Jamis is betting that the rider who wants a steep, short-travel cross-country bike is moving away from steel and looking for newer and lighter materials like carbon fiber. Thus they have redesigned the Jamis Dragon 29 to appeal to the more aggressive trail rider. Looking over the dramatic changes for the new model, I think some pretty wise choices were made.
Gone is the 100 mm fork, in favor of a 120 mm Fox Float 32. Head-tube angles have been slackened from 70 degrees to 68.5. The rear QR has been replaced by a 12×142 thru axle to match the front’s 15 mm. The head-tube diameter is increased to 44 mm so it can accept today’s tapered forks. The fixed chainstay has been updated to include a sliding dropout that allows the rider to adjust the chainstay length between 435 mm and 455 mm. The sliding dropout also allows for an easy singlespeed conversion if you feel so inclined. And the inclusion of ISCG05 tabs are always a good thing. Let’s not forget a dropper post and a 2×10 drivetrain featuring a clutch derailleur. Just goes to show, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
The Dragon Pro features Reynolds 853 heat-treated steel. Compared to the Reynolds 520 steel (same thing as 4130 chromoly) found on the less expensive Dragon Sport, 853 steel is stronger at the weld points and the tubing doesn’t need to be as thick to achieve the same strength. Since I don’t have the Sport version of the Dragon I can’t compare the two, but I can say that the Pro is everything you’d want in a steel frame. The tubing is svelte, the bike feels just stiff enough, and you can probably find someone to repair the frame if you need to. The Pro frame also weighs 300 grams less than the Sport.
As with any hardtail mountain bike, the Dragon’s lack of rear suspension makes high-speed forays into rock gardens and the more technical sections of trails a bit more interesting. However, the increased power transfer to the rear wheel during climbs and quick acceleration are welcome benefits. This is where the inclusion of the KS eTen dropper pays off in spades. Being able to fully extend my legs on climbs and get low and compact when picking my way through rocks or carving through berms makes all the difference. While not the best dropper I have used, the eTen performed well and offers a smooth 100 mm of travel. The handlebar remote is easy to use, and the post reacts quickly enough when called upon. With the popularity of internally routed posts, I do think Jamis should have provided an access hole in the seat tube.
Now let’s talk rubber…
I’m not a huge fan of Jamis’ tire choice for the Dragon, the Vittoria Barzo, but tire preferences are always going to be pretty subjective. For me the Barzos rolled very well but lacked a bit in cornering ability. The tires performed well in most trail conditions, but there were a few times they lost their grip when I found myself relying on the side knobs. Your mileage may vary, but the Dragon is an aggressive enough bike to handle more aggressive tires.
No complaints from me on the SLX brakes and drivetrain. With a 180 mm rotor up front and a 160 out back, there is more than sufficient braking power. The shifters feature Shimano’s dual-release mechanism on the upper trigger, so you can pull or push it to shift. I also really dig the way Shimano designs the upper shift lever. The slight protruding shelf makes it incredibly easy to find with your thumb and operates smoothly with very little power required.
Because Jamis is marketing the Dragon in the “aggressive trail” market, I do question the Fox Float 32. While I think the 32 is a great lightweight, all-around fork, it doesn’t instill the kind of confidence I want while riding through technically challenging sections of trail. A slightly beefier choice would go a ways to stiffen up the front end when tackling rocks, roots and other protrusions. Since forks generally are a high-cost upgrade for the consumer, getting the right one on a bike at the time of purchase is an important consideration. It’s not a deal breaker, just somewhere I think Jamis could have made a bigger impact with this bike.
Overall Jamis did a great job updating the Dragon Pro so that it would appeal to a broader range of riders. When compared to a few other hardtails at a similar price point, it stacks up well, and it’s great to see steel bikes maintaining relevance in today’s marketplace. With a few tweaks here and there, the Dragon Pro would be a welcome addition to my stable.
- Price: $2,799
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
- Wheelbase: 44.69 inches
- Top Tube: 24.41
- Head Angle: 68.5 degrees
- Seat-Tube Angle: 73.0 degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 12.36 inches
- Rear Center: 17.1-17.9 inches
- Weight: 28.86 pounds
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