This is a long review skip down to the header: The Solution or The Jones for my impressions of the bike.
A little history: 1986/87 I started my higher end mountain bike story with a Ritchey Ultra after a couple of low end mountain bikes that suffered the fate that low end mountain bikes suffer under someone that puts a lot of miles on them, especially that which a teenager will do. This is the bike that I had except it was full black out (including the braking tracks on the rims which as stupid).
the geometry was traditional 1980's mountain bike, longer chainstays, 23" TT, long stem, u-brakes, substantial offset fork rake, etc. I rode the daylights out of that bike. It got stolen.
I next ventured in the land of CNC parts, grafton, IRD, etc. and SoCal bike culture with a Mantis XCR-EC. It was light, aluminum and steel, higher end parts all over, super short chainstays, but when I ordered it they sent me the wrong size but I never realized it. I rode it all over the place but the short TT (21.5") and the short wheelbase made it scary and twitchy.
Like this (only purple):
I ventured into full suspension after this, Mantis Pro-Floater an early rapidly broken lightweight full suspension bike. I then moved to AZ and wanted something choice. Always wanting Fat Chance, I jumped at the Opportunity to get a bike from a new company that rose from ashes of FC and got a pearl orange Independent Fabrications. I rode this bike in various configurations, from a crummy RST elastomer fork to the original Marz Z1 to a rigid Surly 1x1 takeoff fork and from 3x9 to a singlespeed conversion.
Finally AZ rocks and chunk got me thinking about full suspension again. I jumped at the chance to buy a used 1995 Turner AFterburner. A DH bike with 3.5 whole inches of travel in the rear. Coupled with the Z1 it was a nice ride. I broke the frame. I upgraded to the XCE frame for 3 less pounds of frame alone and rode that for awhile but the big travel bug hit me. Fast forward to the new millennium and I am riding the Santa Cruz bullit with the Progressive suspension shock. Big (for the time) single crown fork. I ride it as a XC bike all the way up to extended FR rides. It is big, heavy, cumbersome and hard to do anything but go fast downhill.
I find myself spending more and more time on my Independent singlespeed. I stop taking the bullit on the super tech rides and start riding the rigid, v-braked bike everywhere. A conversion to tubeless makes it that much better and the SC gathers dust. Eventually somewhere in the mid aughts a friend lets me try his Dos Niner and I am hooked. The SC gets sold, the IF gathers dust and a Salsa is added.
This is where my search for the one bike really gets going. The Salsa frame allows single speed or gears so I set up both. The bike is rigid but can take a suspension fork so I hold in my head that maybe some day I'll get a fork and an extra crown race, it will take huge tires or racy tires so I get a few of each. I start with a long stem as I previously have in the past, and a riser, at the time my go to bar since the early nineties. I eventually try a higher sweep bar, then an even higher sweep bar and find I can ride rigid for hours, over rocky trails, 24hr races, fast XC and drop laden technical trails and suffer no hand fatigue or pain.
I feel like I have found the one bike. However the main short coming in the bike is its in ability to loft off drops that easily (so I go shorter and shorter stems to help alleviate this) and it judder under braking and a tendency to wander in fast sweepers, technical trialsy corners and at high speed on fire roads and pavement.
The Mantis XCR-EC aside all my bikes have had almost identical geometry. I have always gone with a 23.5" Effective top tube, chainstays in the 16.9-17.5" arena (whether 26 or 29), a 100mm stem more or less, a 43" wheelbase (the bullit was a lot longer due to the slack slack headtube) and 73ish degree seattube. They all have ridden like I prefer, stable at speed, skilled at technical sections, great at climbing and lousy at jumping with style but stable when they are in the air. This perfectly suits my mountain biking style, I'm not a jumper but I am a technical climb descent aficionado, using trials moves when needed and making the most of tire pressure, traction and alternate lines.
The problem: The failing point for me is that I am 5'10 and the longer TT puts me behind the front center making it hard to manual without a super short stem. The short stem makes it more fatiguing to ride long technical downhills on the upper body because I am fighting that front tire at a lower leverage ratio. Sometimes after epics my upper body is more exhausted than my legs. Finally the bikes designed around a suspension fork aren't designed to be as rigid as they could be without the need for a 480mm A-C, measurement. The Salsa is a perfect example with its long fork, and short head tube it is flexible, the fork needing to be light and compliant is flexible. The enabler fork is a better but it highlights the flexibility of the frame. The end result is on hard landings with sharper transitions you get a lot of feed back through the frame as the fork and frame flexes, a judder or shaking and the bike can veer without input at the bars. The frame is flexible which is comfortable but it reduces precision. It is also scary, your mind runs through the concept of flex failure rates and how many impacts it can take. Eventually my bike failed where i suspected it would, right at the head tube gusset. Too many cycles of impact and too much flexy both in line and laterally there. I got a replacement bike but mentally the damage had been done. I was knew the bike wouldn't be well suited to my riding style.
The Solution: While enjoying a bout of stomach flu I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading my latest copy of Dirt Rag and in particular the Jones Diamond review. I revisited a lot of threads on MTBR regarding the Jones. I called Jones and talked to him about it. Ultimately everything I read and heard was the culmination of my search. A bike like my Salsa but due to the increased rake a bike with a shorter front center, allowing one to ride a longer stem, still have the ~43" wheel base, the 17" chainstays but since it was not designed around a suspension fork the frame has a much taller head tube, the fork has a much longer steerer and the front end can be much stiffer. So I ordered it and swapped stuff from my Salsa over to it.
The Jones: I built it up with the parts from my salsa that fit, I got a jones bar to replace my aging mary bar (very very similar bars in fit, and stiffness but the extra hand holds on the Jones is much welcomed), I couldn't use my Chris King headset but I have tired of that particular brands inadequacies anyways. I swapped directly my saddle and seatpost without any changes except moving the saddle back a little. I ditched the 50mm stem I was riding and put on a 100mm one. I built new wheels to work with the 135mm fork spacing and that is one stiff wheel. All 29er wheels should be 135mm, heck all mountain bike wheels in general should be 135mm. The stiffness and strength of that wheel is so much better than the antiquated roadbike inherited 100mm spacing we currently use.
The Ride: I took it on an epic this weekend. (See: Tor de 50 report). The first ride I had on it besides pedaling it up the street. My observations:
- The fit was near identical to my El Mariachi, felt similar, stem flipped upside down. Saddle felt right further back.
- Fat front is ridiculous everywhere. I had some road sections and it felt like it had much less resistance than a rampage or my 29er dissents. Technical descents it was like trail was so much wider and could pick lines that were inches wide and the tire would grip. I ran 10psi and it was the perfect pressure for compliance without any bounce. 210lbs of rider and gear and water.
- Fork is stiff, frame is stiff. Stiff enough that front braking is a revelation. Instead of lurching or randomly losing grip it just bit in and stayed on. These are the same brakes as on the previous bike with no modifications or anything between bikes. Same rotor front and rear. They worked so well that I had to rethink my braking technique on the technical descents.
- Rear end is stout. On my old bike I could feel the frame flex on steep out of the saddle ascents. If you are in the 5'9-6' range it is comfortable sitting or standing while climbing.
- Bottom bracket with the EBB in the lowest location is low. I had a lot of pedal strikes. I eventually raised it later to get a little more clearance but my pedals took a beating on this rocky technical ride.
- I lofted it off the first rock step I came to and almost looped it out. The combo of the short TT and the fat front made it fly off steps, rocks and bumps. It feels like it has short chainstays but was really comfortable on steep climbs without a tendency to lift the front or the need to hunch over the bars to keep it grounded.
- The 2 top bottle cages will only take a small bottle but there is still one on the downside of the downtube for a larger bottle.
- The finish of the frame is impeccable. Getting the fork together through the canecreek headset in an exercise in patience. I needed a 3/8" spacer on top of the Cane Creek 40 headset for a perfect fit.
- The bike comes with all the clips for the housing locations plus a few extras. It comes with a SS specific and a gear specific dropouts plus hardware for both.
- The grip length on the Jones bars is huge. Room for shifters, brakes, and full length lock-on grips. I tried my longest BMX style grips and still had tons of room.
- Using something like the matchmakers from sram would be the best set up to quickly swap from singlespeed to geared setup with the rear full length housing.
- the dropouts are perfectly spaced which it has been a long time since I have gotten a bike that has dropouts that are exactly 135mm apart.
- The stickers are probably the only weak spot being a light thin applied sticker. I already have one peeling.
- Finish is really deep and nice.
Conclusion: This feels like the one bike to me. What really sold me was when we were screaming down a section of rutty bumpy forest road and bike felt rock solid. Usually on those sections I will ride my brakes because there is a vagueness in my bikes previously but this time it was just solid.
I expect to really wring this bike out over the next few months while we are in our perfect riding weather here in AZ, hit up some bike packing, some epic mountain descents and some big epic days in the saddle, but my brief 40 miles in the saddle makes me think that there won't be any big surprises in the future. I'll update here when I discover new things, once i get a ride in with the 29er wheel up front and a long overnighter complete with the bike loaded.
Is this bike for you? Answer yes to these questions:
- Do you tire of tinkering with suspension settings and maintenance?
- Do you want a rigid bike, a really rigid bike?
- Do you ride technical, drop filled terrain more than long smooth single/double tracks?
- Do you not need the latest and greatest thing going in the marketing world of mountain biking?
- Do want a super strong front wheel and aren't afraid of having a wheel that is only applicable to this bike?
- Do you want the option of running a front tire that can be up to 4.7" wide?
- Do you not mind being seen as "that guy" in your group of riding buddies on their carbon duallies?
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