WORDS & STILL PHOTOS: Matt Wragg
ACTION PHOTOS: Orbea
|We wanted to have a bicycle that gives you the maximum when you're going downhill. - Xabier Narbaiza, Orbea MTB Product Manager|
As far a bicycle companies go, Orbea is probably the oldest, most-established company you've never heard of. Originally founded in 1840 in the Basque region of Spain, they made their first bicycles way back in 1930. In those 80 years they have grown to be the largest bike company in Spain, but unless you follow road racing or cross-country, we'd forgive you for not being familiar with the name. Looking through their range, their mountain bike focus has clearly been on their more lycra-clad side of things - Julien Absalon piloted one of their bikes to Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and the longest travel offering they had ever made was 150mm. That is until now, when they decided to take the emergence of enduro racing seriously and re-purpose their all-mountain bike, the Rallon, for enduro.
‘Enduro’ is a much-misused word right now. Somewhere along the line, it has been corrupted, re-appropriated to cover pretty much everything we previously lumped in under the headings of "all-mountain" or "trail." Today it's connection to the long, tough downhill-focused races in the high, French Alps that spawned the format is all-but forgotten by many. Orbea may be one of the exceptions, as they seem to have a very clear, and pure, understanding of enduro. None of the Orbea staff at the launch showed up with open-face helmets and goggles, or fanny packs. Orbea MTB Product Manager, Xabier Narbaiza, explains:
Introducing the Rallon
|We asked our dealers and our riders what they were looking for. We realised that our previous bike was more of a trail, or all-mountain bike and it wasn't right for enduro. The seconds in the race are won downhill, but it needs to be an economic bike going uphill. You don't want to waste energy, so you have 100-percent for when the timing starts, but we really wanted to make it fast, to perform going downhill. And uphill, you will have to sacrifice. Whether it's the main pivot point or taking a fork that isn't lockable, we'll do that.|
On first glance, maybe the Rallon doesn't look too radical, or maybe we just didn't expect a company who comes across as straight-laced as Orbea to go down such a road. The introduction to the bike was low-key. The Rallon is unencumbered by complicated acronyms and scientific-sounding materials. It's simply an aluminium frame with 160 millimeters of travel at the front and the rear. Studying it alongside the previous version, its lines are cleaner, the wheel size has been bumped up from 26 to 27.5 inches and the linkage design of the suspension has also been reconfigured. The Rallon looks good, maybe not 'drop what you're doing and sell a kidney' sexy, but it definitely looks purposeful. It's only when Xabier starts talking about the geometry and the suspension that you realize what Orbea have created though.Details:
• Purpose: Trail/All-mountain/Enduro
• Frame: Aluminum, concentric rear dropout pivot suspension, 160mm travel
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Shock: BOS Kirk
• Fork: BOS Deville 160mm travel
• 66° head angle
• 420mm chainstays
• Sizes: Small, medium, large, X-large
• Weight: 30.29 lbs
• MSRP: Rallon X Team $6,199 Suspension
Orbea developed the Rallon’s suspension in partnership with BOS. The well-respected French suspension maker was brought in to review their design at the early prototype stage. Xabier said that with BOS’ feedback, Orbea had to totally change the kinematics of the bike. Instead of having a small rocker link near the top tube, which would have been lighter and easier to produce, the new chassis required a longer rocker arm that pivoted from the down tube to achieve a smoother, more linear leverage rate to get the maximum from the shock. It was one of the keys to achieving the front and rear balance that was Orbea’s primary goal in developing the bike.
There are two ways you can control a bike suspension feel: by manipulating the leverage rate of the suspension, or through tuning the shock. Many modern suspensions use linkages to produce complex, custom leverage rates, to offer specific suspension characteristics at different points of the suspension travel. This is usually involves keeping the shock firm in the first part of the stroke to make pedalling easier, then get harder at the end of the stroke to reduce harsh bottom outs. Variable rate suspension linkages, however, complicate the task of tuning the shock.
Being humans, we all tend to have our personal preferences, especially when it comes to suspension feel. With the suspension characteristics hard-wired into a frame the suspension feel is going to be within given range. Orbea and BOS decided to walk the alternate path, with a linear suspension design to allow the shock to have the biggest possible influence on the suspension feel. The BOS Kirk shock that the Rallon was developed around, has rebound, and separate high and low-speed compression adjustments - which means that you can use the shock to tune in the precise suspension characteristics you are looking for. Until recently, this kind of shock technology and approach to suspension setup was only available with coil shocks for downhill and freeride bikes. Although if you find the prospect of this kind of involvement in your suspension tuning intimidating, Orbea do also offer the bike with a Fox Float shock that comes with preset settings.
Working with BOS they didn't consider any of the elements in isolation, but worked on the frame, fork and shock as a complete package. The linear suspension rate of the rear suspension meant that its performance could be closely matched to the fork. Both fork and shock consequently have tunes unique to the Rallon, Orbea are confident this makes this one of the most balanced bikes out there.Concentric Rear Dropout Pivots
Behind that big rocker link is a suspension layout that will look familiar to fans of Trek's Active Braking Pivot or Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot bikes. It uses a similar system with the rear dropout pivots that rotate concentrically around the rear axle. When we quizzed Xabier on the similarities, he said:
|We checked the patents, and this design was there for 100 years - having the pivot point where the seatstays and chainstays rotating around the rear axle. We have been very careful not to infringe on our competitors' patents, but there are opportunities out there that you have to explore. We really respect our competitors' patent rights and encourage others to do the same, and we believe that our concentric rear axle design does not infringe any valid patent rights of our competitors. The main reason we are taking this suspension design is because of the construction. We can make the whole system much lighter, because the dropouts tend to be a little chunkier, when you have a Horst Link, or a pivot above the rear axle, you get a bigger CNC part. The lightest way is to have the most tubing possible. How do you get the maximum amount of tubing? You bring the bearings and all of the linkage to the rear axle. We have our own patents protecting this design because we have the most compact system out there.|
Of course, suspension is only one element, one that can be completely wasted if you wrap the wrong geometry around it. It is here that you can clearly see the difference between what Orbea consider an all-mountain bike and this, an enduro race bike. Compared to the previous Rallon, the top tube was lengthened, the head angle was slackened and the bottom bracket was lowered. In the frame’s lowest suspension setting, this equates to a 338-millimeter bottom bracket height, a 66-degree head angle and an 1172-millimeter wheelbase for a medium-sized bike. In the higher of the two suspension settings, the head angle is 66.5 degrees and the bottom bracket, 345 millimeters.
For a 650B bike, a 66-degree head angle is slack and with the extra reach from the lengthened top tube, the medium bike began pushing the bike’s wheelbase towards the 1200 millimeter mark, which test riders felt was too long. To combat this, Orbea shortened the chainstays to 420mm. With 650B wheels, 430mm chainstays are generally considered short, 420mm is shorter than most 26-inch-wheeled bikes even. While the primary aim here was to adjust the wheelbase, shorter stays are easier to keep stiff and are one of the major contributing factors in producing a fast-handling bike.
Make no mistake about it, Orbea’s Rallon is pushing on the boundaries of what you can do with an enduro bike and how aggressive you can make the geometry without turning the bike into a full-blown gravity sled. When Orbea’s lead test rider, Simon Andre, talked about head angles,he mentioned that they pushed the Rallon prototypes all the way out to 65 degrees, but after trying different configurations, he found that the ultra-low bottom bracket and the frame’s longer reach made the most impact on high-speed stability. Taken in conjunction with these other factors, a 66-degree head angle proved to be just as stable as a 65 degree head angle, but handled far better at low speeds.First Impressions:
| We threw a leg over a medium-sized bike at the launch and the longer reach was immediately noticeable. It is certainly one of the longer medium bikes we have tried, although, crucially, it still felt shorter than most large frames. Riders in the group who were traditionally on the small/medium cusp tended to favour the small. Pedaling out to the trailhead there was a steep climb and, as we would expect with these kind of geometry numbers, you have to work on your riding position to maintain traction and keep the front in check. That said, power transfer to the back wheel felt pretty good and climbing was comfortable, if not lightning fast.|
Most of the time, riding an unfamiliar bike once or twice is not enough time to get a good sense of its potential. From the very first descent, however, it was apparent that the Rallon is something rather special. Taking our first runs on the track used for stage four of the final Enduro World Series round in Finale Ligure this year, we were hitting sections like we'd been riding this bike for years - staying off the brakes, chancing lines and throwing it at the corners. What was interesting was that this seemed to be a fairly universal feeling among the group, that with their approach to the suspension the bike can be relatively easily tuned to suit a wide range of riders. All signs point to Orbea’s new enduro machine as being a very, very fast bike. We have taken a Rallon away from the Orbea launch to put some more miles in on it, and will will report back on our long-term findings before long. - Matt Wragg