Orange 324 Bike Test - Dirt

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Downhill Bikes

Orange 324 Bike Test

Simple and efficient but crucially very fast, the 324 from Halifax

Crudely built out of date single pivot or a lightning fast race machine with ahead of the game geometry?

Words: Ieuan Williams

Images: Callum Phillpott. Ben Winder

It depends on your perspective. On the one hand the Orange 324 and its predecessor is a tray load of aluminium sheet sweeped onto a jig by a brawny northerner barely visible through a smouldering Benson and Hedges, beaten into shape by an oily pair of hands before handing to his mate to carry out the finishing – a long bar inserted into frame and tugged to get the shape straight. That’s before the product manager notices the clearance is tight on the swingarm so hails the apprentice down in the basement to get off the porn and fashion a pair of beautiful dimples in said swingarm to pass the bike fit for purpose.

 

On the other hand, it’s a rough diamond, just like the Alpine its stablemate. A tough nugget that can cut it at the highest level. A bike with strong heritage, finely tuned to the ways of racing, a bike offering a superb balance between flex and stiffness, with great parity between suspension and damper tune. Silent, deadly with a fully contemporary geometry set that puts many pretty bikes to shame. Of the big name brands only Specialized and Giant can offer a bigger frame size. And fast…just so f…… fast.

Suspension

Damper choice is important here. The Rock Shox BoXXer Team upfront is a good fork but has not got the depth in performance that a World Cup, a Fox 40, Marzocchi or indeed the BOS fork that were fitted to replace the BoXXer offers. The Idylle was fitted to get another perspective on the bike. The change in fork really opened the bike out to show its true potential. There’s also the recurring topping out Vivid damper theme that is becoming more and more common, yes it still works well but is simply not a nice sound or feeling to be constantly aware of. We fitted a Fox DHX2 in this instance to get a rear comparison. These are negative component parts in an otherwise brilliant single pivot chassis which has been going through changes for almost twenty years. The damper through the downtube theme continues from its predecessor the 322 giving a more progressive shock curve that provides you with a more dynamic ride characteristic.

Componentry

The 324 doesn’t pretend to be a flagship bike loaded up to the gunnels with top parts, instead it seems to be in a no man’s land. Its tough times for Orange was well as the big guns Trek and Specialized also with prices being above a fully loaded YT Tues or Canyon Sender but not offering the blistering specification that the German direct sales offer. Orange built a custom bike for the recent Dirt 100 that was draped in Hope and Fox and we feel this is the direction they should be going with the 324. Giving a high specification model to compete with the likes of Nukeproof or Giant with a killer build for around five thousand pounds could be a start point.

We may be being a little tough here because the Zee gearing has been faultless, Guide RS braking, Gamut chain retention, Cane Creek headset and excellent Schwalbe Magic Mary rubber all without fault. But this was all let down by the Halo wheel bearings only lasting five rides. These were changed out for a set of Hope/Stans wheels that haven’t skipped a beat, and as we found out these are a £60 upgrade and has to be done.

Feeling

It may come across that the 324 is made with old school techniques, which is about right, and there is not a glimpse of carbon in sight, which can be a good thing. Yet critically the numbers on this bike are bang up to date, which very often you don’t see in the geometries of many of the big brands due to the long production schedules. This is where the hand made art comes in with small changes to size and angles to keep up with the times.

 

The balance of flex and stiffness keeps the bike on track and true, enabling it to get to those hard to reach lines. The silent ride and the brilliant head angle/bottom bracket/wheelbase combination together with a suspension dynamic whereby you can pick and place, skip sections, drive hard into corners, and really make the most out of the terrain that’s being ridden. There’s a real poise to this bike in the air, confidence inspiring to just keep progressing to bigger things.

Limitations

Now this may not be a limitation as such but it is something that frustrated me when I first went to take the rear wheel out of the bike, to get an Allen key onto the pinch bolt on the rear axle you first have to remove the rear mech. Come on now Orange, if you have a car and have to take the wheel off the bike to get it in the back that’s one hell of a faff. I also noticed that after a few rides out the fork crowns that are fitted to the BoXXer hit on the frame causing the paint to be removed. Not really the best look out there and it can be easily solved by running a flatter crown.

Verdict

It may not have highest specification and it may be a little rough around the edges but the Orange 324 frame has a superb heart on which to build a killer fast bike. With its incredible pace and almost silent ride it is easily one of our top downhill bikes at the moment. With the correct components this could truly be an amazing bike. Load her up with a factory specification, don’t be shy Orange this bike is a winner.

Orange 324 RS – £4200

www.orangebikes.co.uk

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