Light, strong, cheap — pick two. That’s the classic cycling maxim that’s held sway over the cycling industry for decades. But, maybe it’s not the be all and end all, especially when it comes to gravity orientated mountain biking. Orange may have cottoned on to this.
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Orange has long had its ‘Strange’ concept bikes, which tend to be shown when they’re nearly ready for production, or at the very least, give a strong indication of what is about to come from the Halifax, UK, based brand.
At the 2018 Eurobike show Orange had a Strange 329 DH bike on show. I actually wrote about almost the same bike at the 2017 Eurobike show (you can read that here), but this year there was something different about the bike.
Mixing it up
The single pivot, aluminium construction remains, with the shock mount sitting in a down tube cradle. The swingarm has the split design that we’ve seen on a number of Orange’s over the years too, which is said to give a stiffer build, down to the 150mm-spaced rear hub.
All the classic Orange ‘things’ are present and correct.
The difference on this model though is the addition of some weighted plates, bolted to the bottom of the down tube near the bottom bracket.
As we expected when we saw the weights, Orange told us that they can experiment with adjusting the sprung to unsprung weight ratio of the bike, which changes the feel of the bike.
Unsprung weight is the weight of components that move with the undulations of the ground, and aren’t supported by suspension — that’s mainly the wheels, fork lowers and swingarms.
Sprung weight is weight that’s isolated from the ground by suspension — mainly the majority of the frame, cockpit, fork uppers and ultimately the rider.
We’ve tested the theory
At BikeRadar we’ve done a number of weight-based experiments to see how changing the weight of the bike, or adding weight to the rider, changes how bikes feel on the trail or up hill.
What we’ve found is that increasing the ratio of sprung weight to unsprung weight improves the feeling of the bike on rough terrain, calming the feeling of the bike for a smoother ride with better feeling suspension. That’s why e-MTBs often feel ‘better’ and more planted than their analogue cousins.
There’s an argument that changes to the overall weight of the bike is insignificant when the rider’s mass is added, however as Seb Stott explains: “That would be true if the rider was connected rigidly to the chassis. In reality, though, the rider is loosely connected and is unable to ride as fast if the frame bounces about all over the place. Basically, the more weight on the frame, the less the chassis moves, and so the less shock your arms and legs have to absorb.
“Adding weight to the rider does not have that same effect. The 3kg on the frame is immediately noticeable in the rough; the bike feels way smoother and more planted to ride.”
Back to the bike
So this brings us back to the Strange 329. Those plates that can be added or removed from the down tube look like a very smart way to alter the feeling of the 329’s ride.
While Chris Porter at GeoMetron Bikes has played around with weighting his team’s DH bikes at various DH races, as far as we know this is the first ‘clean’ version of a bike brand adding this capability to their bike.
The three plates add a kilo of weight to the frame, but as Orange’s engineer told us, this could easily be adjusted to add more, or less, depending on the preference of the rider.
Its removable nature means that on more pedally tracks weights could be lowered, or removed, to make the bike easier to accelerate, while more weight could be added on steeper tracks where gravity offers a greater helping hand to getting you faster.
Having the weight low down on the frame should further help aid stability, keeping the centre of mass closer to the floor. However, Orange says it’s also been experimenting with adding weights near the handlebars, which supposedly has the effect of improving the feel of the fork’s suspension.
Orange didn’t commit to saying that this system would definitely make it to production, however I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at some point down the line. It also opens up the question of where else we might be able to benefit from this.
Were there the ability to add weight to an enduro or trail bike, riders could add weight on a lift-assisted ride to maximise the performance of the suspension, while then being able to remove it on a longer trail or XC ride.
When it comes to enduro, weights could be added for lift-assisted stages, or towards the end of the day when tired arms and legs might benefit from more supple suspension, at the cost of a little up-hill performance.
That, in itself, is also up for debate, because while adding relatively little weight to the frame does have a genuine effect on the ‘feel’ of the bike, it’s still debatable as to how much effect adding weight has to the effort needed on climbs.
Needless to say, I think it’s an interesting concept. There will be many who won’t want to add weight to their bike, and there’s nobody forcing you to do so.
However, there will be riders who want to experiment or may find that the ability to manipulate the sprung:unsprung weight ratio of the bike is an advantage in some situations.
I, for one, hope that Orange and other manufacturers do bring this system out. Let us know in the comments whether you fancy strapping a few extra kilos to your bike!