Orbea is best known for high-end XC race bikes, largely thanks to its sponsorship of Julien Absalon, who’s won pretty much everything there is to win on one.
Budget full suss bikes have little to do with the World Cup circuit, so how does the Max Flow stack up?
Ride & handling: Beginner friendly with an old-school flavour
There’s little to complain about in spec terms, although the square taper bottom bracket and chainset are blasts from the past.
The Flow is hard to beat for reliability, though, and it’s a pukka Shimano chainset with the smooth shifting that delivers. The rest of the transmission is Shimano too, as well as the brakes. M445 stoppers aren’t outstanding in terms of power or feel, but they’re reliable.
Orbea’s super-simple rear suspension can be made to work well, but be prepared to spend some time on it. At lower pressures it’s supple but mushy, while whacking more air into the shock makes it taut but pattery. Experimentation will yield a suitable compromise, but it’s not as easy to ﬁnd a good set-up as some more sophisticated systems.
The X-Fusion O2 shock does have a potentially useful lockout lever, but it’s short and stiff, and with the shock low in the frame it’s not that easy to ﬂip.
On paper the Max Flow's frame is shorter and steeper than some of its peers, but the Orbea’s shorter stem and layback post mean that your weight is further back on the bike, making it a friendlier place to be if you’re not entirely conﬁdent of your abilities.
The handling is a bit old-school, with a slight sensation of tipping into turns – the Max Flow responds best to getting your line right on the way into a corner rather than trying to sort it out halfway through. Though that’s a sound plan whatever bike you’re riding.
Frame & equipment: Simplicity, solidity and a spec that emphasises reliability
Most suspension bikes on the market are laden with pivots and linkages, making the single pivot Max Flow unusual. While ultimate performance may not be a match for multi-pivot set-ups, fewer moving parts tends to mean less workshop time. The pivot is low, tucked in just above the bottom bracket behind the chainrings and runs on reassuringly sizeable, if rather exposed, bearings.
Aft of the pivot is a compact swingarm. Bizarrely, there’s a pair of blanked-off cantilever brake bosses on the swingarm, a curious hangover from days of yore. They’re clearly not intended to be used as there’s no cable guides leading to them.
Orbea’s not taking any chances with front end stiffness and strength, with a substantial rectangular down tube supplemented by a tidy open-ended gusset at the join with the machined head tube.
With the swingarm where the bottom of the seat tube would usually be and a shock to accommodate, the Max Flow has a pair of struts to join everything up. The shock mounts to the top of the down tube and passes between two struts that support the seat tube.
The frame design limits seat adjustment. Watch out when lowering the seat as the bottom of the seat post can clout the shock.
It won’t be a concern to many riders, but the position of the shock mount forces a high location for the bottle cage bosses that makes it hard to access a large bottle.
The down tube carries all the cabling.
The Max Flow is a good buy if you want an inexpensive, low-maintenance bike and you aren’t bothered by the latest bells and whistles. You’re still getting a reasonable spec and it’s not outrageously heavy. The suspension set-up is an exercise in compromise and it feels rather old-fashioned in terms of suspension and handling, but there’s a lot to be said for simplicity.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.