By Stephen Haynes. Photos by Justin Steiner.
Like a sure-footed dwarven fighter graced with the agility of an elven ranger, the Jamis Dragon 650B inspires confidence in hardy adventurers willing to straddle its sparkly green body.
The Dragon 650b is, at first glace, a very simple looking steel bike. A look at the geometry of the little monster tells a different story. More on that later…
A 120mm White Brothers Loop TCR 650b fork absorbs the hits and, once dialed-in, worked great for me. The TCR—or threshold, compression, rebound—has an eight-position compression-damping knob. The three positions that offer the most resistance are considered the threshold zone and give you a firm pedaling platform. While not a lockout, it was stiff enough to prevent significant bob while standing and climbing. This fork, while performing well, was a little loud when preloading or absorbing bigger hits.
The Syncros AM cockpit was highlighted by the 710mm-wide AM handlebars with 25mm of rise and 5 degrees of sweep. The Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain provided ample gearing options and was used, unapologetically, all the way down to granny gear by this tester. The Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic brakes performed well in all conditions, despite the warbling that seems indicative of the brand.
Part of the intrigue of this bike is the wheel size. The American Classic 650b XC wheelset is built up 3-cross with 14/15 gauge spokes laced to American Classic hubs—a 15mm thru-axle hub up front and a 135mm QR hub in the back. The Kenda Nevegal 650b x 2.1 tires proved to be great for all-conditions, working well on both wet and dry days.
As I mentioned before, the wheel size is what got my attention. There is a lot to like about the “tween,” but it has been helped in this case by the geometry. A 68 degree head angle (slack by cross-country standards) gives the Dragon great trail bike handling characteristics. Combine this with relatively short 425mm chainstays and you have a bike that is stable but can also be agile when you need it to be.
The larger (than 26-inch) wheels roll over small obstacles much as a 29-inch bike would, but in tight turns, or in instances when sudden changes in terrain occur, the smaller (than 29-inch) wheels feel responsive like those of a 26-inch bike and allow you to correct quickly without being locked into a particular line.
On long sit-and-spin climbs, the larger wheel size keeps the front end smooth and rolls over rocks and roots easily. The same is true for out-of-the-saddle climbing, though it felt more responsive than 29ers I’ve ridden.
The Dragon 650b rolls well downhill, too. The bike tracks well and is playful in tight stuff—the result of the 650b wheels and relaxed geometry. Rock gardens that typically give me fits on a 260-inch rig were tamed easily on the Dragon, though not as soundly as with a 29er. Popping wheelies to conquer trail obstacles like rocks and log piles was easy; the 650b wheels rolled over, or through, most everything. Any shortcomings were the result of the rider, not the bike.
The one thing I will take issue with is the placement of the cable routing along the top length of the top tube. I realize this keeps the cables out of the elements, but my wife and I have both suffered inner thigh scrapes because of it. A top tube pad would likely remedy this rather minor hang-up for me and would be an inexpensive solution for anyone who chooses to purchase a Dragon. Additionally, a larger diameter (44mm) head tube would be a nice addition, allowing riders to run forks with tapered steerers.
A lot has been made of this half-step wheel size, both for and against, and it seems like many manufacturers aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on 650b just yet. I, for one, am glad Jamis was early to the 650b party. And the nerdy tabletop adventurer in me loves the idea of riding a bike called Dragon. I’d like to see more options in this wheel size; I think it could cork a lot of the partisan bickering over which wheel size is best. I’ve had nothing but good times on this bike. Jamis has nailed the geometry of the Dragon and made a playful yet forgiving rig. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for the best of what 26- and 29-inch bikes have to offer.
- Wheelbase: 42.9 inchs, 1,090mm
- Head angle: 68 degrees
- Seat tube angle: 73 degrees
- Bottom bracket height: 12.4 inches, 315mm
- Chainstay length: 16.7 inches, 425mm
- Weight: 27lbs.
- Sizes: 13", 15", 17" (tested), 19", 21"
- Specs based on size tested
- Price $2,700
- Made in Taiwan
- Age: 34
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 217lbs.
- Inseam: 30”