This is my first post on this website and I find that MTBR seems like a great place to read up on bike reviews.
My question is regarding the aforementioned bikes. My budget is for only one bike that I can possibly ever own and it needs to last me a very long time as far as reliability, durability/quality construction, ease of maintenance, upgradeability, solid braking power and handling capabilities. I've looked at bikes below this price level, including all the Giant & Specialized models from $500-$1000 price range (I've looked at a lot of other brands including Trek) but it seems that a "real" bike that's worth buying is going to cost me around the ~$1000 level, and the Jamis bikes are by far the best bang for your buck at this price level.
My riding will consist mostly of riding on road, (80-90% initially) including uphill & downhill, but I want a bike that's fun, comfortable, but as well as handle anything I can throw at it (definitely want that front suspension/lockout/poploc feature). I want to be able to ride trails (and uneven pavement, curbs, potholes, etc) whenever I wish to and not worry about the bike getting damaged.
I'm throwing in the Durango here mostly because the components are even "better" than the other two bikes mentioned (even though it's a 26er), and it looks to be of a more capable bike regarding different kinds of terrain. Also, I understand the pedaling efficiency and control of the road (grip of tire) they talk about that comes along with 29ers, so that's a plus.
I've test rode the Jamis Exile 2 and I did see the solid braking power that I'm looking for, and it was fun riding it in general, but I noticed there was rattling noises during pedaling, and the gear shifting was very loud (the Kona Kahuna bike seemed like it felt smoother, but the terrain was different on both test rides). I think it's mostly operator error because of my inexperience with mountain bikes, but if anyone can fill me in on what could that have possibly been, I'd greatly appreciate it.
Anyway, I will be doing a test ride tomorrow for the Exile 2 vs the Durango 3, just to see the difference in ride. But I can't seem to find the Dragon 29 Sport available around LBS, so I will look further out of my area and see if they have it available for a test ride as well. I know that the Dragon is a steel frame construction, but don't know exactly how steel stands the test of time with bikes versus aluminum. Does steel absorb vibration better, or aluminum?
I know you can't change the tires on the Durango to a 29er either, but if anyone who's test rode any or all three (hopefully someone out there if I'm lucky enough) tell me something about the ride quality and capabilities that I'm looking for with these bikes, I would greatly appreciate the comments.
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