I logged a whole load of miles across various spots in the UK from mid-Summer through to the end of Autumn, experimented heavily with the suspension setup and even used the Hugene as a test bed for a bunch of other components, so it’s safe to say I know the character of this Propain as well as anyone.
Whatever you wish to call it, the hardcore trail/all mountain category that the Hugene sits in demands a lot from a bike: as a 50/50 split of focus between climbing prowess and descending ability, with a wide variety of terrain and rider styles likely to be included in the prospective customer list. Part of me doesn’t envy the design engineers and product managers who have to make the tough decisions in the process of bringing one of these bikes to life, though it would sure be rewarding in the end.
Climbing performance has to be stellar to satisfy the needs of many riders who will be buying the Hugene to take on the biggest days in flatter terrain. This is no doubt the motive behind the slightly more relaxed seating position compared with its longer legged siblings, in addition to the reduced slackening effect of the lower travel at sag. Unsurprisingly, the climbing position lent itself well to harder pedaling efforts on undulating terrain, but the balance provided by a slightly extended rear end and fairly low cockpit presses enough rider weight onto the front end to make the steeper climbs pleasant too. Pedaling support is ample, especially when seated, negating the need for the shock’s compression switch for the vast majority of time on board, but I still made use of it on longer stints of reasonably smooth terrain to keep things as peppy as possible. It’s not the most grip-hungry bike on the technical climbs, preferring to use its support and agility to dance up the trail rather than spinning and letting the rear end find its own grip. But thankfully it has that agility in its bag to allow for this approach.
In the mellower settings, be it the flatter natural trails or faster groomed trail center runs, the Hugene feels alive. The stability is there to allow for warp-speed berm railing and gap pulling, but not to the detriment of its ability to pop and play through this terrain at a slower pace. The light weight, relatively stiff chassis and supportive suspension makes it difficult to ride without a smile on your face. It definitely jibs. Though I’d suggest a true “jib machine” should rely on a smaller wheel, in terms of wagon wheelers the Hugene ranks right up at the top of my list for playfulness, once you figure out the slightly higher balance point thanks to that reasonably long rear end. The resistance to bottom out means you can survive hits bigger than you’d think possible on your typical 140mm machine without the painful “clang” of your feet meeting the bottom out bumper, ensuring it lives up to the “shreds” part of their marketing spiel too.
This playful character doesn’t come without any compromises though. The support and poppy nature of the Hugene limits its ultimate grip and comfort in the roughest terrain, with the rear end not taking the sting out of the square edges quite as well as some competitors. The ‘22 shock model may go some way to improving this, but it’s likely a factor of the forward moving axle path above all else. That said, I wouldn’t consider ultimate speed and grip over rough terrain to be within the scope of the Hugene’s intended riding, so I won’t imagine it to be a deal breaker for the vast majority. Though the rear suspension may not iron out the terrain as well as the best of them, the subtle flex of the rear end combines with the relatively compliant Newmen wheelset to generate a healthy amount of traction in the off cambers, helping to prevent the Hugene from being overly skittish.
As mentioned in the Dissected episode, for the typical “light enduro” riding the Hugene saw day-to-day in the test, the Fox 34 fork proved to be the biggest limiting factor for how sure-footed it was on the gnarlier descents. Once the terrain steepens and your weight, and therefore control, are pressed firmly onto the front end, heavier riders will quickly discover a level of disconnect between the steering input and the resulting movement of the front wheel, which is disconcerting to say the least. However, the important thing to remember is a small amount of deflection on the front wheel can aid grip in rough terrain and reduce rider fatigue, so lighter riders or those who are unlikely to be pushing the Hugene hard through the corners may find the 34 beneficial over a stiffer unit, especially when you factor in the weight reduction on the front end. At 200lbs though, unless you’re riding particularly mellow terrain the Fox 36 fork will serve you much better when it comes to the downs. Propain is quick to point out the reduction in agility and climbing performance the 36 will produce but given how efficient the bike is in 140mm guise, I can’t imagine it being a trade-off that is unwelcome for many.
Similarly, the front end was a bit low for my preferences when it came to steep terrain, leaving a little too much weight on the front wheel and contributing somewhat to the nervousness of the 34 fork. A swap-out to a higher rise cockpit added a welcome touch of confidence, as would the bump up to the 150mm fork, to get the body weight slightly further back on the bike in the steeper pitches.
The overall quality of the Carbon Fiber frame is high, much like the previous models I’ve tested by the German direct-to-consumer brand. Cable routing is well considered, tolerances are tight, and they’ve really paid attention to the fine details. For the limited maintenance and absolute hammering the bike saw during this time, it held up remarkably well for its low weight and fairly reasonable price tag. However, after a solid 4 months of being ridden on the edge of its capabilities, from the dust through to the slop, I managed to get a couple of issues to present themselves.
The first and most obvious at the beginning of the test was the noise. The lightweight carbon frame amplified any stones thrown at the downtube or chain vibrations as well as some slight cable rattle, which combined to produce one of the noisier machines I’ve ridden in quite some time. I was supplied a used bike, so it’s unclear if a new Hugene would have been the same, but this was improved after some care and attention paid to cable management and some choice sound deadening. Those cable grommets had a tendency to migrate away from the frame ports, and it took some cranked up zip ties to ensure they remained in place and did their job.
Adding to the noise theme was the lower link main pivot, which began to creak twice over the test duration, necessitating a strip-down for a clean and regrease. There is a compression ring similar to a headset race on each side of this pivot, which sits against a female chamfer on the carbon frame and was the only area on the frame that proved to be susceptible to any detrimental dirt ingress. It proved to be a relatively fast and pain free process to rectify after a quick clean and regrease. We got in touch with Propain regarding the issue, and they informed us our machine was a pre-production model and tolerances had been improved for the production bike. Their customer service department hasn’t seen any customers on production Hugenes complain of the issue, so we can assume it was an isolated incident. The Sixpack stem joined the lower link in it’s creaky demeanor a number of times – certainly not the first stem that has suffered the same fate when holding a wide bar being ripped on by my 200lb mass, but it required a strip and clean to rectify nonetheless.
Over a 4-month period I’d suggest these issues to be quite minimal, as there was a lot asked of the Hugene in this time. The bearings were still smooth as day 1, with even the headset and bottom bracket surviving the full duration, albeit nearing the end of their lives. While I’m unclear on exactly how much use the Hugene had seen by a previous media outlet prior to our testing, it’s safe to say there is little cause for concern for the longevity of the frame pivots and general component spec.
The ultimate value of the Hugene, as with the rest of the Propain lineup, will heavily depend on where you’re based and what trade agreements are in place. Currently in the UK we’re seeing the German brand’s prices taking a bit of a sting following our exit from the EU, meaning there’s import fees and customs duties to pay that are adding to the total cost of an imported bike. Outside of the UK though, the prices that Propain are offering continue to impress thanks to their direct sales model, meaning you typically end up with a serious amount of bang for your buck.