Propain Hugene Custom review

The Propain Hugene is one of the best trail mountain bikes, having won our Trail Bike of the Year title in 2020, winning the contest thanks to its great balance of fun handling, capable geometry, sorted suspension and great value.

2021 sees a refresh of the bike, though, with Propain updating the frame’s geometry and increasing travel in a bid to make one of our favourite trail bikes even better.

Propain Hugene Custom frame and geometry

Those changes increase the Hugene by 10mm, from a 130mm trail bike to a 140mm trail bike, to better balance the 140mm and 150mm travel suspension options delivered by the fork.

By better balancing this travel, the Hugene should be easier to set up, have a consistent feel between the wheels and provide a bit more give at the back when hitting bigger bumps.

Within the frame’s architecture, Propain has squeezed in a longer stroke shock, too, for lower stresses through the frame’s linkages and shock – this should also make it a touch easier to set up.

Propain Hugene Custom 10 1011013

A carbon upper link helps save 200g compared with last year’s frame.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The bike’s kinematic has been designed to keep anti-squat high enough for composed pedalling characteristics, while the progression through the stroke should result in small bump sensitivity and composure on bigger impacts.

Propain has been careful to ensure the carbon frame’s stiffness is still on point, though, and the frame’s silhouette has straighter lines to reduce stresses.

As you might expect, the geometry gets longer, slacker and lower, and is lighter weight to boot – my medium test bike weighed 13.96kg without pedals.

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Propain Hugene Custom 03 7C6000C

Propain allows you to customise the spec of the Hugene, to match your pocket or preference.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

My test bike is fitted with a 140mm fork and there’s a steeper 76.5-degree seat angle and 65.5-degree head angle than last year’s model. With a 150mm fork fitted, you can knock half a degree off each of those figures.

The rest of the geometry chart sees a 480mm reach, 445mm chainstays and a 1,242mm wheelbase, again with a 140mm fork fitted.

Seat angle (degrees)76.576.576.576.5
Head angle (degrees)65.565.565.565.5
Chainstay (cm)44.544.544.544.5
Top tube (cm)57.760.463.165.9
Head tube (cm)10111213
Fork offset (cm)
Bottom bracket drop (cm)
Wheelbase (mm)1,1841,2131,2421,271
Stack (cm)61.262.16364
Reach (cm)4345.54850.5

Propain Hugene Custom kit

During the planning for 2021’s Bike of the Year, there was an unfortunate communication error on our part, which led to this version of the Hugene coming in above our planned limit of £3,500. This was in addition to the extra costs we’re now regularly seeing in the UK on bikes shipping from the EU.

The UK price for this model is £4,284.90 plus import duties. So, if you choose to purchase a bike from Propain (or any other EU brand) from the UK, be aware of the potential costs that you will be liable for paying – such as import duty, tariffs, shipping, etc. So do your research!

However, Propain is one of a growing number of companies that are able to adjust the specification of a bike depending on your preference or budget.

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The Hugene range starts at €3,300, and includes a 140mm travel RockShox Pike Select fork, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM G2 R brakes, wheels with Stan’s ZTR Flow S1 rims and sticky Schwalbe tyres.

This is a very similar spec to a number of contenders in our 2021 Trail Bike of the Year test and, in our opinion, still offers good value for money. My Custom bike came with a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork and DPX2 shock, SRAM X01 drivetrain and carbon Descendant crank, Newmen wheels with Schwalbe Big Betty and Magic Mary tyres, and finishing kit from German brand SixPack.

Due to the pricing error, this review is largely based on the performance of the frame, but I will cover the componentry a little too, bearing in mind the extra cost involved.

Propain Hugene Custom ride impressions

While this updated model might not have won the top spot this year, losing out to the Bird Aether 9, Propain has succeeded in making a great bike even better.

If you’re looking for a real all-rounder, it ticks an awful lot of boxes, simply getting on with the job with minimal fuss.

Changes to the bike’s geometry with its new straighter-lined silhouette gives a better strength to weight ratio. It’s also a touch longer than before, with a 480mm reach, but slacker at the head and steeper at the seat (65.5 and 77 degrees respectively).

Propain Hugene Custom 11 A5De888

The Hugene simply gets on with the job at hand with plenty of speed.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The shape really works, with a length that’s long enough to give plenty of stability when the trails get steep and loose. Nose it into a steep section of trail and the Hugene is more than happy for you to let off the brakes, pick up speed, and grip the bar.

The rear wheel hugs the ground, tracking every lump and bump, whether large or small, with little drama – whether you’re freewheeling or absolutely hanging off the brakes.

Regardless of how choppy the ground gets, the Hugene was quiet, too, with the new chainstay protector and overall demeanour of the bike almost silencing the ride.

Propain Hugene Custom 12 4C80Dd6

Handling through corners is good and the Schwalbe tyres offer decent grip.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

When it comes to corners, the Hugene is no slouch here either, with a ton of personality.

It’s an agile, playful bike that encourages you to tip it from side to side, whether slaloming through trees or laying it flat through a berm, where the Schwabe Magic Mary and Big Betty tyres hook up into the dirt and deliver you to the exit barely breaking a sweat.

That’s despite 445mm chainstays, which naturally lend themselves to plenty of stability and calmness. Propain does seem to have built a bike that can be both stable and snappy.

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If, and when, you do get the Hugene to break traction, it’s very controllable, with little in the way of oversteer to throw you off the bike. This was the first time I’d ridden the new Schwalbe Big Betty at the rear and I was impressed by its high-volume and aggressive tread.

Propain Hugene Custom 13 19746B4

The back end is super composed over a wide range of terrain.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Pedalling the Hugene is a composed affair, with seated climbing showing nothing in the way of noticeable pedal bob, despite the rear wheel rarely spitting dirt out behind it.

The seated position is comfortable too, with a roomy front end that doesn’t feel cramped and allows you to move over the top of the bike to maintain traction.

Under bursts of power, there’s perhaps a touch of lag, partly due to those grippy tyres, but also a touch of bob when really mashing on the pedals. I only really noticed this on flat, pedally trail-centre straights when stood on the pedals and putting all my effort through the rear suspension.

Propain Hugene Custom 02 33781D1

The Propain Hugene is a well-sorted, all-round trail bike.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Despite the bike coming in above the planned Trail Bike of the Year budget, I’m confident that the spec (either stock or custom) available at a price more in line with the other bikes in this year’s test would still score as highly.


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