My initial review of the Orange Stage 6 was written 11 months ago, when I was firmly in the honeymoon period – besotted with the long-travel 29er’s amazing turn of speed and light weight.
But while honeymoons can blind you to the kind of quirks and weaknesses which later become annoying or even unbearable, they might also leave you unaware of deeper strengths and characteristics which could bolster a long-term relationship.
Having lived with the Stage 6 through better or worse for almost a year, I can now give a much more rounded impression of it – and I’m happy to say that I’m firmly committed to a long-term relationship with the Halifax stunner.
So the gist of the initial review was that the Stage 6 was very fast and taut-feeling, at the expense of some suspension sensitivity.
After writing that I experimented with a coil shock (Cane Creek Coil Inline) for a short time, which definitely gave a plusher ride but robbed the bike of some of it’s urgency and support.
Then I removed two of the four volume spacers from the Fox Float X2 air shock and re-fitted that – which seems to be the Goldilocks solution for me. Only slightly less sprightly than with four spacers but with tons more traction and sensitivity.
Another change I made early on was adding offset shock mounting hardware (from Bounce MTB Suspension of Preston) and extending the Rock Shox Lyrik fork to 170mm with a Deboanir air shaft.
In stock geometry the S6 was arguably more of a long-travel trail bike than an enduro bike, but those little changes have a big impact on the way the bike feels.
The extra plushness at the start of the fork’s stroke means that the bike’s geometry is relatively unaffected by the mismatched travel (it’s 150mm rear) and the offset bushings give the bike a bit more stability generally and more confidence on steeper terrain.
As the Stage 6 has a not-massively slack head angle of 65.5deg as stock, these modifications have probably only dropped it to about 64.5deg – which is on par with a lot of current enduro bikes.
There has been a glut of long-travel 29ers released over the last few years, but while a lot of the contenders do seem a bit samey, the Orange neither looks or rides anything like a Trek (or anything else).
Received wisdom has it that long-travel 29ers are plough bikes, flattening the terrain with a devastating combination of suspension and big wheels. But Orange clearly didn’t get the memo on that, because the S6 is perky, playful and engaging to ride.
While some full-sus 29ers feel like they have more travel than the really do (hello Transition Smuggler), the S6 feels as if it has less. And not in a bad way.
Despite my removing tokens from the shock to get it feeling a bit less skittish, the bike still has a wicked turn of speed and responds eagerly to power. A generous portion of anti-squat means that there’s hardly any bob when climbing – even with the climb switch left off. It’s definitely a bike to keep in the open position for technical climbs.
And the suspension isn’t just taut, it’s also incredibly communicative. You can feel every pebble and twig under your tyres, and the bike somehow lets you know when you’re getting toward the limits of grip.
This sensitivity helps the bike feel fast and can also be a bit information overload from time to time. But what it doesn’t do is slow the bike down, so while you can feel each individual rock, the rear doesn’t hang up and the bike maintains forward momentum very efficiently.
But what of the notorious brake-jack (stiffening of the suspension under braking), you ask? Well yes, that is a thing and it’s certainly more noticeable on the S6 than on my old Patriot.
It can be a useful thing, as it helps the rear wheel dig to quickly scrub off speed before you release the levers and slingshot off again – but on steep and continuously technical trails it can become a distraction and make things difficult.
Personally I’ve come to see it as the yang to the yin of the bike’s relentlessly engaging character – however I know not everyone wants to be challenged by their bike.
Orange bikes can be divisive for sure, and criticism usually centres around the suspension layout and the issue I’ve just been discussing. So to dispel any suspicions that I’m just another fanboy, how about we analyse some of the most-frequently stated “facts” about Oranges in what I’m going to call the Orange bikes myth buster…
- The brake jack is unacceptable on a modern bike
True and false. If you want a nice smooth ride at all times then I can’t argue with that – but it’s a subjective thing and it’s a small price to pay for all the good stuff the S6 offers, IMO.
- The brake jack makes you a better rider
Potentially true. I’ve certainly improved the timing of my braking, but if you were a really good rider anyway then you might not learn anything from it.
- They’re heavy and agricultural
False. The frames are very light for aluminium and I’m sure they are on par with some carbon frames. Looking at the frame construction up close, it’s a beautiful piece of metalwork and much more impressive than a generic hydroformed or carbon frame (again IMO). Mine’s grey and still doesn’t really look like a filing cabinet.
- They’re overpriced
False and true. The frames are not cheap, but they are comparable with carbon on weight and tend to come with nice shocks and a five-year warranty. As for the full builds, well OK you’ve got me there.
- They tend to crack
Possibly true. A few years ago the number of Orange swimgarm cracks within my riding group was ridiculous. Now it seems there’s trouble at t’mill again – with two people I know suffering cracked swingarms on Stage 6s. Both were quickly sorted under the aforementioned five-year warranty, but since mine is secondhand I am living in fear.
- A single-pivot is just too linear
False. While I do need a couple of spacers to achieve optimum progressivity in the X2, it’s worth noting that my other FS bike (a four bar) needs one more spacer to stop it ploughing through its travel too easily. I’ve been in the fortunate position of only riding Oranges equipped with very good dampers – Cane Creeks and a Fox X2 – so it may be a different story with more basic shocks.
- They’re for “proper” riders
Kind-of true. I see this kind of comment bandied about in response to some of the criticisms above, and while I wouldn’t take such a patronising tone myself – there is something pure and unusually rewarding about the way the S6 rides. It’s not a bike I’d recommend to newbies and I’d urge anyone to try before they buy, but it’s a bike that really makes you appreciate the act of riding.
So how to sum up the Stage 6? Perhaps by comparing it to my previous enduro bike, the Nukeproof Mega 290. The two machines share very similar geometry, but couldn’t ride more differently.
The Mega inspired confidence and took most trails in its stride, but was best with gravity on its side and could be an energy-sapping chore on flatter trails. This may have been due to a bit of inherent wallow in the linkage design, but the upshot was that it was essentially a winch-and-plummet bike, for me. But the plummeting was slightly compromised by its tendency to hang up on square edges and transmit forces to the rider.
The Stage 6 is far more versatile and can happily frolic around trail centres, before rolling up its sleeves and dropping into steep off-piste trails.
It demands a bit more involvement from the rider, and can become a handful on sustained steep and tech trails if you lose your focus.
However if you ride it confidently and pick your braking points, it can handle itself very well indeed – and make you feel like a bit of hero at the same time.
Ultimately, it’s the most playful, engaging and rewarding bike I’ve owned – despite possibly not being “the best” by any objective standards.
It’s not going anywhere (unless it cracks, obvs).
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