If you’re ever lost for words with riding buddies, then throw out the question of 27.5″ or 29″ wheels and see what sort of murky depths this discourse will take you to. With the HardSeven and the HardNine, the German brand Haibike have covered both bases, creating two hardtail whippersnappers that are virtually identical except for the size of those hoops. So which of these carbon hardtails is actually better?
Our first impression confirms that these two bikes are both Haibike born-and-bred, with both of them smugly showing off the now-classic dropped toptube. They’ve both also got the same clean approach to integrating the Bosch CX motor, its 500 Wh battery, and internally routing the cables to keep that sleek silhouette.
Once the bikes are side by side, then you could be forgiven for wondering why there are two identical bikes in front of you: other than wheel size, the bikes have exactly the same build spec. Up front, there’s a lightweight SR SUNTOUR Axon RL-R cross-country fork with 100 mm of travel doing its thing. They’ve both got TEKTRO Gemini brakes with a 203 mm rotor at the front and a 180 mm at the back, SRAM’s entry-level NX groupset in a 1×11 setup with an 11-42 cassette, and Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires. The rest of the parts predominately hail from Haibike’s own in-house Haibike Components brand alongside XLC parts. Retailing at € 3,999, it looks like you’ll have to make do with fairly economical parts on this high-tech carbon frame, but we don’t see them bringing any serious disadvantages.
While both test bikes had a frame height of 45 cm, this translates to a small in the HardNine model and a medium for the HardSeven. As you’ll doubtlessly expect, the 29er HardNine has longer chainstays, a higher stack, and a longer wheelbase than its little brother. However, it was more surprising to see the HardNine’s slightly slacker head angle (68° instead of the HardSeven’s 69°). Both bikes have a very short reach (405 mm and 399 mm respectively), although that long stem alleviates any potential squatness.
|Bikes||Haibike HardNine (M)||vs.||Haibike HardSeven (M)|
|Seat tube [B]||500 mm||450 mm|
|Top tube [A]||610 mm||580 mm|
|Head tube||110 mm||120 mm|
|Lenkwinkel [F]||68 °||69 °|
|Seat angle [E]||73 °||73 °|
|Chainstay [C]||472 mm||455 mm|
|BB Drop [J]||-60 mm||-40 mm|
|Wheelbase [D]||1164 mm||1109 mm|
|Reach [G]||422 mm||399 mm|
|Stack [H]||615 mm||593 mm|
The Haibike HardNine vs. HardSeven in reality
To answer the pressing question of which wheel size makes a better bike, we pitted both hardtails against each other across varying routes and diverse trails in Italy’s Massa Marittima. It’s a seriously idyllic town that’s perched up high on the mountainside, but before we could settle in its picture-perfect market square for cappuccinos in the sun with views over the church, the bikes had to earn that frothy milk and brioche. Both carbon hardtails climbed like it was in their blood, with the Bosch CX motor working with its usual virtuosity to catapult the 19.3 kg and 19.4 kg bikes up the gradient. The formidable climbing credentials of these two E-MTBs are also thanks to the fast-rolling tires and fairly aggressive riding position.
Once we were rolling on the flat, the differences between the bikes become clear. Fit for a postcard, the little alleyways in this Tuscan village are begging to be explored. With both wheel sizes, the bikes rode with agility, although the 27.5″ HardSeven was a touch more responsive and snappy around tight turns. However, once you had some speed on the straights then the 29″ HardNine was able to inch ahead, proving more stable and smooth. The HardNine also possessed a more comfortable and upright riding position for tackling long days in the saddle. The big hoops proved better at holding the pace as well; surpassing the 25 km/h limit on the HardNine won’t be difficult, so the freewheeling is a slight advantage.
“Both the carbon hardtails are born climbers.”
Massa Marittima’s appeal goes way beyond its cobbled charm, as it’s also got a vast network of great trails where we wanted to see how the Haibike twins would fare. Once off-road, the typical limits of a hardtail became clear: the lightweight XC fork was only faintly stiff, the brakes lacked power, and the thin tires offered minimal grip. The dynamic riding position translates to pressure on the front wheel, although a dropper post would be an asset at times. Pitted head-to-head on the off-road sections, the HardNine stole the show: its big hoops proved far more capable and composed over bumps, and they also generated more grip and comfort. The slacker head angle also helps with smoothness. However, it’s important to mention that these carbon whippets aren’t designed for tackling the burl on hardcore trails; they’re much more at home on gravel tracks where, ride after ride, they’ll deliver excellent acceleration and traction.
The pressing question of which Haibike is better can be answered with confidence: the HardNine 29er takes the win thanks to its better off-road form, superior smoothness, and confidence-inspiring stability. But as both E-MTBs proved to be good for gravel tracks and cruising the cute Tuscan streets, we can’t deny that they aren’t simply great touring bikes – regardless of wheel size. However, if you’re planning on detouring into the woods, then we’d suggest looking for a hardtail with plus-size tires or moving to full suspension.
It’s about an eight-hour drive from Munich to reach the picture-perfect Massa Marittima (or, alternatively, fly to Florence or Pisa). A veritable riding El Dorado, it’s primed for long rides through the endless cypress tree-flanked alleys where you’ll ride away any stress from the daily grind and soak up some much-needed winter sun. Temperatures are already hovering at decent t-shirt weather in January, and they’ll continue to rise throughout the year. The seaside town of Follonica is about 25 km away, which makes a good day loop (although you should avoid the heavy traffic on the main road with the bike). The Hotel Massa Vecchia is the ultimate address for holiday-makers with bikes. Before you set off for the return leg of your journey, stock up on Tuscan specialties like olive oil and delectable wines.
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Words: Moritz Dittmar Photos: Christoph