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ORANGE 322 | BIKE TEST

A couple of rivets and a graphics kit short of Steam Punk, Orange’s 322 downhill bike has been extracted from a long lineage of aggro bikes. Fifteen years in the making it has witnessed change, scooped success and always been bent into shape by the most loving of hands. It started without the seat tube back in the late 90’s, single pivot and a style not dissimilar to that even the mighty Honda ran with. There’s never been any doubt that the simple system can win races, with or without a bastardised downtube, as seen on this latest version.

DIRT ISSUE 128 – OCTOBER 2012

Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones

Some would say the lithe Five is as good today as it’s always been (just like the Hovis bread) personally I reckon it’s better, similarly the Alpine…matter of fact solutions to dirt tracking, offering feeling, an instinctive ride and straight forward maintenance. This is what Orange bikes are all about.

Japan may well have originated paper folding, yet sheet metal sculpting is very much a Halifax thing. Plastic is now popular there’s no doubt, getting into shapes that aluminium cannot venture. Some offer a good feeling, others a wooden ride. Not that ali cannot be equally guilty – the 224 Evo was a less than affectionate evolution of the previous 224, a bike laced with World Cup wins, long chainstay and slack a headangle that was ahead of its time. Is the 322 I wonder a step back onto the winning track?

FIRST THOUGHTS

As much as many will love the surly “it is what is” T–shirt, acknowledging the fact that this bike has been made in a grimy workshop with walls not shy of the odd large chest, I still feel many riders are suckers for the curvier versions of current mountainbikes. The advent of carbon bikes has only made the difference between Orange and the rest even starker. Yet speed they say, is the Orange’s strength. It’s definitely not something to be scared of and for the man in the woods or starting blocks performance still takes precedence over style in many people’s eyes. Yet for all the talk this 322 feels a touch heavy in the office, and other companies produce style AND speed.

Some people like the engineered look, others don’t. The mish mash of straight, triangular, round, crimped I feel is not perfectly proportioned, the graphics work well on some colours and not so well on others. They’ve done away with an adjustable shock mount but have now included the option of internal or external cable routing on the bike’s biggest strength – the swingarm – adding weight in the process. It’s all slightly messy.

This particular bike, a long, offers a crazy low 15” seat tube and gives more reach than the 224 Evo, it’s a shame they couldn’t have taken advantage of the low standover by making it low where it counts (about half way across the top tube) utilising the shocks new lower position to full effect. It seems this would have been a curve too far on the budget books, but given that the shock is now lower in the frame, the fact is that the standover is higher than previous versions.

As for the downtube, it will invite all kinds of crap from the front wheel – attention to detail gone missing. Orange are not the first to use this as a solution in the name of progression, but the boys in Halifax say it gives the bike the shock curve they desired.

In the struggle to get out of this negative downward spiral I looked for positives only to come upon sizing, or the lack of it. Sizing on the 322 is weird, many of the numbers add up but the reality is a bike certainly more medium than large. This highlights the complex balance of interrelated geometry figures. It’s also a lot of money.

In short I’m hung up by the mismatch of frame shapes, hoping desperately that the performance will overcome profile.

SECOND THOUGHTS

Already aware that this bike appears slightly dated in geometry, particularly in view of longer, lower, slacker bikes, my mindset is on the back foot. But geometry is a fickle three–dimensional beast, rather than a set of figures, so let the dynamics reveal the character.

My first impressions were clearly hung up on the visual. Its grown on me or I’ve got used to it, and if the front triangle was tidied up and offered something more on the lines of a Demo in terms of standover then it would be a forward step.

CLINCHER

Disassociating beauty from performance is the first step into understanding the Orange way. “We’re going to win but it’s going to be ugly” could be equally as fitting as the “it is what it is” T–shirts currently being shipped out of HX4 9BH.

Behind the bar of this 322 is a mighty privileged position for any rider with the slightest interest in speed. This bike sings, with a subtle resonance similar to models that have come before it, carrying all the pace that Orange bikes have in the breed. This bike has more ‘give’ than the 224 Evo – a bike that didn’t really evolve as much as anticipated.

The 322 is very much a step in the right direction performance wise, using inches wisely, with a beautiful transition through the stroke offering up possibilities to pick and place in an instant. The steering is pin–point, the pedal transfer sharp and offers simply far better sensitivity from, and through, the swingarm. There’s slightly more control than previous too and I’m guessing a Cane Creek shock would add even more to this.

There’s still room to make the bike slightly longer and lighter with more size options. And it be interesting to ride a lower version too because for anyone over six foot is going to be tight on this bike. Componentry? The Foxes were very good examples front and rear, quick to react and supple from the start. The Hope brakes had a smooth feel with plenty of room for a gloved hand compared to the crazy small minimalist offerings from Germany and Japan. Silence was pretty good, Shimano Saint was impeccable.

The 322 had me sweating from the start to be honest. I still feel it’s a dog’s dinner in terms of the construction proportions and really don’t feel they have unified the multifarious shapes into a smooth flowing frame structure as well as they could have done. But this is exceptionally (and fully) overturned by the performance and more importantly the speed of the bike. It’s a bike that can be ridden fast and it WILL win races.

A bike with two sides. One ugly, one fast. The 322 may well be sullen of shape yet offers a pretty cute option for the business of racing. It simply strikes the ground so positively and skips out of trouble effortlessly. It’s hot as a butchers.

It is without question then that single pivots perform at the highest level and it’s to Orange’s benefit that the industry’s continual sheep–like search for concepts has enabled Halifax HQ to keep on top of the game. This bike proves that you don’t need more than one pivot or carbon to make a thoroughbred. In a world of duplicates a walk around this year’s Eurobike trade show reveals how unique and exceptional Orange bikes are. Riding this one makes it very clear that the downhill lineage is very much back on track.

THE RESPONSE A Q&A With Orange bike  Dirt: Tell us about the progression rate change compared to the old 224 Evo.

Orange: The leverage ratio at he beginning of the stroke on the 224 is 2.76 to 1, the 322 is 2.69, so the 322 is very slightly harder, after that the 224 is slightly falling rate, the 322 slightly rising rate. We would expect to need to run a harder spring on the 224 but use the hydraulics to slow down the end of the stroke on the 224, the 322 shouldn’t need as much compression damping.

Swingarm construction. This bike feels like it has a bit more ‘give’ laterally?

The 224 had a Horiz Hold pivot and a Five–style CNC’d dropout. Both of which would have had some inherent flex that lent itself well to the feel when riding. The 224–EVO had the new replaceable pivot axle and a far stiffer dropout that had three slots CNC’d into it. The end result was a far stiffer rear triangle which led to a less supple rear swing arm.

The 322 swingarm has been updated to remove the drain hole in the base of the front plate. The three welded pieces of the 224 and the triple fold of the 224–EVO’s forward–most part of the swing arm have been replaced with a single piece of aluminium, folded into an arc. Other than that, I don’t think the swing arm construction has changed.

Price: £4999 (complete), £2399.99 (frame)

www.orangebikes.com

Specs

Frame Orange 322, 6061-T6 ALI
Rear Shock Fox DHX RC 4
Forks Fox 40
Headset Hope Step Down ZS
Bars Renthal Flat Bar
Stem Renthal Integra
Rear Mech Shimano Saint
Shifter Shimano Rapid Fire Saint
Chainset Race Face Atlas X 10 Speed
Bottom Bracket Race Face XType
Cassette Shimano 11-25T
Chainguide MRP S4
Brakes Hope Tech Evo V2
Seatpost Thomson Elite
Saddle SDG Flacon Orange Edition
Wheelset Hope Pro2 Evo / Mavic EX 721 DH
Tyres Maxxis High Roller 2.5 Super Tacky
Sizes Short and Long

You can find more from Orange through the links below:

Jacob Dickson’s prototype Orange for the World Champs

Orange Prototype for Team rider Harry Heath

Jacob Dickson ripping up Rostrevor on his Orange 322

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