Photos: Roo Fowler | Rider: Toby Pantling
May 11 2017
The Orange E-bikes are coming
E-bike development is nothing short of revolutionary. It's been coming for a while, everyone's talked about it, but now that revolution is here, and here to stay; e-power is now an option.
We've been closely watching e-bike components maturing since the very first prototypes. Our first thought was, if we're going to do this we need to build what we would call a proper bike not a 'concept' piece for the show halls but a working, useable mountain bike for the terrain we ride.
We looked at the options available, and soon realised the Shimano E-8000 pedal assist drive unit has a lot going for it. So working with Shimano, we've based our designs around that. We want a bike with a decent amount of suspension travel, that's versatile and proven, so we started with the proven Alpine 6 for our geometry. We know the bike rides really well, so we have some data points we trust.
The resulting bikes have been a revelation, culminating in the full working model that we have here. Every test rider has come back raving about their experience on the bike and how it will bring a major new way of thinking for the sport.
Some said it would never happen, others cried 'heresy', but here at Orange we are open minded souls. E-Bikes? Fuss or Fluster? Let's see.
In a few short weeks we were riding the first prototypes, and do you know what? We like this powerful new experience... a lot.
Building a time machine
Until you've spent some time on an E-bike you start with a few unknowns and even more assumptions. Is it like a motorbike? Is it heavy? Do you have to pedal? Is it cheating?
All of these questions and more are valid, but it's the questions you probably haven't thought about that you will find answers to first.
The most valuable thing a bike like the Alpine 6 E gives you is time. It hands it to you on a plate. What was previously an all day epic becomes a two hour blast.
The commute to work is now the long way over the hills rather than 'a dice with the traffic'. Lung busting climbs that bring you to a grovelling crawl, become an exercise in laying down the power and picking your line, not the lines picking on you.
Tracks that rip your legs off and have your lungs bursting become skips and bounces and and your line choice over the rough stuff.
As for cheating? That's for you to decide. The E-bike will not replace the range of bikes we know and love, but will be an addition to wide range of capabilities we enjoy as mountain bikers. Once you've tried an Orange e-bike on some serious terrain, we think you will see the light, we certainly did.
The Drive Unit
We've chosen to work with Shimano, using the E8000 pedal assist system. The features it offers work extremely well for us.
Due to the size of the drive unit, no change to bike geometry is necessary. The E-bike you see here is the exact same geometry as our Alpine 6 model.
The power is delivered when the rider starts pedalling. We've found with the Shimano E8000 unit the power is smooth and controllable, even in boost mode. This is crucial on the technical terrain we love to ride.
Unlike other drive units on the market, the Shimano E8000 crankset has the same Q-factor as the human powered cranks you are used to, this means no awkward changes to your pedalling position. This drive unit also has a zero-drag feature, so as you surge past the assisted power, often into descents, all of your pedal input goes into the drive, rather than dragging the motor's "gearbox". This gives a really responsive feel, when you're hitting those high-velocity descents. You soon forget you're riding an E-bike until the assist kicks in again to help power you up the next climb.
Here are the initial technical specifications of the Shimano E8000 drive unit.
PEDAL ASSIST MODES
All three support modes will assist until 16mph.
WEIGHT OF DRIVE UNIT