Orange Alpine 6
Words by Andrew Lee
Photos by Chili Dog
A bit of a rolling paradox, Orange Bicycles and their Alpine 6 blend single pivot simplicity with evolved refinement. The UK company started producing bikes back in the late 80’s, handcrafting every frame that leaves their facility. Over the years I’ve heard people all over talk about Orange, yet I never saw many in the wild here on the West Coast. I could never figure out what made people flock to these bikes with such a cultish mentality. “It’s just a single pivot, how great could it really be?” I always asked. With every bike brand in the world constantly working to refine suspension designs and creating all sorts of “new” systems, I had assumed that a single pivot wouldn’t exactly be a sought after ride. Boy was I wrong.
I’m typically the guy that memorizes spec sheets and geo charts. Friends often refer to me as “Catalog.” Before there was Google or Yahoo at our fingertips I was the group’s source of information. Breaking the chains of my numeric OCD, I refused to look at the geo chart until after the shred test. I didn’t want to subconsciously influence my perceptions of this bike.
Upon arrival, it was very apparent that this was a big bike for big terrain. The Alpine 6 has a roomy front end, 160mm of travel and is equipped with a 170mm Rock Shox Lyrik RCT3 fork and a Monarch Plus shock. Rubber is supplied by Maxxis in the form of High Roller 2’s. A special mix of SRAM parts makes up the drivetrain: a GX shifter is paired with an X01 derailleur, a 1×11 cassette and carbon cranks. A set of Guide R brakes, with a 200mm front rotor and a 180mm rear rotor help keep speeds down on the descents. The Alpine 6 sports a 150mm Reverb, but a 170mm would have been a better choice given the XL frame sizing. Hope hubs laced up to Easton ARC 30 rims made up the rolling stock for our test sled.
Orange has been making burly bikes for decades, and each frame begins with their STrange R&D prototype program. Tooling is an in-house affair, which allows them to fine tune every bit and piece necessary to fabricate their British bombers. Being able to produce that much billet under their own roof not only allows them to have direct oversight on quality control, but the ability to be ever-evolving. Fueling their human welders and designers with a steady diet of fish and chips, Orange continues to pump out quality hand-crafted frames day in and day out.
A quick pedal down the road to my first trailhead made two things very evident: The tire spec was on point and seated pedaling induced much less pedal bob than what I was expecting. Wait, did I just say what I think I said? Coming from a decked out Santa Cruz Hightower, I believe I have a pretty good reference for climbing efficiency. This bike is actually a strong mid-pack climber. I always believed single pivots and pedal bob went hand in hand, but Orange revised the leverage ratio to eek a bit more pedal efficiency out of the frame. It also makes the rear more progressive for the big hits, something we’ll get to later.
Excitedly I pushed on, dropping into the trail, curious to see how the bike would perform. Aggressive mashing of the pedals induces bobbing in the shock’s full open mode, but it’s tolerable with the shock in the middle/pedal setting. I was happy in the middle setting 90-percent of the time. I ended up only locking out the shock during uphill slogs on fire roads.
After some break-in sessions I was anxious to hit the local park and DH trails to really beat on the bike. Snow Summit in Big Bear, CA has always been a great testing ground for me, from the jump lines to the more aggressive trails that demand suspension travel, the place is damn near perfect. The last time I was there I was on a heavier DH bike, so the Alpine was a big change and I was excited to compare my trail times. Sending it down the first trail I quickly realized I was a lot more comfortable on the Alpine 6 than the downhill bike I was just on. The Alpine 6 inspires a vast amount of confidence with its poised balance and laid-back geometry.
The slack 64.5-degree head angle felt perfect and didn’t put the front wheel too far out in front on all but the tightest of switchbacks. It begged to be ridden faster. The long reach and wheelbase of the Alpine 6 make it stable although there is a sacrifice in precise agility on flatter trails. Rock gardens also require a little more finesse than some of the other bikes in this niche, but it was far from an issue. I had so much fun on this bike I forgot to care that I was on a single pivot. Small bump compliance was good, pedaling was solid and the Rock Shox suspension felt bottomless. With the increased speed this 160/170mm bike was giving me in the bike park, I found myself landing deep and sometimes flat without so much as a hiccup. The updated suspension curve definitely has senders in mind.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If we were giving out awards for test bikes this year, the Alpine 6 would be a solid contender for underdog of the year. However the price tag does have us scratching our heads given the bike’s simplicity. The Alpine 6 proves that even while companies continue to tweak and tinker with links, kinematics and pixie dust, a good old single pivot can still be fun to ride. Sure it’s not the most complex, may not wow armchair engineers or be the best climbing bike in the 160mm category, but in some ways the simplicity made it more fun. Perhaps it reminded us of the simpler times when all we cared about was riding.
The Alpine 6 is a solid bike with a burly parts spec. From the bike’s brutish mentality in the bike park to the improved efficiency when a chairlift isn’t an option, this bike is sure to bring smiles. My view on Orange has changed drastically for the better. I never gave them the credit they deserved, but after riding the Alpine 6, I can’t help but picture myself banging muddy ruts in the British countryside.