Tester: Helena Kotala
Weight: 127 lbs.
The Jamis Dragonfly is a little bit of everything. Parts of it seem decidedly old-school, like a steel hardtail frame and 26 inch wheels. But these seemingly archaic standards are combined with modern geometry, boost spacing, a dropper post and plus tires to create a unique blend of features resulting in a fun do-it-all sort of bike that is great for a variety of skill levels and riding styles.
The Dragon series from Jamis is a line of steel hardtails with 120 mm of travel and plus tires. They are meant to wear a variety of hats, from trail ripper to bikepacking rig, and include the Dragonslayer in either a 26plus or 27plus configuration and the 26plus Dragonfly.
The Dragonfly was designed as a women’s bike, a label that always causes me to question what exactly makes it optimal for the female rider. In the case of the Dragonfly, Jamis designed it with different geometry than its “gender-neutral” or “men’s” version of this bike, the Dragonslayer. The Dragonfly features a shorter top tube in relation to seat tube, lower standover height and a shorter wheelbase than each compa- rable size of its counterpart, and comes in slightly more petite frame sizes (14 inches for a size small versus 15).
There are two models of Dragonfly—Sport and Pro. I tested out the Pro, which upgrades from the Sport with a Shimano SLX 1×11 drivetrain, Fox Rhythm 34 fork and KS eTen dropper post versus a RockShox Recon, NX shifty bits and no dropper.
It comes spec’d with 26×3.0 WTB Ranger tires on Scraper i40 rims, tubeless out of the box. While Jamis only offers both mod- els of the Dragonfly with 26plus wheels for 2017, they can be swapped with a 27.5×2.3 wheelset with no bottom bracket height change. The frame and fork can fit up to 27.5×3.0 tires, but Jamis cautions that this will raise the bottom bracket and potentially alter the handling of the bike.
Sliding rear dropouts provide 15 mm of adjustability to accommodate different wheel sizes or a singlespeed setup, rear rack mounts and an extra water bottle mount on the downtube hint that this would make a worthy bikepacking or backcountry touring rig.
I’d never ridden 26plus before, so naturally that’s been the first thing I talk about when someone asks me what I think of this bike.
If I’m being 100 percent honest, I was skeptical of the wheel size at first. It wasn’t the plus that caused reluctance—plus tires have revolutionized my experience on the rocky trails on which I spend most of my time and I am absolutely an advocate of them. But the number that precedes it, that caused me to raise my eyebrows a little.
Didn’t we leave 26 inch wheels behind? My main concern was that they would feel sluggish, especially on uphills. Long, gradual grinds left me feeling like I had to work a little harder than usual to maintain speed, but on quick punches and steep pitches, I could put my chain on the 46-tooth pie plate and spin right up just about anything, as long as my tire pressure was low enough to stay planted (I found that my optimal pressure was around 11 psi). And getting back up to speed after a dab was noticeably easier than on a 29er.
I did notice that the front wheel had the tendency to wander while pedaling upward, and I had a hard time keeping it planted on the ground when the going got steep due to the upright position and short wheelbase. Then I remembered the sliding dropouts. Moving the rear wheel almost all the way back corrected the problem, resulting in a more stable feel and fewer accidental wheelies.
At 31 pounds, this bike might not be the appropriate choice for a weight weenie, but neither are most steel bikes. The durability and ride quality that it offers comes with a price—not cash, but pounds. I’m not one to shave grams wherever possible and I value the ability to beat up my equipment over the ability to gain a few nanoseconds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice the weight of this bike at times. And of course, my arms got an extra workout on the hike-a-bike sections that seem to make their way into my rides every now and then. I would say that the one downfall of this bike is its weight, considering that it was designed with smaller riders in mind.
But what the Dragonfly lacked in climbing prowess and weight advantages, it certainly gained in agility and the ability to steam- roll rock gardens. The smaller wheel size, short chainstays and smaller frame than what I’m used to riding made picking a line and throwing the bike where I wanted it a breeze. And on tight, twisty singletrack, the Dragonfly really came into its own.
After a winter of riding my fat bike every day (aka plowing over whatever was in my path), it took me a ride or two to get used to handling slightly smaller-diameter tires. My home trails are covered in tombstone- like rocks, so I had to be careful to keep the front end extra light and loft it over the chunkier stuff or risk getting tossed over the bars or, at the very least, stopped short and a stem in the lady parts. But once I got the hang of it, I was eating up rock gardens for breakfast, and the advantages of 26plus over 27.5 inch tires for technical trail riding were very clear.
On descents, it was easy to get rowdy, despite the lack of rear suspension. The smaller frame with low standover, easy maneuverability and plus tires were confidence-inspiring, and the dropper post was absolutely key in ramping up the fun factor. I was impressed with the Rhythm fork, which provided just the right amount of squish and was easy to get dialed in to perfection, and of course the wide treads added some plushness as well. I felt very in-control and had more fun ripping downhills on this bike than on some other hardtails I’ve ridden.
I mostly attribute this feeling of greater control to the smaller wheel size relative to my height than what I’m used to riding. For those of us who are vertically challenged, bike fit can be a challenging endeavor. Once frames shrink to the smallest of sizes, 29 inch wheels can seem clownishly large and result in shorter riders just being along for the ride rather than in command. Of course, it’s a matter of preference, but keeping wheel sizes proportional to height has allowed many smaller cyclists to feel more confident and at home on their bikes.
Despite initial skepticism, I found the Dragonfly to be a fun bike for a variety of conditions. The 26plus platform has distinct advantages over standard 27.5 tires for anything moderately technical, but I might be inclined to build up a 27.5 wheelset for smoother trails. This bike is a great option for smaller riders who want a durable, versatile setup that can evolve with their riding styles.
Sizes: S, M (tested), L