The rise of enduro has a lot to answer for. Goggles with open-face helmets, offensively lurid “colorways” and bum bags are just a few examples of its sins against mountain biking.
Another crime I hold it responsible for is death of the “Alps bike”, a niche of MTB that was popular with British (and probably other European) bikers heading out to use the chairlifts in the summer.
Usually freeride or burly all-mountain bikes, these often featured 160mm or 180mm of coil-sprung suspension at each end, strong wheels and DH tyres and/or tubes and could just about be pedalled up hills or between resorts before hitting the DH runs or the epic walkers’ trails in places like Verbier or Les Arcs.
Rebirth of a legend
Dating back to the end of the 1990s, the Patriot has been one of the most enduring models in Orange’s range – and like some of the clothes we were wearing around the end of the millennium, those early frames look pretty shocking today,
Fortunately the frame was honed and improved over the years, until it had become the archetypal Alps bike by the time it bowed out in 2008.
Orange had introduced the Alpine to its range by then, a highly capable 160mm AM bike which sold really well and looked set to replace the Patriot in the company’s range.
Until 2012 that is, when Orange re-introduced the Patriot as a bigger-hitting option for riders who didn’t want or need a full-on DH bike.
In contrast to those early Patriots, which looked like they’d been knocked up by a blind man in a shed using only gas pipes and a set-square, the new bike was (to my eyes) strikingly handsome with it’s well-proportioned swingarm, fluted top and down tubes and sharp graphics.
I didn’t really need a 180mm bike at the time and couldn’t afford an Orange anyway, but I filed it away in the “maybe one day” folder.
In the frame
I came back to the Patriot last year, having sold my previous big bike – a Mondraker Summum – finding that I wasn’t really going fast or big enough to get the most out of it.
I’d had a 180mm Lapierre Froggy a few years before and liked how it rode more like an AM bike but could still handle a bit of uplift action with no problems – so I decided a freeride/mini-DH bike was what I was after, possibly a Patriot if one came up.
And lo-and-behold, a half-hearted eBay search turned up a barely used 2012 frame (the 2013 and 2014 models are the same) with a freshly Push-tuned shock in my size and painted in Orange’s lovely apple green colour. It was mine for a very reasonable £500 (considering the frames had retailed at £1,800 originally).
After getting it fitted with an Invisiframe protection kit (read review here), I added a Marzocchi 66 RC3 ti fork, Shimano Zee transmission and brakes and a Thomson 50mm stem with a 780mm-wide handlebar.
My plan was to have my trusty Mavic Crossmax SX wheels fitted with tubeless AM tyres for pedally rides and a cheaper set of Superstar wheels with dual ply tyres for uplifts and proper DH.
The frame also came with a set of offset shock bushings already fitted, taking the head angle to about 64.5 degrees – which I hoped would be a good compromise for my riding.
I haven’t weighed it, but I’d take an educated guess at about 36lbs.
My first ride was with an old set of brakes that I hadn’t tested beforehand – and which I discovered needed a bleed as I dropped into the first descent of the day.
However despite the lack of a rear stopper, I found the bike easy to ride – with intuitive handling and cornering, great weight distribution and a lovely fluid feel to the suspension.
A broken chain (and no chain tool) meant that first ride was further compromised, but I still later found I’d got a new Strava PB on a familiar descent that I’d ridden chainless. Aaron Gwin’s got nothing on me.
Further rides with a chain back in place revealed that the bike was a surprisingly good climber on shallower slopes – so long as the lighter wheels are fitted.
As well as riding my local push-up trails, I’ve also taken the Patriot for uplifted riding at Antur Stiniog and at Fort William – and in both cases it coped very well.
There were probably a few more gnarly lines I could have tackled with a full DH bike at both venues, but the lighter weight and more nimble handling are preferable for me I think.
For full disclosure, I wasn’t hitting the bigger jumps or drops at either venue, but the 180mm travel makes drops of 6ft to 8ft a comfortable experience. The bike also feels very balanced in the air.
And back on tighter natural trails there’s no question the Patriot is faster for me than a DH bike.
Just before Christmas 2014 I snapped up a secondhand CCDB coil shock as a present to myself – and it’s further improved the ride. It’s not a huge step up from the Pushed Van RC, but it’s a little bit more composed and offers a touch more grip on rough ground.
Shortcomings – or not?
To be honest, I did go through a period where I’d pretty much convinced myself that the Patriot was too short for me.
Coming back to it from my 29er trail bike it felt twitchy and awkward, however I experimented with lowering the handlebar to increase the reach and – bingo – the problem disappeared.
If I was buying again I’d definitely consider the large instead of the medium (I’m 5ft 8in tall) – but I’m quite happy for now.
There are a few other “issues” commonly identified with Orange bikes and I feel I should address these.
Firstly, single pivot suspension designs apparently stiffen under braking, making the suspension less effective. I think I can discern this effect, but it’s made me focus more on correct braking technique (and braking less). There aren’t many bikes that come with free built-in skills tuition, eh?
When off the brakes the suspension feels gloriously supple anyway, absorbing all the rocks and roots without ever feeling like it’s “hanging up”.
Secondly, I’ve seen a bit of chat about Orange bikes being flexy because of that same single pivot design.
It’s true the bike doesn’t have the stiffest rear end I’ve ridden, but it feels like it’s got just the right amount of flex to stay on line when you need to – but it allows a bit of helpful deflection in the rocks.
I had originally envisaged the Patriot as mainly an uplift and push-up bike (and an Alps bike of course), probably my last “big bike” and one that I’d maybe only ride once every other month when in the UK.
However its pedalling ability and the fact that its just an amazing amount of fun has led me to drag it out for an increasing number of XC rides. Yes really.
While it wouldn’t be my choice for a Lakes epic, I’ve found it quite manageable for three or four-hour “winch-and-plummet” rides locally.
I can’t bloody wait to take it to the Alps next summer!
Note – The Patriot was discontinued by Orange again last year, presumably because it hadn’t sold as well as expected. So why bother reviewing it? Because it’s a bloody good bike and secondhand examples are going surprisingly cheaply (for Oranges).
And people were still riding in the Alps the last time I checked.