Despite Orbea’s literal history in making weapons, I didn’t expect its Occam TR to be such a figurative one. You read that right—from Orbea’s inception in 1840 all the way until 1930, the Basque-born company made revolvers. I guess 90 years of making gun barrels prepared Orbea for manufacturing tubing for bicycle frames, which is exactly what the brand did when firearm sales declined after World War I.
In the U.S., Orbea has more recognition on the skinny-tire side of cycling, but it’s been slinging mountain bikes since the mid-80s that have carried some of the fastest male and female XC racers to World Cup and Olympic titles. Julien Absalon (who now rides for BMC) crushed the freshly crowned World Champion, Christoph Sauser, by two minutes at the 2008 Beijing Games on an Orbea. I was working for Specialized, supporting Sauser at the race, where Absalon—and Orbea by proxy—crushed my dreams of being on an Olympic winning team. We’ll see who’s laughing after I finally seek my revenge by writing a scathing review of an Orbea.
I had a feeling that the Occam would be quick in an XC way, but guessed that this 120-mil-travel 29er would fall way short in the trail-ripping department. That’s cool and all, if that’s what you’re after, but Orbea markets the Occam TR as an all-purpose, mountain-gobbling adventure machine. The spindly Fox 32 fork and wicked-narrow rims and handlebars had me thinking that this would instead be the kind of trail bike that MTB-curious triathletes would dig. You know, they’ve already got an Orbea tri bike that they love, so might as well stay brand loyal, right?
DT Swiss puts the wheels on this bike, the X1700 Spline, in its cross-country category. They have a 20-millimeter inner rim width, and have no business being spec’d on a so-called trail
bike. Same goes for the fork and bars. To be fair, if you’re custom-ordering this bike through your dealer, Orbea gives you some choices in parts spec, one of which is a Fox 34 for 120 bucks extra—a must. There’s a carbon wheel upgrade on the list, but it’s another XC wheelset.
So far, my scathing review is going swimmingly. I’m already starting to feel a little better about getting humiliated in Beijing. But that’s the only bad stuff I can really say about the Occam TR. The spec might be a couple years off the back of the aggressive trail bike trend, but the frame itself isn’t. It has clean, uncluttered lines, internal routing, Boost 148 spacing, modern geometry and a ride quality that leaves the parts it wears in the dust. It might seem like its pivot-less, flex-stay suspension system belongs in the XC category with the fork and wheels, but the design simplifies the Occam’s linkage while increasing rear-end lateral stiffness.
The Occam TR sports a 68/74.5 head-and-seat angle combo, 435-millimeter chainstays and bottom-bracket height of 340 millimeters. The reach on the size large is a roomy 450 millimeters and the wheelbase is a reasonable 1,173 millimeters. The bike’s 120 millimeters of suspension feels especially supple for most of the stroke, with a very gradual ramp up. I rode the bike at 30-percent sag and, with the shock in the open position, I did feel a fair amount of suspension bob while pedaling casually, but the harder I’d push, the more supportive the pedaling platform got. The Occam TR’s rear suspension does a superb job of smoothing trail chatter without any detectable pedal feedback, making it ideal for mashing through rough sections of flat and undulating terrain. In some ways, the suppleness makes it feel like it has more than 120 millimeters of suspension, but because it’s relatively linear, it’s not hard to use it all when descending aggressively. I could’ve run less sag, but I was digging the top-end feel. The best move for hard-charging riders is to stick with 30-percent sag and run a large volume spacer in the Fox Float DPS EVOL shock.
I really started falling in love with the Occam TR after swapping the 120-mil-travel Fox 32 for a 34 equipped with 130 millimeters of travel. The addition of a legit set of trail hoops and properly wide bars makes this bike a true force to be reckoned with. The longer fork slackened the head angle about a half-degree, making an already good descender a great one, with no detectable pitfalls. There wasn’t any extra wandering on the climbs, and the front wheel stayed planted even on the steepest grunters, but the bike’s boost in courage stood out instantly. It’s definitely what the Occam TR frame needs to bring out its full potential.
Out of the box, the Occam TR skirts the line between cross-country and trail. It’s quick, nimble, hooks up well in corners and climbs efficiently, but lacks the downhill mastery of other bikes in its class. With a few parts tweaks, its appetite for adventure increases tenfold. If right now you’re thinking you don’t need to do that because words like ‘roosting,’ ‘slashing’ or ‘boosting’ aren’t in your riding vocabulary, you should anyway, because the bike will feel the same everywhere else, but it’ll be a much more confident descender. And nobody’s ever complained about that. So is it worth buying? Definitely. It’s a phenomenal 29er, and now that I’ve got it running the way I want, I’m dreading having to return it. My plot for revenge will have to wait another day. Until then, maybe I can write a bad review about a BMC.
ORBEA’S TWO CENTS
As Señor Palmer indicated in his review, we like to give you options because we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all bikes. Occams and all our high-end rigs are assembled by hand in Spain when they are ordered, so we can build to suit your fancy. Our MyO program allows you to choose suspension, brakes, wheelsets and even saddles on many of our bicycles. XC whippet or volcano DH crusher, we want you to build the perfect machine to match your riding style. —Jordan Hukee, Creative Director, Orbea Bikes
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