It had to happen — another Orange classic gets the 650b treatment. But has the makeover been a positive one? Time to head for the hills...
The Orange Alpine 160 has always been one of the go-to bikes for riders looking to cut loose on the descents. With its long, low, slack geometry and neutral suspension it railed corners and soaked up roots and rocks. It felt more like a mini-DH rig than an all-mountain bike, and yet it could still be winched to the top of any climb.
More recently, with the enduro race format going ballistic and the sudden shift from 26in wheels to 650b for longer-travel bikes, the trusty old Alpine was starting to look a little dated.
To remedy that, Orange has added new 650b options for 2015. There’s still 160mm of travel but the adjustable shock-mount has been ditched as Orange found that most riders were simply slamming it in the lowest/slackest setting anyway. One less obvious change is that the chainstay length has crept up by 6mm to 439mm to provide the necessary tyre clearance at full travel. To keep the handling balanced, and capitalise on the faster 650b wheels, Orange has also added 20mm to the front end of all four frame sizes. It has also chopped the stem length back to 35mm, regardless of frame size, to maintain the same handlebar reach as the old 26in bike. It’s all very reminiscent of Mondraker’s Forward Geometry, and I like it.
Jumping on to the size large Alpine 160 at Bike Park Wales I was instantly struck by how big it was, but in a good way. With a 1,236mm wheelbase it’s longer than the size large Mondraker Dune and the GT Sanction. The extra length felt perfect for the travel and intended use, which is basically going flat out. Some bikes with long, slack front-ends can have a very light, vague feeling to the steering, where the front tyre tends to push easily on flat corners and break traction; not the new Alpine. Maybe it was the Maxxis Minion/High Roller tyre combo that I chose from the numerous upgrade options on the Orange website, but the only distraction here was the chain clattering against the sub-stay on the swingarm. One additional point of disclosure — I rode the Alpine with a Fox 36 RC2 fork I had on test, but the stock option is the excellent RockShox Pike, which will offer comparable performance.
A little chain slap wasn’t enough to stop me feeling instantly relaxed, confident and comfortable at speed on the Alpine. In fact, it felt a lot like catching up with an old friend and being able to pick up exactly where you left off, even though you’ve both changed. It’s a great bike, and given that the new Alpine 160 isn’t much heavier than the 650b Five, has more progressive geometry and more travel, it would definitely be my pick of the pair.