If you follow this blog, you might have seen that I recently switched to an Orange Stage 6 for my long-travel MTB needs – and that I’m quite smitten with the way it rides.
So it was just two weeks after I’d started riding the S6 – still firmly in the honeymoon period – that I came to demo it’s shortest travel sibling, the Stage 4, courtesy of Orange’s demo man Adam and Biketreks in Ambleside.
I was looking to downsize my MTB fleet from three to two – and undecided between a short travel 29er or a hardtail 29er/650b-plus to complement the Stage 6.
I’ve been a fan of short-travel 29ers for a few years, since I built up a Kona Process 111 really. There’s just something about the way they can cover ground effortlessly and leave longer travel bikes behind – even in relatively rugged terrain – that feels more fun and more rewarding than an enduro bike a lot of the time.
These kind of bikes don’t sell well though, as you sort-of have to ride them to “get” it, and most riders are seduced by more suspension travel or (understandably) need one bike for all situations.
My current short-travel shred sled (TM) is a Transition Smuggler – not light but quite a versatile trail bike with a particularly “bottomless” suspension feel considering it only has 115mm of rear wheel travel.
The geometry of the Stage 4 is remarkably similar to the Tranny. Reach, chainstays, head angle alll identical. BB height in the same ballpark.
But picking up the S4 for the first time, it ws obviously a good chunk lighter than the Smuggler. With Fox Factory squishy bits, snazzy Sram Eagle gears and Flow wheels with Maxxis Exo tyres is came in around 27-28lbs. Not XC race bike light, but certainly light enough to race XC on (for me).
It’s not just light weight that makes a full-sus bike fast though, the suspension layout is a massive factor too – and I was expecting big things from the S4 because I’d recently been blown away by how well my new S6 pedals.
If anything, the bike exceeded my expectations, taking off like a scalded rat and feeling like it was efficiently translating every watt my legs could produce into forward motion. I’ve never felt so comfortable on that steep road climb up to Loughrigg, despite having the saddle a bit low to start off with.
The rest of the demo group were on longer travel Oranges – mainly Stage 5s and Stage 6s – and I was comfortably able to zip ahead and open the gates, hold it for people to pass, then overtake and get the next one as well.
Despite the geometry numbers being so similar to my Smuggler, the S4 felt like a totally different bike: Sporty, nimble, responsive and urgent – as opposed to predictable, plush and playful.
On flatter sections it kept a high tempo easily, and dispatched rough ground efficiently but with a feeling of dancing across the top of bumps rather than swallowing them whole.
As on the Stage 6, I’d attribute this to the bike’s high anti-squat value ,which gives that snappy acceleration but can feel a bit skittish over rugged terrain. Except on the S4 – with 110mm rear and 120mm front wheel travel – the feeling was obviously magnified.
There was one properly rough descent on the demo loop, dropping back down to the side of the tarn on a rocky bridleway, and I must admit I had to back off a bit as the trail dropped suddenly into a rocky trough.
On my other bikes I’d have hucked into it, but the combination of the steeper 67.5 degree head angle and taut suspension just made me worry about getting pinged off – and potentially damaging a £6k bike.
And that’s the crux of the matter for me really. I love the perky nature of the S4 and I’d probably choose one over my Smuggler – if just because it’s not even trying to do what an enduro bike can – but Orange bikes are not cheap and I’d feel reluctant to spend that kind of money to then have to start messing about with angle-adjust headsets and/or offset bushings.
For full disclosure, I have done that on my Smuggler, but the frame was literally half the price of the S4.
So it’s not quite the right bike for me now, and I’m getting the Cotic SolarisMax instead.
However I reckon it’d be a brilliant bike for marathon XC kind-of stuff, for old-school big days out in the hills and for UK trail centres.
And who knows in future if I see one secondhand – or indeed if Orange slack things out a bit with the next iteration.
Thanks to Orange for bringing the bike along and to Biketreks for hosting and for the tea and cake.
If you’ve found this post useful or interesting, please follow the blog on social media via the icons at the top of the page.