A great value hardtail with fine handling for a bargain price
Sep 24 2018
Superb value for money with a great spec for the cash
Genuinely off-road capable handling that'll help riders of all abilities
A quality frame with great details that's ripe for upgrades
A slightly steeper seat angle would help when climbing
Tyres are a bit sketchy in the wet
You want the best bike available for this money
When it comes to bang for your buck, there's little to beat Calibre's Two Cubed hardtail. It manages to pack in a 9-speed drivetrain, quality aluminium frame and brand name kit along with solid handling that'll suit beginner and more experienced rider alike. It's about as close to perfect as you can expect for under £500.
While the official retail price of the Two Cubed is £499, if you buy a discount card from Calibre's owner Go Ourdoors for a fiver, that drops the price to £399 plus getting you money off a load of other outdoors kit at their giant stores - making it a bit of a no-brainer. That said, what you're getting at the higher price is still quite the bargain.
The Two Cubed updates the older Two Two by moving to mid-sized 650b wheels for improved rollover and a smoother ride. The aluminium frame has also been updated with a slacker head angle and more reach, although the fork travel stays the same at 100mm, delivered by a coil-sprung RockShox XC30.
While this means the fork isn't adjustable for rider weight, it's remarkably well damped for a budget unit, though get over-excited in rockier terrain and there's a fair bit of flex from the quick-release axle. Still, it gets a lockout plus a proper 1.125" steerer tube sat in an internal 44mm headset, allowing for a solid connection to the frame as well as smooth looks. It also means that you can upgrade to a stiffer tapered steerer fork in the future by switching out the lower headset cup.
The frame itself is simple but well-made, with round tube profiles plus the odd gusset to keep things stiff. The cable routing is all external but it's a nod to Calibre's UK design that all the gear cable runs are enclosed to stop muck getting in there and messing up the shifting. Talking of muck, there's also decent mud clearance at the back end.
It's also nice to see that the seat tube doesn't have any bottle cage mounts on it, meaning you can drop the post all the way down with the quick-release lever when you want to try your hand at more technical terrain.
The seatpost is of the skinnier 27.2mm diameter, which means your choices of dropper post are limited should you wish to upgrade, but considering that the most affordable on the market costs a quarter of the price of this entire bike, that seems a reasonable trade-off for a more springy post and comfortable back end. The no-frills saddle is also a pretty pleasant place to be, even on longer rides.
It's really nice to see a proper nine-speed Shimano groupset on this bike, rather than seven or eight-speed setups you might see on rivals. That means the jumps between ratios on the 11-34T cassette at the back aren't too gappy, while having a 22/30/40T triple up front means you should be able to cope with pretty much everything from steep dirt climbs to on-road commuting, should you wish.
Okay, the square-taper bottom bracket and cranks aren't the stiffest and you need to ensure that they stay tightened up if they're to have a long and happy life, but it's still capable of riding proper off-road terrain without falling apart in a few miles, which is more than can be said for some.
The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes are also vastly superior to what you usually see at this end of the market, with decent enough power and feel. The levers can feel a bit overlong and clumsy as you don't really need any more than one-finger braking, but having consistent and controllable stopping power more than makes up for that.
Our test bike was fitted with a Schwalbe Tough Tom and Smart Sam front and rear tyre combo, That's an okay combo if you're going to stick to tamer trails and towpaths, but show them some wet dirt and rock and they could easily be labelled Terrifying Tom and Sketchy Sam thanks to the unpredictable cornering breakaway and minimal wet-weather grip. Still, that's par for the course at this price, but adding a set of gripper tyres will massively increase the bike's potential and fun for true off-roading.
How does it handle?
When it comes to the ride, Calibre has got the Two Cubed well dialled. The 67.5º head angle means it's actually pretty damn slack compared to most, meaning that the bike doesn't want to snatch the front end away or under you at the first sight of trouble. The calmer steering also means it's much less of a handful on steeper trails - up or down - and although I'd love to see a shorter stem than the 70mm item fitted, the nice and wide 780mm low-rise bars give you plenty of leverage to place the bike where you want it.
Having respectably short 435mm chainstays also means the bike is pleasingly eager to flick its rump around corners, with a lively, spaniel-esque feel in the turns. Having grown somewhat used to modern bikes with super-steep seat angles, the 73º seat angle left me feeling like a bit too much weight was over the back of the bike on steep climbs, but at 444mm for the 18" frame I rode, the reach is pretty decent, meaning once you're stood up there's plenty of stability for moving about when out of the saddle.
The 14.2kg weight might seem quite a chunk on paper, but it's good for a bike at this price and I didn't feel unduly held back when pottering around trail centres and messing about on natural trails - plus you always have some pretty easy gearing to fall back on should it gte a bit much.
The Calibre Two Cubed is a genuinely great bike that's an excellent place to either start or continue your journey in mountain biking. Compared to many bikes at this price, it not only offers superb value but genuine off-road performance, rather than being something best left on the towpath or pretending to be rugged while staying on road.
It's got confident handling and works really well out of the box, even within the limitations of a very tight budget. Throw a couple of upgrades at it - most notably tyres - and you've got a bike which can deal with pretty much anything you can throw at it, from trail centre loops to big classic cross-country miles - with plenty of smiles in between. It's highly reccommended.
Jon was previously the editor here at off.road.cc. Whether it's big days out on the gravel bike or hurtling down technical singletracks, if it's got two wheels and can be ridden on dirt, then he's into it. He's previously been technical editor at BikeRadar.com, editor at What Mountain Bike Magazine and also web editor at Singletrackworld.co.uk. Yes, he's been around the houses.