Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bike Update: Jones

Five months in, and I figure it's time for an update on the Jones. I haven't ridden it as much as I would like--moving has kept me busy this spring--but I'm well beyond the happy new bike stage. So what's it like?

Really, really good... but not perfect. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first, shall we?

- I understand the theoretical advantages of a thru axle, but in day to day use, I kind of hate it. It seems like no matter where I start threading it in, the lever ends up somewhere between 3:00 and 7:00. This really offends my sensibilities that dictate the lever should point somewhere between 9:00 and high noon:

The thing is, I got it pointed at 9:00 once, and I've never been able to replicate that.

Also, it's a pain to use compared to a QR. Half the time, the little modular end caps fall off when I'm trying to poke the axle through. Someday, I'll lose one of these in a parking lot and I'll be SOL until I can get a replacement.

If I ran a bike company, I would probably use thru axles just to avoid getting sued. But that doesn't mean I want them on my bike.

- the bottom bracket is simply too low, even though I run it in the higher position:

Maybe this works on some flow trail somewhere, but on our rooty, cambered trails, it gives me some pedal strikes. Mostly these are just incidental, but on my last trip to Alum, I was jamming along when I solidly hit the uphill side of the trail and was sent careening off the trail, barely able to stay on the bike. I'm going to swap out my platformy clipless pedals for regular clipless before my next ride. If that doesn't give me enough clearance, I may invest in some 170mm cranks.

This leads to a good point of the Jones: even though I had one leg unclipped and flying loose off the edge of the trail, there was still enough margin in the Jones's capability that I was able to steer back on the trail and keep going. The big tires, the long rear end, and the long fork rake give it a sense of stability that is beyond what I've ever experienced on a mountain bike. Grant Petersen of Rivendell fame has a great article about long chainstays, and this really matches my experience with the Jones.

The fun thing is, all the punters on describe a bike with 450mm chainstays as handling like a school bus. My Jones scoffs at such puny stays, stretching these out past 480mm. According to those same punters, any bike that isn't super slack on the front end will cause spontaneous crashing. Where a modern mountain bike runs 90mm+ of trail, the Jones Plus has a mechanical trail in the low 70s--less than my KM and it's 72 degree head angle. Jeff Jones did this by combining a slack front end (67.5 degrees) with massive fork rake (75mm). This stretches the front wheel way out in front of the rider for stability and confidence, but keeps the trail in check for sharp low speed and uphill handling. Most slack bikes have the shallow head angle, but not the huge rake. Combined with a long, squishy fork, they have lazy and sloppy steering by comparison. No way, no thanks.

There's no free ride, of course. The downside of this geometry is that it is harder to loft the front wheel. I'm not a great wheelie rider, but I can lift the front end of the Jones enough to clear the trail obstacles I come across. It doesn't pop up at a light touch, so if you ride to launch off everything you come across, maybe the Jones isn't for you. I'll take that trade for all the other benefits of the long stays.

For instance, climbing. On that same ride to Alum, Marc and I explored a freshly cut trail on our second lap. The new trail climbed steeply up to the old, catching us by surprise. So, rough, steep trail, and me with a single speed--not much pedaling finesse there. Yet I was still able to scramble up the slope without breaking traction. The big tires helped, of course, but the balance point on the Jones feels like it's a yard long.

For a few rides, I tried a different cockpit on the Jones. I replaced my 100mm stem with a 70mm part, and my straight block Thomson post for my Salsa setback post:

My theory was this would shift my weight rearward and let me pick up the front end a bit easier. In practice, I lost the sublime handling and comfort of the Jones. The front end wasn't as sharp, and I found I was pulling myself forward on the saddle to get into my normal pedaling position. Two rides of the setup was enough, and I was back to my original setup.

You may have noticed that I have my Jones set up as a single speed in some of these photos. It's my current setup:

Reader Dylan (hi Dylan!) asked for my thoughts on the Jones as a single speed. There's a lot to like as a single speed: as I mentioned above, the big traction zone allows more torque to go to the rear wheel before it slips, and the stability and big tires let me plow through stuff at speed--single speeding is all about keeping momentum. I run 32x20 gearing, same as I run on a regular (non plus) 29er single speed. I couldn't imagine running this on my old Krampus--too stiff and unresponsive, I would have had to gear it down--but the Jones frame seems to work better with me, feeling lively despite its large diameters.

That being said, I don't think I'll keep the Jones single. It's just too versatile to limit the gearing this way. It's such a comfortable, smooth riding bike that I want to be able to ride it around town:

Riding more than around the block on 32x20 isn't my idea of a good time. On the road, the big knobbies roll surprisingly well, even. This is good, because when I tried to mount fat slicks on the bike:

I found the front steering went to heck. I blame this on the front rim, a Velocity Scraper that is 45mm wide:

I think this wide rim squares off the 2.3" slick, making the response very non linear as it leans over. Jeff strongly recommended this wider rim when I got my front wheel. I wish I had listened to my own experience and stuck with a Blunt 35--those work fine with smaller tires, and I haven't seen any real benefit to the wider rim with 3" tires. Maybe at some point in the future I'll build up a new front wheel, or even relace a new rim onto this one.

So in total, I'm very happy with the Jones. I look at the latest mag reviews full of $6000 carbon 27.5 dual suspension bikes, and I have zero interest. I love the way Jeff has designed such a capable bike with such simple technology. I'll take clearance, geometry, and steel over pivots, shocks, and carbon, thank you very much.

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