We take a look behind the scenes at the development of Orange Bikes’ two new models in the form of the Five Evo and Stage Evo.
Pete had a chat with Orange Bikes’ product manager Kelvin Lawton to find out more about the process of getting the Five and Stage Evo bikes from concept to reality.
What made you decide to update the Five and Stage models?
In reality both these bikes are new, they aren’t really updates of currently existing models. We’ve shared part of the naming structure to try and make things clear to the customer where these bikes sit in our range.
We’ve felt for quite a while that people have been buying bikes which in reality are “too much bike” for them. They want the confidence inspiring geometry and shape of the bigger bikes but in reality, they probably don’t want to drag around all the extra suspension and weight. They buy the bike they think they need not the bike they really need. It was a logical step to then look at our range and take the parts we love about our bikes and develop two new bikes which addressed what we’ve seen as a problem, creating a couple of really fun, fast and aggressive trail bikes.
Once you had made that decision, what happens next?
There are initial conversations internally within the product team about the feasibility of the product, this will also include discussions with sponsored riders, ambassadors and staff to see what everyone thinks. All of these things give really interesting insights into details on the bikes that people notice when they live with, work on or ride an Orange and inevitably it makes the product better.
All the information gathered helps to start creating a bit of a picture of what the bikes are going to be. We will have a good idea about potential geometry and what characteristics we’re looking for from the ride of that bike straight from the word go, but these are always open to being refined and changed during the testing process.
We’re fortunate that we manufacture in the U.K, it means we can get a prototypes together in a couple of hours if we’re using parts already in stock, so a conversation in the morning can potentially be ridden that evening, or it would take a couple of weeks if a completely new frame needs producing. Either way there are numerous options available to us and it’s considerably quicker than trying to source it from the Far East.
Once the prototypes are with the test team we keep regular contact and a steady flow of feedback coming back in, refining the bikes as needed.
Who is involved in that process and what do they do?
There are so many pieces to the puzzle, everything needs considering. We’re only a small team of people at Orange especially compared to some of the huge corporations but it still feels like a lot of people are involved at every step to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Initially the product team to develop the concept, then athletes, ambassadors and staff to provide feedback on the initial design idea. Our frame designer to put all the pieces of the puzzle together including the suspension kinematics plus engineering to develop each tube independently, we don’t just use stock tubes, each tube profile and thickness is specific to the model and size of the bike going through production and each fold and form needs to be carefully considered.
Prototypes get distributed to the development team and feedback gathered and a decision is made on whether another run of prototypes is required. This process will continue until we are happy with the bike, it can take quite some time. The Stage Evo and Five Evo have been in development for nearly 2 years, tweaking and altering frames until we have arrived where we are.
On top of that someone needs to develop the graphics for the bike itself and provide all the assets for the website so we have images, the dealers have images, the magazines have images and all the social media content. The bike needs multiple specs producing, pricing and this all needs converting into multiple currencies. Each of the parts which make up the complete bike can come from all over the world and this all needs organising to make sure we have everything in stock for when we need it.
How much of the development process is done in-house?
The majority of time, all the development is done in house and we use riders who are part of our programs for testing, not all are elite level riders, but some have a huge amount of experience in being able to provide detailed and concise feedback which is really important. It’s all very good being quick, but if you can’t translate what you are feeling into words there’s nothing to work with.
We do send frames to a third-party company for destruction testing, this impartiality in this process is really important.
We also have relationships with companies like High-tech GP who are also keen to be involved in projects and there are opportunities there for us with testing as well.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with the EVO models?
We wanted a fun, engaging bike that was capable of ridding anything without carrying around any additional baggage. It’s the bike to ride everywhere in nearly every circumstance. They needed to be incredibly capable and utterly rewarding in equal measure. A bike that rewards the efforts and skill of the rider. A mountain biker’s mountain bike.
Do you try and keep frame sizing consistent with the range, or do you use new bikes to introduce new sizing?
Frame sizing does generally follow a pattern to ensure consistency across the range, but we don’t strictly adhere to it for the sake of it, if we feel something needs to change to improve the ride of the bike then we’ll change it. For example, the e-bikes tend to be a little bit longer per size to help distribute more weight over the front wheel, they fall out of sync with the other bikes, but it is beneficial to them.
The only other time it happens would be when the geometry evolves for the better, then each model after that will follow the new format, our products are an evolution from that point of view.
How did you nail down the geometry?
Geometry can be quite divisive, there are certain aspects of it which clearly can improve performance and there is a lot which is subjective, there is no magic formula otherwise it would have been done by now. We have a lot of conversations about it and the biggest thing really is how the whole system works together.
People can get hung up on one number and that will be the be all and end all for them, I’ve had plenty of conversations with people where they have asked about a specific particular measurement and almost discounted a bike before riding it, only to ride it and love. The proof is in the pudding, for us testing and feedback are the most important aspects.
How many prototypes did you have before you settled on the production chassis?
This really depends on the rider feedback and how the process is going, there is never a set rule to this sort of thing. If we’re not happy it doesn’t go into production and we continue the development process. If we are, then great, It goes to market.
Beyond prototypes, what form did your testing take?
3D modelling and stress analysis software are used to check clearances and stress points before anything leaves the computer. On top of that we have a lot of guys who are really hard on bikes and do a huge amount of riding week in, week out, and it’s the real-world testing which means a lot to us.
We also send the frames off to be tested by a third-party company to put them through their paces to ensure total confidence, they can replicate years of riding in a matter of days with their test rigs. We have a very good understanding and complete control of our manufacturing processes with over 30 years of experience which is invaluable at the testing stage.
Did you have any outside help for testing?
Only for the destruction testing side of things, to have complete impartiality at that point is essential.
How did you choose the name for the bikes?
The addition of Evo to the names is to signify the bikes step forward in advances with their geometry. You don’t need all the travel to get the shape you want; you shouldn’t have to buy the heavier longer travel bike to benefit from better geometry. Travel’s for show, geometry’s for a pro.
We used Stage and Five so people understood we have a 29” wheel version and a 27.5 version.
For me it’ll be once the bikes are launched and ready to go to the dealers. Although there is something amazing about working with a team of passionate people striving for a common goal and achieving it. I think it’s fair to say being able to see a bike go from a concept to a rideable production product is pretty amazing.
We’ve seen a couple of fruity colours go through the paint shop. Thankfully none of them made production and I was only responsible for a couple of them.
Anyone to thank?
Our customers, they stand by us and believe in the product we produce and the merits by which we make them and you can’t ask for more than that.