When I first saw photos of the not so catchily named Haibike Xduro Dwnhill, I thought it had to be a prototype that wouldn’t make production. I mean, who needs an E -Downhill bike? Surely that’s a pointless bike ? Well, it is a production model; it is a load of fun and at £7599, you can have one. But first, let’s explain ourselves a little bit.
We decided not to get into a debate about whether E bikes should or shouldn’t exist or if they’re good or bad ; we just wanted to find out if they offer anything new to our riding experience and most importantly – are they fun? The fact is, once you jump on one, you get the picture pretty quickly (normally after laughing about how crazy it feels) ; they aren’t actually that fast. 15mph is the max speed that they’ll take you up to, which you can reach surprisingly quickly on any bike. Lets just say I got out-pedalled by a 14 year old on the flat and up a short hill- and he was on a DH bike. We’ll not sugar coat it- you probably will be slower on this bike on a Downhill course than on a normal DH rig, even if you do put “Turbo” on. So basically, the E part of the bike doesn’t make you quicker at all- it simply helps you up the hills. There’s no throttle, you still have to spin the pedals but in “sport” or “turbo” mode, you’re just keeping your legs warm with no real strain or effort through the pedals. That said , if you want to really push it you can and you’ll definitely get a workout comparable to riding a normal bike- but most of the time I cruised up to save energy for the way down, literally using it like a self-uplift service.
The XDuro DWNhill has a top drawer spec list that doesn’t need much of an introduction.The price is pretty eye watering at £7599, but with at least £1-2k going into the Bosch Motor/Battery and expensive frame casting, it sits more or less in line with other DH bikes. The Saint brakes and group set were flawless and the Deemax wheels were light and most importantly stiff enough to deal with the extra loads exerted by the heavy chassis. The KS seatpost isn’t the smoothest and easiest to operate, a Reverb would be a better choice but it does do the job.
Cable routing was a little bit of a mare. The bike is a bit like the Starship Enterpise with the LCD display wires , sensor wire, dropper post cabling on top of the usual gear and brake cables to think about. They have done a fairly neat job with some internal cable routing, but it took a creative helitapinng session to stop cable rub on the forks, headtube and rear linkage.
The frame itself is impressive. A full aluminium chassis with inbuilt cast system to hold a Bosch 250watt motor and 500amp battery. This is designed to ensure there isn’t any flex or play in the interface between the motor and the cranks and frame.The motor provides 75Nm of torque and peaks at 500w with 300% assistance on Turbo mode, which essentially means that going up hills is piss easy. With Fox 40’s up front and Rockshox Vivid air rear shock; it doesn’t hold anything back. We’ll make no bones about it- the bike weighs a lot- over 50lbs. More about that and how it translates to the track later. Mounted on the handlebars sits a little bike computer, showing speed, total ride time/distance battery life and “range” in miles. Next to your left hand grip,there’s a panel with a + or – button which changes through the power modes. The 5 levels of assistance go from “eco” through to “turbo” and of course, you can turn the power off.
The power is startling at first , especially in turbo mode. Once you put some pressure through the pedals you don’t half accelerate; but if you sprint along you soon realise that the 15mph assistance limit much to write home about. The thing comes into its own on the hills, you can easily spin along at 10mph up a reasonably steep and technical climb when others will be grinding away at walking pace – on a DH rig. The looks you get when you’re riding it are nothing short of hilarious , the moment of complete disbelief before they realise it’s an E bike ( and probably call you all the names under the sun…). On the whole people are very interested in these machines and not surprisingly, everyone wants a go.
Photo: Lee Phillips
The first thing we did was to take the bike to a Bikepark, no time for riding up staircases and daft things like that. We wanted to see if it could keep up with a standard DH bike- and get you back to the top again. Riding the thing up hill the first time, you can’t help but laugh. The long fire road climb to the top of Descend Bikepark becomes nothing, a 5 minute gentle spin to the top. Passing by riders on normal bikes, grinding gears and crawling their way up feels wrong, with this shining white Fox 40 equipped beast, gliding up the hill with ease. You almost feel like apologising, like overtaking them is somehow ridiculing their struggle up the slog of a bank. I kept in mind the fact that this thing is a DH bike and nobody is riding one back up to the top !
So in this sense – Haibike have definitely done what they have set out to do, they have made a DH bike that can get back up the hill no problem – and can match the speed of an uplift. In a way it’s a refreshing feel staying on the bike, keeping warm and making your way back to the top. In the Bikepark situation though- you probably would want to sit with your mates and enjoy the crack on the way back up, so on that sense the social side of an uplift DH is lost a bit – unless you were all on them …. But it’s quite a novel feeling when you hit the bottom of a run, turning the Starship enterprise on, seatpost up and away up the fire road you go at XC racer speed. How many runs can you get? Well it’s a hard question to answer as it’s all about how you ride it and how steep/long the climbs are. For me it was a case of making the climbs as effortless of possible, using sport and turbo (the 2 most powerful modes) to get up the hill. We got on average 8-10 runs in at Descend Bikepark in about 4 hours which was impressive. By this stage the battery would show up as low and with very little range. It would keep going for another half an hour after that, so the battery must have a bit more in it than shown on the display but you wouldnt want to risk getting stuck at the bottom thats for sure. So bascically you can get almost a full days worth of runs in if your blasting up- most probably more if your a less trigger happy on the turbo mode, but that does mean more effort through the pedals and less energy down. As an uplift rig; ideally you’d have 2 batteries and you could potentially get a huge amount of runs in. Batteries don’t come cheap though, starting at a few hundred quid for a spare- although you could argue that it’ll be paid off in a year from no uplift fees!
So enough of the uphill abilities. It’s taken for granted that an E-Bike can do that, but what about the way down? Is the 50lb+ tank even worth riding down the hill ?
To be honest, we were surprised how good it was. The weight is really low slung, all around the Bottom Bracket and downtube. This is like gaffer taping 8 bags of sugar to a normal DH rig, which definitely does effect the handling but not as negatively as imagined. It takes a while to get used to the extra weight, corner setup is more important and you really have to keep momentum going. Once you get it rolling , it certainly trucks on and takes a DH course in its stride. Jumps are fine, as long as you are carrying momentum you can hit more or less anything you normally would. It’s a bit more effort and isn’t as easy to move around in the air but it still gets airborne and doesn’t feel bad at all. This is definitely helped the combination of the Fox 40/ Vivid air, both great dampers which give the bike great tracking and support. We found we had to add more air to the dampers than the manufacturers guidelines to balance out the weight on the bike, especially on the rear shock. Cornering is good, the weight gives great grip and despite the long chain stay numbers it actually tears around switchbacks, that motor and battery weight giving a mega planted feeling and a load of grip. There were certain areas where the bike struggled though- basically where the track lacked momentum . It was almost like you couldn’t pump as well as you can on a normal bike, we couldn’t work out if this was because of the sheer weight of the thing or some type of engine braking . On sections of berms that were on a gentle gradient , where you can normally pump and gain speed , it just felt like you were slowing down and gave you inclination to put pedal strokes in between to keep the speed there. Minor hops and little gaps that you’d normally go for were harder to hit, the weight of the bike at lower speeds makes it harder to make those precision moves that technical DH tracks are all about. Out of everywhere though, the most fun we had on this bike was exploring old DH haunts from years gone by, with no uplift road, which people just don’t ride anymore. It allows you to try tracks you wouldn’t normally because the pushup isn’t an issue.
On steep, slippery rooty DH tracks, the extra weight did make things feel a bit more unpredictable, especially in steep tech corners. But on the whole, it could get down almost anything and it did the job reasonably well.
Geometry on the whole is good, the stock head angle has been steepened a little bit to make it easier to go uphill but for most tracks it still is capable of bombing down pretty well. A great feature is the frame comes with a Cane Creek Angleset to slacken/steepen it which definitely made a difference to the handling on proper DH terrain. The reach measurement on the frame does come up pretty short in comparison to most current DH rigs at 426mm in size large (XL is 450mm). However this felt fine and perhaps keeping the bike shorter counteracts the weight to some extent, to keep the bike more playful. The yellow skid plate which protects the motor sits quite low and took its fair share of knocks but it is replaceable and that’s what it’s there for. Reliability seemed good; in the 1 months test we had no issues other than the cable routing getting tangled at every opportunity. Long term reliability we cant comment on, but Haibike do back the frame up with 5 year warranty and 2 years on the battery.
Conclusion – E’s are good?
With the Xduro Downhill, Haibike have created an awesome machine and one that delivers fun by the bucketload- you can cram a days worth of DH riding into half a day, all self-powered. The determining factor on whether this bike is useful or not is entirely dependent on the terrain you have on your doorstep. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to be as quick as you are on a normal DH bike but it might not be a huge amount slower, possibly a few seconds over a minute depending on the track. But -if you live on the foot of an awesome mountain full of DH grade tracks that have no uplift, then you could actually get a hell of a lot out of this bike. Yeah you aren’t getting the most precision DH performance available – but they have actually designed something that works, the weight holds it back from competing but doesn’t stop it from providing ample opportunities for exploration and grins on the way down. Who would buy it ? Good question. Someone living in the right place , who wants to get maximum bang for their buck in terms of time on the bike. Someone who doesn’t have an uplift service and doesn’t want to put all their energy into pedalling up- and wants to hit DH territory on the way down.