Spanish Fluro Fever: Orbea Rallon X30 First Impressions

This radioactive number is best viewed in person, wearing sunglasses. The bike arrived on a glorious summer’s day, but the superb sunshine was outdone by the Orbea’s unique paint job, these photos don’t do the bike justice, it’s seriously flouro.

Orbea Rallon 14

Orbea are a Spanish brand that was founded in 1840, so the Rallon comes with nearly two centuries of manufacturing know-how. Despite this, Orbea have only been producing noteworthy mountain bikes in recent years, with their older models riding like mountain bikes designed by weight conscious roadies – not a great combination.

The new Rallon is a serious looking beast, packing a burly 160mm of travel at both ends. The alloy tubing looks chunky and durable, the pivots are similarly robust looking and the cabling down the centre of the downtube with minimal internal routing is a smart and maintenance friendly option. One design aspect we especially appreciate for a bike likely to be bashed around ride after ride is abundant frame protection, and the Rallon delivers with a long downtube guard ending just under the bottom bracket and a chainstay guard that protects both sides of the chain stay – a sign that lots of thought has gone into the specific intentions of the bike.

Orbea Rallon 3

The component spec for the most part is smart and sensible for the Rallon’s early 3000 dollar price point. The RaceFace/SLX drivetrain combo ensures both durability and reliability whilst the FOX front and rear suspension combo is a proven winner for quality suspension on a budget.

Here at Flow we can live without the Formula brakes- we’d take a set of bulletproof Shimanos any day- but we feel this component choice is a nod to the bikes European heritage.

Orbea Rallon 4

The Mavic en321 wheel set are on the heavy side on first impressions but the true test will be how they handle unloving testing through rough terrain. The 2×10 drivetrain, whilst seemingly out of favour with the majority of riders enchanted by the wonders of 1x, is in our opinion an excellent decision for the Rallon due to its weighty nature in comparison with more expensive, 1x equipped models.

Finally, the RaceFace cockpit is a winner- short and wide- exactly what todays All-Mountain riding requires.

Geometry wise, the Rallon is already telling us that it’s ready to rally the descents. Short 420mm stays should make it a rocket through the corners, but the long 1172mm wheelbase will offer stability at high speeds. The X30 comes with slightly more stability oriented geometry than the more expensive models, which is a good thing for the bikes target audience.

There is a simple geometry adjustment option via a reversible chip at the front shock mount, something we are fond of, should we choose to experiment with slackening or sharpening the bike’s angles. All in all though, the setup looks ready to shreddy!

Orbea Rallon 12

Orbea Rallon 15

Look out for a full review soon, we’re really looking forward to seeing how a more budget orientated all –mountain bike handles all of the technical riding Sydney has to offer!

Oh, it’s also available in black and white coloured frame, which may be a better option if you have extra sensitive eyeballs.

While you’re waiting, check out our previous review of one of Orbea’s XC rigs, the Occam 29. http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-orbea-occam-29-s50/

Tested: iTrack Suspension P3 All-Mountain Prototype

It’d be hard to find a brand or genre of mountain bikes that we haven’t ridden here at Flow. This one, on the other hand, is as unique as a vegetarian dog, a real one-off, a prototype. Handmade in a home garage in Adelaide, this wild and unique contraption of a bike deserves a nod of respect, and the man behind this concept deserves a beer.

Flow was fortunate to have the P3 in our possession for a couple weeks, riding it was fun, but what we loved the most about it was the way it made us really think.

Test i Track 14

The iTrack P3 All-Mountain we received at Flow is currently the only one in existence, ridden by the frame builder Hugh Mcleay himself. In the name of development, Hugh eagerly awaits feedback and opinions from anyone who rides it, every point is taken on board to add to the development of the next prototype. Derived from two earlier downhill bike prototypes, the recent availability of single ring drivetrains has allowed this concept to be applied to all-mountain bikes, like this guy.

[divider]Buid[/divider]

Wow, where do we start? Apart from being a chromoly steel frame, there are also obvious differences between the iTrack and your common mountain bike. The P3′s suspension system is centred around a four-bar linkage configuration with a rearward travelling rear axle, which isn’t that unique, just that it moves rearwards significantly more than most. But where the P3 really differs from similar ‘short-link’ four bar designs is the incorporation of an idler pulley.

We’ve seen pulleys used in mountain bikes before, with varying amounts of success. For example Redalp, a Swiss brand who use a similar frame design in their bikes, but fall far behind in looks, oh dear… In most other systems that use an idler, the pulley is typically static and is used as a way to reduce pedal kickback caused by dramatically rearward axle paths. But in the case of the P3 the idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

As we mentioned in our first impression piece on the bike before testing, the main aim of all this is to create a bike that has a) has a rearward axle path for exceptional bump-eating b) doesn’t rely on excessive low-speed compression damping for pedalling efficiency c) doesn’t suffer from too much pedal feedback d) has an anti-squat profile that is variable throughout the suspension travel.

Test i Track 3

Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM's XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.
Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM’s XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.

Test i Track 21

Curious to know more of the technical details? Luckily their website is loaded with more information than most of us can possibly handle. Check it out.

Suspension travel is 150mm, but if you measure the distance the rear axle travels, and not just the vertical path, travel amount is closer to 158mm. The fork is 150mm, and all the frame geometry and important angles that depict the bike’s handling are very much in-line with the popular 150-160mm travel bikes that we know and love already. Think Santa Cruz Nomad, or a Yeti SB66. Wheels are 650B, and with big tyres like we have here, it’s ready to mow down the roughest trails.

Test i Track 11

[divider]Spec[/divider]

It’s a prototype, so the spec isn’t really the main point, but to credit to the frame builders – who obviously ride the bikes they build – the P3 is built up to best represent what the bike is all about. Big rubber, wide bars, short stem and powerful brakes allow the rider to let it hang out a bit, and hit terrain fast. A Formula fork is not something we see often, but its low weight and consistent feel is more than satisfactory, we reviewed one earlier this year.

Syntace wheels with wide rims and a ridiculously loud rear hub are another low weight but sturdy component choice for hard riding.

A Cane Creek Double Barrell shock is at the heart of the suspension, with a whole lot of adjustment to play with if you so desire, we left it as it came to us, but if we had the bike longer, some experimenting with the smorgasbord of compression and rebound settings would be an interesting process.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

All this fuss, all this technical talk, what does it all boil down to? It has to be worth something, right? This bike works, and it works very well with the claimed benefits of the suspension design doing just what they intend to.

Pedalling into the trail for the first time, the bike felt so normal, the seating position was nicely centred, and the head angle not too slack for solid all-mountain riding. It was just when we started to pedal along a fire trail littered with loose rubble and embedded rock that we noticed things were very smooth indeed. The rear shock was hyper active, reacting quickly and effectively to the terrain, even whilst pedal forces were applying tension to the chain.

Test i Track 28

We were heading into Red Hill, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, a long-loved testing ground for Flow’s test bikes. The washed out, rutted, stepped sandstone terrain was what we were after to push the iTrack hard. It loved very minute of it. With almost 160mm of rear wheel travel, the bike was always going to feel pretty capable.

But where it shines is hiding all that travel when pedalling. Despite its big and heavy tyres and overall mass, the iTrack didn’t feel too clumsy when winding through flatter singletrack, or climbing up pinch climbs on the trail.

We ignored the temptation to use the shock’s Climb Switch and found the iTrack worked a treat, resistant to getting bogged down but not stiffening so much as to sacrifice climbing grip. Sure, we’d still use the Climb Switch on a really smooth climb, but we didn’t feel it was needed off road.

Test i Track 25

To be expected with a good whack of travel, it’s not a poppy or playful bike, rather a trail bully, with real attitude. It’s a bike that begs you to plough down the trail, rather than dart all over the place searching for a smoother line. Given how much the bike cries out for abuse, we did feel that the suspension curve needs a little refining still, as it’s quite hard to get the last 20% of travel out of the shock which makes the bike a little ‘spiky’ when taking on a flat landing.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

We hope that these bikes make it into production. With a few refinements to the suspension curve and a lighter weight material used for the frame, this bike will be a fantastic machine.

Before we sign off this review let’s just clarify one thing. We’re not trying to sell you this bike as the latest and greatest, nor is iTrack Suspension aiming to steer you away from the big brands with claims that it’s better than anything else out there. This is simply a great and inspiring story, an act of passion for bikes, the engineering and design of mountain bike suspension and realising the dream of making something truly special that actually works.

They’ll be available for purchase one day soon, and that’s an opportunity to ride something different, with a story. So, before you say ‘why?’ try and think along the lines, of ‘ok, that made me think’.

We like it.

TESTED: Formula 35 fork

Getting your hands on a product with which you’ve had no previous experience is always enjoyable: will it open your eyes to a whole new product line, or it will reaffirm why you’ve generally stuck with an offering from the better known brands?

Formula 35 fork v2-10
Without any of the glittering finishes we’re accustomed to seeing on fork legs, the Formula 35 does look a little bland – the performance is anything but.

The Formula 35 is definitely one of those products. We didn’t even know that Formula made suspension forks! So it was with a little bit of excitement and a little bit of trepidation that we removed the FOX fork from our bike and fitted up the Formula 35 before heading to Mt Buller for three days at the Kona Bike Buller and then to Rotorua for five days of riding.

Our test fork was the 650B version, but Formula also make the 35 to suit 29ers.

Features and setup:

As we noted in our first impressions piece, it’s a very light fork, coming in at 1750g. This is a class leading figure, over 100g lighter than a FOX or RockShox with equivalent features. That alone is reason enough for many riders to give the Formula a go, but there’s much, much more to like about this fork. Part of the weight saving comes from the axle which does not have a quick-release function, requiring a 5mm Allen key for removal. Overall, the finish quality of the 35 is pretty good, though not quite in the same super slick league as FOX.

Formula 35 fork v2-5
You can actually get the Formula 35 with a quick release axle too, but the low weight and clean looks of the tooled axle are appealing.

The unique arrangement of damping adjusters on the right fork leg control the low-speed compression, lockout and lockout threshold adjustment, while rebound is at the bottom of the leg. For our riding, the only dials we touched were rebound and low-speed compression, both of which have a very usable range.

The fork’s air spring runs at a lower pressure than most, and for our scrawny 63kg rider just 53-55psi was all that was needed to provide the ideal sag and spring rate.

Formula 35 fork v2-4
We found the pressure guide to be quite accurate – the pressures required are far lower than many other forks.

Travel is adjustable internally, from 160mm down to 120mm; the fork is supplied with two 20mm spacers and two 10mm spacers, so you can add these in combination to select your desired travel. We fitted one 10mm spacer, bringing the fork down to 150mm which felt like a good fit for our Giant Trance Advanced SX test bike (140mm rear travel). The process is pretty easy, just pull the lower legs off, remove the air spring assembly and clip the plastic spacer onto the air spring rod. Refitting the coil spring onto its little retaining perch is the only fiddly element.

Formula 35 travel adjust-5
Plastic spacers clip onto the spring rod to reduce the travel from 160 – 120mm in 10mm increments.

Rather than standard fork oil, the Formula 35 is lubricated with Jagermeister. Ok, that’s not true – the fork’s splash oil and air-spring lubricant is actually a product called Ballistol, which smells like a herb-based liquor! We’d never seen this stuff before, and a bit of searching revealed that it’s usually used for lubricating gun mechanisms. Hopefully it’s easily sourced locally.

Formula 35 travel adjust-7
Smells like liquor, keeps things smooth. We’d probably prefer it if the fork just used regular fork oil though.

Ride:

To help overcome any initial friction in the fork’s stroke (as is sometimes associated with air springs) and to provide maximum small bump sensitivity, the 35 actually relies on a coil spring for the initial part of its travel. Coil-sprung forks are a bit of a rarity in this style of riding now, but by combining a coil with an air spring as well, the fork is able to deliver an ‘old school’ plushness while keeping the weight and tuneability benefits of an air spring.

The feel this configuration delivers is one of the defining characteristics of the fork – it has a very lively, responsive and plush feel in the beginning and mid-stroke. Over roots, loose rocks and repeated medium sized impacts, the fork chomps up the bumps. Or more accurately, we should say ‘slurps’, as you can hear the damping working away with every hit, making little sucking noises.

Formula 35 fork v2-1
Blue = low speed compression. Gold = lockout. Black = lockout threshold.

Occasionally there’s also a little bit of noise from the coil spring, a slight metallic clunk sound, particularly over hard repeated hits, but this doesn’t seem to be accompanied any decrease in performance.

Because of the very plush beginning stroke, there is a tendency for the fork to bob when climbing out of the saddle. More low-speed compression helps, but comes at the expense of that buttery smooth bump response. Like most fork lockouts, we found this feature of limited use; we dialled the lockout threshold right back to minimum and only used the lockout on the road.

Formula 35 fork v2-3
The hollowed out fork arch is fairly minimal and we did feel that the Formula was a fraction less direct and stiff than some of its competitors.

On our first couple of rides we found it quite difficult to use the last two centimetres of travel. A quick call to the distributor (Eighty One Spices) and we were advised to reduce the amount of oil we were running in the fork’s air spring chamber. Adding or reducing the oil volume that rests on top of the air piston allows users to tube the spring curve. Formula are also producing future versions of the fork with a slightly shorter air piston rod to deliver a more linear spring curve as standard. After removing a few mills of oil and dropping the pressure by two or three psi, we found the sweet spot.

This is a fork in which small setup changes can make a real difference, so be prepared to experiment for the first few rides. Once we had it all dialled in, the fork’s spring rate felt absolutely perfect, happily using the mid-stroke and ramping up neatly as it approached full travel. Checking the o-ring revealed we were getting full travel, but not once during testing did we feel the fork bottom out harshly.

On the whole, we’d rate the Formula’s sensitivity and spring curve as being as good as any other offering on the market. In fact, the only area in which we could mark the Formula down a smidgen is its performance on sudden, super-harsh impacts, such as launching into a corner full of braking bumps. In this instance, the fork seemed to make the rider work a little harder than with a Pike or FOX. This sensation didn’t feel like a damping spike, more a product of the fork’s lightweight construction sending a bit more lateral twist through to the bars. Hey, we’re being picky here!

Formula 35 fork v2-7

With around 50 hours of ride time on the fork so far, we have noticed a very small amount of oil seepage from the seals. It’s certainly not a blown seal (we’re talking a couple of millilitres here) but it’s enough to indicate that perhaps the seal tolerances are a little on the loose side in the name of reducing friction. Keeping up the regular oil changes and topping up the lubricating oil will be important in the long run to keep stiction at bay. As noted before, stripping down the fork requires an Allen key and 10 minutes of your time, so this kind of maintenance isn’t really a headache.

Overall:

We’ve got to say, we’re very impressed. We definitely didn’t expect this level of performance from a such small player in the suspension arena. The weight, the lively and plush ride quality and the ease of service/tuning are all big ticks for the Formula 35, and there are precious few negatives to complain about. It’s always nice to see a little bit of Italian exotica too.

Formula Introduce The T1 And Other Improvements For 2013

For 2013 Formula brakes introduce the new T1, semi metallic pads and Advanced Caliper Technology with improved roll back.

The brake line-up itself remains the same as in 2012 and there are three main updates for 2013:

– After the Master Cylinders had been optimised for 2012 model brakes the main focus for 2013 model brakes was to optimise the caliper. The result is called ACT, Advanced Caliper Technology and is based on different machining of the clipers for the pistons and as well as new pistons and quad rings. All three changes combine to give an increased roll-back of 0.55mm as opposed to the previous 0.35mm roll-back. This puts the roll-back of the MY2013 Formula brakes on the same roll-back level as Shimano XT brakes improving overall performance and reducing susceptibility to rotor rub.

– The new T1, which replaces the The One for 2013, has a completely new forged caliper body which is more compact and stiff boasting performance while retaining the same piston dimensions. The hose routing has been improved by a new angled caliper exit point which has been moved to the inside. The T1 is available now and retails for $349.- per end.

The New T1 which replaces The One in 2013.
The T1 calliper body.
The T1 calliper body – the other side.

– For 2013 the R1R, R1 and RX models come with a newly developed semi metallic pad which have high braking power at low and high speeds and good initial bite, but most of all, reduced noise generation and a shorter run-in process than the organic and sintered Formula pads. If your bike runs a component combination that tends to develop some noise under braking, Formula recommends giving the new semi metallic pads a go. These are now available from your local Formula retailer for $36.90 per end.