Rosie slinked off to Briancon with the guys at Hope Technology to be one of the first to sling a leg over their much-coveted and hyped HB.160.
Words by Rosie Holdsworth | Photos by Roo Fowler.
Hope are the Bond villains of the bike World, and we mean that in the nicest possible way. Charming and lovely but delightfully irreverent as to what other people might be doing. Only a company like Hope could produce something that people will clearly buy, tell everyone about it, then spend years before putting it to market. The Hope HB.160 is no different.
- UK-made carbon fibre frame.
- Radially-mounted rear caliper.
- Offset rear triangle.
- 30mm bottom bracket.
- Custom 130 x 17mm rear spacing.
- Dish-less rear wheel.
- Sizes S, M, L and XL
- £7,500 RRP.
Behind closed doors.
Seemingly answerable to no-one, the team in Barnoldswick have a history of doing things their way and they have amassed a legion of loyal fans as a result.
It’s no secret that the crafty team at Hope have been up to something exciting, hidden away in their northern lair, so an invitation from Hope to join them in the French Alps earlier this summer was an opportunity too good to miss.
Hope’s reputation for precision-engineered wonders and top notch customer service is renowned, but they’ve thus far stuck to creating component parts.
Embarking on the creation of an entire bike from scratch is a pretty ambitious project, but ‘pretty ambitious project’ could summarise everything Hope take on.
Hope’s Brand Manager Rachael Walker explained that the company ethos lead to the development of the bike: Frustrated by designing the best product they could, only to be restricted by other brands’ frames and components and having to go back to the drawing board.
The company took the bold decision to develop and create an entire bike, designed without compromise. Designing and building (almost) everything in-house also means that Hope has ultimate quality control, ensuring that all elements of the build met their requirements.
The idea of creating a whole bike build had been hanging around Hope HQ for a while. With previous plans ranging from a basic steel frame, through to a downhill race rig. Hope finally settled on creating a carbon framed 160mm travel all mountain bike, ideal for UK riding and well suited to Hope’s local trails and peaks – the HB.160.
Their expertise in machining made what’s often the trickiest and most expensive part of carbon frame development – the moulding (done with very expensive CNC’d lumps) – a breeze. With aerospace engineers Rolls-Royce practically next door, Hope had plenty of carbon expertise on hand to help. How hard could it be?
On arrival in Briançon we were greeted with cold beers and an array of carbon prototype frames, CNC’d moulds and cleverly engineered rear-triangles. Engineer Guillaume explained some of the nuances of the bike’s design; such as a radially mounted rear brake, the spacing of the rear triangle (achieving a similar effect to ‘Boost’), bonded rather than welded aluminium and Horst suspension linkage.
Admiring fancy carbon frames is one thing, but how would the bike ride?
The trails around Briançon Serre Chavalier were brand new to me and turned out to be precisely my cup of tea, with potential for rocky death in every direction!
The first day’s riding took in the local bike park in all its dusty, bermy glory. I felt at home on the bike almost immediately and after a little tinkering with the Fox 36s and bar height I was soon into the swing of the bike.
I’m not usually much of a park rider, but the Hope HB.160 was so lithe and fun that even I was railing berms by the end of the day. The bike was so fun and manoeuvrable through berms and tabletops.
The bike feels shorter and more lithe than many modern enduro sleds and was more akin to my old faithful Orange Five than other 160mm carbon bikes I’ve ridden recently.
That’s no bad thing, quite the contrary; the bike was super engaging and entertaining to ride. Rather than steaming through technical sections without a second thought, the bike was effervescent and lively without compromising the feeling of being planted and sure-footed. Other bikes might be faster through the bike park, a combination of shorter wheelbase and steeper angles giving it marginally less stability at warp speed, but they’d be hard pushed to be as much fun elsewhere.
I’ll huff and I’ll puff…
Riding on the second day took a more natural turn. Uplift by Hope van to the Col du Granon followed by a stunning traverse with some short sharp climbs. I was huffing and puffing more than usual as a result of the altitude (I hope) but the bike behaved superbly on the climbs being plenty nimble enough for the steep and loose shepherds’ tracks we took on.
The bike was such a joy to ride; even the relatively featureless traversing sections through high alpine meadows had me beaming.
It was the steep switchbacks and wooded alpine slopes where the bike really came into its own. It was just so much fun to ride and ate up every obstacle in its way. Its relatively short wheelbase meant it handled switchbacks with ease and it was amazingly capable on the mega steep and tight singletrack.
The bike was amazingly comfortable on the technical natural trails above the ancient fortress town of Briançon whilst remaining mind-blowingly energetic and straight-up fun.
I was unwilling for the fun to stop so took the bike up for a last exploratory descent from the high point above Serre Chavalier’s Bike Park. The HB.160 felt even more at home here on the exposed boulderfields and saw me safely through a good few sketchy moments amongst the marmot burrows.
Silly black trail.
My final descent took in the bike park’s wonderfully silly black trail as well as a couple of cheeky walking paths. The bike rewarded my extra effort with a fantastically entertaining blast through the meadows and pine forests back into town.
The HB.160 brings together great components with a no-compromise purpose built frame which really delivers. Designing a bike has allowed Hope to showcase what they do best and has given the engineers free rein to show off and give the full suite of Hope components the chance to shine.
After two days hard riding, first impressions are that this is a bike that will really make sense for a lot of UK riders, a bike you could reasonably use for a bit of everything. It’ll be great fun in the local woods, fast enough to race enduros, comfortable for big days out and plenty capable enough for the occasional trip out to Europeland.
The only slight drawback being that I suspect it would all too regularly tempt you to skive off work and make excuses to your family in order to spend time in its slinky carbon company up a mountain somewhere.