With so many new bikes and revised versions of the iconic single pivot machine coming out of Halifax, it's easy to forget that the Orange Four is still a very new bike. Having just dropped the Stage 5 and Stage 6 only recently, the focus seems to be clearly on the big wheelers, yet this short travel 650b trail bike is still hot off the press.Buy Trail Bikes on
The Four sits into the Orange range comfortably with, you guessed it, four inches of travel delivered through that tried and tested single pivot design. Four inches isn't really the true story in this case though, as it's actually 120mm of travel, so that'll be 4.7inches... No rounding up here!
So, with 120mm rear and 130mm up front delivered through a set of Factory 34s from Fox, the Four is small on travel but large on life, with a set of numbers designed to get the pulse racing. 458mm reach in a large starts things off, and with a 25mm bottom bracket drop, add some short, 425mm chainstays we have a thoroughly modern bike. The 67-degree head angle is the only sign that this is not an enduro weapon, and that snappy steering and handling is an important aspect of the bike.
The RS spec we have here has had a few tweaks which are easy to do on the Orange website. This build gets upgrades in the form of a Factory fork and shock, Factory wheelset and a Reverb. This takes a solid build and adds some bling to take it up a notch in performace and cost.
The rest of the kit is pretty top-end, with Hope Pro 4 hubs on Race Face ARC 27 rims, again keeping it a bit local and always modern. The Renthal cockpit is a real luxury and the short stem with wide bars fitting perfectly with the longer reach of the frame.
Now it has been some time since I've swung a leg over an Orange, and my cynical views on these single pivot bikes were starting to resurface in advance of my first ride. With so much fancy technology around, it's hard to imagine that something so 'simple' could still be relevant and perform as well as the competition. Can they still compete? Well, the short answer is yes, they can perform amazingly and with the Four it's definitely relevant and bang up to date.
The first blow to my small-minded ideas about single pivots was with the speed and voracity with which the Four climbs. Ravenously hungry for vertical metres, rarely does a trail bike give such incredible levels of acceleration, and on fire-road climbs, this thing rips. The pivot location supports plenty of power and minimum bob through the pedals and the lightweight tyre and wheel combinations do nothing to hinder progress.
The roomy cockpit is a pleasure, and old-fashioned ideas about head angles and stem lengths for climbing are null and void. Point the Four at something, pedal hard and you'll get there. Simple.
Having taken the Four over a variety of terrain and trails, it absolutely comes into its own on twisty, pedal-driven singletrack. British style trail centres are ideal, with enough travel to take out the major stings, yet a willingness to pedal that leaves the rider in a sweating, hyperventilating mess as it eggs you on to try harder. Strava times were broken, up, down and sideways on these types of trails.
Taking it into the more rocky terrain of its Yorkshire homeland, it was clear that it was destined for more than smooth gravel singletrack, and the modern geometry shines through. Although the head angle isn't super slack, the longer reach and low bottom bracket mean you can eek out every last bit of performance in the rough or steep stuff.
The rear suspension isn't perfect, but once you learn the nuances of the single pivot, the performance comes through again. Ploughing through more Yorkshire gritstone, the rear can cough and splutter but it keeps on trucking. Get too grabby on your back brake and you'll certainly catch your rear wheel attempting to overtake you in the fast lane. For me, however, none of this detracts from the awesome ride, it merely gives great character to a very, very fast bike.
It's a very lively and impatient bike, not interested in giving you the plushest and laziest experience. Yes, it's definitely more comfortable than a hardtail and looks after you better, but it won't allow you to mash pedals through a rock garden, or drag your brakes down the trail. The Four expects better from its rider and wants you to try harder.
The major downside of this stead is that it is perhaps too capable for its own good, and the excellent geometry and solid fork gets it into trouble. Firstly there is flex, the back end will get a little squirrely when pushed hard into turns. You can get used to this I suppose, but I personally wanted more support. Secondly, the tyres and rims are light, but not strong enough for the warp speeds possible on board the Four. Sure, these can be changed, but trying to find the balance on a bike like this will be very hard. You want the fast acceleration, but need supportive tyres and rims that won't bend at the first sign of rocks.
Once used to the behaviour, the ride is awesome, and this is really one of my favourite bikes of the year so far. Combining that incredible turn of speed with such confidence, which belies the reduced levels of travel. It's a raw and real experience and requires some skill to make the most of it, otherwise, it may well get you into all sorts of trouble.
Other than the rims, the component selection is excellent on this build, however this comes at a price. A 170mm dropper option in my XL test rig was very welcome, and the Renthal kit is solidly reassuring. The Carbon cranks seem at odds with the aluminium construction, and it would have been nice to see some more metal here, adding to a reliable build. Options for custom builds are innumerable, but with frames coming in at £1650 there is not really a budget option (but then that isn’t what Orange is known for or aiming at!).
For those in 'the know,' an Orange bike is a great bike, but the Four is truly an excellent bike. It requires plenty of rider input and skill to get the best from it, but the rewards are fantastic, capable of turning its hand at anything. The single pivot has some limitations in braking, but keep off the brakes and on the gas and it won't let you down. Forget what you thought you knew about suspension, the single pivot is alive, kicking and disappearing down the trail...
This review was in Issue 48 of IMB.For more information visit Orange Mountain Bikes
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By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.
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