- Jeff Jones 3D Spaceframe
- $5,500 (frameset); $7,810 (“XT mix” complete bike)
- Like nothing you’ve ever seen (or ridden) before
All pics © Seb Rogers
All dimensions based on Large (19in) frame
|Effective top tube length (TT)||584mm (23in)|
|Chainstay (CS)||440mm (17.3in)|
|BB height (BB)||292mm (11.5in)|
|Effective seat angle||72°|
There’s a stereotypical image of the custom framebuilder lurking in his shed out in the woods, filing and shaping and welding his masterpieces to the exclusion of all else. At first glance, Jeff Jones appears to fit this image perfectly – his workshop is in a densely forested (and prodigiously hilled) part of Oregon and he even has a proper framebuilder’s beard. But there’s a lot more to the Jones story. Jeff’s an industry veteran of many years’ standing, turning to custom building relatively recently to develop his own unique ideas of how mountain bikes should be.
Having developed his ideas over a number of full-custom projects, he quickly found his waiting list had grown to unfeasible proportions. But with his titanium 3D Spaceframe design beginning to settle down, the time was right to farm out production and build in batches. Jeff is known for fanatical attention to detail, so there was never going to be a huge choice of production partners – in the end legendary titanium fabricators Merlin got the gig.
This means that the wait for a Jones has come down from several years to several weeks. The cost has come down too, although it’s still quite startling…
There’s so much going on with the Jones frame that it’s difficult to know where to start. So we’ll start with something other than the frame and look at the fork. Which, in the Jones universe, isn’t really a separate thing at all – the whole lot is designed to work together. Run any other fork and it wouldn’t behave right.
One of the things that’s hampered 29in wheels is that the bigger wheel presents a challenge for front-end geometry. To avoid the rider’s feet colliding with the tyre the wheel needs to be further forward. But many builders like to steepen the head angle (sometimes to 73-73°) compared to a 26in bike in order to speed up the steering, which moves the wheel further back. So then they extend to top tube to get the toe clearance back and end up with an over-long and ponderous bike.
More recently, fork rake (aka offset) has been reintroduced to the handling equation (having not really been thought about for the previous fifteen years). More fork rake gives less trail for a given head angle, which on a 29in bike is a double bonus – faster handling plus more toe clearance. Most suspension forks for 29in wheels have more rake than their 26in equivalents, but not often by much – usual rake for 26in forks is 38-30mm, while 44mm is fairly conventional for 29er forks. Some manufacturers go further – 29er-specific rigid forks from the likes of On-One pack 47mm and Gary Fisher’s G2 geometry offers up forks with 51mm offset.
Jeff Jones has gone further still, though, with around 60mm of offset combined with a perfectly ordinary 70° head angle. Clearly, though, that’s not the first thing that you notice when you look at the fork. No, the most obvious thing is that it looks like two forks. The rearward half is conventional enough, looking like a curved unicrown fork such as you’d find on pretty much any MTB in 1989. But there’s another pair of fork legs running from the (reassuringly forward-angled) dropouts, up parallel to the head tube and then curving inwards to meet the steerer tube above the headseat. The two sets of fork blades are linked by a triangle of struts at the crown. The resulting “truss fork” forms a spaceframe of its own, making it spectacularly stiff fore and aft and sideways, but with a tiny bit of give along its length.
Moving on to the actual frame, it starts at the front with a perfectly ordinary head tube. Well, ordinary if you ignore the fact that it’s got the top half of a headset in both ends – the fork has pinch bolts at the upper and lower crowns and the steerer drops through the lot, so there’s no crown race in the conventional sense.
The down tube’s fairly straightforward too, although at 1.75in diameter it’s on the large side for titanium. At the other end of it is a bottom bracket shell, which is only mildly out of the ordinary by virtue of being an eccentric unit to tension the chain if you’re running a singlespeed setup. If you’re fully committed to the way of one sprocket, one of the Jones’s myriad frame options is to do without a gear hanger or gear cable routing.
Heading north you’ll find a curved seat tube, giving clearance for the rear wheel and allowing unusually short (by 29er standards) chainstays. The angle of the seatpost also means greater-than-usual cockpit length growth as the seat is raised – the Jones comes in two sizes, but they both have the same length seat tube. The difference is in the top tube, with 23 or 24in effective lengths on offer.
We say top tube, but there are actually three tubes up there. The outer two start at the head tube and sweep all the way to the dropouts, hence becoming seatstays on their way. The central tube passes between them and curves upwards to the seat cluster. It’s the multiple top tubes that give the “3D” element to the design, adding some width (and hence lateral stiffness) to the front triangle, a bit of the frame that conventionally would occupy just the one plane.
As well as monumental standover height, the design allows the seat tube to flex backwards. And it really does, too, to the extent that you can see it happening when you lean on the seat. Mix in the flex from lots of seatpost extension (and the shallow angle at which the post sits) and you’ve got a rigid frame that’s not actually all that rigid, up and down at least.
As you’d expect from Merlin, the frame is beautifully constructed. Clearly building a Jones Spaceframe involves a lot more work than putting together a regular diamond frame – not only are there more tubes, but very few of them are straight. The fork alone is a considerable piece of work. Take it all together and the undoubtedly intimidating price tag doesn’t look at all unreasonable.
If you’re not quite ready (whether financially or ideologically) for the full Spaceframe, Jones also offers conventional diamond frames in titanium or Reynolds 853 that use the same geometry. They’ll both take the titanium truss fork.
Even though Merlin builds the Jones frames and forks, Jeff himself still assembles, tweaks, hones, tests and tweaks some more every complete bike. And that’s properly tests, as well, not just up the road and back – order a Jones bike and it’ll have had a full-on Oregon mountain shakedown, not that you’d generally be able to tell to look at it (although the test bike did actually have a small mark on it…). The attention to detail is quite remarkable – this is the only test bike that’s ever arrived at BM global HQ with small pieces of tape on the bar, stem and controls to indicate the optimum positions and angles for the front end.
Then again, the front end is so unlike every other bike we’ve ever ridden that the help was welcome. Not content with a clean-sheet design of the frame and fork, Jeff produces his own unique bars too. The titanium H-bars have a straight section in the middle, round where the stem goes (obviously enough) but flattened at the outer ends. An angled extension is welded on at each side, with the part sticking out forward being curved inward. It’s probably best to look at the pictures…
The effect is a bar with an embarrassment of choice when it comes to riding positions. You can hold the ends, which is good for using the brakes and is like an extremely swept bar, putting your weight well back. You can shuffle your hands forwards and hook your thumbs over the centre section, getting a bit more weight over the front – it feels a little like riding on the hoods on a road bike. If you really need to keep the front down, there’s the curved forward bits. Or you can hold the centre section either side of the stem for a change. Or any of about half a dozen other options. The so-called “standard position” is to hold the grips at their forward end near the join, which is very similar to a conventional riser bar except that your hands are at more of an angle. And if you think that’s odd, look at the angle that your hands naturally sit at when you hold your arms out in front of you and get back to us…
The H-bars don’t lend themselves to regular brake lever/trigger shift setups, which is perhaps one reason why quite a lot of Jones bikes are singlespeeds. But they do play very nicely with Shimano’s oft-maligned Dual Control levers – you can change gear from any position that lets you reach the brakes and the single bar clamp is unobtrusive. The most impressive thing about the H-bars, though, is that after only a couple of hours they make conventional riser bars feel just plain wrong.
On the test bike the DC levers were the cable brake editions, with Avid BB7 discs at the other end of the cables. Cable routing was by fully-enclosed Full Metal Jacket tubular housings, the bending and shaping of which alone displayed more craftsmanship than most complete bikes. While hydraulic discs are almost universal on UK enthusiasts’ bikes, the simplicity of the Avids is entirely in tune with Jeff Jones’s “sophisticated simplicity” ethos, and there’s no denying that on this bike the brakes work extremely well. The impressive fore-aft rigidity of the truss fork certainly helps, too.
Transmission was all Shimano Deore XT with which we have no complaints. The test bike had a reassuringly conventional 3×9 setup, but as you might imagine Jeff has his own ideas with transmissions too – one of the options available is a six-speed rear setup using a custom-assembled 17-34 XT cassette running on a Chris King singlespeed freehub. The result is a dishless rear wheel, offering extra strength, and more forgiving chainline at the extremes. And if you want to run a single ring up front, Jeff can offer XTR chainsets with the bits of spider you’re not using machined down and the whole thing polished to a mirror finish.
Tyres were WTB Weirwolfs in a substantial 2.55in size, although being 29in treads they don’t look as fat as they actually are. Even with tyres this wide, there’s still bucketloads of clearance at both ends of the Jones. There’s the possibility of going bigger, though – Jeff also offers a “Fat Fork” version of the titanium truss fork designed for a 135mm-wide front hub and a massive 3.7in Surly Endomorph tyre originally designed for snow riding. Even though it’s nominally a 26in tyre (ie it fits on a 559mm rim), the casing is so big that it ends up about the same size as a conventionally-shod 29in wheel so the overall geometry is unaffected. The idea is to get a comfier ride up front without resorting to any moving parts. The resulting bike looks even more insane (have a a look at Jeff’s site for pictures) but we kind of like the idea. Obviously you can always run a 29in front wheel in the Fat Fork, in which case you get clearances you could fit John Prescott through with only minimal bruising.
After all this weirdness, the presence of a familiar Thomson bar and stem seems almost incongruous. The complete bike weighed in at 11.6kg (25.6lb), which isn’t startlingly light for a rigid bike. But low weight isn’t the goal of the Spaceframe – it’s all about the ride…
Expectations for how a bike will ride are inevitably shaped by how it looks, how it measures on paper and any knowledge about how the design was arrived at that you may have picked up. In the case of the Jones, there was so much going on that we really didn’t know what to expect. Sitting on it didn’t help much, either. It feels like you’re sat directly above the rear axle and of course there’s those handlebars sat under your nose.
But start to turn a pedal, and much to your surprise it all feels, well, normal. For a start, it’s not much longer than a 26in-wheeled bike. In fact, it’s shorter than some that are in the BM bike shed. The front end geometry is perfectly honed, offering superlative nimbleness and confidence-inspiring stability.
With any bike it’s hard to point to any one aspect of the design that makes it what it is. With the Jones it’s nigh-on impossible – the frame, fork and bars are all designed to work with one another. But the bars are one thing that it’s easy to get your head around and feel the benefits of. You might feel sat a long way back at first, but hold the front of the bars and you find yourself spread along the bike, poised to put the power down yet perfectly balanced for steep climbs. Grab the grips and your hands are over five inches further back, ready to tackle the nadgeriest of descents.
And when it comes to nadgery, it’s hard to beat the Jones. The rigid fork means no diving or pitching, and it’s pin-point accurate. As the speed builds, the extreme sweep of the bars encourages a super-effective bent-elbows style, with the bike practically begging to be thrown into corners. It’s really very unlike what you’d expect from a 29in bike, and that’s not preconceptions – it’s much more agile and flickable than most.
As for comfort, well, there’s plenty. Again, the bars help here – your hands are at a very natural angle and you’re getting a bit of extra give from the long bits of titanium cantilevered out from the stem. The fork is very definitely a rigid fork, although somewhere amongst the fork, bar and tyre most of the little buzz and patter disappears. You feel the benefit of the big wheels over a surprising range of middling bumps, and while it’s down to biological suspension for everything else, the agility and accuracy of the Jones makes it hugely rewarding to finesse. The more overt vertical flexing at the back end manifests itself as a sensation of having an even bigger, softer tyre at the back but without the slow rolling and wallow.
Clearly you have to pay attention on any rigid bike, and the Jones is no exception. But the geometry and cockpit layout put so many trail-taming tools at your disposal that it never feels like a fight. You’re not going to be blasting flat-out through boulder fields, and you may have to go a bit slower occasionally. But that doesn’t matter – piloting a Jones is a uniquely rewarding and satisfying experience.
Ups and downs
Positives: Unique design, spectacular construction, awesome attention to detail, fantastic rides
Negatives: Fiscal inaccessibility
Bikes like this are always going to be something of a connoisseur’s choice. The Jones, though, clearly isn’t really a reaction against technology – as you can tell by the number of words we’ve expended upon it, there’s more going on here than in any full suspension bike. Jeff Jones is pursuing the ultimate rigid bike, but in a positive, rather than a reactionary, Luddite way. And, well, here it is. You won’t find a rigid bike more capable and flat-out fun than this. And value for money? Well, at this level it’s all a bit moot – if you want a bike like this, you’ll find the money. But while the price is high, it’s not that much higher than conventional ti frames from other niche manufacturers. Considering the amount of extra work that goes into a Jones, and the price looks less alarming. And, well, it’s just better…More words and pics about the Jones Spaceframe can be found in our very own SHIFT magazine.