Orange was relatively slow to join the big wheel revolution, but the new Five 29 brings the Halifax-based brand bang up to date. The frame is 100 per cent UK made and with 140mm travel it has exactly the same bump-munching ability as the old 26in Five, and the new 650b version that recently replaced it.
The new wheel size also ushers in the latest frame standards, namely an oversized XX44 head tube that’s lighter than the old tapered design and 142x12mm dropouts which cup the rear hub and make it much easier to install the wheel. Another first for the Five is the offset seat tube; sitting slightly forward of the bottom bracket it creates the necessary space under the swingarm for the direct-mount front derailleur. There’s still no entry point on the frame for stealth dropper-post routing, though.
Being the entry-level model, the Five 29 S gets a basic Monarch RL rear shock with rebound adjustment and lockout. From new, the shock wheezed like a 40-a-day smoker but the single-pivot rear suspension was still very effective at handling the bumps and provided ample grip. If anything, the shock was too plush and didn’t provide enough support for hard pedalling efforts, making the bike feel mushy and resistant to getting the power down on rough terrain or when climbing stood up. Using the lockout combats the overly active suspension response but it is a firm set-up best saved for smooth climbs and tarmac.
Up front, the Sektor Gold fork is every bit as stiff as the Revelation on the Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp Evo, but the damping doesn’t offer the same level of support on the descents so we had to run it harder, sacrificing small-bump sensitivity and travel to gain stability.
Orange has finally made the jump to 710mm handlebars — just as 750mm bars become the norm on 29ers as they make it easier to get the bike cranked over in corners. There’s plenty of room in the cockpit for a shorter stem too, and we found a 55mm Easton Haven to be the perfect replacement for the standard 70mm Race Face unit. The Shimano SLX transmission never missed a beat and had a noticeably lighter shift action than the SRAM gear fitted to the Specialized. Even with the triple chainset the chain stayed on, but we would like to see a custom chainstay protector that bolts onto the underside of the swingarm to silence chain-slap once and for all.
Once we got the cockpit sorted and ditched the steel-bead tyres the Orange Five 29 started to reveal its true identity: a weapon that simply loves speed. With a relatively slack head angle, high front end and balanced weight distribution you can absolutely hammer it downhill.
On the open, high-speed trails of Snowdon it was the perfect bike. It’s only when you get the Five 29 into tighter terrain where you are loading and unloading the suspension for quick direction changes or putting the power down that you really notice the shortcomings of the fork and rear shock. It’s not that they are harsh or unpredictable, they just don’t have the necessary support and low-speed damping to tame this beast. Ideally, the Five 29 would come with the more adjustable Monarch RT3 shock fitted as standard, but seeing as it’s not offered on the custom spec options, swapping to the Fox Float CTD, at an additional cost of £210, would be a wise move from the off.
At 14.66kg with our kevlar-bead Maxxis control tyres fitted, the Five 29 is over 1kg heavier than the Specialized, and that’s without a dropper post. There’s no ignoring the extra weight on the climbs; the high front end, pumped up further by the external lower headset cup, doesn’t help either.
Big and bold, the Five 29 really plays to the big wheels’ strengths rather the trying to mimic the original Five. That’s not to say that you can’t throw it around, as the proportions and geometry are balanced and, thanks to the ample standover clearance, the bike never felt big or cumbersome. There were times when it reminded us of why we had such a long love affair with the original Five due to its superb geometry and no-nonsense suspension design. Unfortunately, these flashes of inspiration were frustratingly short-lived, as some of the parts on the Five 29 S are simply no match for its geometry and attitude