In this modern age, most of us still yearn for adventure. And with the explosion of gravel, adventure, all-road—or whatever you wanna call these bikes, it’s becoming far more accessible. These rigs encourage us to explore more, allowing the rider to take on any terrain they might desire - be it road, gravel, mud or trail.
The market is certainly responding to the increasing number of riders heading beyond the bitumen, with a number of brands stepping up their game in this genre. These bikes are not ‘cross bikes; they’ve evolved past that, as we demand to ride more than just a grass knoll.
Ibis is a predominately mountain bike brand, so they know a thing or two about riding on dirt! They recently overhauled their classic ‘cross frame, the Hakkalügi. Back in the day, these frames started out as steel, but like most manufacturers, Ibis now uses carbon fibre. In this modern age they’ve stepped away from the classic ‘cross frame geometry and tyre clearances, while staying true to their impeccable taste for style.
As soon as this bike was released I was interested to ride it. In fact, when I received the Hakka MX media release in my inbox, I replied, “The new bike looks great, we should get one for a bikepacking adventure in NZ.” Founder Scot Nicol replied and promptly made it happen with the local distributor. I was impressed to get an email from the owner and that he cared enough to get us on a the new Ibis. It speaks volumes about the brand’s personal appeal.
The next month, we planned an epic bikepacking trip in the South Island’s Pelorus Sound (the full travelogue is featured in Vol. 4). We booked our flights for a four-day adventure and I organized the new Hakka MX to be dropped to the Nelson airport by the distributor, Nelson-based Hyperformance Hardware. This was a gamble: a brand new bike, new setup, harsh terrain . . . and plenty of luggage. I was swimming in the deep end! But, sink or swim—right?!
I can promise you I’ve put this bike through its paces, from dusty dirt trails to gnarly gravel forestry roads and almost everything in between, including that bikepacking mission around Pelorus Sound. The Hakka MX was rigged up with at least 15 kg of luggage as I embarked over the Nelson hills; being self-sufficient is great but it certainly puts the body and bike under strain. The rig, however, was flawless under load. The first test was tackling the rocky terrain of the Maungatapu Track under the moon and our beaming lights. We didn’t expect to still be riding at 1am, but sometimes the excitement prevails. The way the bike handled across varying terrain in the dark was impressive. There was no constant surface, it was more a mixture of rock, gravel and a little broken concrete. Forced to ride by feel in the darkness, I was truly testing my own limits; thankfully, the bike simply danced its way across the gnarly terrain.
On the second day of the trip, we embarked on a 140-kilometre ride after not nearly enough winks. Again, you should really have your set-up dialled before riding these distances, but I’d been on the bike less than 24 hours. The second test was a long descent down the Maungatapu Track, followed by a road transfer and then gravel and dusty dirt roads out to French Pass. I could have done with more coffee before going down the sketchy descent; the bike was relatively capable but the rider wasn’t. The rocks were so loose that I had to walk in sections. Humbled.
Once the terrain levelled out the bike handled well, there was even still a little snappiness under the luggage load. I pulled our little bikepacking group across the road sections; sitting in the drops it felt like a good road bike, and the position allowed me to tuck away from the wind. I felt I could still pedal with efficiency and produce enough power to get onto the next rough sector. Returning to gravel, the bike offered stability and predictability; the frame felt nimble enough to respond to slight change in direction, but it was robust enough to withstand harsh gravel roads. The scenery was incredible and despite venturing into our seventh hour of riding there were no complaints.
Being aboard the Hakka MX made me feel like a kid again. Yes, I know most bikes offer this trait but there’s a real joyfulness when riding this bike. The ability to dart down whatever terrain lays in front gives a sense of freedom. This playfulness extends to boardwalks, paths and any other park or bush that can link roads together. And herein lies the strength of this versatile rig: you’re not held back by one discipline, so you can mix them all together.
The transition from tarmac or gravel to single-track offers endless adventures, and, based on my experiences, the one doesn’t compromise the other: this bike is capable across most terrains.
Now, I do think that the bike fitted with a dropper post could be a good idea (definitely out there). But, getting rid of the seat on techical trail descents would be ideal and make me want to ride it on more trails.
I like the approach of the Ibis Hakka MX. The frame is versatile, agile and robust, harking back to their ‘cross frame but with modern geometry: mainly a longer wheelbase and taller head stack. These are the ideal refinements for anyone needing to saddle up for countless hours across mixed terrain. These drop bar frames also buck what’s normal, as they’re not one bike nor the other; it’s all of them in one. It’s the ideal rig for our rugged NZ landscape and the amazing cycle trails that the government is pouring tons of coin into. Without being held back by skinny tyres or a slammed position, the opportunities for rides are endless.
A few refinements can be had, however, firstly the post mount fork. These brakes aren’t the best and were one of the first disc systems for road/gravel bikes before flat mount came along. They got upgraded for a reason: they tend to not brake incredibly well under load and aesthetically they aren’t as pleasing. Thankfully the next generation of the Hakka MX will be coming with flat mount forks.
It’s not going to be for everyone, and may not replace your road bike, but the Hakka MX is certainly a contender for those searching for adventure and more. I was sad to give this bike back at the end of the test period. It allowed me to explore what’s beyond the bitumen with or without luggage. These bikes are more than a one trick pony—and that’s why they are so appealing.
Words: Liam Friary
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