jamis 2015 Renegade Elite Review

Verdict:
Brilliant do-it-all bike. Light, tough, very well-specced and grin-inducing
Weight:
8,730g

Jamis Renegade Elite

1010Jez Ash

The Renegade is a brand new model for 2015 from US brand Jamis, tapping into the growing market for adventure road bikes, adept on the road but also capable off it. 

As soon as we saw the first details, we set to pestering Evans (which has the exclusive rights to Jamis to the UK) to send us one. Sure enough, we managed to get one of the first examples into the country, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to find the limits of its considerable talents.

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With an intoxicating combination of road lightness and trail toughness plus Shimano’s stunning hydraulic disc brakes and a great wheel and tyre package, the Renegade offers excellent (if relaxed) road manners and is outrageously good fun off the beaten track. It’ll go further and harder off-road than any other road bike I’ve ridden, in fact, with a depth of off-road ability that is simply astonishing. But don’t mistake it for a simple mud-plugger with drop bars. A change of tyres is all that’s needed to use it for fast all day road rides or even chaingang lung-busters. Leaving no boxes unticked, it also takes mudguards and a rack, and can accommodate tyres up to 40mm. In short, it’s an absolute belter.

There are two versions of the Renegade – the Elite (which we tested) and the Expert, which – at £1,400 – is over a third less. Neither are what you’d call cheap bikes, but for what you’re getting, both are great value. Particularly as – presumably for reasons of currency fluctuation – they are cheaper in the UK than in the US – not something we’re accustomed to seeing. We’ll be focusing on the Elite version as that’s what Evans was kind enough to send us, but we’ll look at how the Expert differs too.

Buyers Guide to Disc Braked Road Bikes

Frame and fork

The Renegade Elite has a full carbon monocoque frame and fork, built using high-modulus Omniad M30 carbon fibre and using Jamis’s Near Net moulding process. This uses a combination of silicon and polystyrene internal moulding parts to ensure that the inner surface of the monocoque is smooth. Most manufacturers now use similar techniques, with the goal of keeping weight low and strength high through the elimination of any internal stress raisers. The lower-priced Expert model uses a different grade of carbon, (mid-modulus Dyad Plus T700/FRP), resulting in a frame weight that’s a little higher than here. Jamis quotes all-up weights of 8.06kg for the smallest Elite and 9.54kg for the equivalent Expert. That’s quite a big difference, also attributable to the use of a lower-rung groupset and more basic wheels. Our 58cm Elite weighs a very respectable 8.7kg on the road.cc scales, which is impressive – we’ve tested several road bikes with disc brakes and no off-road aspirations in the last year which are similar weights.

There are six available frame sizes, from 48 up to 61, with the diameters of the tubes being different from one size to the next – ‘Size Specific Tube tuning’ – designed to give consistent ride characteristics across the range of sizes. Jamis doesn’t stop there, however, also changing the bottom bracket drop and chainstays lengths across the size range. Using three different fork moulds means that Jamis can maintain the desired fork trail despite the head tube angle varying from 70.5 degrees on the 48 up to 72.5 degrees on the 61. Seat tube angle is 73 degrees across all sizes.

The down tube and top tube are chunky angular sections, and the bottom bracket housing is huge, comfortably swallowing the FSA BB386EVO bearings. Looking rather unusual, the beefy asymmetric chainstays exit markedly below the bottom bracket centre, with this intended to give greater tyre clearance. By contrast the seat stays are fashionably thin and flattened, joining the seat tube a few inches below the junction with the top tube. Jamis says that without the need to mount a brake calliper here, it had greater leeway to tune the compliance in the seat stays without worrying about braking forces.

It works too, with the rear offering a decent level of compliance over bumps and cracks in the road. At the front, the fork uses Rockshox’s 15mm Maxle screw-in axle, offset behind the fork legs to provide a small amount of vertical compliance. (There’s a standard QR at the rear.) This arrangement is what Jamis calls ECO – Enhanced Compliance Offset. It is less compliant than at the rear, however, with this impression seemingly exaggerated by the rattling of the cables and hydraulic hoses over bumpy terrain. I found this annoying, actually, and used some Jagwire cable clips to stop the racket.

With road tyre pressures, the Renegade doesn’t cosset you on bad roads in the same way that a carbon Giant Defy or Trek Domane does, but this is necessarily a burlier machine than either of those. The stock 35mm tyres are a pointed hint that this is a bike that can cope with rather more than a jaunt along a canal path. More on those tyres later.

When I first threw a leg over the Renegade, the impression was of it being quite a large 58. The effective top tube is 586mm, but it’s probably the tall front end that contributes most to this impression. Slamming the stem only goes so far; a 202mm headtube and the big tyre clearance meaning that it’s no wind-cheater. Aerodynamics are obviously not the primary goal here, and the tall front end is helpful when you’re hammering down a rocky bridleway on the drops. Here the long wheelbase helps too – 105cm on the 58 – giving quite exceptional stability.

On the road this makes for handling that is reasonably relaxed – it’s certainly not rapier-sharp like a crit bike but neither is it a barge – and off-road it gives you a bit more leeway to push the limits before you run into trouble. One-handed braking, when you need to indicate a turn and you’re going too fast to make it round, is supremely unchallenging; less stressful than any other bike I can think of, in fact. The sheer efficiency of the hydraulic brakes undoubtedly helps here too.

There’s full internal cabling on the frame (although the front brake hose doesn’t pass inside the fork) and it’s Di2 compatible, allowing for future upgrade. There are a couple of other unusual details to point out. The bolts which hold the brake callipers in place screw into perpendicular metal pins which slide into the frame and fork from the side, rather than into fittings moulded into the carbon. Jamis say that this is to remove the risk of in-moulded fittings coming loose when heated by heavy braking. Viewed from the front, the fork legs are noticeably asymmetric, with the lower left leg being thicker in order to deal with the brake forces.

Little metal eyelets screw into the bottom of the fork and the corner between the seatstays and chainstays, allowing mudguards and a rack to be fitted. Apparently some people object to the aesthetic impact of conventional eyelets on a performance bike; I can’t say I’m one of them, but the eyelets are a novel solution for those who are concerned by such things.

Fitting a front mudguard can be complicated by the presence of the disc brake – in the end I knocked up a custom bracket to fit much-shortened left stays to the brake calliper mount. The shape of the fork means that the eyelets are below and in front of the axle, so you’ll likely need the full length of the wire stays to reach the right-hand mounting point.

At the rear, Jamis tell me that the frame and eyelets were tested with a 25kg load, typically the maximum for all but heavy-duty touring racks. The rack’s upper stay has to attach to the tapped hole on the front of the brake bridge, which like the eyelets has to double up if you’re also using mudguards. You can buy an adaptor which attaches to the brake bridge and makes rack mounting easier, or you can just do what I did and bend one of the rack’s stainless strips to fit.

Equipment – very well thought out selection

The Renegade Elite is very well kitted out, with a full Shimano Ultegra 22-speed groupset being a decent starting point. There’s a wide 11-28 cassette paired with the fashionable pro-compact chainset (52/36), a halfway between a traditional standard chainset and a 50/34 compact. This gives a great spread of gears for road use, but on steep off-road climbs I sometimes found myself wishing for either a 34t chainring, a 32t sprocket or both. Swapping chainrings (to compact or standard sizing) is possible thanks to Shimano now using a common bolt circle diameter between the various sizes. Shimano cranks use a 24mm axle, so Delrin Wheels Mfg adaptors are used to fill the 30mm bearings specified by the press-fit BB386EVO standard.

As we’ve reported previously, Shimano 6800-series Ultegra is a superb groupset, giving slick shifting up and down even under power. When it’s my money, I tend to buy SRAM, but I was really impressed with this latest iteration of Ultegra. It’s so effortlessly smooth and efficient, with crisp changes at the rear and gloriously lightweight yet precise changes at the front. The otherwise excellent non-series R685 shifters only allow two upshifts at a time at the rear – a constraint of having to package in the hydraulics, we assume.

Besides the frame, one of the key components here is the brakes. We’ve rhapsodised about Shimano’s BR685 discs already, with the clarity and efficiency of hydraulics making controlled braking significantly easier and less tiring than even the best calliper brakes. I used an early Di2 version of these brakes on the road before, and this latest version with the mechanical shifters seems noticeably better dialled in.

On the road, this translates into an intimate relationship between the lever and the brake. Oil gives an effectively frictionless transmission of braking effort, and this makes it easier to judge your braking. Ultimate deceleration is still limited by the grip between your tyres and the road, of course, but being able to apply just the right amount of braking instantly and with this much clarity gives huge confidence when descending at speed. Once you’re used to these brakes, getting back onto a rim-braked bike leaves you wondering how you ever thought that was what good braking felt like.

Off road it makes arguably an even greater difference. The power and efficiency of braking available means that one-finger braking is always enough, on any surface, any gradient and at any speed. This liberates the rest of your digits to hang on to the bars and keep the bike going where you want. The front end is directionally very stiff, doubtless enhanced by the fitment of a thru-axle and the tapered headset, and even hitting roots at speed doesn’t send it far off-course.

American Classic Argent wheels are another real highlight, with their lightweight toughness suiting the bike perfectly. They’re tubeless compatible although the supplied tyres aren’t, but it’s nice to have the option without changing wheels. The rims are 30mm deep, giving a minor aerodynamic benefit at speed, and they’re wide too – 22mm external / 19mm internal, making them a stable platform for wider tyres.

List price on these wheels is a hefty £899 – that’s serious money for a £2.5k bike. I couldn’t find another similarly-priced adventure road bikes with wheels of remotely this calibre. They’re seriously light too, at 1530 grams, with the sub-400g rim weight (yep, less than Mavic Ksyrium Elites) making them quick to accelerate when fitted with road tyres. With the supplied tyres, they’ve taken a pounding off-road during testing and remained true – very impressive. The wheels are colour-coordinated with the frame and have some rather shouty graphics which will probably divide opinion. In any case these are a fantastic set of wheels (arguably warranting a review all of their own).

As I mentioned, the tyres aren’t tubeless compatible, but they are excellent in most other respects. Jamis opted for the 35mm X-Plor USH model, a 60tpi folding tyre from Clément. Whereas in Mavic-speak UST signifies a tubeless rim design, USH here is the airport code of Ushuaia in Argentina. Of course. All Clément tyres are named after airports, it turns out, and apparently Ushuaia is ‘the ultimate destination for adventure bike touring’.

I’ll readily admit that I’d expected to switch them out pretty sharpish for something smaller, lighter and more road-focused but they roll surprisingly well on tarmac. The near-continuous centre tread is the key to this, with diamond knobs on the shoulders of the tyres designed to help grip when cornering on loose surfaces. Over the test period I found that there was visible wear on the centre section, so if you’re doing high mileage on the road you’d probably want something road-specific. At high pressures they are less supple than some tyres, likely because of the relatively low thread density and the thickness of that central section of rubber.

They’re at their best when you drop the pressure, giving loads of compliance from the large air volume; for road use I ran around 50-60psi and used them for rides of 100km or more without feeling they were really slowing me down too much. Off road I went as low as 30psi, with the wide rims helping to keep them stable even at lower pressures. Weighing 350g each, they’re not the heaviest 35mm tyres, but obviously there’s scope for a decent saving in weight and rotating inertia by fitting road tyres for when you know you’ll be staying on the straight and narrow. If you’re heading in the other direction, the frame and fork will accommodate up to a 40mm tyre.

The stem, bar, seat-post and saddle are all from Ritchey. The carbon Flexlogic post uses a special layup to add some extra compliance, but it’s a chunky 31.6mm post so it doesn’t move as much as a thinner one would, and the aluminium Comp bar and stem are relatively low-cost but worked just fine. Fizik’s Superlight bar tape is a tough and reasonably comfortable choice, and although I would have opted for something with a bit more padding, this would be easy to remedy.

The saddle is the ZeroMax Comp which uses Ritchey’s Vector Evo rail mount system. Ritchey says that this moves the mounting points away from the sit-bones to enhance comfort. It’s a decent saddle which I got on reasonably well with. If it doesn’t suit you, Ritchey can supply clamp adaptors allowing you to fit conventional saddles without needing a whole new seatpost.

Spec Downgrades on the Renegade Expert

The Expert model costs significantly less, and as you’d expect there are some spec downgrades needed to make that possible, as well as the lower-grade carbon used in the frame. Gone are the full hydraulic brakes, although TRP Hy/Rd brakes are the closest you can get with cable actuation. 11-speed Shimano 105 replaces Ultegra, and there’s a much lower-cost wheelset with Alex tubeless-compatible rims on Formula hubs. The saddle and seat-post are also downgraded.

Conclusion

Right now, if I had could only have one bike, this would be it. Finding the limits meant taking it to almost ridiculous extremes. Downhilling bridleways with a rack and pannier? Sure – just drop some tyre pressure to maximise grip and revel in the sublime control and braking. Chaingang? Sure, just change the tyres and you’ll be fine. Climbing rock-strewn trails? Not a problem, thanks to the low weight and brilliant tyres. Successive long days of touring with a rack? Tick, and in reasonable comfort too.

The frame and fork are brilliantly well-judged, light enough for road use and tough enough to thrive off the beaten track. Shimano’s hydraulic brakes are every bit as good as everyone’s told you, and the rest of the Shimano bits worked flawlessly. Astutely-chosen tyres and a primo wheelset complete the picture.

The pricing makes this bike terrific value. A lot of the major brands have brought out adventure road bikes this year and none that I’ve seen are as well-specced for the money. As an example, Specialized has a similar sort of model, the Diverge Expert Carbon, which is $4k in the US and £3k here (with carbon frame, Ultegra, Shimano hydraulics and much more basic wheels). The Jamis is $4.2k in the US and £2.5k here – bargain!

Verdict

Brilliant do-it-all bike. Light, tough, very well-specced and grin-inducing

– See more at: http://road.cc/content/review/152497-jamis-renegade-elite#sthash.ImrhxjXk.boEpaBZN.dpuf

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