Out the Backdoor: On the Orbea Oiz

Orbea Oiz TR full view

Orbea Oiz M Pro TR Review
In defense of the traditional

By Josh Jacquot

Slip the grasp of gravity on Orbea’s Oiz M Pro TR — something I’m not prone to do often or with much “send-it-bro” enthusiasm — and the bike lands on a controlled and well-damped cushion. It won’t pillow in like a 130- or 140-mm trail bike, but it’s also not the tortured 100-mm thud you’ll get on a full-suspension cross-country race bike.

This is the fine line the Oiz TR straddles — that of a confident yet playful trail bike on the downs while still feeling like a cross-country bike on the ups. But it does so with a unique flavor — one that’s distinctly out of vogue with the current mainstream. 

If it’s not long, low, and slack these days it might as well be in a museum. This is the theme of the current mountain bike industry. Manufacturers have been broadcasting it from social platforms for years. And the cycling media regularly follows suit.

But is “progressive” geometry really better? For everyone? On every trail? Always?

Grasping the physics that make a slack head angle work in steep, chunky terrain isn’t hard: It makes sense that a bike with a head angle closer to horizontal will be easier to manage as the downhill terrain creeps closer to vertical — especially as boulders are introduced into the equation. But unless you live in British Columbia or ride only select trails on the west coast of the U.S., that terrain is likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Orbea, it seems, realizes this. Or at the very least they have a carbon-fiber race bike in their quiver that does a very good job impersonating a trail bike when fitted with a longer-travel fork and extended-stroke shock.

Orbea Oiz TR full view

You’ll not need to look far to notice the ever-increasing number of low- and medium-travel trail bikes adopting head angles in the mid 60-degree range. Think Transition Spur (120mm travel, 66-degree HA), Specialized Epic Evo (110mm travel, 66.5-degree HA), and the Giant Trance (115mm travel, 66.5-degree HA). The Oiz TR stands out with 120mm of rear travel, a 68-degree head angle and a relatively short 446-mm reach (size large). Medium and large frames come with (gasp!) a 75-mm stem. Relative to its contemporaries, and judged only on paper, it appears to be exactly what the industry voices say it is: Old.

Until you throw a leg over its lightweight chassis and dispatch a few miles of singletrack, that is. What’s so often forgotten about an all-day bike, particularly those in this category, is that a far larger percentage of ride time is spent going up than going down. Ride this bike for six hours in my local terrain (Boise, Idaho) and at least four of those hours will be spent climbing. Independent of that, the benefits of an ultra-slack head angle are largely lost on Boise’s relatively low-angle terrain, which I’d argue is true for most of the places most people ride. In other words, this bike makes a lot of sense.

Orbea Oiz full view

Boise trails are filled with low- and medium-speed corners where a slack head angle does little to enhance either steering feel or response. In fact, the last ultra-slack bike I rode here was a proper wrestling match on many of these trails, exhibiting neither the nimbleness or speed of the Oiz TR.

Orbea did make at least one odd choice with the Oiz TR, however. Though the company insists that the Oiz’s Fox i-line DPS rear shock offers different compression damping in all three of the lockout’s positions, I can’t feel any difference between the intermediate and open settings. The fork, Fox’s Float 34 SC Factory, offers only two damping positions with the stock FIT4 damper. Should you desire, swapping to a GRIP damper in the fork will yield three damping positions up front. The fork comes with two volume spacers installed. And if Fox and Orbea are to be believed, there are no volume spacers in the rear shock. The seemingly missing middle damping position would matter a lot more if the bike didn’t work so well in both the open and locked positions. And according to the heads of state at The Path, they can likely custom valve the Fox i-line shock to enhance the pedaling platform in the intermediate position.

Still, the Oiz TR never feels inefficient and it is amply compliant when in the open position. Our large model fitted with Shimano XTR pedals and the stock 1700-gram DT Swiss XR-1650 alloy wheels converted to tubeless weighs exactly 25.0 pounds. That’s with a suite of Shimano XT components (there’s an XTR derailleur thrown in for show). Which means that there’s close to a pound to be shaved off with light (but wider) carbon wheels and a few other crucial component choices.

Perhaps the Oiz’s best quality is the confidence its front end inspires at speed. No doubt a significant piece of that equation is the stiffness and compliance of the Fox 34 fork (I removed both volume spacers for a more linear spring rate). But a large portion of the confidence, I’m convinced, comes from the modest head angle, too. Drive the nose of this bike into a soft 15-mph corner filled with braking bumps and it rotates eagerly, clearly telegraphing its intentions through the bars and pedals. Unlike many cross country race bikes — from which the Oiz is derived — the TR version isn’t a relentlessly inhospitable place to spend time going downhill.

Sure, it may not tolerate unbridled zeal in the bike park or through the roughest rock gardens like bikes with only 10- to 20-mm more rear travel. And, no, it’s probably not the best choice if you’re idea of a good time involves trailheads near Virgin, Utah. It’s just not that kind of bike. It feels like what it is — a sweetheart of a cross-country bike with its capability knob cranked to 11. 

But if moving quickly up and down mountains is your thing — especially if you want to do that all day — then maybe this is your rig. It makes contemporary 29-pound trail bikes feel like bloated goats by comparison. And its modest old-school geometry shines. That slacker, longer, and lower bikes are universally better isn’t even a discussion among the industry voices these days. That those things always make a bike quicker — or more philosophically — that they make it more fun, is less clear.

Josh Jacquot started shopping at The Path about two decades ago, and has officially ridden and raced for us for more than 15 years. Cross-country moves took Josh and his family to Michigan, and most recently, to Idaho. Josh continues to represent The Path from his new hometown outside of Boise, where he's currently spending his free time exploring his new backyard on two wheels.