The burgeoning all-mountain category of full sussers that are light and nimble enough to get you to the top of the hills without inducing a heart attack, but still have enough travel to ramp up the fun on the descents, has proven very popular.
But Orange reckon that the ST4’s 4in of travel and pared-down build make it an ideal technical trail machine, putting it alongside far meatier and longer-travelled competitors. Do they have a point there, or have they lost the plot?
Ride & handling: An eager beaver that feels more like a 5in travel bike
There’s more than a hint of Gary Fisher’s G2 geometry in the ST4’s stretched top tube and stumpy stem, though of course without the tweaked fork geometry that makes the Fisher set-up unique. Throw in a relaxed head angle, mid-length chainstays and a generously lanky bottom bracket, and the Orange’s numbers begin to look like living up to their all-mountain promise.
But numbers are only ever part of the story – the true test of a bike is always in the riding. And the ST4 doesn’t disappoint, returning grinning test riders back to base time after time. ‘It just feels right’ was a phrase that we heard again and again. The lanky top tube lends climbers and mile-munchers enough space to get comfortably stretched out, while the short stem and laidback head angle give the front wheel an enticing blend of straight-line stability and easy flickability. Whether you want to let the bike do most of the work or show it who’s boss, the Orange is a willing accomplice.
The spot-on geometry is given a helping hand by a suspension set-up that’s compliant when it needs to be without ever descending into wallowy mushiness. The long stroke Fox Float RP23 rear shock, in combination with the rocker linkage, lives up to its billing. The ST4 won’t win any hill-climb time trials, but the active rear end makes quick work of momentum-robbing roots and rock ledges, while the travel has a progressive feel right to its limits, which makes its 4in feel closer to 5in than we’d ever thought possible.
The relatively light chassis and fork build put a limit on the degree of aerial antics that the ST4 will comfortably withstand, but that’s a price a lot of riders will be willing to pay for a bike that responds so eagerly to a technical challenge, and we reckon it’s better suited to most real-world riding situations than much of the longer-travelled, burlier competition.
Frame: Spot-on geometry with old school looks
The ST4’s tube profiles range from averagely chunky to positively anorexic by current standards, so it isn’t going to draw much attention at the trail centre car park – it certainly doesn’t look like a radical bike. The down tube eschews fashionable hydroformed shape-shifting in favour of a traditional welded reinforcing gusset at the head tube junction, and only the obligatory dropped top tube hints at a design that’s current rather than a decade old.
Meanwhile, the skinny stays that make up the swingarm and drive the shock’s rocker linkage do nothing to dispel the image of sensible plush over head-banging speed. The whole lot is tidily finished and wears a ‘handbuilt in Britain’ sticker on the seat tube. The only hint to the fact that this might not be your average 4in cross-country machine is in the unusually long stroke shock – the custom-tuned Fox Float RP23 shock is a whopping 190mm, eye to eye.
With middling compression and an unusually light rebound damping tune, the combination of lots of air volume, a long shock stroke and a low rocker leverage ratio makes the rear end unusually compliant and responsive – so Orange claim. Given that Orange are pitching this bike at adventurous riders, it’s probably a good thing that the fork offers a whole 120mm (4.72in) of rock-swallowing travel. It may seem perverse for the fork to allow more travel than the rear end, but in practice we found the air-sprung Recon – which is a £50 upgrade over the stock Tora – a good match for the progressive set-up at the back.
Equipment: Slightly under-specced but well worth upgrading
The base model S spec crams in a sensible but unexciting spec comfortably under two grand, although if you’re feeling flush you could splash up to £3,300 on the range-topping SE model. Wide, wide bars combined with a short stem inspire riding confidence when things are getting hairy, while Continental’s Mountain King tyres grip well in dry conditions.