There's already a 29er Clockwork, now Orange has introduced a 650b version. How does the inbetweener model fare?
Last year we saw Orange tentatively dip its toe into 29er water with a big-wheeled version of its classic Clockwork hardtail. This year, it’s created a splash by revising that 29er platform and adding a new 650b version to run alongside it. Dubbed the Clockwork 120 due to the fork travel (as opposed to the new 29er version with 100mm), the 650b bike has been designed to make the miles fly by with ease, while retaining some of the fun, flickable ride quality of the original Clockwork 26in.
Regardless of the wheel size used, the 2015 Clockwork frame gets custom-butted alloy tubing that’s sleeker and more refined than anything we’ve seen from Orange previously. There’s also the must-have internal cabling, including stealth routing for a dropper seat post, and an oversized XX44 head tube for a rock-solid connection between the frame and fork. At the opposite end, Orange has gone with a post brake mount on the chainstay, rather than the seatstay. As neat as this looks, we found that our heels occasionally clipped the longer rear dropout that goes with it.
Taking full advantage of the in-between wheel size, Orange has added a small frame option on the 650b Clockwork (the 29er version only comes in M, L and XL). Also, if the Clockwork 120 S tested here is slightly outside your budget, there’s a Clockwork 120 for £1,000, making it ideal for the Ride to Work Scheme.
While there’s no discernible difference in damping performance or chassis size between the RockShox Recon fork and the Sektors found on the Whyte and Nukeproof, the Recon does offer a marginal weight saving. That’s because available travel on the Recon is capped at 120mm, allowing RockShox to use a lighter chassis. With a tapered steerer tube and Maxle bolt-thru lowers you won’t notice any loss in steering precision or control.
Performance-wise, the Shimano M445 brakes on the Clockwork 120 S are brilliant. We found it hard though, to get the two-finger levers into a position where we could get maximum mechanical advantage of the longer lever blades and still be able to reach the SLX shifters comfortably. The best compromise that we found was to ditch the indicator displays on the shifter pods and run the brakes inboard of the SLX shifters.
And, good as clutch-style rear derailleurs are at helping keep the chain on, the Clockwork 120 S needs a chainstay protector to silence its chain slap. It would also stop that beautiful, bright orange paint job looking like it’s been peppered with buckshot after the very first ride.
Every time we slammed the saddle all the way down to the top tube to drop into more challenging trails, we couldn’t help but feel like a teenager that had borrowed his big brother’s bike. The gangly frame proportions and pockmarked chainstay didn’t prevent us from hammering the Clockwork 120 S, though.
With longer chainstays than the Nukeproof, the riding position is more centered and neutral. As such, the Orange is more planted and steadfast on steep technical trails, and this gave us confidence to ride off the brakes and forge ahead. Even the Conti tyres that felt sluggish when climbing came to life with an injection of momentum, offering predictable cornering grip and great braking traction. Our only criticism of the Conti Mtn Kings is that the 2.2in casing is narrow, so it doesn’t offer much shock absorption.
Mountain biking isn’t simply about smashing the descents, and another advantage of the longer back end is that it puts you in a comfortable position on the bike for seated climbing. All in all, the new 650b Clockwork 120 S ticks along at a blistering pace, but it can’t quite match the speed and versatility of the Whyte.
Orange is pretty much leading the way with geometry and sizing on its new Alpine 160 enduro bike, so we were a little disappointed that the Clockwork 120 S isn’t cut from the same cloth. Granted, it is an XC bike, and a capable one at that, but we’d love to see Orange move towards a more dramatically sloping top tube and some extra length up front. The latter would mean that we could have ridden a size M rather than an L, and it would have instantly transformed the Clockwork 120 S from a good trail hardtail into a great one.