Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Action

ORANGE STAGE 6 EVO REVIEW

F.A.F: FUN AS F**K…FOR SOME

Words by Robert Johnston
Photos by Sam Howard

When it comes to British mountain bike brands, Orange Bikes are undoubtedly the most iconic. With an unfaltering consistency with their design language, construction methods and suspension platform, few have stayed truer to their roots. But that’s not to say that their bikes are the same as they were in 1998, regardless of what the internet trolls will try to tell you. By retaining the same general formula, they’ve been able to work on small refinements in geometry, kinematics and construction, keeping their bikes desirable and competitive. Since our first ride article last year, we’ve been continuing to put the Orange Stage 6 EVO through the wringer in the wet and wild Scottish trails, and now it’s time to deliver the final verdict.

QUICK HITS

  • 140mm Single Pivot Suspension
  • HTA 64°
  • STA 76°
  • REACH 487mm (Large)
  • Frame Only option available

Price: £6400 /$7600 (SE build tested)
Website: Orangebikes.com

THE LAB
The Stage 6 EVO is the evolution of the outgoing Stage 6, sporting the same 29” wheels and very similar aggressive geometry. Travel has been reduced by 10mm on each end, with the Stage 6 EVO now sporting 140mm travel out back which is paired with a 150mm fork to suspend the 29” wheels. In classic Orange style, the rear end relies upon their dependable single pivot design, but the location of this pivot has been shifted lower, closer to the chainline, to tweak the kinematics in the pursuit of extra speed – the Stage 6 EVO is a bike that Orange is claiming to be their fastest yet.

Orange Stage 6 Evo SE Profile Shot

To achieve this lower pivot location, bucking 2021’s high-pivot trend, Orange had to employ an asymmetric design for the bearings and rear end to avoid the chainring and pivot from fouling. Orange is claiming this to have bolstered strength and stiffness of the chassis in the process. This lowered pivot point has reduced the anti-squat of the rear end, a move performed in order to improve the pedaling performance in the rough terrain the bike is designed to excel in.

The frame is unmistakably Orange in appearance and construction, with the 6061-T6 monocoque frame full of shaped pieces of aluminum, and sporting what may be the highest density of welds out there. Whilst the looks are debated extensively, there’s no denying that the Stage 6 EVO represents one of the best looking Orange bikes to date, especially with the stunning metallic Oxblood red paint job on the SE model tested.

The frame features Sram’s UDH; ISCG-05 mounts for a guide and bash around the threaded bottom bracket; neat internal cable routing for all cables; a boost rear end, and a tapered headtube with external lower cup. Protection is minimal, with some thin rubber on the chainstays being the full extent. The downtube is unguarded, but features bottle cage mounts, so you could let a bottle do the protecting, but you’ll certainly want a cap to keep it free of debris. The underside of the top tube features a tool mount that will accept a variety of the current crop of bolt-on tool solutions, but unfortunately there’s no provision for mounting a bottle within the front triangle.

Orange Stage 6 Evo SE Review

The geometry of the Stage 6 EVO certainly has speed in mind, in flat out terrain at least, and is designed to be equipped with a reduced offset fork. Lengthy reach figures from the Medium at 468mm through to the XL at 505mm combine with a 64-degree head angle and whopping 467mm rear end to generate some of the longer wheelbase numbers on the market, with the large tested coming in at 1291mm. The seat angle is an actual 76 degrees across the size range, with a deep insertion on the uninterrupted 457mm seat tube of the large size, and a 40mm BB drop which produces a stack of 630mm. Most of these numbers are not crazy for an aggressive bike these days, but when added together and including that gargantuan chainstay length, the result is certainly catered to high-speed riding.

The Stage 6 Evo tested was the SE spec, aside from the suspension package which will be an Ohlins RXF36 and TTX1 pairing on the bikes for sale instead of this Fox Factory combo. You get an SLX 12spd drivetrain with Race Face Aeffect crank; Hope stem, headset, E4 brakes with floating rotors and Pro4 hubs; Stans Flow MK4 rims wrapped in Maxxis Minions; a 150mm SDG Tellis dropper and SDG Bel Air III seat, and a Renthal alloy M35 Fatbar. The total weight for the build tested was 33.2 lbs. without pedals, and with the Ohlins suspension combo tipping the scales at slightly less than the Fox kit, you could expect it to hover around that 33lbs mark. This comes in at a total price of £6,400, or $7600 if you’re interested in one Stateside – certainly a premium level price, but the design and manufacture in Britain adds a level of passion and detail that has to reflect in the price tag. Orange also offers a “Team” spec, with a unique Formula suspension and brake package for £5200, or you can buy a frame and rear shock with your choice of 7 colors for £2700 with a RockShox Super Deluxe rear shock. Regardless of the build purchased, Orange will back the original owner for 5 years of warranty and offer any Orange rider with a crash replacement policy should the worst happen.

Orange Stage 6 Evo SE Review

SUSPENSION ANALYSIS
Being a single pivot, the rear axle path is an arc with a constant curvature. It begins with a small amount of rearward travel, with roughly 1mm rearward movement at sag, then curves forwards consistently and reaches 12mm forwards at the end of it’s 140mm travel. My tape measured 142mm of vertical travel at bottom out, but there was a fraction of the 55mm stroke that wasn’t able to be compressed, so a harsh bottom out may receive slightly more.

The Stage 6 EVO leverage ratio decreases in a linear fashion from 2.6-2.5, giving a small 4% progression. This requires any progression in the system to be generated by the rear shock, with either a lower volume air shock producing the ramp-up, a progressive coil spring, or a position-sensitive damper.

Anti-rise drops from about 90% at Sag to 70% at bottom out, giving relatively good geometry preservation when hard on the rear anchor, and a slight firming of the rear suspension. This is reduced from the outgoing Stage 6, which should yield a more plush suspension response when braking.

Anti-squat increases slightly as you drop down into the harder gears, giving more support for the gears where there is increased weight transfer when pedaling. In the climbing gears there is roughly 95% anti squat at sag, which increases up to 109% in the harder gears. This is significantly less than the values present on some of the older Orange bikes, and the significant difference between the Stage 6 EVO and the outgoing Stage 6, which had values in the 120-150% range.

Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Action

THE DIRT
I always give the fine details of a bike a good once-over when I receive it new and fresh so I can appreciate the craftsmanship and pick up on anything that may be missed once it gets its inevitable coat of dirt. For the Orange, this was a more extensive peruse than most – although it’s a single pivot, there’s no shortage of detail to study in the frame. Though the looks may generate negativity from some, there’s no denying that a lot of skill has gone into making an Orange frame, with every piece of 6061-T6 manipulated to produce smooth curves in all directions, and what must be a huge amount of time spent in creating the lengthy weld seams that join it all together.

Getting a ballpark setup on the Orange was simple, with 30% sag and the 2 (out of 3) volume reducers in the Float X2 producing a reasonable response on the trail. I did end up adding the third spacer once I got more comfortable on the bike, to generate enough bottom out resistance for the hardest compressions. Airing to the higher end of Fox’s suggested pressure range for my weight on the 36 fork, I was left in a good position to put the Stage 6 EVO to work.

Climbing on the Stage 6 EVO proved to be a pleasant experience, especially when the going got particularly steep. Thanks to the long rear end, there’s a load of weight through the front wheel, helping to reduce the wandering effect of the relatively slack head angle to a minimum. That’s not to say that it’s a breeze through tight switchbacks, with its lengthy wheelbase giving it a turning circle more akin to a lorry than your typical trail bike, but at least your front wheel is planted when taking the wider lines. When combined with the fairly upright seated position – a sentiment that will be shared by all riders thanks to the straight seat tube from the BB – you can ignore the need to weight the front wheel and focus instead on picking the best line to put down the power. The support in the rear end and centralized seated position combine to produce a well-behaved machine that finds a middle ground where it avoids the need to flick on the compression switch for the majority of climbs, but the rear end still conforms well to the undulations of the trail and helps the rear tire to find grip.

Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Action

When standing up and hammering on the pedals, there’s a reasonable amount of support from the rear end, but there’s a definite change of character from Orange bikes of old. Unlike Orange bikes I’ve ridden in the past, there’s not the same “stand up” under power that produced their quite unique feeling, meaning the Stage 6 Evo feels a lot more natural on the trail, though suffers a touch in efficiency. Pedaling through rough terrain on the descents is tuned out from my typical approach, but it’s safe to say that the rear end is much more inclined to move out of the way of an impact when pedaling compared with previous generation models. I ended up tuning a bit more mid stroke support into the mix with the addition of some low-speed compression, which gave a reasonable balance of terrain ironing and response to rider pumping. But, with such a direct compromise between support and supple suspension response, a bit more tweaking was required to get the most out of the Stage 6 EVO day-to-day.

On the flat-out descents, the Stage 6 EVO really comes alive, with healthy levels of stability and balance that continually ask, “is that all you’ve got?”. Orange once again prove that you don’t need the fanciest suspension design with the most links to produce a bike that performs well. The linear leverage ratio demands any progression desired in the rear end to be provided by ramp-up in the shock but didn’t produce any issues with the Fox’s air can packed with volume reducers, The use of the full travel was only apparent on a couple of heavy hits over the course of testing. The stand-out, surprising feature was the lack of noise when riding. With the noises of the “tin can” Orange 223’s that used to grace the Scottish Downhill Series races burned into my brain, I was expecting the largely unprotected Stage 6 EVO to exhibit similarly loud characteristics, but this didn’t turn out to be the case, much to my delight.

The chunkiest terrain isn’t ironed out in magic carpet fashion, with feedback that lets you make no mistake about what’s going on below, but that’s not to say it’s harsh or shies away from a rowdy line. Similar to the feedback that a race car driver demands from their steering wheel, you remain connected with the terrain below and can decipher the amount of grip on offer more acutely and immediately than some more muted bikes, which you can potentially use to your favor. That said, there are times when a magic carpet would be much appreciated, especially for the longest descents, where the Orange can make fatigue onset a little earlier on. The same fatigue can be found on tighter trails, where changing direction requires more input than most in the class, which is enduro through-and-through, regardless of the travel number.

Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Action

Let’s talk about that rear end length. It’s an outlier in the enduro world, with a static figure that’s longer than nearly everything. It’s worth noting that some of the high-pivot bikes get close to the 467mm number at about 50% into their travel, but in the “regular” pivot world, Orange’s rear end is extreme. On paper it sounds absurd, but in practice it does work well in some situations, once speeds get above a certain point. The weight that’s translated to the front end in a neutral position means that flat corners and off-cambers are met with a reassuring confidence in the grip that’s present, letting you attack that extra bit or stay safer when fatigued. In general, the sprawled-out wheels, low “in the bike” feeling and slack angles do great things for your straight-line stability, letting you plow through gnarly terrain with confidence.

The geometry isn’t without drawbacks, however. It does make tight corners a bit awkward, with a different approach required to “snap” the back end around, but it’s not unmanageable. It’s vital to stay on your toes on slower drops or when there’s a need to unweight the front wheel quickly, as the geometry produces a heavy front end that needs a large, pronounced rearward shift of body weight to prevent diving. The combination of a 29” rear wheel and the lengthy rear end meant that, for the first time in a few years, even my long legs weren’t enough to save my derrière feeling the wrath of the Michelin rubber I’d fitted. The trails being ridden were a strong influence on this, with some of the tightest and most technical descents in the UK being quite far departed from its targeted terrain. When it comes to playful riding, you feel as if the Stage 6 EVO is shaking its head at you for choosing to pop and play your way down the trail instead of hitting the straighter race lines. Save for its relatively lively and feedback-rich rear end, there’s nothing that encourages you to have any flavor of fun other than going flat out. They use the slogan “The one where we went full FAF”, but I think for many riders like myself, you perhaps only want 80% FAF on a bike you’re riding outside of the races.

For a 2022 machine, the 150mm dropper spec is near enough unforgivable on the large size frame, especially when you consider the insertion length available. I ended up with the post on the very limit of the insertion depth in the frame, and the seat was still a touch lower than I’d have liked for climbing. This proved to be a serious hindrance to the aggressive descending capabilities and forced me to have the hex key out all too frequently to raise and lower the post at the start and end of descents, as you need all the maneuverability you can get to handle that heavy front end. The rear Hope E4 brake also proved to be problematic – no fault of Orange of course, but after the third bleed in a couple of months (after being told by mechanics that they were tricky to bleed and may have been bled poorly previously), it became apparent that air was entering the system through a lever seal. From countless other reports of impressive reliability from Hope brakes, it’s safe to say I was unlucky here.

Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Action

Otherwise, the spec selected proved to be a treat, but you’d hope so with that price tag. Though it doesn’t scream “premium build”, the SLX gearing spec is awesome with solid shifting, and great lever feel, the Hope hubs on Stans rims performed flawlessly, and the Fox suspension was stellar as always. That said, you can’t help but feel the value proposition is lacking a touch on this SE build kit, but then the Orange build quality and “made in Britain” frame and Hope kit does carry value. Through two months of horrifically wet and muddy trails, there were no issues with anything on the bike outside of the component issues, and given the lack of pivots to go wrong, you’d imagine longevity to be a strong suit.

The Wolf’s Last Word

Orange is keen to point out the fact that they went full FAF with the Stage 6 EVO, and in truth this didn’t suit what I was riding or how I was trying to ride it for most of the testing period. What’s absolutely apparent is the speed that it is capable of in the appropriate terrain, and the safety that the stable geometry can offer intermediate level riders trying to bolster their abilities on gnarly trails. It’s a high-quality bike with great spec, and would suit those who favor fast, straight and wide lines with a connected feeling to the ground.

Price: £6400 /$7600
Weight: 33.2lbs (SE spec with alternative Fox Suspension, no pedals)
Website: Orangebikes.com

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SPECIFICATIONS

CHASSIS
Frame: 6061-T6 Aluminum; 140mm
Fork: Fox 36 Float, Factory, Grip 2, Boost; 150mm
Shock: Fox Float X2, Factory, EVOL, 210×55

COCKPIT
Brakes: Hope Tech 3 E4 Black 203/180
Handlebar: Renthal FatBar M35 800mm
Headset: Cane Creek 49mm for Tapered Steerer
Saddle: SDG Strange Bel Air III
Seatpost: Fox Transfer Performance, 31.6 x 150mm
Shifter: Shimano SLX 12spd
Stem: Hope M35 x 35mm Black

WHEELS
Wheelset: Stans Flow Mk4 + Hope Pro 4 (Black) 29
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHF 29″ x 2.5″ 3C Exo
Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″ x 2.4″ Exo

DRIVETRAIN
Bottom Bracket: Race Face
Cassette: Shimano SLX 10-51T 12spd
Cranks: Race Face Aeffect 32t
Derailleur: Shimano SLX 12spd

Orange Stage 6 EVO SE Review

We Dig

I like the looks, bite me
Build quality
Speed demanding geometry
Steep climbing handling
Neutral suspension characteristics

We Don’t

Long rear end for slower riding
It’s a bit too serious, for me
Short dropper
Pricey

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