep, chunky terrain here in the Lake District. For its intended purpose as a trail bike, the Pike is perfectly well suited to the Hugene, and if you wanted to make it more capable in the rough stuff, then a stiffer fork would be a welcome (but not essential) addition.

    Did you put any holes in the tyres James? I’m interested in how those Super Trail tyres hold up on rocks. Would you usually use a Super Gravity or DoubleDown carcass on the back?
    You’re right to call the Guide brakes out BTW, they used to get specced on enduro bikes and I found them very frustrating. At least Shimanos work by about the fourth time you pull the lever.

    Looks lovely.. and seems a bargain compared to the Ripley.. shame it’s such a wait..

    The new Nobby Nic tread pattern is great. I’m more than happy with the extra grip on the front of my XC bike. Totally different to previous incarnations. Schwalbe should have called it something else though as the old version is / was such a marmite tyre. The 2.35 version ideally needs 29/30mm ID rims though. The tread shape doesn’t look quite right on my 25mm ID rims.

    I’ve bought this bike with a similar build but with Formula Cura 4 brakes so that should resolve the braking issues. The cost was about £4700 with import VAT and duty though.

    It seems a bit like they’ve taken the logic of mid-2010s big trailbikes- when they weren’t massively long travel but were hitting a nice balance of all-day usable but #enduro capable- and sprinkled 2021 geo and parts on it. Which is awesome! Like, you say it’s “only” 150/140 but that used to be long travel, especially for a 29er. Tracy Moseley absolutely dominated the EWS on a 150/140 Remedy 29 and bikes like that are still awesome but seem a wee bit neglected today.

    Whereas most manufacturers looking at the same job add travel and strength and weight and that’s cool too but you get a pretty different result. What I’d really love right now is to take my 2014 bike and basically add a couple of inches of reach, slacken it off a wee bit more, tweak the seattube for modern longer droppers and… Well, that’s kind of what this is.

    I want a go.

    Interesting you hear you folks aren’t getting on with G2s – all other reviews I’ve read of the G2 RS/C/Ultimates have been positive. The pads theory makes sense as not much seems to have changed since the Guide generation. I’d gathered they were a bit less powerful than the XTs, but less bity.

    @chakaping – no, I didn’t hole these tyres, but I rode the bike more conservatively than the Salsa Cassidy/Blackthorn.

    Normally I’d run double downs (or equivalent) or a slightly lighter casing and inserts, so if this was my bike I’d probably stick a set of cushcore in and be happy with the super trail casings

    @northwind – totally agree. It’s a brilliant bike, and if you ever get the chance to ride one, take it!

    The price you’ve quoted is for the lower level build…

    @stevelol – I’ve just double checked and this build comes in at 4623€ + shipping and VAT, which translates to £3,509.23 + shipping and VAT

    Absolutely lovely bike but Sales Tax (20%) and Import Duty (14%) are a killer for UK customers!

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