First Ride: 2021 Propain Hugene – More Travel, More Capable

Arhaq
When Propain first introduced the Hugene in 2018, it was their first foray into the world of 29ers and also the first model where the shock moved from behind the seat tube to its current location inside the main triangle of the frame for better protection. Its reception from riders from all over the world was quite enthusiastic and its improvements have since then trickled into other model categories at Propain.

In the meantime, their enduro and freeride models have progressed in terms of geometry and other neat features, with the team at Propain also listening to feedback from riders on how to improve on their trail model in the meantime, so we’re coming full circle to giving the Hugene a face lift in 2021.

While Propain is officially listing the bike inside the trail category, in a brief discussion with the engineers we came to the conclusion that the definition of a riding category is somewhat of a philosophical affair. So call it tour, trail, all-mountain or whatever, the Hugene is supposed to cater to riders looking for a lighter weight, snappy and capable climber, without disappointing on the downhills.

Propain Hugene Details
• Intended use: trail
• Wheel size: 29″
• Rear wheel travel: 140mm
• Blend carbon frame
• 65.5° head angle (65.1° with 150mm fork)
• 76.5° seat angle (76.1° with 150mm fork)
• 445mm chainstays
• Frame weight (w/o shock): 2,300g
• 12 x 148mm rear spacing
• Sizes: S-XL
• Price: €3,399 – €8,398 (US $ TBD)
• Colors: Safari (matte), Petrol Dark (gloss), Carbon Raw (gloss)
www.propain-bikes.com

The new Hugene now sports an extra 10mm of travel in the rear, going from 130 to 140mm, with an updated geometry and suspension kinematics, as well as lighter frame weight, to take the bike to the next level.

Frame Details

With 29″ wheels front and rear, the Hugene is available as a carbon model only. The Hugene’s weight was an important factor for Propain, to further cement its separation to the other bigger-hit bikes in their lineup.

As always, Propain uses its Blend Carbon technology, making use of various carbon materials with different properties that are best suited for the job at certain areas of the frame. Depending on the requirements of stiffness, flexibility, impact resistance, weight, strength or stress direction, different fibers and cloths are used and combined to create a unique blend. In regard to the Hugene’s specific needs, a higher percentage of fibers with high-tensile strength than on other models was implemented, allowing them to work with fewer layers of carbon fiber without sacrificing stiffness.

Furthermore, Propain has optimized the frame structure using straighter tubes to reduce stress onto the frame. Gone is the old extra strut connection seat and top tube. The upper link is now also made from carbon fiber, shedding some extra weight. As an end-result, they were able to chip 300 grams off the old version, tipping the scale at 2,300g for a size S frame without shock (size L comes in at 2,400g).

The Hugene features internal cable routing with routing channels. New clips that are directly clipped to the ouside of the cables at all the exits keep the cables from unwanted back and forth movement within the frame. These cable clips will also be available aftermarket for owners of other Propain frames that should experience issues with that. Like on the new Spindrift, the cables are routed cleanly on top of the bottom bracket, compared to underneath like on the Tyee.

The rear triangle is formed asymmetrically, with only the left-hand side directly connecting the lower link to the upper link while unifying the rear triangle. The shock is relatively easy to gain access to, with room for adjustment or lockout levers. Most common air shocks are compatible and Propain has deliberately not focused on fitting coil- or downhill-specific shocks, as it would negate the Hugene’s intended category of riding.

The frame also features a threaded bottom bracket with Propain’s own system for attaching ISCG mounts, by sliding an ISCG adapter onto a counter-piece of the bike’s aluminum bottom bracket insert. That way, if a bash guard is mounted, impact forces are spread over a larger area, protecting the frame. Also, if the mounts get damaged they can easily be replaced.

A replaceable bash guard is protecting the lower part of the down tube, pulling all the way back to the bottom bracket area. A custom chainstay guard made up of different materials with raised ribs keeps the noise down and partly guides the shifting cable into the chainstay.
Extra seals, dubbed Propain Dirt Shields, are protecting the underlying Acros bearings from dust, water and dirt.

A water bottle mount for a full-size bottle is in place on the down tube, with another mount sitting on the lower side of the top tube for aftermarket tool kits or similar small add-ons. A SRAM UDH universal derailleur hanger makes the sourcing of replacements easy.

The Hugene is available in the colors Safari (matte), Petrol Dark (gloss) and Carbon Raw (gloss). The decals and even badge color can be specified. Nice touch: the carbon upper link is also painted in the frame color.

Propain is known for testing their frames beyond the mandatory standards, even certifying the Hugene to higher category 4 (all-mountain and enduro) standards. There’s a five-year guarantee on the frame with a crash replacement option.

Geometry

With geometry constantly progressing, Propain has extended the reach for each frame size by 20mm (S: 430mm, M:455mm, L: 480mm, XL: 505mm).

In order to give riders more options for running longer travel dropper seat posts or maybe to even give them the chance to ride a larger frame if they prefer to, Propain has shortened the seat post length between 10 to 20mm, depending on the frame size, while improving the insertion depth as much as possible.

To make the Hugene an even better climber, its seat angle has been steepened by 1.5 degrees, and now sits at 76.5 degrees. The seat angle is still slightly slacker than on Propain’s bigger travel models, since less travel and sag on the Hugene doesn’t lower the saddle as much when weighted.

At the same time, Propain has slackened the head angle by a full 2 degrees; it now measures 65.5° with a 140mm travel fork. With the chainstay length remaining at 445mm for all sizes on the 29er, Propain was shooting for improved balance overall. When picking the option of equipping the bike with a 150mm fork, all angles slacken by 0.4 degrees, with the bottom bracket lifting by 4mm.

Suspension Design

Propain’s PRO10 virtual pivot system with a floating shock alignment is a proven system and has been tweaked for the new Hugene. Its anti-squat value has been increased from 100% to 113% at 30% sag over the last version. Also, the progression of the suspension has been slightly improved, with more mid-stroke support to keep the suspension from rushing through the travel too easily.

Even though the travel has grown from 130 to 140mm on the new bike, by switching to a longer 210 x 50mm stroke shock (from a 190 x 45mm model), they were able to minimally lower the average leverage ratio to 2.8 : 1.

Specifications

Thanks to Propain’s elaborate online configurator you have plenty of components to choose from, starting with three different base specs: Start, Performance and Highend.

SRAM shifting components, suspension from Fox or RockShox, Stan’s NoTubes, Newmen or Crankbrothers wheels, Schwalbe tires, SRAM, Magura or Formula brakes and various Sixpack components are all in the mix.

Complete bike weights for the different packages are listed at 13.6kg for the Start configuration, 13.1kg for Performance and 12.9kg for Highend.

Due to the worldwide pandemic with shipping costs going through the roof and lead times listed in months and not days anymore, Propain was forced to raise their prices slightly. In the big picture, their value for money is still outstanding. Prices for the Hugene’s Start package begin at €3,399, €4549 for Performance and €7,164 for Highend. If you picked the cream of the crop components, the most money you can leave in the store is €8,398.

My test bike was based on the Performance package but I ended up opting for different suspension (price is calculated with the Fox 34 Factory FIT4), brakes and wheels, bringing the total to a price tag of €4,949. Expanding into the North American markets is still a work in progress at Propain, with the end goal of offering a similar structure, spec list and benefits to the end consumer compared to what’s available in Europe. US pricing has still not been determined – this article will be updated once it’s available.

The new Hugene will be available for order at www.propain-bikes.com from February 2nd, 2021 onward. Delivery is planned for mid to end of April in Europe. It should be available in North America in May.

I’ve ridden the latest versions of the Tyee and Spindrift, so it wasn’t really surprising that I felt instantly at home jumping on the Hugene, which shares most of the company’s latest design philosophies across the lineup.

Since I haven’t ridden the previous version of the Hugene I can’t comment on how the added 10mm of travel impact the bike’s overall handling in comparison. I can’t imagine it to be any sort of problem, though, as I consider Propain’s suspension kinematics to be some of the most refined out there these days, especially when it comes to efficiency.

The composure of the rear end’s function while climbing is truly impressive. It’s hard to notice any kind of suspension movement on even ground or when grinding up a smooth fire road. On the other hand, as soon as there are even some smaller surface irregularities littering the ground the suspension smooths out the ride and takes the edge off of hits without negatively impacting your pedaling. Even during short sprints or pushing harder when out of the saddle, the rear end doesn’t dip into the travel like a spoon into jello.

My test bike’s DPX2 shock didn’t come with a position-lever to firm up the suspension but all production models will be equipped with that feature. I can see how this option is considered a must for a bike of this category, not that it really needs it.

I can’t really fault Propain’s argument that due to the rear end not being compressed as much when weighted, the seat angle doesn’t need to be quite as steep as on longer travel bikes. The climbing position and pedaling characteristics of the Hugene feel efficient, but since I’m a really big fan of steeper seat tubes I still ended up pushing the saddle forward a bit to really feel at home. Personal preference and individual anatomy do come into play in that regard.

Being used to usually riding heavier bikes, it’s always a nice treat to push along a lighter breed of bike. While sitting at 13.5 kg (29.8 lb) without pedals for my test bike, the Hugene still won’t be mistaken for a cross-country race machine (and is not trying to be one), but the lightweight frame offers plenty of possibility to drop some weight in the overall package if that’s a concern.

Propain lists the Highend package at 12.9kg, which sounds like a believable number, and without a piggyback shock and swapping the Schwalbe tires to something lighter you could easily trim the bike to drop below 12.5kg, which isn’t really that easy these days.

I’d be lying if I said that I’d have any tendencies to be the first one up the hill, but during the few times I tried to push a bit harder, the Hugene did give me the feeling that it propelled me up the hill without much effort (even with soft compound tires) and would have done well in Mike Levy’s efficiency test. It’s one of those rare bikes that gives you the feeling that you can just pedal for hours on end, no matter where the trail leads you – up as much as down the hill. Something like Comfortably Numb in Whistler comes to mind, where the Hugene would sit on top of the list of bikes I would love to take out there one day.

Whether you consider the Hugene to be more of a trail or all-mountain bike is up to you and probably also depends a bit on the components you equip the bike with. Since there are no flimsy parts from the configurator to choose from that would overly sacrifice performance, I’m not afraid to say that whatever spec you choose, the Hugene will be incredibly capable on the downhills for a bike of its travel class.

It excels at fast and flowy tracks and loves to be popped off roots or smaller jumps here and there. It’s even confidence-inspiring down slower-speed steep terrain. Only when the track becomes fast and furious do you notice that you’re on a bike with a little less travel, receiving more feedback through the pedals at bigger hits compared to a longer travel bike.

However, even on rougher trails the bike mostly remains composed and tracks the ground nicely, delivering a more planted feeling than you might expect, not giving you the feeling of harsh bottom outs, even if the little o-ring on the suspension tells you that you’ve used all of your travel. Thanks to a highly progressive suspension setup with plenty of mid-stroke support, the Hugene can handle harder hits without too much of an issue – all considered that this is intended as a trail bike.

With the test bike’s DPX2 shock setup it would even be possible to easily adjust the leverage curve to a less or more progressive setup, as the bike is shipped with the 0.4″ volume spacer inside, giving you the option to tune the suspension curve both ways.

As far as handling goes, the new Hugene never feels sluggish and is plenty responsive, with its low standover height making it easy to throw the bike from one corner into the next. I like mullet setups, but it makes sense for the Hugene to be a 29er only. As balanced as it handles, and with the bigger wheels’ better rollover capabilities there is no need to tinker.

As winter riding teaches you, since there is no extra brace between the seat stays and plenty of room at the chainstay connection, mud clearance is excellent.

Having criticized the seat tube lengths on Propain’s other bikes in the past, I’m glad that the engineers have started to cut down lengths to also allow smaller riders to pick telescopic posts with more drop or maybe even stepping up to a bigger frame size if they wish to. In my personal perfect scenario the lengths could be even shorter if the insertion depth would correlate, but we’re now sitting at a level that should offer a broad range of riders some more options.

Not being the tallest rider myself at 168cm, I was able to run a Bike Yoke post with 160mm drop without an issue, with even a bit of room to spare. It would be possible to sink that post down all the way to its collar.

If you really want to rip the downhills, you can also spec the Hugene with a Fox 36 Factory Grip2 with 150mm of travel, slackening the angles by 0.4 degrees and raising the bottom bracket slightly. Even though the 34’s downhill performance with Grip2 damping is quite impressive, I can see that the Hugene with more front wheel travel and slightly slacker head angle can be even more appealing to a gravity-driven crowd, so it’s nice to get that option.

Luckily, we seem to move past the time when limited amounts of travel and questionable old-school geometries were resulting in sketchy handling bikes. The Hugene is a great example of how you can build a rather lightweight and efficient climber that is also a blast to ride on most downhills.


Next Post

7 Tourism Stocks Investors Should Reserve Now

The global rollout of vaccines against the novel coronavirus has pushed many of the best tourism stocks upward on hopes of resuming travel. With mandatory lockdowns across the globe for months on end, the pandemic ripped a massive hole in this $9 billion dollar industry. However, travel stocks rallied on […]