Eschewing the idea of a dedicated tubeset from a single manufacturer, Orange cherry-picks the best tube profile for each application from a range of steel suppliers. In effect, Series 9 is a custom-designed tubeset, without the inherent limits of using a single set of tubing designers. The custom-butted cro-moly steelwork is arranged around a long-travel fork, and up to 140mm of travel can be accommodated. A fairly standard front triangle has a couple of nice touches, including bosses for a crud catcher under the down tube. The 29.6 internal diameter seat tube is the lightest butted tube available, but a shim is required for the seatpost, allowing a wider range of seatposts to fit. It is niceties like this that show attention to detail is a high priority.
Sliding dropouts may negate the weight savings elsewhere, but they offer some geometry adjustment — up to half an inch in chainstay length — and allow the user to remove the gearing and run the P7 as a singlespeed, should such dastardly perversions raise their ugly heads. Curved stays give plenty of clearance, but the hose guide at the dropout does cause the hose to curve very tightly. However this is only an issue with the Juicy 3s, as there is no rotating banjo at the caliper on Avid’s cheapest hydraulic brake.

Despite being the lowest level of RockShox fork fitted to a bike in this test, the Tora 302s are no low-rent performer. A hollow crown and 32mm stanchions keep everything on the straight and narrow, and while the Turnkey damping may only have a tiny usable range of adjustment, the internals more than keep control of the fork’s stroke. A U-Turn adjuster also allows you to wind down the fork for a tighter riding machine should you fancy. That said, we never felt the need to, preferring the relaxed ride and safety valve of a longer fork.

Spec-wise the wheels are nothing to write home about, but they are very well tensioned and remained straight as a die despite plenty of mud-infested, ham-fisted trail time. The 2.35in, soft compound Kenda Nevegals saved our skin on numerous occasions, and these lightish sneakers seemed to be perfect for this type of machine.

Deore kit prevails, and simply did the job and will continue to do so. However, the standout performer here had to be the FireX 3.1 GXP crank. It seems, at this price level, that Truvativ has finally managed to usurp Shimano in terms of front shifting. They may not have the hollow arms of the Big S’s parts, but the two-piece design ensures they are plenty good enough at transferring your efforts.

The heaviest machine on test by over a pound was always going to suffer on the climbs. It wasn’t helped by the ‘lazy-boy’ geometry. A 69.5-degree seat angle places the rider’s weight behind the bottom bracket, and uphill progress was only ever stately. To be fair, the bike more than makes up for this on the narrow stuff. Out of the saddle the roomy front end and slack head angle mean you can either hold on as the long forks take everything in their stride, or get your weight right over the front — motocross style — and manhandle this machine through some mind-boggling terrain.

Orange almost dropped the P7 a few years ago, but the resurgence of steel has seen the bike go from strength to strength. Rather than follow the crowd, Orange’s unique take on long-travel hardtail geometry means that, while it has a simple ‘we’ll get there in the end’ attitude to height gain, on the fun stuff the bike comes alive. Great tyres, solid spec and the zingy ride of a small steel hardtail shine through. New riders will like the safety of the geometry on rough stuff, while experienced riders will relish just what can be done when wrestling this fruity number through the tech stuff. It’s no featherweight — there are other bikes in Orange’s range for that — but it does exactly what it sets out to do: it puts a smile on your face out in the hills. A deserving classic.