16/10/2009 | 7 comments
Bike Test: All Square – Orange Alpine 160, Specialized SX Trail and Commencal Supreme
THREE WELL–INTENTIONED FREERIDERS – AN AMERICAN, AN ANDORRAN AND A NORTHERNER, ALL WITH TRANS–GLOBAL HOOLIGANISM IN MIND, SEEK LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS TO SEARCH FOR NEW BOUNDARIES. EQUALLY HAPPY TO SPEND LONG WEEKENDS IN DIRTY WELSH WOODS IN A MIRE OF BAD LANGUAGE AND MISTREATMENT.
Prototyped in Alpine terrain over many summers, the early versions were more or less slackened and strengthened versions of the Five. Now in their final version the Alpine is longer, stronger and with more travel, essentially a mini 224 – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
BUILD AND CHANGE
Over at the Orange HQ, Jay the head of operations, was complaining that too many people were opting for the air sprung version of the Alpine over the coil. It’s a tempting option, but I’m sure the more gravity–biased rider will be able to get their head around this coiled beast a little easier. Fox provide excellent kit these days, and together with Race Face, Sram and Mavic there’s not really a weak point apart from the narrow and high bar and a ridiculous stem. Replacing the stem with a 50mm and lowering and widening the bars transform the Orange getting the weight in the right place. It’s also massively over–sprung and we went down to a 375lb spring from a 450, even being the wrong side of 14 stone. Probably think very strongly about ditching the double ring and swapping to a grippier tyre set up too.
A ripper from the start, it’s quiet, balanced and just has a simply overwhelming thirst for downhill action. Light for a six–inch bike of this nature, the Alpine covers ground quickly, great for the longer Enduro or Mega type events and uplifts. Perfectly balanced with 160mm front and back, the rear suspension is impossible to fault even with the bog standard DHX3.0. Those Maxxis 60A compound tyres? Great for carrying speed and longer rides, but they seriously compromise flat–out descending, so they need changing if that’s what you’re about.
Arguably…no hold on. This is the best all-round 160/160 complete bike you can currently buy. You want it more black and white than that? A few years ago it didn’t exist, but then it would have been up against the mighty and never since replaced (well not as good as the early ones) Specialized Enduro. Today many might compare the Lapierre Spicy, a good long travel trail bike, and a super close second for that type of business, yet not quite as good at cushioning the rider from impact on descents and possibly a touch too big for UK trail riding. This bike also suffers from the latter also, but I feel as an uplift and Mega type race bike (especially the air version) it has miraculously sneaked onto the top of the pile.What are companies thinking?
Price: Alpine 160FR £2799
Price: Alpine 160AM £2799
The SX Trail has always been a great bike, never letting anyone down. It is sure of itself, knows where it’s at and what it wants, keeping a cool head even during a time when the
industry went through its compartmentalization process. It now stands firmly as ‘freeride’ and is ultimately one of the classic park and uplift bikes of its time.
BUILD AND CHANGE
Very few bikes come as superbly built as this. It has been thought out and then thought about a bit more before the ‘Big S’ build button was pressed. It is all hard hitting quality throughout and all aimed at the use it will get. Great tyres, appropriate stem, stylish seatpost, some functional own brand stuff and only the best Avid components you can get. The Elixir is an exceptional bit of kit. Having the RC2 version of the Fox Van kind of upstages the Alpine, as does the DHX 5.0 over the 3.0 on the Orange and the production Supreme build, but if I was brutally honest it doesn’t make that much difference, not for the largely non–competitive use these bikes get in this country. The Gamut is a nice touch, but the 680mm wide high rise bar might not be the best if your action is more DH than SS.
Some riders see the SX as a serious competitive DH bike. It’s not, not on the real big stuff at least, but a complement nonetheless. As an alpine bike it is well prepared and as a park bike probably has no equal. That’s because it’s pretty easy about the ground and in the air, snapping at the exits of tighter corners but having the wheelbase to keep the balance at speed. Even our medium really is a pretty long bike, but because of the doubtlessly Berre‘Claw’d chainstay lengths (one of shortest of any long travel bike available) there’s a fair bit of space ahead of the BB. It’s easy to get sat on the back wheel that’s for sure, just be aware of it when the terrain drops. Close inspection reveals a very specialist bike.
Up front you’d struggle to find many bikes that ask as many questions out of the Fox Van’s than the SX, it simply pushes the fork to the very edge. And the DHX 5.0 shock too – although on the rear somehow the SX doesn’t feel quite as good as the older model for some reason, certainly not as good as the Supreme out back, but still gives an awesome ride characteristic.
During the testing we met up with Specialized team rider Brendan Fairclough, fresh back from Australia. It was interesting to note that it’s likely the team will be running versions of this bike at the Worlds this year. Fairclough also uses the same Specialized Chunder tyres as come with the SX as stock. Bearing in mind it has slightly more travel and higher spec dampers than the other two, it’s the chassis that shines at higher speeds rather than the suspension – it can handle high speed better than the others. Marvellously balanced, overall it’s a pretty full–on package and yet the big ginger bouncer hasn’t been so well received in terms of appearance here in the UK. Paint it black is what I’d say to those people, because this one is a stormer. Possibly sullied by its slightly swashbuckling appearance, it provides as solid performance as it ever has.
Price: SX Trail 2 £2740.42
The Supreme has the same suspension characteristics as the company’s World winning downhill bikes, but don’t for one minute underestimate just how good it is even with a non–factory Fox shock. The marketing talks of a bike that’s more playful than the DH, and they are not far wrong.
HA 65.3º (black spacer)
BUILD AND CHANGE
The production complete Supreme is let down by some pretty poor components, none more so than the Marzocchi RCV. Fortunately the great Italian suspension company seems to have raised their game – partly the reason why we built our own version of the Supreme with a better fork to give the bike and the great Italian company a chance. Even so, the Andorran six–incher still weighs in around the 40lb mark, pretty heavy for bike of this much travel, but fortunately the nature of the beast dictates something substantial. Ultimately it does need to shape up a bit – Gee Atherton’s World Cup bike ain’t a million miles heavier, and that’s not one of the lightest. The fork obviously has to go, but 180mm forks also put the bike out of balance. Some cheaper bits such as headset and bars need swapping and generally the other two bikes are slightly better prepared all–round.
We were lucky enough to ride Gee and Dan’s (Atherton) Supremes last season, these were obviously pre–production, but there was no real difference apart from some pretty top notch componentry, and of course the larger size. It worked for me for definite, and on some of the tighter downhill terrain did as the brochure says. As mentioned, the rear Contact System is one of the best out there in terms of tyre gripping performance that provides a great platform on which to both launch and grip, whichever is needed. The steering on both S/M and the Large doesn’t feel like it’s quite the finished item – if the medium SX Trail feels slightly long up front the same size Supreme feels pretty short, great in the tight, a bit more nervous wide open, but then its nature is hanging out hooliganism. Overall we were nowhere near as impressed with the complete production builds of the Supreme. On the Dirt build however we were very, very happy with the new Marzocchi 55 RC3 and it slightly outperformed the other bike’s Fox’s on this occasion, which was surprising based on the huge dip in performance of the ‘08 kit. On slow tight terrain and on cambers, what a bike, very much the same as what we’d become used to on the old model.
As long as you don’t think that it really is a small bike for doing all the things its bigger brother does you’re fine. In fact it will rule on certain tracks. But is it made for 160 or 180 forks? The geometry needs a slight tweak for the 160 I reckon. That amazing rear performance and good all–round chassis is really let down by the forks – probably not Commencal’s fault, but then it’s arguable if pairing both a 160 and 180 fork to a 160 chassis was the brightest move in terms of finely–tuned geometry. I’d definitely buy a Supreme simply because it’s so much fun and a fantastic uplift bike. Frame only wih the DHX 5 though aye?
Price: Supreme Frame £1599.99
Supreme 1 £2499.99
Dirt Build (Approx £3700)
Three outstanding bikes, extremely similar in that they offer roughly six inches of travel, yet different in that they are fine–tuned for the games they play. The Commencal has uplift and hanging–out fun etched deep into its angles and sublime rear suspension. As a pillar of everything without a timer attached it sets standards, it has that attitude (shame really because you’ll definitely want to beat the clock on it). A Supreme 1 at £2499.99 or a 2 at £1799.99 is OK value, but really for a bike as great as the Supreme it’s a case of getting a frame £1599.99 (including seatpost and e.thirteen chaindevice) and building up your own spec. An Atherton spec is the way to go for sure. The SX is as specialist as you’ll get in a mountain bike, this one has been fine tuned by Darren Berrecloth for the business which he’s in. Choose it for that purpose and you’ll have the best in the business. Many riders however will use it as a mini–downhill and alpine bike, and for that workload it will not falter either. But check out what they are offering for the £2740.42 worth of money and you will find you are getting massive
amounts. A bike that will definitely be in our highlight list of the year. And what of the Alpine? Well, it again is marginally upstaged by the SX in terms of value of componentry included, but still has faultless suspension. Strangely the guys up in Halifax seem to have created a genuine alpine goat with excellent race integrity – quicker across the ground than the other two and so is very well suited for the longer enduro and Mega type events. It’s the bike that Specialized no longer have in their range and has the geometry, suspension and lightweight mix that no other company can match.