Preparing for Trans-Provence: the Orange Five29

I’ve never ridden an enduro. I rode Megavalanche once, but that’s not enduro. I’ve ridden a lot of mass start cyclocross and XC races, and I’ve done my share of road racing too. But none of those are enduro. I’ve ridden my mountain bike every day this summer and scored half a dozen singletrack Strava KOM’s.

But Strava is definitely not enduro.

So I’m ignorant, I’m pissing in the wind, this is a stab in the dark and I could well be barking up the wrong tree, but still, I feel the reasons I came to this decision are worth discussing. I’ve thought about this stuff a lot - too much - in the last few months; I’ve sought opinion, listened to the experts, and come to conclusions of my own, and right or wrong, those conclusions might be useful for other people.


words and photos: Andy Waterman

Wheelsize

Right back when the EWS was kicking off, I watched a video where Fabian Barel explained that smaller wheels can be faster, that with a smaller wheel you can get more back from the trail through pumping than you could from a bigger wheel. It made sense – watch a 20in wheel BMX blasting round a BMX track and compare it to the cruiser class: the skilled guys on the smaller wheels gain so much momentum out of every transition they don’t need to pedal. The cruisers look slow, heavy and lifeless in comparison.

So I understand why Fabian Barel or Jerome Clementz would discount 29in wheels for enduro racing and stick to whichever 26in/650b bike their sponsors tell them to ride. Those guys see things differently to most of us, like at the end of the Matrix when Keanau Reeves starts seeing the world in binary code – they don’t see obstacles, but transitions they can pump to increase their speed even further.

Me, I see a series of opportunities to crash or come to a complete standstill. My brain just doesn’t work quick enough to process all that noise and to exploit every opportunity to go faster, which is what you need to do to ride as fast as those guys. So rather than a bike that is quick and maneuverable, I need a bike that will roll through and over stuff before my brain has a chance to cause me to crash or lose all my momentum.

Which brings me to 29ers.

It’s fair to say I’m a convert to the 29in wheel size. It took a while for me to get there, but for the last year or so I’ve ridden nothing but 29ers, so when it came to choosing a bike for Trans-Provence I was already erring in that direction.

At the start of 2013 I borrowed a BMC FS02 29er to review, and I rode that bike everywhere, from mid-week XC races in London to big days out in a full-face helmet in the Alps. For a 100mm travel bike I was surprised how capable it was on the kind of terrain that should theoretically better suit a 150mm+ travel bike. The big wheels added so much confidence, rolling over rocks and roots and flattering my limited amount of skill to the extent that I made my mind up there and then that a 29er was the bike to take to France.

The only issue I had in the Alps was really steep stuff and tiredness, the small amount of travel on the BMC transferring a lot of shock though to the arms and upper body. At heart, the FS02 is an XC marathon bike, albeit a superbly capable one, so it would be unfair to criticise it for being out of its depth on insanely steep Alpine singletrack. And only bad workers blame their tools.

So that’s how I came to the conclusion that I needed a 29er with a slack head angle and and significantly more than 100mm of travel.

Looking at the market I started considering a number of bikes, including the new Trek Remedy 29 and the Specialized Enduro 29. I really liked the look of the new BMC Trailfox and the Intense Carbine 29 but they arrived at the party too late.

The Orange Five29

Ultimately I chose the Orange Five29 based on it being made in Britain, the angles (the head angle is a claimed 66.5 deg which is insanely slack by 29er standards), its mammoth length (a quick measuring suggests a 47in wheelbase) and the fact that Sim, Orange’s new art and marketing guy was happy to do me a custom paintjob (nice!).

I was lucky that Easton, SRAM, Cane Creek and WTB have all been supporters of the mag and have gone beyond the call of duty to help with the build kit, leaving me with a bike that really is at the pinnnacle of current technology.

It used to be the case that decent wheels and tyres were hard to come by for 29ers but the Easton Haven Carbon’s I’m using are stiff, tough, and the rims are wide enough to give wide tyres a stable platform and a good profile. Tyre choice has really leapt on in the last couple of years and now you can get 29er versions of most tyres, including the dual ply WTB Vigilantes I’ll be using in Trans-Provence.

Cane Creek supplied me with a 110 headset, their pick and mix approach headset standards making finding the correct fitment really easy. The Double Barrel air shock is something I’ve been wanting to try for a couple of years, and now that it has a climb switch to change the low speed compression and rebound damping it should be a great choice for Trans-Provence.

SRAM hooked me up with the XX1 groupset with a 30t chainring. On the face of it, that sounds incredibly small, but with 2000m of climbing on most days in the Trans-Provence  I suspect I’ll be grateful for it when I get there. And thinking about it, when was the last time you ever heard anyone come back from an event and complain about being under-geared?

SRAM also supplied a Rockshox Pike Dual Position Air fork (150mm of travel, the upper end of what’s recommended for the Five29) and a Reverb Stealth post. The Five29 isn’t drilled ready stealth hose routing, so I took the bike to our local bike shop in London, Mosquito Bikes in Islington where Greg, the head mechanic, was more than happy to take a drill to it. With that done, threading the hose through the frame and then bleeding the system wasn’t too hard, although the bleed did take a couple of attempts (tip: be super assertive in pulling on the syringes to create a vacuum - pussyfooting around will get you nowhere).

Greg in Mosquito Bikes – a braver man than me...
The real proof of whether I’ve made the right choice will come in France at the end of the month when Trans-Provence starts. I can’t wait – we’ll be reporting on what other people are riding while we’re there, so keep an eye on the blog for more.

3 comments:

  1. the only thing I would change are the brakes and rotors. avid brakes + rotors 180/160 never felt any good to me on my trance 29er would always over heat. changed them for hope v4s with 203/180 Magura Storm SL now so much modulation and power without over heating.

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  2. I've got the five29 and was at les arcs 6 weeks ago (but with a santa cruz bullit). Really interested to see how this works out. Even though the five29 is a long bike it does work pretty well in the hill back country tracks here in scotland

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  3. Looks ugly and old no matter what you paint it or what cool parts you put on it.

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