What is it
Orange Bikes has produced high quality alloy bikes for the U.K. market for many years and are now making their way into the U.S. via Aventuron, distributing direct-to-consumer. Aventuron provided Mtbr a Stage 6 Factory, their enduro machine. It is a long travel 29er built in the U.K. To the casual observer, the frame is a simple single-pivot design with massive swing arm, but it demands a closer look. Read on to hear what makes this bike special and why we were so sad to send it home.
- Allows for very active riding
- Excellent suspension package
- Pedals well
- Devours chunky terrain
- Always ready to roll
- No water bottle mount
- Suspension gets firm under braking
- High price point for alloy
- No downtube protector and mastic tape used on chainstay
Before talking about what goes into this frame’s design, it’s worth asking how does it feel? My initial impression was surprise over not feeling any weight penalty while having an incredibly stiff chassis. Orange spends time optimizing every piece of metal used in the frame. At a distance this is not apparent, yet the closer you look, the more obvious it becomes.
The monocoque aluminum tubing has wall thicknesses optimized for strength vs. weight. Quality is maintained through handling most manufacturing in-house and sourcing materials from established local partners, many providing materials to the aerospace industry. Orange employees a fleet of expert welders who undergo an extensive training process prior to welding any production frames. Their manufacturing process is closely controlled, utilizing precision jigs to assemble the frame components.
The frame’s welds are plentiful and all look like a stack of dimes, just as they should. After looking at the complexity in the tubes, I had some questions. Here are the direct responses from Orange:
Mtbr: How do you make the top tube?
Orange: A top tube is made from firstly punching stencils out of an 8′ x 4′ T4 6061 Aluminum sheet. Each top tube has its own steel tool for each size frame. The stencil is then placed in a rubber surround and the steel tool, shaped like a top tube, is forced down with hydraulic pressure in a press brake. The soft aluminum simply folds around the steel tool forming the shape of the top tube. You then slide the tool out of the aluminum and voila, you have yourself a top tube. All that’s left to do it tack it up and run a seam weld that’s hidden underneath the tube.
It’s easier to have a mold and stamp two halves of top tube and weld them together top and bottom, but then you’re staring at a great big weld on the top of your top tube.
Hydroforming is easier and cheaper but it’s generally heavier. You start off with a thick tube of aluminum and effectively blow it from one end to the other. The back end of the tube usually stays a lot thicker than it needs to be and the front end is thinner but can be in any shape you want, leaving the middle to be thicker than it needs to be. It was only a few years ago that we used to use a hydroformed top tube. We thought, we can make this better and be in complete control of the supply chain by making them ourselves.
Mtbr: Where is the material sourced from?
Orange: We’ve been buying our aluminum from a U.K. distributor for over 20 years now. They source the best 6061 sheet alloy for the aerospace industry.
Mtbr: What is the purpose of the heat treating process? Strength, corrosion?
Orange: Heat treatment is purely an age hardening process. T4 (tempered 4) is a state whereby the aluminum is workable to a degree where it’s not too soft and not too hard. Putting a lot of heat into aluminum when welding causes it to become softer. It’s in the T4 state when you can have a frame welded up and manipulate it when it’s in the alignment jig to make sure everything is where it should be. Dropouts line up with the holes for the 12mm axle. The shock drops in line with the shock mounts on the front and rear parts of the frame. These sort of things are harder to work with after you’ve gone to T6 heat treatment on the frames.
For corrosion resistance, we simply powder coat the frames. Primer, base coat and then a clear lacquer. There are 10 colors available because we paint the frames in house after we’ve made them.
Our initial impressions of the frame are a very rigid chassis, modern geometry trends are all present (Orange has had them for years – long, low, slack), internal cable routing, boost rear, relaxed headtube angle, plus some tried-and-true staples like a threaded bottom bracket, and single pivot suspension. The single pivot system has been refined over many years, landing on pivot locations which optimize pedaling performance. That linkage also means the leverage ratio is fairly constant over the travel, so any progression needs to happen with the spring. More on that later.
Are your riding conditions frequently wet and sloppy? The simplicity of single-pivot is calling. The first time I went to tighten the pivot bolts, being accustomed to a half dozen or so, I chuckled to myself because there is only one. The bearings are sealed, have a gasket, and once they do wear, replacement is a cheap (only two bearings) and straight forward process. If any issues are encountered with the frame itself, Orange back it up with a 5-year warranty.
Bike Overview: Build Options
Three tiers of the Stage 6 are available, plus a frame-only version. There are no frame differences between the flavors, only the components. Key differentiators are the two lower tiers have 11spd drivetrains, the upper having 12spd. The PRO build utilizes FOX with Shimano, RS build uses RockShox with SRAM, and Factory build uses FOX with SRAM and Hope. Mtbr tested the Factory version.
Orange offers an online bike builder to tweak your specific options and colors, of which 10 are available. Pricing is as follows:
$5265 PRO – FOX Performance dampers, Shimano 11spd drivetrain
$6480 RS – RockShox dampers, SRAM 11spd drivetrain
$7830 Factory – FOX Factory dampers, SRAM 12spd drivetrain, Hope
Aventuron is the point of contact for U.S. sales, so most consumers will receive their Orange in a box. Packaging is excellent and assembly was simply a matter of installing the wheels and bars, adjusting cockpit positions, and converting from tubes to tubeless. Sealant is included.
The first comment from plastic bike enthusiasts: “BUT…how much does it weigh?!?!”
Mtbr: burly build, no pedals, including the mud fender, setup tubeless: 31.0 pounds.
The Stage 6 is a 160mm/150mm f/r travel 29er. Geometry numbers were listed earlier, with a nicely slack 65.5 degree head tube, moderate 74.5 degree seat tube, moderate reach (462mm) and quite a bit of stack (643mm). The large fits my 6’ frame, 33” inseam well and I found it to pair well with the selected cockpit.
As mentioned previously, cable routing is all internal. The bike arrives fully assembled, so we did not need to route any of them and cannot comment on ease. The frame also includes ISCG05 mounts to install a chain guide if desired.
The frame’s paint job is impressive, with a light metal flake that pops out in bright sun. In the photos, everything blue is painted, the orange items are decals whose edges started to flake off during testing. The paint is excellent, but has limited protection. There is no downtube protector, so a few chunks of paint were removed via rock strikes and the chainstay protector is only mastic tape. Molded rubber solutions are now the industry norm, so would be nice to see in the future here.
At one point, I was pedaling up an access road and heard a horrid crunching sound. A rock had been tossed between the front of the swingarm and the down tube, so when the suspension extended it got sandwiched. That made me very glad the frame was alloy instead of carbon. It was easy to clear out, but is quite a surprise to hear. It only happened once, so must have been bad luck.
Orange has selected the same dampers I have on multiple bikes: FOX Factory 36 fork with RC2 damper paired with a Float X2 shock with climb switch. These offer the rider a wide tuning range. This high end shock is an important addition to the frame, especially for heavy or light riders, and allows the rider to add tune progression for deeper travel.
The expected drivetrain for modern high end bikes adorns the Factory model: SRAM Eagle X01. The 12 speeds let you do everything from long grinding climbs to high speed descents with a single ring. The derailleur hanger is fairly short, and requires one of the newer Park DAG 2.2 tools to clear the chainstay, which was an early discovery. The TruVative cranks are cleanly designed, come with protective end caps and hold a 32t chainring.
Hope brakes are one item I’ve heard many people praise and this was my first exposure to them. The machining is impressive and initial performance was quite good, delivering power with modulation. Their Tech 3 E4 calipers are paired with their floating 203mm/183mm f/r rotors. The Hope levers have nice toolless adjustments, yet I ran into issues with the tip of the lever contacting my middle finger (for one-finger braking) and had to readjust my grip before the brakes would work. If these were on a personal bike, I’d take a Dremel tool to the lever and shorten them. I also needed to change over to sintered pads after cooking the organics on a long descent. It was an improvement, but the power is not quite on par with a Shimano Saint or Magura MT7.
For wheels, Orange has paired Hope Pro 4 hubs with Race Face ARC 30 rims, lacing them in house. Boost is used both front and rear, with Maxle in back and QR in front. They are shipped tubeless ready, including valves and a bottle of Stan’s. Tires are Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 front, DHRII 2.4 rear. While tuning the suspension, I broke one rear wheel which is discussed later. Hub engagement was solid, the sound was neither too loud nor silent and performance was solid.
The cockpit is Race Face Next R bars at 800mm, which pair nicely with the super short 32mm stem and the bike’s reach. Talk about selecting exactly what I’d choose! For dropper duties, a FOX Transfer with 150mm of drop was paired with their Under Bar lever. One surprise was the quick adjust Hope seat clamp, as most bikes now include a bolted clamp. I tend to frequently change between flats and clipless, having different spindle-to-foot heights, so toolless saddle height adjustment is nice to have. The saddle is from SDG, whose long nose provided a good perch for steep climbs yet the saddle was too narrow for my sit bones so I had to swap it out.
The grips are Orange’s Strange 130. Initially I did not like them, then they wore in and became very grippy, are a comfortable diameter and won me over.
Overall Riding Impressions
The Orange Stage 6 is remarkably potent at taming chunky terrain. It climbs well, has no weight penalty associated with its very rigid alloy frame, providing a straight tracking fun ride. This bike caters to active riders and will beat up their passive counterparts. The Stage 6 is always ready to go on any terrain. Just make sure you’re ready.
The seat tube angle is moderate, yet front wheel lift is not pronounced. The seat’s long nose further helps the rider to adjust position to keep the front end down. Pedaling position is fairly upright with plenty of stack, so it was comfortable on long grinds. Pedal bob was minimal. The drivetrain is Eagle and 500% range cannot be argued with. The system performed remarkably well.
The frame’s anti-squat is quite apparent when putting power down. There are two effects, first you have traction and the ability to put a lot of force into the ground. Second, when under power the rear wheel likes to go over things rather than quietly deflect out of the way. During rides I kept the lockout open unless on long smooth climbs, to keep the rear wheel as active as possible. If you do hit bumps while seated and putting power down, you feel them.
When the terrain is chunky but relatively flat, the larger wheel size makes holes vanish but does require active riding to let the bike move, timing when you pedal rather than just cranking the entire time. The BB height kept my pedals above rocks and strikes were never an issue. Again, if the rider remains active, this bike allows them to do a lot.
The Stage 6 gets you up top, but it really likes to head down. The Stage 6’s Factory build package merges together well to create a bump devouring rocket ship, FOX definitely working well with the frame.
Plenty of mid-stroke support is available to pump terrain and boost features. One trail style this helped with is machine built trails, where longer travel bikes can become sluggish as the suspension soaks up the desired pump, but that is not the case with the Stage 6. It lets you accelerate down the back side without the long travel penalty. The support also helps to allow the riding style the bike needs, letting the rider preload to lighten the bike over bumpy sections without needing to push very far into its travel. Then the 29er wheels help smooth out edges and carry more speed than you might expect.
The riding experience is fairly physical, especially when you have the suspension dialed to handle larger hits. The shock had full spacers, and was at ~30% sag to assist with small bump as much as possible. Less spring rate would have been nice, but I started blowing through the travel. It was during the process of balancing the spring versus damping that I cracked a rear wheel. All travel was used, no pinch flat, but the wheel deformed and the rim cracked.
While descending, I really like a silent bike. Noises from the Stage 6 were minimal to nonexistent. The only unexpected sound was some cable slap inside the chainstays (brake and derailleur lines), which I resolved with some electrical tape, plus added more mastic tape to the chain stay where chain slap was happening.
The Hope brakes did fairly well for stopping duties, good modulation yet a bit less power than something like Saints. The Stage 6’s rear does become quite firm under braking, so any bumps encountered are really felt. The rider just needs to be prudent about where to apply them versus where to let the bike be light. They definitely got the job done, and machining was top notch. Changing to sintered pads improved performance.
The chainstays are on the longer end compared with most bikes I’ve been riding lately, so it requires a tad more effort to get into a manual, yet lets the rider remain stable and balanced between the wheels, keeping the front wheel weighted through turns. When going through large berms, you feel within the frame while being able to really generate power at corner exit.
If you like to fly through rough terrain, are an active rider and looking for a long travel 29er, seriously consider the Orange Stage 6. It merges the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) with the latest geometry trends to create a potent enduro machine that’s ready to ride what you want, when you want.
- Frame: 2018 Orange Stage 6 Factory, 150mm, Large
- Fork: FOX 36 Factory, 160mm, 15mm boost
- Shock: Fox Float X2 Factory
- Wheels: Race Face ARC 30
- Hubs: Hope Pro 4, Boost
- Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 WT, DHRII 2.4 WT
- Brakes: Hope Tech 3 E4
- Rotors: Hope Floating Rotors, 203mm/183mm f/r
- Cable routing: Internal
- Crankset: TruVativ Descendant Carbon Eagle 32t
- Shifters: SRAM Eagle XO1
- Front Derailleur: N/A
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM XO1 Eagle
- Cassette: SRAM CS XG 1295 Eagle, 10-50T
- Chain: SRAM X01 Eagle
- Bottom Bracket: SRAM GXP Team
- Bars (including width): Race Face Next R Carbon 800mm Stealth
- Stem (including length): Race Face Turbine R 32mm x M35
- Seatpost: Fox Factory Transfer 150mm Drop
- Saddle: SDG Fly MTN Cromo Rail Black/Grey
- Headtube angle: 65.5
- Chainstay length: 450mm
- Seat tube angle (effective): 74.5
- Weight: 31 lbs (large, tubeless, no pedals)