Orbea was founded in 1840 by brothers Juan Manuel, Mateo, and Casimiro Orbea in Elibar, Basque Country, Spain. Originally a rifle and gun producer, Orbea exited the gun business and began designing and producing bicycles as Orbea Bicycles in 1930. Orbea began participating in the Tour de France as early as 1934, with famous Spaniard Marino Canardo as the face of the Orbea road cycling team. 

In 1969, under dire financial circumstances, employees formed a co-operative and purchased Orbea from the Orbea family. The newly formed Orbea cooperative left Eibar the same year to nearby Mallabia, where their first dedicated bicycle factory was built. For the next several decades, the company would focus on producing leisure bikes for consumers in Spain and around Europe.

Orbea would return to competitive road cycling in the 1980s as Gin MG-Orbea and later seat-Orbea, led by Spainard cyclists Pedro Delgao, Jokin Mujika and Pelli Ruiz Cabestany. Participating in both Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.

Orbea began manufacturing mountain bikes in 1989.