It might look heavy and old school, but Jamis’s Dragon Sport 29 delivers a sprightly, modern ride. A steel bike that weighs over 30lb, wears a cliff-like head angle and has wonky bars doesn’t sound promising, but get this fluid-feeling 29er rolling on fast cross-country trails and you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Ride and handling: Comfortable confidence for cross-country fans

The tyres set up a smooth feel to the ride, with the plush fork swallowing the bigger lumps that the large volume tyres can’t digest. No rebound adjustment and a clunky top-out mean the fork gets rattly over rocks or down steps. But it’s more composed and capable than anything else we’ve ridden at this price. 

The combination of big tyres and slim steel stays means a buoyant and comfortable ride from the back end, and the whole bike has an impressively floaty feel over roots and rocks. That compliant back end that takes the edge of your torque, plus low-pressure compatible tyres, means a surprising amount of traction.

The cockpit feels balanced and well behaved once you’re used to where it puts your hands. It also keeps seated weight centred despite the long back end and steep front end, for more predictable slow speed/steep terrain habits.

The flex of the steel frame plus the thin-stance fork (with straight gauge steerer and narrow bars) mean there’s not much steering muscle up front. That’s fine when you’re flowing through more open terrain, but try to fight between rocks or across frosty ruts and you’re forced to adopt a more open-minded attitude to accuracy. 

While rollover momentum is impressive if you go with the flow, it’s a bike that’s best spun up slopes rather than stomped. Add the high weight and trail awareness is crucial to gain and maintain speed. You can easily tie this slim frame in knots trying to grunt up surprise steeps or away from heavy-handed braking.

It’s too soft and heavy for smash-and-grab technical trails, but if you’re about extra comfort and confidence on big cross-country rides, this is a super-smooth bargain with a real steel feel.

Frame and equipment: Old-school style for a fair price

Reynolds steel has a reputation for quality that stretches back into bike history. You only get its basic 520 alloy here, but you do get a full set of main tubes and rear stays. It’s top and tailed with a ring-reinforced head tube and cowled forged drop-outs to complete that classic look. As with most steel frames, the latest bolt-thru rear axle and tapered fork steerer options aren’t on the menu.

The steep 72-degree head angle and relatively long 17.7in (450mm) chainstays are old school too. We were worried about the handling from what looked like old Ritchey risers with the logo moved 90 degrees to make them into backswept flat bars, and the size-specific 100mm stem wasn’t helping either. But we needn’t have been concerned. 

The Dragon 29 is well priced for an X7-equipped bike though, and Manitou Tower forks and Geax Saguaro tyres have proved capable in separate tests.

This article was originally published in What
Mountain Bike
magazine, available on Apple
and Zinio.