Orange Strange – A linkage bike from the Halifax Stable
Once fervent stalwarts of the single pivot bike, Orange are broadening their outlook and there are now numerous multi pivot bikes cropping up under the Orange decal. This bike is a take on the Orange Blood frame, but larger and meatier; a Blood on steroids. I guess it should be called the Orange E.P.O then?
It arrived in full downhill guise, looking like a light, agile downhill bike. However I was re-assured that it could climb and would be more than a pure gravity assisted machine. What fascinated me on my first ride was how it seemed to excel at the ups and not the downs. Yes, I went on an ‘mountain bike ride’ without lifts in the Midlands of England and this bike was more than content. With the saddle up it was obedient and climbed with no bob or reluctance. What surprised me was how it felt on the smooth tight down hills through the woods- vague and slow. This was clearly an inverse of my expectations.
After getting off and giving it a good talking to I quickly spotted the problem- the Fox 40’s had no stanchion protrusion and as such it had a slack head angle of 62 degrees, which suits no one and would probably only excel down Mammoth Mountain chasing Myles Rockwell and Missy Giove. A good bike for America’s anti drug squads then? After dropping the forks through as much as possible I came to a much more agreeable head angle a few degreessteeper.
Back in the true mountains of the French Alps I was keen to ride it in its natural environment and see if there were changes to be felt over the single pivot 224. Well, the changes were marked! The 224 is nimble and skips around a little on corner entry. It isn’t the best over the braking bumps on the brakes and you have to get it set up early to corner well. This bike was so different on the rough stuff and into corners- staying planted a lot more and not locking up under braking but swallowing the bumps and giving a lot of grip in the corner. I was coming out faster and grounding the pedals out on exit as I got on the gas. In fact grounding the pedals was a bit of a re-occurrence as the bottom bracket seems very low- ideal for cornering but does mean pedal catch and I had a couple of moments when pedal met rock.
The suspension action is very progressive- it almost feels bottomless, but in a good way. It doesn’t bog or wallow but keeps ramping up so I never felt a sharp bottom out. I’d love to have my Cane Creek on this to really try and dial in the suspension as I would have probably dropped spring rate in the Alps and used the compression circuits to fine tune the ride, but to be fair to the Fox shock it worked very well and without fault at all.
As with all Oranges, the cockpit is roomy. It may look like a downhill bike, but you can actually ride the thing. Too many downhill bikes are amazing when you aren’t pedalling or are in the Alps going down, but when it comes to pedalling you smash your knees trying to pedal. The Strange felt roomy (even though the seat tube seemed steep) and it encouraged me to ride the thing away from the main runs. In fact I probably did more searching and exploring on this than any of my other bikes- as I knew it would just sit and climb anything with the 36 tooth front ring and 11-32 rear cassette. And once I’d reached a summit I could fly back down at my full potential speed.
The bike looks gorgeous too-although the colour is questionable. If I was building a one off frame under the ‘Strange’ nomenclature I’d probably have it in chrome, tailors chalk marks imitated in the graphics to hint at the nature of the beast. However Orange can paint it terracotta and it still draws so many looks and stares. I felt like the anonymous boyfriend of a Hollywood actress on a catwalk as I rode through town with eyes gawping at about knee level. A knowledgeable crowd keen to see an Orange with a linkage- and a silhouette away from what we are all used to.
I had specc’d the bike as I wanted to- with Renthals new bars and chain ring on there, Hopes mega V2 brakes and parts, and flat pedals. The Renthal bars felt sweet but not as wide as I thought they might have been. No bother for me as 720mm is more than enough and you don’t clout trees. However if you were running super wide bars maybe you wouldn’t want to go narrower again? Well a quick call to Renthal and it looks like a lower rise, wider set are in the pipeline too-Nice. Renthal are on the ball it seems.
It had also come with Saint parts and they were pretty impressive too- although the shifting was very agricultural. Clunk, clunk, goes the gear change. Nothing like the silky Sram gears, but you can often over shift with Sram- not with the Saints as you know when you have changed gear.
The Fox 40’s were spot on, sucking up everything in their path like a mountain Dyson. Stiff and light they do the business and matched the rear end well- but I still think the price is eye watering. I mean you could buy a Motocross bike for the price of these forks. I think the bike would work well with some single crowns on there (Totems for example) but then would that lighten it up enough? I tried to lighten my 224 up last year for the Megavalancge by putting Fox 36’s on the front, but it didn’t help the XC parts at all, it just made the handling worse going down.
As a bike for big hills this Strange starts to make you wonder if you need to go for air shocks and small travel frames. It will get up everything you can and beat everyone else on the way back down.
Add in the fact that chairlifts can help for a lot of the ascending and this is a good improvement on the single pivot chassis in my opinion. I felt it sucked up the bumps more efficiently and wasn’t affected by brake jacking. It also made the suspension feel very progressive and thus allowed the bike to be ridden and not bog down.
I don’t know whether this actual bike will ever see the light of day as the Blood in it’s lighter weight build is more suited to the UK trail scene and for downhill duties there is the much anticipated (linkage) 225. Would these bikes sit side by side in the range? So this bike kind of falls between the two. However the pivot points are slightly different between the Blood and this Strange so there are features of this that could crop up elsewhere in due course.
If this is any indication of what the 225 is going to feel like, I think we’re in for a treat and Orange may well start to pull customers who previously were vehement in their need for a linkage.
Words – Alan Milway