22 February 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Orange P7 frame

After perusing the crate at my local bike shop- the one where they stuff all my extra parts- and examining the wall of my garage with even more parts on it, I decided to buy a reasonably-priced steel hardtail and build it up using all of my used but still good loot. It had been a long time since I owned a geared hardtail so I figured it might be fun to have one hanging around. After cruising a bunch of different websites, I decided to go with an Orange P7. It seemed like a strong frame, and that was more important to me than weight for this bike. The basic build for the frame is: a Fox Vanilla 140, Industry Nine wheels, SRAM XO thumb shifters, Formula Oro brakes, and the big Hutchinson Toro tires which I reviewed a while back. The only component I ended up needing to buy was a seatpost. Almost everything on it wound up being black or dark-colored so the P7 is now officially my “Darth Vader” bike.

I ordered Orange's 17 inch rather than their 19 inch frame (I’m usually about an 18 inch frame) because if it was a 19”my friend Dan would want to borrow it, and later on, convince me to sell it to him for cheap. Ha! Take that Dan. For the P7, Orange uses a double butted CrMo tubeset, but it isn’t the super-light kind you find on some racer-boy frames. It is thicker and stronger, and you can feel it in the ride. My frame weighed in the mid 4lb range which isn’t really heavy (but it ain’t light either). The Orange rides extremely stiff for a steel frame and, though it doesn’t feel as forgiving as most steel frames I’ve ridden, it still retains some of the liveliness that steel is known for- albeit a bit dulled. If the weight and a slightly dulled feel are the drawbacks, then I have to assume that the benefits for the P7 are strength and durability. I have yet to break any frame though, so I’m not sure if that holds much value for me. I do know that I tend to ride this bike without a care as to what I ride over, drop off of, roll across, or even crash into. It is very liberating. I’m not saying the P7 is supposed to be a beater bike- that’s just how I am using it. It’s obviously a quality frame, but the sturdiness of this bike will inspire confidence beyond what some of the lighter XC frames can. Orange says that the optimum fork length for the P7 is 140mm and that confirms that this frame is destined for a tougher life than many steel hardtails. I have yet to be in a situation that I don’t feel comfortable riding on the P7. Sure, there are times that, in the back of my mind, I am thinking “I would really like to be on a suspension bike now” but its not because the Orange can’t handle it- its because I have to work harder to absorb the bumps. This is the price you pay when you choose to ride any hardtail, but the P7 inspires confidence in some nasty terrain.

The frame comes with an ISCG chainguide for those who want to run chain guides, bash guards or Hammerschmidt cranks. The head angle is a mellow 69˚ and that is just about perfect for this bike because it steers the way we expect (a hardtail to steer) on the climbs, but adds enough stability on the downhills that it isn’t twitchy. I’ll bet Orange could even get away with a 68˚ head angle on this frame. Or they could leave the current head-angle but rate the frame for a 150mm fork.

One really cool aspect of this bike is that it comes with special sliding drop-outs that allow you to run the bike either singlespeed or geared. That is a big deal if you want to try singlespeeding but don’t want to spend too much figuring out if you like it or not. The only really annoying thing on the P7 is that the seat-tube is an odd size and requires a shim, but the really bad part was finding a seatpost collar. We couldn’t find one that fit. I finally called the distributor and asked what size to use. They had no idea what we were talking about and said the 34.2 works just fine. So I went back and tried that size- it still didn’t work- until I pried the collar open with a bladed screwdriver as I was sliding it on to the seat-tube. I think this is dumb. It hasn’t been an issue since, but shouldn't have been one in the first place.

My bike is a businesslike dull black but the P7 is available in a pearly white as well. In Britain they have custom paint available (I don’t know if that is an option Stateside). I haven’t seen a retail price for the frame, but my local shop priced mine around $650.



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