Last week, Orange Bikes were showing the latest Strange prototype at their Eurobike stand; a euro-centric build of the Phase MX eMTB, but not as you know it. The production Phase MX runs a Shimano EP8 motor, with a 630Wh battery and a regular 12-speed drivetrain, but the Strange prototype we saw had a very different drive unit. For this bike, Orange partnered with Scottish Company, Intradrive, incorporating their 8-speed Belt-Driven Powertrain into the frame. And, it might actually make it to production.
Orange Phase MX Strange Prototype
eMTBs are renowned for their capacity to chew through traditional drivetrain parts. The regular rear derailleur simply isn’t built to withstand the consistently elevated torque that comes with a motor, and, it’s ever so easy to mindlessly shift through gears while applying lots of power to the pedals. It makes a lot of sense then that eBikes are excellent candidates for the array of alternative drivetrains on the market.
While internal hub gearing appears to have found a suitable niche on commuter bikes, that technology isn’t necessarily the most suitable for eMTBs, especially full suspension ones. Modern linkages tend to focus on keeping the bike’s weight centered around the bottom bracket, minimizing unsprung mass for efficiency and ride feel. Thus, an internal hub gear would negate those efforts, increasing unsprung mass at the rear wheel considerably.
Enter Intradrive, an Edinburgh company manufacturing an 8 Speed Powertrain that combines an eBike motor with a gearbox. Combining these two functions at the bottom bracket results in a bike with reduced unsprung mass, running a drivetrain that is less vulnerable to damage from on-trail features, and requires less maintenance. It is the future of eBikes, surely.
Intradrive are by no means they first to execute this. French company Valeo has teamed up with Effigear to produce the Cyclee Drive Unit that also features an automatic shift mode in additional to the manual mode. For those interested, that appears to have found its way onto a drool-worthy Cavalerie, though that too is still under prototyping.
I digress. At Eurobike, we caught up with Kelvin Lawton at Orange Bikes to find out more about the Strange Phase MX. This one made us stop and stare, not just because of the unusual drive unit, but also because of the parts list. Almost everything on the bike has come out of Europe, with most of the componentry actually developed in the UK.
Of course, the frame itself is hand-built in Halifax, England, as are all bikes from Orange. The brakes, hubs and handlebar are made in Old Barnoldswick by Hope Technology, the headset in Lincoln by Superstar Components, the dropper seat post in West Sussex by USE, while the pedals are manufactured in Scotland by Pinnd. Further afield, the Intend Edge fork and Hover shock are hand built in Germany, the saddle is made by Selle Italia in Italy, while the tires are made by Mitas, a company based in the Czech Republic.
And, finally, the Intradrive Drive Unit, its 630 Wh battery, shifter and display interface are all manufactured at Intradrive’s facility in Edinburgh, Scotland, as is the crankset actually. It is an 8 Speed Powertrain with electronic shifting, and relies upon a Gates Carbon Drive to deliver power to the rear wheel, giving it the look of a single-speed bicycle. Effigear are responsible for the chain tensioner.
It offers a 430% gear range and a maximum torque output of 80 Nm. It looks to be a bit wider than some eBike motors. Indeed, it produces a 57mm chainline, as opposed to the regular 52mm chainline you’ll see on modern mountain bikes with Boost rear-end spacing. The drive unit as a whole weighs a claimed 4.9 kg, comparable to that of the Valeo/Effigear unit.
Kelvin tells us this is the standard Orange Phase MX frameset. As the Intradrive Drive Unit shares the same mounting points as the Shimano EP8, and their battery battery envelope is the same as the Shimano one, both fit straight onto the frame without the need for any special adapters. That made it pretty straightforward for Orange to start working with Intradrive.
The Strange prototype is still very much a work in progress, but Kelvin says he sees no real reason why they can’t pursue this with Intradrive to eventually bring this bike to production. It seems there’s still a bit of work to do, though; the bike on show was lacking torque and speed sensors. Routing for the latter still needs to be worked out, as does routing for all the other cables, and a cover for the drive unit will need to be fabricated to cover the significant gap between the drive unit and underside of the frame. Kelvin also noted that, given how far south the chainline is of the main pivot, they will need to reconsider its position in order to keep the bike’s anti-squat, and other kinematic parameters, in check.
The Phase MX you see here isn’t actually rideable, for lack of speed and torque sensors, but Orange have a rideable prototype back in England that is being tested as we speak. Kelvin from Orange hasn’t ridden that, but has ridden the Intradrive system on another unnamed bike. He was quick to point out the advantages of the total freedom to shift under load and the lack of a vulnerable rear mech.