By Justin Steiner
Those readers who spend any time on our web site know I’ve had one of the new Jeff Jones steel diamond frame bikes in for test for some time now. Jones is best known for his custom steel and titanium Space Frames (read our review), but now offers a production version of each, as well as a traditional diamond frame, all with identical geometery. Why the long test? Well, there are a ton of various ways you can build and ride this bike, and due diligence requires riding, swapping parts and repeating. Tough job, right?
Thus far I’ve ridden the Jones in these configurations:
- Touring mode with the unicrown fork and Schwalbe Big Apple tires.
- As a mountain bike with the unicrown fork and Big Apples.
- With the unicrown fork and 29 x 2.4” Maxxis Ardent tires.
- With the truss fork with the Ardent tires.
- With the truss fork with Fat Front wheel and Surly Larry 26 x 3.8” tire.
- And, there’s just one more combination to go: Fat Front with the unicrown fork.
Regardless of the configuration, this bike remains extremely comfortable and extremely competent.
Nearly all of my riding lately has been on the Fat Front, which I’ve been affectionately calling “Larry.” Frankly, I was skeptical of Larry heading into this test due to less-than-stellar previous experience with these fatty “snow” tires. As it turns out, these previous experiences were due to over or under inflation.
Proper tire inflation—and an accurate digital pressure gauge—is paramount to maximizing Larry’s performance. On Jeff’s recommendation, I started at 11 psi and have since varied pressure in half-psi increments down to about 7.5 psi. At 11psi and up, I felt Larry was a bit bouncy and didn’t absorb enough trail irregularities. Much below 9-9.5 psi and I started getting some strange feedback when braking in off-camber turns due to flex and twisting of the tire’s sidewalls between the contact patch and the rim. While you can get used to this sensation, it is best avoided in my opinion. I found my sweet spot at 10 psi, which seemed to be the best balance of bump absorption with minimal squirm and steering feedback.
After a few local rides on smooth to moderately bumpy trails, I was still trying to wrap my mind around why someone would want to haul around Larry’s two extra pounds of rotating mass. Only after one particularly rocky ride it dawned on me that Larry is highly suited to Appalachian rock crawling. With his ability to conform to trail surfaces, Larry can wrap himself around rocks of all shapes and sizes to provide massive amounts of traction and added compliance. In conjunction, I’m finding Larry is better suited to lower-speed riding as he gets a bit bouncy at higher impact speeds. Think under-inflated basketball. Sometimes this bounce can be used to your favor to simply run the front tire into a log or rock and let the front end spring up, much like you would with an over-sized chassis 160mm-travel fork.
With Larry out front, traction is simply through the roof, particularly braking and cornering. Pushing this tire to the point of drifting in corners is mildly terrifying, as it requires entry speeds that seem imprudent. Mash on the front brake and things slow down in a big hurry. Only on wet, slimy surfaces does Larry occasionally want to slide around but does so predictably and hooks back up quickly and without fuss.
Despite my initial skepticism, Larry is growing on me. That said, I still think he’s best suited to rough terrain, the rougher the better. Given that, I’m steadily coming to the conclusion the Jones is really a zero-travel all mountain bike, both in riding position and aptitude, particularly with Larry leading the charge.
See Jeff Jones in action
Learn more about Jones and his unique bicycles in our Industry Insider interview and a profile we wrote back in Issue #105. Look for the full Jones review in Issue #160. Subscribe by October 1 to get the review hot off the press.
Any readers out there who own a Fat Front Jones, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!
More on Jeff Jones
We’ve written quite a bit about Jones and his bikes through the years. Here’s a quick recap:
Karen’s first impression of his titanium SpaceFrame
Karen’s full review of the titanium SpaceFrame (from Issue #141)
Our Industry Insider interview from 2010
Another interview from 2004 (Issue #105)
Justin’s first impressions of the steel diamond frame in touring mode
A report from Jones’ visit to Dirt Rag HQ in summer 2008