Well I picked up a shop Dragon 650 demo bike (not a Jamis corporate demo bike)last Sunday thanks to Aaron at Storrs Center Cycle in beautiful Storrs, CT. Aaron owns a really nice shop and is definitely a pro-650b local bike shop owner. He currently has two 17" Dragon 650s on the floor as well as a 17" Jamis Nemesis hardtail. If you are a CT resident or a New Englander not too far from Storrs, I would recommend paying a visit to Aaron's shop if you are a 650b fan or even just 650b curious. If you want to find them via the web his shop's site is at http://www.storrscentercycle.com
Aaron sent me away with a size 17 Dragon 650 and it fit great at my 5'9" height. Prior to leaving his shop, Aaron took some time to adjust the handlebars and dial in the White Brother Loop fork (more on the fork later) to make sure everything was good to go for my test ride at Nassahegan State Forest in Burlington CT.
I was able to go for a solid 2.5 hour test ride and the bike performed great. The steel frame felt very quick, and snappy and the ride was nice, not a harsh feeling to this frame in my humble opinion. I think Jamis did a great job on the geometry of this bike. The 68 degree head tube angle was nice and comfortable, yet the bike felt extremely responsive, and not at all slack or sluggish feeling. Yet at the same time the 120mm of travel up front was a really nice "sweet spot" for trail riding. The bike was very quick to accelerate (possibly due to nicely spec'd American Classic wheels paired up with 2.1 Nevegal tires), and it felt very nicely balanced in the air when I was able to launch it off a few natural trail jumps and whatnot. Traction from the 2.1 Nevegals was excellent right now as our trails are now littered with leaves (which can make things a bit slick at times).
Climbing on this bike was also very very good. Even with 120mm of front end travel and a slack 68 degree HT angle, the Jamis tracked well on our short steep, techy climbs at Nassahegan. I never felt the front wheel wander and I was able to sit and spin up climbs very effectively and efficiently. It was a bit of a different feel for me to sit and spin up stuff as I normally ride single speed, but I enjoyed the climbing ability of this geared Dragon 650 immensely.
Now about that fork! The White Brothers fork is the real deal. One of the nicest forks I've ridden - and that was with it coming right out of the box. I was the first guy to ride this bike. The Loop rides a bit high in it's travel which was nice for this type of bike in my opinion. I never felt the fork pogo-ing or anything during the ride. It was great while climbing, and there was no major fork dive whatsoever while negotiating techy/tricky trail features at Nassahegan. The fork was just super smooth and sort of just disappeared beneath me as I put the Drgaon 650 through it's paces. The 15mm thru axle front end allowed the bike to steer incredibly well and there was little or no fork deflection under rough rocky terrain and through some of the longer rock garden sections of trail on the loop I took. Really came away impressed with the Loop! If you have a chance to check one out - do it!
Being a single speeder for the most part over the last few years, I rode the Dragon 650 in the middle ring the whole ride - and if I had one of my own I think I'd build it as a 1x9. Our trails around here don't really call for a big ring for trail riding, and even a granny isn't necessary except for a few climbs (or when fatigue sets in). The drive train worked very well (combination of Deore level cranks and an SLX rear derailleur) and shifting was crisp and precise. For other parts of the country the three chainrings up front might be great (or possibly a 2 chain ring-bashguard combo would be excellent as well).
As I said, the Dragon comes set up with 2.1 Nevegals and they hooked up great in our fall conditions. I think 2.3s would fit, but there isn't gobs of tire clearance in back. However the 2.1s are a good pairing with the American Classic 650b wheelset that comes stock on the bike. The 16.73" chainstay length is sweet. Great for getting the front wheel up and onto trail obstacles, great for wheeling drops, great for climbing. As I mentioned earlier, the front end never wandered on climbs and the bike has a nice upright comfortable riding cockpit position - definite trail bike geometry. It is great bike geometry for long rides, but also a helluva lotta fun for a quick 2.5 hour trail ride as well. With a swap of some components like cranks, stem, bars, seatpost the bike could definitely be lightened up and still raced if one were to choose to do so.
While riding this bike, I kept thinking how perfect it would be for someplace like the Kingdom Trails in Vermont or some other trail network in the USA that offers miles and miles and miles of sweet singletrack to ride - linking them together for an epic day or long weekend in the saddle. This bike would just kill it in East Burke at the Kingdom Trails - I definitely would love to spend a weekend up there on this thing. I think it would be a blast.
Overall I came away very impressed with the Jamis Dragon 650. The Dragon has been a highlight of the Jamis mountain bike lineup for years and years. In fact, when mountain bikers hear the word Jamis - the Dragon is probably the frame that comes to mind first. They've been doing this Reynolds 853 frame for a long time, and this newest iteration in 650b guise is spot on for this wheelsize. The frame is well built, the paint is a stellar Shamrock green metallic color with just the right amount of logos (not overdone) and it has a classic trail bike hardtail look to it.
I find it refreshing that a company like Jamis is committing serious resources to the 650b platform and the 2012 Jamis Dragon is an excellent example of how serious they are about the merits of 650b bikes.
Overall it was a grin inducing 2.5 hours of trail riding for me. I want to thank Aaron again for providing the demo bike and I hope his offer stands for more weekend loans on the Dragon 650 as I'd like to take it to a few other Connecticut Trail systems to further my testing of the bike.
Great feeling Steel Frame
Excellent Trail bike Geometry
Nice American Classic wheelset
White Brothers Loop fork (Stellar)
Stock grips are just so so - but nothing to worry about
WTB Silverado - not friendly to this rider's sit bones at all
A few heavy components (Syncros Stem, Bars, Seatpost, crankset)
If I were to give the Dragon 650 a letter grade - I'd definitely give it an A grade for the first marking period. Here's hoping that I get a chance to put it through it's paces for a couple more marking periods before all is said and done.