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Trail and Enduro Bikes

Fast bikes – Hope HB160

Brit component specialists release carbon beauty

Photos: Roo Fowler
Words: Mick Kirkman

Like loads of Hope’s kit, the HB 160 bike it’s about to sell isn’t that fussed about doing things the standard bike industry way. It’s made in the UK for starters, part carbon-fibre and rammed with out-there, one-off features and design ideas. In case you didn’t guess, that matter-of-fact name spells out the brand’s initial, the fact that it’s a bike and the travel. There’s only one model available, and decked out almost entirely with Lancashire-made kit, it’s available in bike shops this September for the princely sum of £7,500.

Even though the bike’s prototype has already raced EWS rounds, forget about Hope’s first effort being just Enduro-specific. It’s designed as a tough, durable mountain bike for a bit of everything, and results from a long journey for the brand.

Basically morphing out of co-founders Simon Sharp and Ian Weatherill always fancying a Hope frame to hang their ever-growing parts selection on, the general gist of the bike project is nicely summed up by one of Ian’s apparent favourite expressions; ‘How hard can it be?’ After multiple stalled prototypes ranging from DH rigs to kids bikes, like a lot of things Hope, it hasn’t come that easy or quickly; there was two years graft before anyone outside the firm was invited out to Briançon, France to actually ride this thing.

CONSTRUCTION

The northern brand has swerved anything as traditional as welded steel, or even the aluminium it’s famous for in the bulk of the frame. This is because it reckons carbon is the best material for the job. Obviously, diving straight in with full suspension, and that fancy, dangerous-to-work-with carbon stuff nearly everyone else heads to the Far East for is a brave move. It also means going straight against the big players at the top end with that price tag too.

Where Hope’s aluminium expertise is etched into the process is in the hollow moulds the carbon fibre sheets are laid into. These 70mm thick, machined billet slabs fold together and eventually form the HB160’s massive monocoque front triangle.

There’s apparently £15,000 of alloy and a week’s machine time in each, all done in-house. This gets baked at various temperature and pressure regimes for a couple of hours, before peeling the two halves to reveal the front end.

The aluminium stays are machined in house and welded locally. It all sounds simple put like that, but the whole process has required a lot of learning and joining forces with experts that previously built British Cycling’s carbon track bikes. Hope’s specialist team is now headed up by a fella with the awesome name of ‘Olympic Chris’ (Clarke), and it apparently takes the crew a workweek to lay up each side of the mould. It’s limited numbers only now, but Hope is aiming to make and sell about ten frames a week once everything is up to speed.

The HB160 front end is deliberately left unpainted to show off the quality of the carbon bought in locally, and the lack of filler and resin. It’s designed to be as stiff as possible, with any compliance and lateral frame feel the job of the aluminium stays. There are unique features like Hope’s thread-together, non-preloaded, BB30 bottom bracket, but it’s the bike’s back end that’ll have those averse to new ‘standards’ coming out in a rash.

A lack of compatibility with existing hub and axle components comes partly from a pretty unique opportunity to fiddle by making both parts and frame. Hope simply didn’t have to comply with any ‘normal’ fitment restraints it didn’t agree with, instead coming up with its own hub width and axle design. One outcome of fabricating your own proprietary solutions though is the restriction to only sell the HB160 as a complete bike.

The distinctive back end uses a narrower, 130mm wide, rear hub and a dishless wheel with a thicker 20mm axle. The design (kind of) achieves a similar, wider wheel brace angle to Boost 148, and relies on the hub flanges sitting tight to the brake rotor. The stays are also moved out on the driveside to provide a better chainline, and in for more clearance on the non-drive side. The heavily machined stays look pretty funky and Hope is also experimenting with a funky way to make them by using a bonded, rather than welded, assembly technique, so it can use a better grade of aluminium that doesn’t like welding guns. The unusual radial brake support uses a motorbike style mount and spacing each side of the caliper equally to adapt to bigger rotors, rather than specific adaptors.

At Hope for almost 15 years, French engineer, Guillaume Leon, has steered the engineering side of the project. “Like the rest of Hope’s products, we weren’t going for the lightest. We aim for durability, and want to know our stuff is going to survive. I’ve followed on from Simon’s lead and feedback on the early prototypes, and, in terms of suspension and geometry, I’ve kind of been a bit biased in making a bike that suits me. It’s not really a long, planted enduro race rig, more a bike that can climb up most things and get down anything in the local mountains around Briançon.”

… and he means anything

The huge front triangle has been made sleeker for production and the anodized hardware and CNC work are obviously designed to look pretty, but the whole frame is also clearly made to take a proper beating and crap northern weather. Up close, you kind of get the feeling that durability is equally (if not more) important to looks, and if the sound the frame makes when rocks smack it is anything to go by, I’ll stick my neck out and say you’ll still see HB160s going strong in about twenty years time. £7,500 is big money, but in the flesh it’s special, and considering it’s a British hand-made carbon frame jammed with one-of-a-kind equipment, the price isn’t out of line with boutique Taiwanese-made carbon bikes elsewhere.

Geometry

In terms of shape, the HB160 is available in four sizes. Guillaume already touched on the conventional geometry, and explained, “We wanted a lively, manoeuvrable, playful bike and not to go over the top with longer and slacker numbers. You basically have to accept that not every bike suits everybody, and this is the way we’ve chosen to do it.” The large frame I opted for in France has shorter numbers than I’m used to with 439mm reach, a 65.5-degree head angle and a 1,195mm wheelbase.

Hope is selling the 160 with Fox, rather than the Ohlins dampers seen on the prototypes, with a Float 36 up front and a X2 out back. Coil might be an option later, but with tuning from Chris Porter and Mojo, it’s sold on the air sprung X2’s performance. The suspension design is a Horst link 4-bar developed in-house with a very progressive leverage curve that should work with either spring. Hope mechanic Doddy set up the sag, slapped a 35mm stem on and I took it up the hill.

Feeling

Straight off the first lift in Serre Chevalier (and a week riding a 19.5in Trek Slash), the HB160 took some time adjusting to the sizing, but not to the general feel and front to rear balance. The suspension felt marginally firm, but there’s decent grip, support and pedal efficiency, and the chassis covered ground quickly. The back wheel tracks well over bike park chop and holes when pulling the brakes too. After a few runs, and a couple of clicks less low and high speed compression the back tyre bit more into flat turns and the X2 felt more lively, but still with plenty feedback.

Whatever blend Hope’s British Cycling boffins are laying, the solid frame’s got a well damped feel and a dull thwack through holes and rocks, without being too rigid, brittle or twangy. The headtube area is noticeably stiff, even compared to other carbon enduro bikes. Measured static, the 340mm BB is normal, but the HB160 rides tighter in the mid stroke, so doesn’t sit in and put feet as low as some other 160mm bikes. It’s a fraction upright in man-made berms and jumps, but still has a real carve to it and good corner exit speed.

Built durable like Hope wanted, it’s over 14kg with proper tyres and the chunkiness is noticeable on flatter ground. Using Hope’s 35mm rims (2kg+ a pair) doesn’t help in the liveliness stakes, but the wheel set up has good support for wider tyres, to counter the fact they roll slowly and don’t accelerate that fast. You’re obviously locked in to a special Hope hub set up, but not necessarily the rims if you wanted to chuck even more money at wheel build choices afterwards.

After one day on lifts, the HB160 left a solid impression, but the front tyre went missing on blown out dust a couple of times, and I still hadn’t totally synced with the bars and front wheel being closer than normal. It felt like it needed stretching out a bit to shift about in, and also lowering for the bike park, especially as the frame height was affecting knee clearance with saddle slammed. This standover aspect seems a bit weird on a brand new bike now that 170mm droppers exist as well.

N.B. Hope has lowered the seat tube due to feedback received.  S frame : no change, M frame : 5mm off, L frame : 10mm off, XL frame : 10mm off. Geometry chart above includes updates.

Our second ride was a totally different kettle of fish – a van uplift to a backcountry descent to Briançon that took in one of the steepest tracks I’ve ever half-ridden, half-scrambled. This was designer Guillaume’s typical local riding; technical footpaths and balcony trails that have eyeballs on stalks trying to process all the information to keep safe. In this raw, natural terrain, and the HB160 made good sense. Easy to pick up and turn, tighter here meant more flow in multiple switchbacks and an ability to scythe through twisty tree-lined paths. After a morning rattling rocks and hairpins, Hope’s bike had just kind of slipped into the countryside, meshed into me and got on with it. The narrower rear end really was a thing too; it does slink through tighter gaps and pointy edges better for a not-insignificant advantage.

This second day felt way more in tune with the overall philosophy for the HB160. It’s a solid bike with a bit of personality, and chasing Guillaume down his local trails you can catch what it’s trying to say. Yeah, the numbers are a bit short and tall, and the head angle never felt quite as slack as advertised, but somehow that felt like details not to get hung up on, rather than the big picture. Maybe it’s just the romance of the story that gets under you skin, the uniqueness of the machine and the way it gets on with all the trails pointed at it that sucks you in by the end?

Hope might still programme that massive lathe to run for a week and cut the blanks for a longer, slacker 160mm frame in the future, and if it does, I’d love to try the result. Until any such bike’s produced though, it’s pure speculation whether it’d have half as much charisma as Hope’s managed to hammer into its own dream bike. Not just making another copycat product for a first bike is impressive, and the bloody-mindedness and the passion that’s gone into the HB160 is written all over it, and, ultimately, worthy of respect. Hope has played Top Trumps with itself and stuck its name on exactly what it wanted to, with as few compromises as it was willing to make. You have to tip your hat to that, and to a machine, the likes of which you’ll not see come around everyday.

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