With 120mm of rear travel and 29″ wheels, the Orange Stage Evo RS promises to be a high speed and nimble trail slayer.
Ben has been riding the Orange Stage Evo RS all winter to find out just how capable short travel can be when paired with aggressive geometry.
Orange have been at the heart of the UK bike scene since day one, and despite the basic silhouette of their bikes remaining basically unchanged, they continue to move with the times, building fast, fun and capable bikes.
If there is one thing that this bike teaches you, it is that geometry is the most important factor in how a bike performs and what it is capable of. Not the amount of travel, not the expensive forks or wheels, not the weight. It is the numbers on the geo-sheet that work together to create a bike that is simply average or that is an absolute rocket ship, just like the sandy-brown Stage Evo RS.
Most of the time when I get a new bike I don’t pay much attention to the spec and geo charts so they don’t sway my thoughts or put pre-conceived opinions in my head. I knew this was a shorter travel version of the Orange Stage 6 with its 150mm of rear and 160mm of front travel. After my first few descents I had assumed that this was about a 140mm trail bike and I was simultaneously impressed with its nimble climbing and lively cornering. When I got home I was shocked to see that this only has 120mm of rear travel and a 130mm fork.
How can such a short travel bike ride so well on tech trails?
The size large tested is roomy, with its 478mm reach and decently long 443mm chain stays giving an overall wheelbase of 1240. At 65 degrees the head angle does not sound super slack compared to a modern enduro bike, but you need to remember that as a long travel fork compresses through its travel, it gets steeper. A shorter travel fork does not need to be as slack to feel the same as a longer fork with a slacker head angle.
The frame layout is undeniably an Orange with its single pivot design and large, formed tubing, hand welded and complete with so called, “imperfections” where the frame sections join each other. I really liked the matte, sandy colour paint job and it proved to be very hard wearing after plenty of muddy winter miles. Cable routing is direct, clean and most importantly, quiet.
Suspension duties are handled by Rock Shox with a Pike Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate shock. Both are top drawer options that did a great job of controlling every last millimetre of the limited travel on offer. Another spec highlight, and adding to the UK-made kudos is a set of Hope Pro 4 hubs, complete with their signature clicking noise as you freewheel down the road.
The Orange Stage Evo RS comes with a full SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed drive train which is totally functional and good quality, working without fault throughout the test. Braking is from Shimano with their SLX 4-pot brakes mated to 203mm front and 180mm rear rotors. I found the brakes to be plenty powerful enough to stop the bike and I personally like the lever feel of Shimano brakes which tends to be a bit firmer than SRAM. Some people complain of a wandering bite point with newer Shimano brakes, but I did not experience any problems.
The bars and stem are supplied by another UK brand, Burgtec with a set of 800mm wide (cut to 780mm) RideWide Enduro bars and Mk3 Enduro stem in 35mm length. It is all solid, functional stuff, with a good blend of burliness and weight without going down the carbon route. Orange provide the grips, which are a single clamp affair with a nice, slim profile. I like to ride without gloves and found these to be really grippy and comfy. They are slim, so a full day on dry, rough tracks may be a bit harsh, but for general trail riding they are bang on. Finally the build is completed with a Fox Elite Transfer dropper post with 175mm of travel.
Straight away you feel that the Orange is a spritely climber, and whether you sit or stand you never feel like your efforts are being wasted. It has a good amount of support around the sag point of the shock, and as long as you don’t stomp too wildly you won’t find the Stage Evo RS bobbing as you put the watts down to get to the next trail.
As a short travel trail bike it is well suited to rolling terrain that quickly switches from descents to climbs and back again. In this sense, the bike excels. With a flick of the dropper lever you are back on the pedals and powering back up, the rear suspension remaining active over the roots and chop whilst propelling you forwards. It feels immediate, it feels fast and it makes you want to push the pace, trying to drop your mates.
On tighter climbs with steps and switch backs the long bike still felt agile and it was fun to plough into sections, trying to clean them, hopping the rear wheel and pivoting round tight trees and rocks.
A 120/130mm travel bike really should not be this fast on natural trails and technical single track, but the Stage Evo RS puts any notion of being categorised by travel to one side as it slashes down the trail. From my very first ride I was really surprised with the performance of the sandy coloured trail missile as I skipped and pinged down the trail. This thing is fast.
The speed is really all about the balance of the bike and in this case the size large felt just right for my 5’9.5” height. I felt like I was in the bike, riding between the 29 inch wheels with a good amount of weight naturally on each wheel thanks to the 443mm chain stay length rather than the more trendy super short stays on a lot of other short travel bikes.
The geometry is then backed up by a top performing Rock Shox Pike Ultimate fork that does an admirable job of controlling the 130mm of front travel. With 25% sag and compression and rebound nearly fully open it gave a lively feel and plenty of grip, allowing the front wheel to track well over the wet and muddy roots that littered every ride we shared.
The Pike was well-matched to the Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock that controls the 120mm of rear travel. With single pivot bikes it can be hard to get a balance of progression and suppleness in the rear shock and often a shock will sacrifice one to benefit the other. Not so with the Rock Shox unit fitted to the Orange, as it was super smooth on rough tracks, feeling more like a 140mm bike, whilst never blowing through its travel.
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the rear tyre was a real chink in an otherwise solid spec list. It is a cheap, dual compound Maxxis DHRII 2.4 in EXO casing. At £5,500 you would expect to see a 3C compound on a bike this capable and to be honest, given how fast and gnarly this bike is, it would be good to see an EXO+ rear tyre fitted, if not a pair of them. To protect the rear rim and to prevent punctures you have to run the rear in the high 20s psi, reducing grip and on trail control.
Cornering is probably the strong point for the Orange as it leans in easily, carving an arc whilst feeling stable and fast on all but the chunkiest of terrain. Popping from turn to turn is mad fun as you press into the support, getting plenty back in return and encouraging a general sense of play as you fire off down the trail.
The bike this comes closest to for me is the Cannondale Habit Carbon 2 that I reviewed in 2019. Both defy their travel numbers in terms of capability and both were great fun to ride on a wide variety of trails. The Cannondale is a little less aggressive and achieves a light weight through liberal use of carbon, whereas the Orange feels a lot more robust and probably faster at the expense of a bit of agility compared to the Habit.
The Orange Stage Evo RS is outrageous fun to pump, manual, jump and generally play down the trail. It will go as fast as you dare and if you don’t enjoy riding it then there is probably something wrong with you.
Sand paint job
Could do better:
Rear tyre is cheap and lacks grip
You can check out the Orange Stage Evo RS on their website here.
Read all our other bike tests on our Bike Reviews page here.