2017 Jamis Dragonslayer 27.5” Steel Hardtail Review
Shredding my own dragons with a suspension fork, trail-worthy geometry, 3” tires, and a bike fit for turning rough trails into fairy tales.
A bike “nerd” I am not. I’m slowly learning a thing or two about the basic mechanics, but it’ll be a long time coming before I get all googly-eyed over a set of brake levers. That said, there are a few things I do know about riding bikes. I know when I’m uncomfortable and how terribly frustrating it can be to get the right fit; and on long distance journeys, physical comfort is paramount. In addition, finding confidence in your steed and how it handles come in a close second, and plays a key role in how well you ride.
I’ve ridden more miles than I’d like to recount aboard a size small 26” rigid Surly Troll, and while I liked it in theory, I was never able to truly find the right fit. Experiments with different saddles, stems, handlebars, and positions have, at best, provided temporary relief from one source of pain while adding to another. I took a decent turn on a Pugsley fat bike, hoping that the added floatation provided by its giant tires might ease some of my aches. Unfortunately, I found that it’s heft was a bit cumbersome. Any suspension that those beefy tires were meant to provide was never appreciated, because I couldn’t navigate my way around a berm without losing speed. In fact, besides the 3-speed Shogun I rode as a kid, the only bike I’ve ever felt good on is my 29” full-suspension Santa Cruz trail bike, and it’s just not designed for extended bikepacking. So, after spending a ridiculous number of hours (and money) making failed adjustments, I was ready to throw in the towel and just accept that discomfort and semi-proficiency in riding were the best that I could expect out of any bikepacking rig.
So, when Jamis kindly offered to lend me their new Dragonslayer 27.5” hard tail for our six week exploration of southern Spain, I had my reservations. I’d never ridden on plus-sized tires and wasn’t sure how they would affect the fit or responsiveness of the bike. I anticipated slower, even sluggish speed. I worried that, without a forward or rear rack, I wouldn’t have room for all of my gear, and a loaded seat pack wouldn’t fit in the space between the saddle and a beefy 3” tire. But, most of all, I dreaded the inevitable, repeated adjustments that would likely lead nowhere. On the other hand, I figured I had little to lose. I hadn’t found comfort anywhere else, and the Dragonslayer’s badass name and styling alone made it worth a look see.
The 2016 Dragonslayer is the plus-sized, “adventure” version of the Jamis Dragon. Like its predecessors, the Dragonslayer features a triple-butted steel frame with its geometry based on fun: a relatively slack front-end and short chainstay length. With 120mm of travel provided by a Fox 34 Float fork, this bike screams to be aggressively ridden on singletrack. On our route through southern Spain, we planned to incorporate as much “real” trail riding as possible, but, from previous experience, we knew that we’d be encountering all kinds of surfaces, and I wasn’t sure how the bike would perform on the sand, dirt, boulder strewn jeep tracks, gravel, tarmac, and potential mud we would be facing.
Here’s where the more technical aspects elude me a bit, but I’d say that the overall geometry of the bike coupled with the wide, yet surprisingly light feeling tires (890g) are the keys to the bike’s performance. With an upright seat tube and short chainstay, it felt like there was minimal loss of energy transfer on climbs. In the past, even with plenty of knob to my tires, I’ve battled slippage on loose surfaces. Not an issue with the Dragonslayer. The bike felt agile, despite all of my gear, so I was able to effectively pedal while standing and nimbly maneuver over and around trail debris. I’m more accustomed to full suspension when trail riding, but, despite the steel frame and hardtail, this bike was amazingly responsive to subtle shifts in weight. I felt confident in fast corners and on flowing downhills. The tubeless-ready Bomboloni’s are branded as snow and sand tires, and, although they felt a little cumbersome in the really thick sand, they rode like a dream over the finer stuff. They maintained their grip over rocks and in corners but were really fast rolling both on and off-road. Unfortunately, I did get one tear from skulling a very sharp rock at pretty high speed. I guess no tire is bullet-proof.
Within just a couple of days on the “road”, my concerns were laid to rest. Even on “fresh” legs, the thick sands of Cadiz’ Atlantic coast were mostly manageable under the Vittoria Bombolinis. Riding in thick sand is never easy, but with sufficient momentum, the 3” tires provided enough flotation to keep me from being mired in it. We quickly moved from sandy beaches to loose dust, sand and pine strewn hills. Once we hit the GR7, it was rough riding, loose granite mixed with larger boulders, deeply rutted and partially washed out tracks. We saw our fair share of smooth climbing pisté (gravel) but interspersed it with pebbly goat tracks littered in dried olives. We enjoyed some nice, rooty east coast style dirt and fine sandy washes as well. Through it all, the Dragonslayer performed beautifully. Fortunately for me, I cannot attest to its capabilities in the snow or mud, as there’s an ongoing drought in southern Spain.
The confidence inspiring fit and responsiveness of the Dragonslayer were made even sweeter with the comfort adding suspension. Ever since my first long distance bike adventure, I’ve been screaming for a suspension fork. With Logan, my in-house bike go-to guy, constantly reiterating that we weren’t going to travel (pun intended) with components that can’t be repaired in Timbuktu, rattling bones and jarred muscles had to do. Thankfully southern Spain is pretty far from Timbuktu, and after riding there two years ago, we knew that there were ample bike shops that could handle any shock repairs that might be required. Because the front of the bike was pretty heavily and bulkily loaded, I chose to keep the shock dialed to the stiffer of its three settings, even on the more aggressive downhills and singletrack. Even so, the gentle give of the fork in combination with the fat tires really cut down on the jostling and jarring I experienced. The Fox 34 Float held up to its name. On short technical climbs it provided just enough oomph to help propel me over small and mid-sized obstacles. And I found myself attempting sections of technical downhill where confidence can be partially attributed to the fork.
I can only imagine how much fun it would be to take the The Dragonslayer out on the trails in the buff, because it was such a blast to ride when loaded. I wasn’t sure what kind of conditions we’d be facing on the six week journey through southern Spain, so I planned for the worst, which meant multiple cold weather layers and rain gear, including heavy waterproof shoe covers. On previous extended bike travels, I’ve used a rear rack, with an assortment of smaller panniers and saddlebags. So I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of equipment the Dragonslayer could manage. The straight frame design and more narrow chromoly tubeset create an amply sized frame triangle, so I was able to max out the Bedrock framebag. And, even with my seatpost lowered to accommodate my relatively short legs, tire rub wasn’t an issue; there was enough space between the saddle rails and the rear tire to accommodate the streamlined Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion seat pack. And the cage mounts on the down tube are a nice addition, increasing the bike’s water carrying capabilities. It’s also worth noting Jamis’ choice of 22/36t chainrings on the 2×10 crankset; this combo along with the 10s 11-36t cassette makes a great ration for loaded bikepacking. A proper bikepacking granny gear enabled me to out pedal Logan on the steepest of hills we encountered. All in all, the Dragonslayer really is fit for adventure.
Trail geometry features short chainstay and a relatively low BB, which make this a fun bike with a comfortable seating position.
27.5+ format is confidence inspiring, terrain expanding, and adds a nice bit of bump reduction when setup tubless at lower pressures.
The 36/22t chainring combo makes a perfect pair for bikepacking with a heavy load.
Downtube cage brazeons and rear rack mounts make this an adventure ready bike.
Straight frame design leaves a nice big triangle for an voluminous framebag.
Sliding dropouts make it a good candidate for a Rohloff (if there was a Boost thru-axle Rohloff option)*.
*Since the dropouts are removable sliders, it’s theoretically possible to have replacement dropouts that will work with a standard quick release hub. To our knowledge, Jamis doesn’t make that specific adapter, but a crafty use of PMW (Paragon Machine Works) inserts and gentle frame bending is, in theory, likely to work… though maybe not advisable. Otherwise, you may have wait until either Jamis makes adapters, or Rohloff makes a 148mm BOOST Speedhub.
Note that the kit below doesn’t reflect minor changes I made to the setup specifically for this trip. First, I swapped the WTB saddle for an ERGON SMC-3; this is just personal preference. And the standard grips were replaced with Ergon GS1s for comfort on long days in the saddle.
FRAME: 4130 triple-butted steel
REAR DROPOUTS: Sliding 12x148mm dropouts
FRONT FORK: Fox Float 34 27.5+, 3 Position Lever, 110x15mm Thru-Axle
CRANKSET: Shimano Deore M627, 36/22T for 52mm chainline, 170mm
DERAILLEURS: Shimano SLX Shadow Plus rear / Deore front
SHIFT LEVERS: Shimano SLX, 2×10-speed
CASSETTE: Shimano HG81, 10-speed, 11-36T
BOTTOM BRACKET: Shimano External
CHAIN: Shimano HG54, 10-speed
HUB REAR: Formula sealed bearing centerlock disc 12x148mm
HUB FRONT: Formula sealed bearing centerlock disc 15x110mm,
RIMS: WTB Scraper, 45mm Inner, Tubeless Ready
TIRES: Vittoria Bomboloni, 27.5 x 3″, TNT
BRAKES FRONT: Shimano Deore M506 Hydraulic Disc, 180mm Rotor
BRAKES REAR: Shimano Deore M506 Hydraulic Disc, 160mm Rotor
HANDLEBAR: Ritchey Trail 2X, 31.8 x 9º x 720mm x +/- 5mm rise
GRIPS: Marin Locking
STEM: Ritchey Trail, 0º rise, 70mm (17″)
HEADSET: FSA Orbit, Alloy cups
SEATPOST: Ritchey Trail, 31.6 x 400mm
SADDLE: WTB Volt Comp
Listed at $2699, the Dragonslayer isn’t priced through the roof, by any stretch. But, it’s arguable that at this price point, the Dragonslayer’s component spec could be a tad more prestigious. Don’t get me wrong, the Deore/SLX drivetrain is good, but an XT crankset, shifter set, and rear derailleur would take it up a notch. And perhaps replacing the Deore brakes with bullet-proof SLXs would have been a smarter choice. In addition, we found the Ritchie Trail seatpost to be a little finicky to adjust. That said, the component list is an overall solid choice for a bike at this price.
If this review seems to be one-sided, or lacking in constructive criticism, it’s for good reason. I loved riding this bike. Not surprisingly, it took my bum a little while to get accustomed to a new saddle. But, besides that, the ride was comfortable from the get-go. Transitioning from an upright, cruising position to a more aggressive downhill stance was seamless. The responsive ride added to my confidence, as did the bigger tires. The fork/fat tire combo dampened the vibrations and jarring that can turn an otherwise beautiful ride into a painful suffer fest.
It’s completely fair to say that I felt my trail riding skills improve dramatically over the course of the six weeks I had with the Dragonslayer.
At last, it turns out that I’m not destined for discomfort and mediocre mountain biking. I don’t have to merely get by, or spend my days toiling away at work while my stepsisters get to have all of the fun. I’ve found my glass slipper, and it fits perfectly.
In 2012, only one year after I first started mountain biking, I took my first long distance tour from Mexico to Costa Rica. Since then, Logan and I have taken multiple bikepacking trips, some of which were long distance, like our journey from Cape Town to Tanzania. Other trips, such as the White Rim and the Gila River Ramble were taken on as relatively short, multi-day ventures. Currently, Logan and I are getting to know some great people and amazing places as we work on the Trans-Uganda loop.
Weight: 135 lbs
The bike for this review was provided by Jamis Bicycles for use in riding the GR7, GR247, and Transandalus in southern Spain.