Less is more: the new Orange Stage Evo 29er packs big bike geometry into a nimble 120mm package
Less is more: the new Orange Stage Evo 29er packs big bike geometry into a nimble 120mm package.
Orange Stage Evo need to know
- Revised suspension layout increases anti-squat and progression for more support
- Ultimate level RockShox Pike fork pumps out 130mm travel
- LE build kit gets Hope and Burgtec components to emphasise the ‘best of British’ theme
- A Five Evo LE is also available with 27.5in wheels, 10mm more travel and the same specification
I’ve always considered the Evo process to be an additive one. You know the script. Take a stock frame, add a longer travel fork to slacken the head angle, add wider rims and fatter tyres to boost wheel strength and traction, then add bigger rotors and a wider bar to keep the newfound downhill speed under control. With every evolutionary step, the bike gets that bit more capable. But it also gets heavier.
Well, the new Stage Evo from Orange rewrites that script. Instead of adding travel, Orange has subtracted it. Its latest 29er trail bike boasting 15mm less travel out back than the Stage 5 it replaces. Fork travel has been curtailed too, the RockShox Pike Ultimate delivering 130mm up front. Don’t think for a minute though, that the new Stage Evo is some sort of frankenbike. To maintain the desired geometry, Orange retooled to produce a custom frame for both Evo platforms. That’s right, there’s a new Five Evo too, with 27.5in wheels and 10mm more travel at each end.
But let’s stay focused on the numbers of the big wheeler. At 1,231mm, the wheelbase is almost 30mm longer than the old Stage 5. The 65.1º head angle makes it almost 1.5º slacker, while the BB height gets chopped down by 10mm to 325mm. So even though travel has also been reduced by 15mm the dynamic BB height on the Stage Evo is still going to be lower than before. It’s not so low that you are constantly clipping pedals though, so if it’s a ground hugging ride you’re after, offset set shock hardware is the way to go.
The new Stage Evo frame isn’t purely reductionist though. Orange has increased the pivot height to generate more anti-squat while carving out the shock mount on the downtube so the nose of the shock sits a little lower to increase progression. Taken together, these subtle changes offer more support, so even though the Stage Evo is shy on travel, it doesn’t rip through it in the blink of an eye. This extra support in the rear suspension gives you a much bigger window of adjustment – previously you’d set a higher spring pressure for more bottom out control. Does the new layout have enough progression to fit a coil shock? I’ve not had time to try it, but at 30 per cent sag on the Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, the progression felt spot on with no harsh bottom out. That’s not to say the travel felt bottomless, because the trade-off for the increased anti-squat is that the ride feels harsher on bigger hits. So if you’ve got the legs, or mostly ride flat terrain, upping the chainring size from the stock 32t will really help in that department. Just don’t expect it to feel as snappy when you get on the gas.
Another major frame update, is that the Stage Evo adopts the triangulated swingarm design found on the Stage 6. It’s noticeably stiffer than the old monocoque design without being so stiff as to rob the Stage Evo of its incredible off-camber traction. It also means the tyre no longer rubs on the inside edges of the swingarm when slamming turns. It’s no secret that we also had issues with the rear tyre buzzing the back of the seat tube when the old Stage 5 bottomed out, so we were pleased to discover plenty for clearance when measuring the rear wheel travel. The 1.5º steeper seat tube no doubt helps a lot here, as does the reduction in travel. In fact, it’s the abundance of tyre clearance at bottom out that gave us the confidence to recommend offset shock hardware if you fancy a lower bb height. The actual travel? 116mm, so pretty close to the claimed 120mm.
It’s interesting that there isn’t a single carbon component on the Stage Evo. And, at 13.83kg for the size L bike, it’s just just over one kilogram heavier than the full carbon YT Izzo Pro we featured last month. It showcases some of the best British components too, like the new Burgtec Enduro bar and stem. Yes, we’ve criticised Hope brakes for their lack of power, especially on longer travel bikes, but the Tech 3 E4 brakes on the Stage Evo felt like a great match. With reach and bite-point adjustment, getting the lever feel just so is easy, and best of all it never changes, so there’s no second guessing when the brake is going to kick in. Modulation is also first rate, so feathering the brake on a tricky off-camber section of trail doesn’t result in an immediate loss of traction. Due to the raw speed of the Stage Evo we used the multi-release feature on the 12-speed XT shifter to drop down two gears at a time more regularly than normal, testament to how efficiently it pedals. Orange has nailed the tyre specification too, with the Maxx Terra 3C compound Minion DHF providing great cornering traction, while the dual compound DHR II keeps the tempo high when covering ground. This combination also helps balance cornering traction front and rear with the longer front end, which helps make you feel perfectly centerted on the bike.
How it rides
It’s easy to pick holes in Orange’s simple single-pivot suspension design, and web warriors love to poke fun at the hand-laid beads of weld that don’t form perfectly symmetrical fish scales. Hitting just two corners on the Stage Evo though, and there’s no disputing the ride quality. This bike simply rips. The firm compression on the Pike fork feels perfectly balanced with the tighter rear suspension, and when you’re dodging trees, the Stage Evo rides light, feels agile and remains blissfully calm. Yes, it’s easy to ride beyond the physical limits of the travel, but that’s what makes the Stage Evo such an engaging bike on regular terrain. The increased support from the rear translates to a more planted front end, so even though the size L Stage Evo sports a 480mm reach, the front never pushes through turns or loses traction unexpectedly, which just encourages you to push even harder. Balance is the name of the game here, and Orange has nailed it on the new Stage Evo LE.