by Paul Smith
February 16, 2009
Orange P7 belt drive prototype Price: N/A From: Orange www.orangebikes.co.uk One of Orange’s advantages in the market is that they’re small enough to play with different ideas. With only 15 members of staff and all their suspension bikes made in a little factory in Halifax, the opportunity to play around with things like gearboxes, different […]
Orange P7 belt drive prototype
From: Orange www.orangebikes.co.uk
One of Orange’s advantages in the market is that they’re small enough to play with different ideas. With only 15 members of staff and all their suspension bikes made in a little factory in Halifax, the opportunity to play around with things like gearboxes, different shocks and frame shapes is ever present. So when a chance meeting hooked Orange up with one of Europe’s biggest makers of drive belts, looking to get into bicycle transmission, it only took a couple of weeks before the first prototypes rolled out of the factory.
This is a stock Orange P7 frame, built for fun with 4in-6in forks and with sliding dropouts to allow it to be run geared or as a singlespeed. The one problem with fitting a drive belt is that the belt can’t be split, so the frame has to be – here the dropouts have been ‘cut ‘n’ shut’ but we’ve seen other prototypes with bolt-on dropout assemblies.
The belt itself is made in Dumfries by the company that supplies the likes of Audi and BMW with drive belts, they have 1000 employees, so having them show interest in bikes is heartening. Because the belts are made on site, they can be made to a specific width, strength and weave just for bikes. The one-off ‘chainring’ features something like 55 single sided teeth to the rear sprocket’s 33, giving a surpringly Yorkshire-friendly gear. The belt has a slight twist woven into it so the belt will always try and climb back onto the teeth, even if knocked sideways. Changing ratios in future will be a bit of a hassle, but this bike was built more to see how it rode and to pave the way for things like hub geared versions or citybike applications, so we’ll let them off for now.
The belt is under a lot of tension – 100lbs and enough that it doesn’t deflect when prodded. Initially I worried about flats and tyre changes, but undoing the bolts on the regular Hope singlespeed hub, the wheel dropped neatly out of the vertical dropouts. After a tyre change, it slipped straight back in too – the slightly angled vertical dropouts gave it just enough rearward movement to tighten back up perfectly without having to worry about using scaffold poles to get the wheel in.
But how does it ride? In short, it’s a very surprising ride. You expect to feel the ‘give’ in the belt, but there is none at all. None! The ride feel is more akin to a track bike with a super tight chain. There’s no springyness or give, just efficient and quiet propulsion. To see how well it would deal with mud and grime, I raced the Orange at a muddy Mountain Mayhem and the bike didn’t slip or miss a beat. Even though it was deliberately left unwashed and unclogged, the belt just pushed the mud through the sprocket teeth and shrugged it off. I didn’t even have to oil it.
Overall: As a modern singlespeed, this prototype is limited to the gear it’s got (unless you chop the frame again) but then it’s a prototype. The more production ones that Orange are playing with might just usher in a very interesting time for bicycle transmission. A belt driven hub gear version really wouldn’t need anything apart from occasional disc pad changes. I applaud Orange for trying something different, even if they’re not sure where it’s going. It’ll be an interesting ride.