German company Cube have a good reputation for well-designed and affordable mountain bikes, and they offer a huge range of 26 and 29ers across a spectrum of prices. The £1,600 Reaction GTC Race 29 packs a full carbon fibre frame, light overall weight and decent build kit for a ready-to-race hardtail or just a very rapid mile-muncher for those who prefer a hardtail for trail riding.
We covered all the technical details of the frames construction in the first look article so refresh yourself of them here, before reading our ride review.
The Cube Reaction GTC Race is a carbon hardtail in the stiff and race-ready mould. The carbon fibre frame is incredibly rigid, there’s very little compliance or vibration absorption factored into the design of the frame. This results in a jarring ride on rough ground, and maintaining your line and traction through some of the more technical trails is challenging.
On the flipside, the bike accelerates with impressive ease, partly aided by the 26lb weight. Climbs are dispatched with ease, and provided you can keep the rear tyre in contact with the ground, it will scamper up most hills. The rigidity of the frame comes into its own when out of the saddle and heaving on the cranks and leaning on the handlebars.
It’s an engaging ride, but one that won’t suit everyone. If you like your carbon hardtails as stiff as they come, well they don’t come much stiffer than this. The geometry makes for fast handling with a short head tube and steep head and seat angles setting it up for an aggressive stance on the trail. This is certainly felt when riding it.. It doesn’t do sedate and comfortable, it’s hard-wired to ride fast and hard all the time. But for many people, I feel the ride quality is simply too stiff and jarring.
The RockShox Reba fork works hard up front to soak up the impacts and there’s a handlebar lockout lever, I used this for the sum total of once. If you’re racing on a course with some fireroad or Tarmac climbs it could be useful, but most of the time it went ignored. You only get a 9mm QR axle, carbon race hardtails are reluctant to switch to 15mm bolt-thru, but it’s only a matter of time.
The frame carries a Shimano SLX transmission with an XT rear mech. As with all Shimano kit regardless of price, shift performance is faultless with a really nice lever feel, light and crisp gear changes every time. I would have liked to see a 2×10 chainset fitted rather than a triple, the low weight and racy credentials of this bike such that the granny ring went unused during the test period. If I bought this bike I’d switch the chainset out straight away.
Cube must be listening to rider feedback, because the bike comes with a 720mm handlebar, which is a good width for this sort of bike. Even cross-country racers are going wide these days. I found the Syntace 100mm stem too long on this size bike so switched it to a 60mm and that transformed the ride, bringing the bars into a position that gave me more control and leverage.
Schwalbe’s Rapid Rob tyres in 2.25in width are a good choice for dry trails and provide a reasonably sized volume for attempting to take the harshness out of the frame. I played around with the tyre pressure, going softer and softer in pursuit of a bit of smoothness, eventually running them low enough to risk pinch flats. A tubeless tyre setup would be needed long-term. The Sun Ringle wheels on which they’re mounted stayed true through despite some hard riding, and the bearings are still going smooth. They’re carrying a bit of extra weight and this would be a prime area for an upgrade down the line.
As a package the Cube impresses, you get a solid and dependable build kit for the money with a decent weight, and there’s little you’d need to change from the get-go. I’d recommend a shorter stem a consideration early on to improve the ride performance. As a long-term investment the Cube offers plenty of upgrade potential as parts wear out, and you could easily chop some of the weight off it if you wanted.
I wanted to love the Cube Reaction GTC Race 29, for it offers a quality package for a decent price. The part of me that loves racing savoured the stiff and fast responses of the frame, but it’s a harsh ride over rougher terrain and requires 100% commitment all of the time.
For racing and fast marathon riding it’s a phenomenal package, but for trail riders, there are better-suited carbon hardtails that offer a more balanced ride.
Good components package
More information: Cube Reaction GTC Race 29
What Cube says:
A high performance carbon 29er hardtail with all the advantages of the bigger 29in wheels but as agile as a 26in bike. The oversized tube diameters of the head tube and the Press Fit bottom bracket guarantee optimum lateral stiffness.