Saracen Zen
Price: £1499.99
Wheels: 650B
Contact: saracen.co.uk

The Clockwork is something of a stalwart in the Orange range, but make no mistake, the latest version isn’t some retro hardtail that harks back to the 80s. With 29in wheels, a 120mm-travel fork and a lightweight aluminium frame, it couldn’t be more different to the original.

Launched earlier this year, Orange has since added cable-guides for a dropper post and re-routed the rear brake hose so all of the cables are now neatly tucked under the top tube. To keep things simple, the designers haven’t messed about with kinked, squashed or bent seat tubes in an attempt to get the shortest possible chainstays — instead, a straight seat tube allows you to drop the saddle all the way down for descending. As a result, the Clockwork has the longest back-end on test. At 452mm, the chainstays are still
only 10mm longer than the Trek’s.

With such a long rear end, it’s strange that there’s so little tyre clearance on the back of the Orange. In fact, it’s so tight that our 2.3in WTB control tyres buzzed the frame when cornering hard or sprinting up a climb. On closer inspection, it’s as if the chainstays have been crimped in the wrong place, and it’s definitely something to consider very seriously if, like us, you tend to want to run fatter tyres for extra cushioning. It’s also worth pointing out that we had no clearance issues with the 2.2in Continental tyres that came fitted to the bike as standard.

Suspension

With 32mm upper legs, a tapered steerer tube and 15mm dropouts, the 29er RockShox Recon fork looks almost identical to the Revelation adorning the Whyte, and even has the same number of knobs to twiddle and adjusters to tweak. But while it does a good job at taking the edge off the rough stuff, the damping isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the Revelation’s, taking longer to recover after repeated hits. Running faster rebound damping definitely helped on rougher trails, as it stopped the fork from getting bogged down, but the Recon doesn’t come close to matching the level of grip, comfort and control afforded by the higher-spec Revelation.

Components

Matching Race Face finishing kit gives the Orange Clockwork a coordinated appearance, but the triple-ring chainset instantly makes the bike look dated. Arguably the biggest sticking point on the spec, however, is the narrow 700mm handlebar. Not only does it offer less control on the descents than, say, a 740mm bar, but it makes the cockpit feel really cramped on the climbs, reducing leverage for out-of-the-saddle efforts and the ability to expand your chest for maximum air intake. Orange offers an alternative handlebar as part of its Performance Pack upgrade, but bizarrely that’s actually narrower! Besides, we’re not after a more expensive handlebar; we just want a wider one, providing better control, fitted as standard.

Performance

With the stock 70mm stem, the reach and proportions on the size L Clockwork are sorted. It was just a matter of swapping the handlebar for something wider and we were instantly back up to speed. The relaxed steering really came into its own on wet, slippery trails, unlike the steeper front end of the Trek, which had a tendency to tuck under when cornering hard. It also provided us with enough confidence to let the bike run on fast, balls-out straights even when the rear wheel was bouncing around like a bucking bronco.

While we welcomed the slacker geometry that the 120mm fork affords, it also lifts the BB height too high. As a result, we struggled to touch the ground even on tiptoes with the saddle at the correct height for pedalling, and always felt too perched on top of the bike when climbing. Orange isn’t alone on that front, either — the BB heights on the Trek and Saracen are slightly too high as well.

Verdict

Nothing would boost the Clockwork’s trail credentials more than a 750mm handlebar, which riders could then chop down to their preferred width. With that out of the way, the Orange Clockwork Pro is a bike that’s brimming with potential — the build kit is solid, the frame proportions are great, and so is the handling at speed.

All Orange needs to do now is increase the tyre clearance on the rear so you can fit fatter tyres and drop the BB height a touch. If they could do that, we’d love to have another ride of what could be an amazing 29er trail bike.

 We Love: Raw speed and stability at speed is a heady combination.
We Hate: The lack of tyre clearance on the rear.
MBR RATING: 7
Orange Clockwork Pro mountain bike review

Specification

Frame 6061 aluminium
Fork RockShox Recon Gold 120mm
Wheels Hope Pro II hubs, Mavic XM319 rims, Continental Mountain King tyres
Drivetrain Race Face Evolve chainset, Shimano XT r-mech, SLX shifters and f-mech
Brakes Shimano SLX 180/160mm
Components Race Face/Orange
Sizes S, M, L, XL
Weight 12.59kg (27.8lb)
Contact orangebikes.co.uk

Geometry

Size Tested: L
Head angle 68.2°
Seat angle 71.9°
BB height 332mm
Chainstay 452mm
Front centre 702mm
Wheelbase 1,154mm
Down tube 710mm

This test appeared in the January 2014 issue of MBR, alongside the Saracen Zen, Trek Stache 8 and Whyte 905.