Review: Orangatang 80a Balut Freeride Wheel

This is a particularly exciting review for me, not only because of how friggin’ excited I’ve been to talk about the 80a Baluts I’ve been freeriding since the end of January, but because it’s also our first stab at a video review! When it comes to discussion about wheels right now the conversations seem to be talking about one of two things: the bad batch of ‘thane and the aftermath that Abec-11 has been dealing with for months, and the new freeride wheel from Orangatang: the Balut. Original Skateboards rider Billy Wilson and I got together yesterday to talk a little bit about what we think of the 80a Balut so far, check it out below and read on after the video for some additional info.

Mike: Original Apex 40 w/ 10mm Surf-Rodz INDeeSZ (also the test setup for below)
Billy: Original Apex 40 w/ Caliber 50 Cals

So, even after you’ve watched the video you have some questions? Didn’t have time to watch the video? I’ll do a short written review, too — just to cover all our bases.

These wheels are different. Don’t throw these on your board and expect them to ride like the Stims, Durians, 4Prez, or InHeats — they just won’t. On this project Orangatang set out to reinvent the wheel as they knew it (bad pun, I know) and scrapped almost everything we’ve seen released from them thus far. Instead of building a new variation of one of their already successful wheels, the Balut is drastically different. Let’s start in the middle, shall we?

The biggest change you’ll notice right away is the big exposed blue core that Orangatang is using for the Balut. The bigger core means that you’ll have a more consistent wear pattern right down to the last bit of ‘thane. It will also help keep your slides feeling super consistent. (If you remember my reviews on the 80a Stims and 86a Durians you’ll remember me talking about how much the slide changed once I started really getting them small, something that I have yet to experience with the Baluts.) Orangatang didn’t just stop there, however. They also decided to change the placement of the core within the wheel. Unlike any of their other wheels, which are all offset (not side-set like I said in the video, that was my goof), the Baluts feature a center-set core. This means you can flip the wheels when you notice you’re getting some coning and don’t have to worry about them riding any different, it also drastically changes the way they ride. And for the record, these are not the same cores used in 4prez/Inheats.

Instead of the “grip/slip” control that the Stims and Durians brag about with due to their fat, rounded lips, the center-set Baluts offer a very different ride. The first thing you notice when you get on the Baluts is just how easy they are to break out into a slide. You really don’t have to put a whole lot of “umph” into them to get them to break out. That being said, I have yet to really experience a situation where I’ve been ultra worried about them icing out from under me. While I haven’t been skating any technical downhill with them (…that’d just be silly) that would require me to take sharp turns at speed, hard carves and corners feel like you have just enough grip to keep you from going over the edge. A big part of that might be the new ‘thane they’re using and the fact that these are the softest Orangatang is offering, the 80a.

The new ‘thane, dubbed “Euphorathane,” is probably where I got most concerned when I first heard about these wheels. Why? Because I’m quite in love with 80a Happy Thane after I got intimate with it for the review I did a little while back. Fear not, though, because the new ‘thane really rocks. It’s tough to really tell just how different the Euphorathane is compared to the Happy Thane wheels because we haven’t seen a Euphorathane Stimulus yet and the Baluts are SO different overall that it’s like comparing apples and oranges at this point. How does it skate? Super smooth, as I said before the wheels break out exactly when you want and offer what I think is one of the most buttery slides I’ve ever experienced. Unlike what we’ve been hearing about the 83a Baluts (I have yet to ride them myself), the 80a duro is soft enough to actually shed some speed and leave some ‘thane on the pavement, but not to the point where you loose too much momentum. I’ve noticed the new ‘thane to be a little more durable too. Coning has been more than manageable and I haven’t had any significant problems with flatspots (so far…), although I know Billy has had a little trouble with them. I’ve actually had less issues with preventing/getting rid of flatspots and coning with the 80a Euphorathane than I did riding the 83a Stimulus wheels.

I’ve really enjoyed these things so far and have had a much easier time learning some new tricks because of how easy they are to break out and how consistent and predictable they are. The 80a ‘thane is soft enough to kill some speed when you want it, grip enough when you need it, and still leave some ‘thane lines while actually being pretty friggin durable. Orangatang addressed a lot of the qualms people had with the Stims and, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head with the changes.

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Review: 80a Stimulus wheels by Orangatang

Ladies and gentlemen, with the New Year upon us Skate The East is also trying to ramp it up for 2012. I know I’ve said thank you many times before, so I’ll refrain from rehashing too much of what I’ve said so many times, but your support really does mean so much, so thank you. 2012 is going to be a big year, and as we race towards our first birthday we’re going to continue to produce quality content and expand our offerings even further. You might have noticed some increased activity on our YouTube account lately, I’m learning a lot about filming and editing and promise you’ll see some very very cool videos soon! We’ve also been promising more reviews and wait no longer, I’ve got a whole slate of them lined up for 2012 so you can expect new reviews pretty frequently! Enough talk about Skate The East, though,¬† let’s jump right into it…

Rider stats & setup: 5’11 190lbs; TR Custom Blitz w/ 176mm Surf-Rodz 45* RKPs & 10mm Surf-Rodz bearings

The Orange Orangatang 80a Stimulus wheel is a 70mm offset wheel with a 42mm contact patch. Like its big brother, the Durians, the offset core creates a nice rounded lip that gives the wheel a little more grip through corners than you find with most centerset freeride wheels. Since they’re one of Orangatang’s freeride wheels they’re stone ground when you get them, making them easier to slide out of the box and break in without having to wear the mold-release off. These are the softest urethane wheel that Orangatang offers and are advertised as “buttery and cushy.”

I can’t lie, I really didn’t know what to expect when I first got these wheels. Owning a set of the 86a Durians that never seemed to play nice with our East Coast pavement I had my doubts about the 80a thane starting out. With much of the negative feedback surrounding the wheels having to do with bullsh*t skater politics and less to do with how the wheels actually ride, I had to get a set and see for myself to see if the haters had solid ground to stand on, or if it was all hot air. I’ll start it off by putting it this way: all the negative things I said about the 86a Durians I reviewed a while back, get rid of all of those, add an absolutely buttery slide and you’ll begin to get an idea of what the 80a Stimulus wheel is like.

The wheel itself is soft enough to provide ample grip when needed, even at speed, but are still easy to break into slides and hookup with the road very easily. The offset core creates a nice, rounded lip that will last until the wheel is far through its life cycle and already close to coring, it’s this lip that allows the Stimulus to have an unreal amount of grip for your average freeride wheel, but still break out into buttery smooth slides unlike it’s square-lip cousin, the 4President (which we’ll have a review on in the coming weeks).

The 80a “Happy ‘Thane” that Orangatang developed is the other major component making this wheel so nice. While it’s soft enough to leave nice orange ‘thane lines and provide the grip you’re looking for through corners, it’s hard enough to still resist flatspotting and coning too fast. They are stone ground before getting to you, meaning they don’t have the nasty mold release you find in other wheels and greatly reduces the break-in time of the wheel. I’ve been steadily riding my Stims on my light downhill/freeride setup for the last month without any flatspotting and only a mild amount of coning, which I’ve been able to manage through rotating wheels. While at slower speeds they’re a little harder to break into slides, at speed they’re responsive and easy to go from grip to slide when you want to. They do not ice out, and provide a very buttery slide that will shave speed but still allow you to retain enough momentum to continue your run at full intensity. The soft thane also makes the wheels a pleasure to push, they’re super smooth on pavement and, thanks to their 70mm size, are able to roll over most obstacles that lie in your path and accelerate quickly.

While I’m a huge fan of these wheels overall, they have been somewhat disappointing in the cold. While we’ve been fortunate to have a rather warm winter here in the Northeast, these wheels seem to under perform when they’re cold, loosing their buttery slide and becoming much more unpredictable and even chattery. It’s been warm enough that after a few runs the wheels start acting a bit more normal, but will have to give them a try in the much colder weather we’re due to have soon. I’m most curious to see if below freezing temperatures and super cold asphalt will allow them to warm up enough, or if they’ll stay cold through an entire session — a real concern for the long winters we usually have. I’ll be post an update when I get a chance to give them a try in some much colder conditions, but it’s something that has really stood out on colder days so far.

Bottom line? I really am truly in love with these wheels. The slide is buttery smooth, predictable and hooks up with the road with ease, allowing you to shed enough speed through corners and still maintain enough momentum to finish the next slide or trick. I know I mentioned it before in brief, but the orange ‘thane lines the wheels leave, especially in warmer conditions, are absolutely steezy as well. If you’re looking for an all around wheel, this might be the perfect one. Enough grip to still go nice and fast down technical runs, a smooth and predictable slide, and soft enough urethane to feel great while riding, they are extremely versatile and will definitely remain my freeride wheel of choice for the immediate future.

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