Orange's Alpine 160 is a pretty simple bike to get your head around. As the name suggests, it’s got 160mm of travel at either end and it’s designed to get you up and down the biggest, wildest mountain terrain you can find.
The Orange recipe is to take a simple single-pivot suspension layout, a frame made from folded alloy sheet and then weld it all together in the North of England. Season with long, low and slack geometry, a durable selection of kit and serve. It’s uncomplicated but does the job very well.
When you look at the highly complex folded shapes and intricate welding involved in fabricating the frame, you start to realise that calling the Alpine simple actually does it a disservice; the swingarm in particular is a work of art.
Orange's heavy-duty swingarm looms over our test ride's GX transmission
The suspension design may be uncomplicated, but it’s taken Orange years to perfect that single pivot's placement. The swingarm rotates on decently large bearings to help stiffen the connection between the two ends of the bike – past experience has shown the design to be hugely durable.
The detailing is no-nonsense and entirely functional. All cabling save for the dropper post is routed externally, so repair or replacement is simple and there’s no rattling or rub to wear away the inside of your frame. It’s not a bike you could call beautiful, but if you believe that form follows function then there’s a certain charm in the fact that the Alpine is quite obviously fashioned by hand rather than birthed from a mould. Its numbers on the scales suggest it's built to last too, with a weight of 14kg / 31lb being heftier than rival machines.
Pick and mix
Thanks to Orange’s semi-customisable spec, you can tweak the build kit to suit your needs. Our RS-level test bike came with a RockShox Reverb dropper post (an upcharge over the standard KS Lev), and a Fox 36 Float RC2 instead of the RockShox Pike RCT3. We’d highly recommend both of those tweaks, especially as the fork allows a level of control and adjustment that really improves front-end grip.
The RockShox Monarch Plus performed well on some seriously gnarly terrain
The downside to buying a British-made bike is that the rest of the kit is lower-rent than rivals at the same price. However, the SRAM GX 11spd drivetrain doesn’t feel different to the marginally lighter, higher end groupsets and the Race Face Turbine cranks make up for their somewhat chunky arms with a lightweight direct-mount 30t ring. It’s a nice touch that Orange has opted for a 170mm long crank arm, helping boost ground clearance despite the low bottom bracket.
The 25mm internal width Alex rims are tubeless ready and sucked up an absolutely brutal beating in the rocks of the Sanremo Bike Resort without any ill effect. Even if they do eventually die, they’re laced to a set of Hope Pro II Evo hubs that’ll be perfectly happy paired to a higher-end set of rims.
The Race Face Turbine crankset's lightweight 30t ring counterbalances its beefy arms
The bike comes with some of our favourite rubber fitted too, with a sticky 3C compound Maxxis Minion DHF up front paired to a faster High Roller 2 out back. Both are tubeless ready and they use the reinforced EXO carcass, which is a great compromise between strength and weight for all-round use.
Making all the right shapes
With the Alpine 160, Orange has also pushed its geometry longer and slacker than ever before. A 65-degree head angle means confidence when things get steep, while the 465mm reach gives a usefully roomy cockpit. It helps that Orange keeps the head tube relatively short across the sizes too, so if you want to size up for extra length you’ll still be able to get low enough to weight the front. Conversely if you’re very tall then you might want higher rise bars or an ugly stack of spacers but, as we’ve already established, this isn’t a bike for riders who care deeply about looks.
Looks will be the last thing on your mind once you’re riding the thing too. Despite the heft, the bike pedals uphill remarkably well. It’s better suited to rides that involve winching up and plummeting back down rather than constant undulations, but there’s little pedal bob on smooth surfaces and it hooks up well on off-road climbs.
The Orange's roomy cockpit is an ideal space from which to take on the steep and rocky
Some of that is down to the fact that with the fitted 30t ring, the pivot is slightly above the chainline, meaning the suspension stiffens slightly as you pedal. That does mean there’s some feedback through the pedals when you hit rough terrain but it’s usually drowned out in the sensory overload the rest of the bike provides.
The bike isn’t as vocal as Orange bikes of yore, which you could often tell were being ridden from a different valley thanks to the filing-cabinet-down-stairs noise. A neoprene chainstay guard helps quieten chain slap, but you still get the odd hollow metallic ring of rocks striking the down tube and thud-thud-thud as impacts resonate around the box-section frame.
When you’re faced with a steep and evilly rocky descent though, the spacious cockpit is a great place to be, with the 780mm Renthal Fatbars and 35mm stem allowing you to wrestle the bike where you want it. The frame isn’t the stiffest out there, but it’s precise enough to allow you to hit your lines and the slight give helps reduces harshness and improves mid-corner compliance.
The Alpine is super stable at speed, aided by a planted bottom bracket. That’s just as well because when you crank up the velocity the back end gets pretty rowdy, especially under braking.
The Alex rims sucked up a serious punishment beating without flinching
It’s a bit of a handful, but in an utterly entertaining and addictive way. It really rewards solid brake discipline, shedding speed up to the apex as the suspension compresses and then allowing it to re-extend and fire you out of the corner. When you get things right, it’s seamless. The Alpine is also hugely predictable when it does break traction, allowing lurid amounts of oversteer before the tyres hook up again and launch you down the trail once more.
The RockShox Monarch Plus shock copes well with all of this, with decent support and a lively, springy feel adding to the bike’s poppy character. You do find yourself trusting in the assured traction and control from the fork however, letting that deal calmly with the chaos before the back end fishtails wildly through. There’s no doubting that the overall result is a bloody quick bike though.
I’d be interested to see how a more tweakable shock like the Fox Float X2 would affect the control, but as it stands, the Alpine is an absolute riot. It’s definitely happiest going down, but doing that is so rewarding you’ll still be buzzing as you haul it up the climbs.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.