If there was any trail bike that deserves the ‘evergreen’ tag it’s Orange’s famous Five. The 2017 version enjoys subtle but extensive updates to make it one of the best bikes around if you like to be in the centre of the fun storm, not isolated from it.
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Every Orange full-suspension frame is carefully folded and hand welded in Halifax, Yorkshire, which makes continual evolution easy. There’s a new down tube with a lower shock mount for a more progressive pop to the suspension. A Boost rear axle and 6mm wider main pivot add tyre clearance and stiffness but there’s enough metal milled out elsewhere to make it the lightest Five yet.
I have to say that’s all relative, though, as the slab-sided, cantilevered swingarm is still twangy under sideways load and it’s the heaviest bike in our Trail Bike of the Year testing at 2kg chunkier than the Canyon Spectral CF 8.0 EX.
If you’re used to a more neutral suspension system with much less backwards chain tug when you hit stuff then the direct relationship between trail and pedals of the single-pivot swingarm can be a shock. In fact, one of our testers described the way the suspension compression yanks the chain and cranks back as “an ankle-snapping nightmare” after the first rooty, droppy descent.
Two hours later, though, that same rider was absolutely raving about the Five, and when it came to letting it all hang out round the berms and boulders of Stainburn, the roost of the Forest of Dean or the granite rock gardens of Madrid’s Black Town Trails, it was always the bike we were fighting to get onto.
The simple reason is that it involves you in the experience of riding like nothing else. Stamp on the power and the suspension stiffens, the bottom bracket lifts and the head angle steepens, creating a sharper sprint feel with more ground clearance to keep pedalling. It steepens and shortens under braking, too, loading maximum grip onto the front tyre and making the back end more likely to slide out.
Drop your heels and push back, though, and the Five softens, lengthens and drops lower to the ground. The back wheel twangs and twists around dramatically under load, which sounds a real issue but often actually increases its ability to find grip or shrug off big impacts. Add a stiff monocoque mainframe with a slack steering angle and long reach, upgraded wide Kore rims for extra-smooth traction and a 780x35mm bar and you’ve got a rowdy, in-your-face ride that’s begging to be thrown down every trail at the ragged edge of sideways sliding, roost-hurling, late-braking, drop-sending sanity.
The fact it’s also remarkably fast down the most demanding of trails, and comes in 10 different colours and six different decal options with multiple custom-upgrade choices in the bike-builder buffet, just adds to its individualistic appeal.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.