Monday, June 16, 2008
Drinking the Jeff Jones KoolAid
The Outlaw posted up a demo ride with Jeff Jones and his bikes last week. Spots were limited, so, I sent him an email, PM, text message and smoke signals to make sure I got one of the coveted spots. He quickly replied and I was set. A day later I get an email from him asking if I wanted to attend a special "very limited" hooky ride that started at 1 in the afternoon and went until 4:30 or so. This would give me more time on the bike and open up a spot on the evening ride wait list. A couple late nights at work were all the incentive I needed to play hooky on Thursday, I was in.
I got to Hamburg road a few minutes before 1 to find RiderX and Jeff unloading 4 of Jeff's uniquely designed bikes. Three titanium and one steel, these creations had a look all their own. Two space frame designs with a truss fork, one Ti double diamond with truss fork and a new double diamond steel bike sporting a Jones designed, Vicious built tapered straight leg fork with MONSTER clearance. Two of the bikes were outfitted with Surly's Endomorph 3.7/4.0 tires. Only the steel frame was set up for single duty, the others were a mix of unique gear combinations. Jeff rode a 1x6, I was on a 3x5 or 6, Jay rode the 2x6 and the Outlaw, well, I guess you know who rode the single. Jeff prefers to build his geared bikes using single speed Chris King hubs with customized XTR cassettes to fit. "8 or 9 gears in the back are more prone to failure" and he can build stronger, non dished wheels using SS hubs. To prove how strong his wheels are he place one on the ground and stood on either side of the rim, he even bounced a little for effect. Sure enough, the rim was as true as the day it was built. He had two sets of prototype rims, one wide aluminum rim from WTB and a sweet carbon set from Wheels Manufacturing. I was lucky enough to ride the bike outfitted with the Wheels hoops and they were sweet. Strong and light with a price tag that would make an oil importer gasp. $850 a rim, that's each.....not a pair.....each! I'm glad Jeff waited until we were halfway down SuperSweet before he told me about the price, of course, I didn't take it any easier when we hit Rock Candy.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself though. In the lot we eyed up our respective rides, threw on our pedals and got a quick lesson on Jones design. Low center of gravity and weight shifted to the back meant light front ends. There was little need to yank up on your bars when approaching obstacles or take a white knuckle grip as your descended technical rock. The front end basically floats down the trail and only requires the lightest of touch from its pilot. The Jones philosophy and design concept is more of a "wholistic" approach to bike building. Every aspect of the bike is taken into consideration. He is not a "frame" builder, he is a "bike builder". The radical geometry of the frames means a standard "off-the shelf" fork will not work. You must use a Jones fork, be it the truss design or the steel straight leg. Both forks and all his frames utilize the same geometries and are all interchangeable. They are a "system". The frame one buys would depend on your aesthetic concerns, ride characteristics and depth of wallet. At the top of the Jones food chain is the Space frame and Truss fork. This only comes in Titanium and will set you back a cool $5500. For $1200 less you can get a traditional double diamond frame and truss fork, in Titanium. For the purest among you there is the double diamond steel frame and fork for $2450. As I stated above, all the frames and forks utilize the same geometries and sizing scheme. For the complete skinny on all things Jones you really should check out his website.
After gearing up we headed north on the blue trail and its rocky decent into the valley. Within moments I knew Jeff had a winner on his hands. I was a little more upright than on my bike and the bike felt incredibly balanced with the riders weight centered over the frame. The first time I pulled up on the bars I nearly looped the bike and decided I'd let the frame do the work for me. I would just sit back, hold on lightly and see if the "system" really worked. Bombing down blue on a fully rigid bike is not usually a fun thing. Your hands go numb, vision gets blurred and it becomes more about holding on than having fun. My Space frame and Truss fork turned that decent into a giggle fest. I was smiling ear to ear by the bottom as I couldn't believe how smooth the bike felt. I wouldn't say it felt like I had suspension, it felt better. I was in complete control, picking whatever line my heart desired without all the slop of squish or the bone jarring hits of a regular hard tail. The ride was "compliant".......very freaking compliant.........ridiculously compliant.
From the blue we headed into some tight twisty single track and the enchanted forest. The short wheel base of the Jones design came into play here and you could really rock through the tight stuff. Rock-overs and drops where almost effortless as you could move all around the bike with little in the way to imped your movement. A small peddle kick was all that was required for some of the small drops due to the light front end. It also meant you didn't have to have a saddle in your chest if you chose to roll something. The enchanted forest lead onto an old freeride trail and some fun technical descending. Rock slabs, ledges and steps didn't phase my Jones and I felt more comfortable on this foreign bike than I do on my regular steed. From this decent we made our way to a climb and again the bike didn't disappoint. It climbed extremely well on the loose rocky hill. Now, I did have gears, which was a pleasant change, so I can't really compare single speed climbing of a Jones to my Spot. The short chainstays did what I would expect and made the bike an exceptional climber.
On our way to SuperSweet, when trail conditions permitted conversation, Jeff would expand upon his concepts and re-iterated a common principle, nothing on a Jones bike is done for aesthetics. Everything has a function and that function determines the ultimate form. This function was put to the test on SuperSweet and its fast flowing lines. This trail has a little bit of everything to test the balance of a cross country bike. Fast sweeping turns, tight rocky drops, log-overs, rock-overs and trees to hop. The fast stuff gives way to the slower more technical rock crawling that is Rock Candy. Again, the balance is tested and again the Jones design shined. If there is one word to describe a Jeff Jones bike it would be "balanced". I would normally never feel comfortable enough to ride hands free on any bike while on the trail. My space frame made me feel so comfortable I couldn't help but ride hands free and it tracked straight and true every time.
We made our way to Salamander and it was more of the same sweet riding. However, by this point I was getting so comfortable on my Jones that everything was becoming second nature and I stopped thinking about how well everything worked. I just enjoyed the ride. Pressed for time Jay and I bailed to the road a little early and we were soon joined by Joe and Jeff. The three "J's" and I were headed back to the lot for round two and the official demo ride. On the way back Jeff demonstrated his wheelie abilities and would ride them for a couple hundred yards. His BMX background was evident throughout the ride and now he was doing what I enjoyed so throughly as a child, riding wheelies down the road for as long as you can see. Rockstar.
Back in the p-lot the official demo riders started to arrive and Jeff explained his concepts to the soon-to-be-newly-initiated. The gospel of this Jones is much sweeter and more refreshing than the Koolaid of Reverend Jim. The second group went out and had the opportunity, as I did, to put Jeff's concepts to the test. Much like my ride, the people liked what they rode. There seemed to be very positive feedback and a whole lot of smiling. At the end of the ride, most people headed over to The Bike Escape for a lecture by Jeff on his design concepts. Tom and Danielle have hosted several similar events and they always make their guests feel welcome and at home. There was food-a-plenty and some fine hoppy beverage provided by Clipper City and the Single Speed Outlaw Factory Team. At the end of it all we went outside and Jeff put on a small impromptu freestyle exhibition in the parking lot. Pretty cool way the end an exceptional day. All the days pictures can be seen here.