Orange's hardcore classic made the jump to 650b wheels last year. It retained much of its simple, straightforward, intuitive terrain response charm but in a smoother and faster – if slightly less stiff – format.
Frame and equipment: plenty of options to go with a classic chassis
Orange uses seam-welded monocoque sections to create the multi-sided tapering down tube and the slab-sided single-pivot swingarm. Custom-butted Reynolds tubing is then welded on to the boxy spine to create the head tube, top tube and seat tube superstructure. In keeping with Orange’s no nonsense ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ ethos you still get a screw-in BB and IS side-mount brake tabs. The rear dropouts are super-thick now though and you get the latest Maxle Lite 142x12mm axle. Internal dropper post routing joins the internal brake and gear line swingarm routing that Orange was one of the first companies to introduce.
Orange added custom paint to our machine
There are 12 options for the super-thick paint job (black, red or white are free, the rest cost extra) and you can add a Hope seat clamp if you want too. The default Evolution series Fox Float shock can also be upgraded to one of four alternatives (we got a RockShox Monarch Plus RC3).
The entry-level of the range is the Five S, but we skipped up to the Five Pro. This comes with a skinny-legged Fox 32 fork though, so we added a 150mm (5.9in) travel RockShox Pike RCT3. The headset, drivetrain, cockpit, brakes and even BB can all be swapped when you’re ordering too. The stock mix of Race Face cockpit kit and cranks with Shimano XT/SLX stop and go equipment works fine though, so we just ticked the Reverb Stealth dropper post box. The Hope Pro 2 EVO hubs are another iconic, durable UK product and the Mavic rims are legendarily robust, if a little narrow. Ironically, the only parts we’d change before hitting the trails – the cheap, hard compound Continentals – don’t have a pull-down upgrade menu next to them on Orange’s website.
Ride and handling: swaggers and swoops with composure
The slack front/short rear end frame shape gives the Five immediate swagger. While there are wider Renthal bar and 35 or 50mm stem options available, it’s an absolute natural when it comes to swooping and swinging through berms anyway. Even when grip starts to go, the 73.5-degree seat angle puts enough weight forward to make sure the compact rear end always slips first. The balance works equally well hopping and dropping off bigger stuff too, and the Pike and Monarch Plus suspension combo gives it significantly more composure than you’d expect for a bike with 140mm (5.5in) of travel.
Orange has experimented with different setups, but single-pivot designs that built the brand’s reputation and still define it today
The single pivot suspension design gives a totally intuitive relationship between your feet and how hard the rear wheel presses into the ground. Stamp hard and the chain tightens, pulling the back wheel down into the dirt for positive traction communication and a dynamic drive feel. Drop your heels and freewheel though and it’s free to swing back and suck up hits. The downside is that pedalling or braking through the rough acts against the suspension and starts the wheels skipping. You can actually use this to deliberately shift bike attitude and wheel weighting but it’s certainly not as composed as a sorted linkage bike (such as Devinci's Troy Carbon XP, which we tested at the same time). Twist in the rear swingarm also trades ground-hugging compliance against accurate tracking through rock gardens or ‘against the grain’ trail sections.
The Five continues to set fast-and-loose riding benchmarks – though frame flex can lead to fumbled lines
A revised pivot point and shock placement means this is the most stable Five to date when you're putting the power down. The 650b wheels definitely roll noticeably faster over the rough than 26in wheels and the hard-compound Contis also help speed on firmer surfaces. There’s still an inescapable to and fro movement of the suspension when cranking though, which meant we left the compression lever on the shock in ‘Pedal’ mode to add some platform damping most of the time. Be prepared to engage full lockout if you’re grovelling in the granny ring or going full gas out of the saddle. While traction is good there’s no doubting the hefty 14.59kg (32.17lb) weight of the Orange drags it back on longer climbs too.
Whether working around all this is an irritation or part of the involving charisma of the Five depends on the rider. From a bad-weather perspective, mud clearance is massive and there’s little to worry about in terms of pivot replacement costs over time. The outstanding customer service reputation of Orange’s Halifax factory HQ is undoubtedly another bonus for more belligerent riders.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.