There’s not been much change in the chassis layout of this Halifax hardcore favourite for almost a decade and the new 650B-wheeled version doesn’t disturb the family aesthetics. The bigger wheels have definitely pushed it more towards easy speed than extreme confidence though, especially if you take the complete bike option.
Ride: ready to roll – and roll
If there’s any bike that displays the differences between 26in and 650B wheels most obviously, it’s the Five. We’ve always been big fans of Orange’s all-rounder when it came to more radical riding, but when joining the more entertaining dots it's tended to slouch along like a surly teenager. The addition of slightly bigger wheels has properly made it stand up straight and pull its hands out of its pockets when it comes to covering ground.
Unsurprisingly this was most obvious with the original fast-rolling, hard compound Schwalbe tyres on. Even when we rebooted it with grippy Maxxis rubber it was generally champing at the bit – or impatiently buzzing the back tyres of others; the credit for this goes to the noticeable stiffening in suspension as you apply power.
As long as you keep revs reasonably high and power consistent this keeps the bike tall and eager for positive encouragement through the pedals. You’ll also get continual feedback for how much grip you’ve got to play with, so you can generally feather power and find traction again immediately and instinctively if it sleeps. Generous reach for a medium size means more space to breathe.
In terms of geometry, the long, slack fronted Five is spot-on for speed work. The interactive feel of the shock also makes it easy to pop the wheel up and off drops and it pumps well in trail mode once you’ve adjusted to the rhythm of the larger wheels. Even the way it jacks under braking helps it nose in harder and stick the front tyre better as long as you’re ready to keep weight forward to keep it carving as you come off the anchors.
Handling: takes some getting to know
As with all swingarm bikes a choppy pedalling style will make the back end bounce unless you tone things down or flick the ProPedal lever on. The short-length shock also means a high compression ratio that’s obvious as a hefty thump if you hit stuff too hard. Braking and weighting the pedals heavily hangs the suspension up in a noticeable way too.
Twist in the fork, cockpit and swingarm is also noticeable if you’re trying to grunt up a climb at stalling speed or wrench the bike out of a corner. We also found ourselves crabbing and dabbing relatively often when trying to sneak along the ridges in between rain ruts.
While soft and loamy or muddy natural trails mask the negative effects of this twist, it became much more acute when we attempted to get aggressive on hard, high traction surfaces and berms. Even with firmly inflated Maxxis rubber there was a persistent ‘deflating tyre’ vagueness to high-load trail feedback.
This reduced willingness to properly commit to high speed corners, and we had to work harder to keep it on line: it consistently felt closer to a 29er than some of its peers. This compliance is something you’ll get used to and sometimes it can help the Five wriggle through rather than ricochet off random root and rock sections. Together with the bigger wheels it makes for a smoother, less jarring ride on small bumps too.
Frame and equipment: more of the same
Apart from a slight lengthening of the frame to accommodate the bigger wheels without reducing the 140mm of axle swing and an oversize ‘all fork compatible’ 1.5in head tube, it’s business as usual for the slack-headed, ISCG-mounted, monocoque down tube and swingarm, 142x12mm Maxle rear axle Orange Five.
The paint (custom colours also available) and single pivot bearings are likely to last forever. We were disappointed that the handmade Halifax frame had a seat tube rough enough to badly scar the seatpost as soon as we moved it though.
Our Five was a showroom sample with plasticky tyres that will be replaced with proper triple compound rubber on production models. We’d also thoroughly recommend trying to find the extra £220 to upgrade the Fox 32 fork to a 34, because the skinny-legged unit on our bike really undermined the balls-out approach to any trail that the Five has always been renowned for.
Luckily this test is primarily about the £1,500 frame-only option.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.