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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bikepacking On The Jones 29+ Next Time

No need to ask
He's a smooth operator
Smooth operator, smooth operator, smooth operator
Smooth Operator, Sade Adu, Stuart Matthewman & Raymond St. John (1984)

Short break from cruising down a dry valley on Day 7 of the Cloud Peak 500.

Back in early 2018, I chose a Jones 29+ as my one mountain bike for single track and rough rides of all kinds, with both eyes fixed on loading it up for bikepacking. After a series of overnight and two night trips over two years, I took it out for 7 days along the Cloud Peak 500 route last August. See, Cloud Peak 500 Wrap - Feeling Good

The Jones 29+ for bikepacking? Smooth.

As a start, the Jones 29+ is a big bike capable of carrying big loads. With an assortment of Revelate Designs bags, I carried all my clothes, gear, and food for a week long ride without the requirement of re-supply, other than water. And I started each day with 5 liters of water, between the 3 liter bladder in the frame bag and two 1 liter bottles on the seat stays. I could have easily carried more gear and more water. See, Cloud Peak 500 - Gearing Up, Cloud Peak 500 - Packing Up,  Cloud Peak 500 - Gear List.

That big bike, with a limousine wheel base of 46.25 inches and monster truck 3.25 inch mountain bike tires mounted on 700c wheels, rode smooth as silk, floating over all but the largest obstacles and the deepest sand. For comparison, the popular Salsa CutThroat in a comparable size has a significantly shorter wheel base of 42.9 inches and clearance for 700 x 2.4 inch tires. 

The upright body position and swept back bars remove most all of the weight from the hands, relieving pressure from hands, wrists, arms and even up to the neck and shoulders. I experienced no pain or other problems in any of those areas, even riding rough roads 8-10 hours on the loaded bike, every day for a week. That positioning does shift more weight to the saddle, but I experienced no saddle soreness, either. The Jones 29+ is exceptionally comfortable for the long haul and I'll change nothing to the basic setup.

Rolling up Red Grade Road early on Day 2 of the Cloud Peak 500.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

As an aside, the first 3 days I experienced soreness in both hips. Several times I stopped to micro-adjust saddle height, but that clearly was not the cause. I think the up and back positioning demanded pedaling mechanics different enough from that which my body was accustomed, causing soreness over the course of long and difficult days. I know that the upright position made pedaling feel much more like I was pushing pedals forward and backward, rather than up and down, which made climbing different and more difficult. Leaning forward helped a little with adding power and with relieving the soreness, but it just wasn't the same. I never felt on top of the pedals, but always behind them. In any event, by Day 4, the soreness disappeared and I felt stronger every day afterward. To take the Jones 29+ on long bikepacking trips on gravel/rough roads again, I need to ride it on more 8-10 hour days.

I was very happy with my decision to stick with a front derailleur and build this bike 2 x 11, with 24/36 chain rings and an 11-42 cassette. I certainly used every bit of those low mountain bike gears on the long, steep, loose climbs on that loaded bike and never wished for a higher gear. I'll keep this range and spacing of gears.

I was also very happy with my decision to use simple and proven brakes. I installed new pads on the Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes before the start, checked them on Day 3 before the long, steep, technical descent of Dude's Downhill, and just rode everything without a problem. Afterward, the pads were still good and they're still working great, now 7 months later. There's much to be said for simple, reliable, and durable components.

As for the funky bar ends, I installed them just outside the shifters for additional hand positions, but rarely used them. However, I did like my wrist positioning when wrapping my thumbs around the base. So, I cut those bar ends down to about 2 inches and left that much on. I even installed a pair of dummy road bike hoods on those stubby bar ends for awhile to try yet another hand position. But I did not like how close and high my hands sat on those hoods, so I took them off.

The Jones H-bar offers several hand positions, but I added those stubby bar ends for another.

The only real negative with the Jones 29+ for gravel road bikepacking was my choice of wheels and tires. I built this bike to be an all-everything mountain bike and chose 3.25 inch wide, knobby tires mounted on 50 mm WTB Scraper rims for that type of riding. And it rides great on single track, unloaded and loaded. For all but the roughest roads, however, that's a lot of tire for me. On good gravel and decent dirt roads, it's just painfully slow.

On the Cloud Peak 500, those wheels/tires were simply too heavy and slow rolling for everything except the 8 mile descent of Dude's Downhill and occasional soft, sandy stretches. In other words, I lugged around significantly excessive tire capability for well over 90 percent of the trip. In comparison, buddy Paul Brasby rode great all week on his Salsa CutThroat with stock Taravail Sparwood 2.2 inch tires.

For my next gravel bikepacking trip, I will change to a much faster rolling tread pattern, on much skinnier tires, mounted on much lighter rims. Yes, I bought a second wheel set and 2 sets of new tires for the Jones 29+. Next time, I will ride Bontrager XR2 tires (either 2.60 or 2.35) mounted on 30 mm RaceFace ARC Offset rims. In addition to being faster rolling, this second wheel set with the 2.60 inch tires drops over 3 pounds from the original combination. With the 2.35 inch tires, it drops almost 3.5 pounds.

I think either the 2.60 or the 2.35 Bontrager XR2 tires will be more than enough tire for my planned Black Hills Bounty in June and even for an eventual Great Divide Mountain Bike Route tour. I'll try both this year. In the meantime, I'll definitely keep that original wheel set, with those mammoth 3+ inch tires, for riding all kinds of single track and rougher surface bikepacking.

Vee BullDozer 700 x 3.25 inch tire mounted on WTB Scraper i45 rims (left).
Bontrager XR2 700 x 2.35 inch tire mounted on RaceFace ARC Offset 30 rims (right)
Same diameter wheels, but different rim and tire widths.
I'm hoping to roll better on gravel on the skinnier set.

In summary, I love the Jones 29+ bike for bikepacking. After a week long trip, the only significant change I'll make results from my own mistake in choosing big mountain bike kicks for a gravel/dirt road tour. The second wheel set and tires should solve that. Then, I'll plan to ride more long rides on the Jones 29+ to better adapt to the different body positioning. That's it.

I see many memorable miles ahead bikepacking on my Jones 29+.

For earlier posts about the Jones 29+, go to Riding The Jones 29+ LoadedJones 29+ The Build, and  Jones 29+ What It Is.

And now, Sade, the smoothest Smooth Operator.

Smooth Operator, Sade live (2011)

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