With its swoopy tubes, upright geometry, and cola paint job, the Exile Comp ($1,100) looks more femme than freeride. But as with all Jamis bikes, this bike holds far more value than its looks and price tag suggest—and it rides pretty darn well, too. Jamis may not have the cachet of other big brands (yet), but they build bikes that keep up.
Admittedly, this aluminum bike is a bit funky looking from a distance. The low-slung top tube appears a bit strange, though all that extra clearance makes it very easy to maneuver in technical terrain. Combined with an extra tall head tube (bigger than the Diamond Back), it makes for a very upright position, not unlike a cruiser bike. But surprisingly, that doesn’t detract from the handling, as we weren’t any slower on our test laps on the Exile Comp than on the Overdrive. It simply makes it more comfy to ride—never a bad thing. And overall, the bike is a lighter than the Diamondback, too, weighing in at a trimmer but hardly svelte 31 pounds, and it has niceties normally reserved for more expensive bikes like a tapered head tube, which definitely aids in steering accuracy and handling.
If this American company knows one thing, it’s that good parts count. From the solid WTB rims to the SRAM X5 shifters and the full SRAM drivetrain (X7 in the rear derailleur, a part generally spec’d on much more costly bikes), these components worked great and are well made. And the best upgrade from the Overdrive is the Rockshox XC32 TK9 fork, with a preload dial that worked to adjust the pressure, a rebound dial that took the edge off the spring rate, and a lockout that makes the fork rigid for more efficient climbing. One small niggle: Though the Geax AKA29 tires worked okay on our hard-pack test circuit and were clearly chosen as a commuter crossover for riders who frequent asphalt as well as dirt, we’d rather see something meatier for the trails.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We railed this bike hard on our local smoothie singletrack, and it handled everything we threw at it—including some reasonably techy sections. Though the bike’s tall posture was a bit off-putting to more advanced riders used to sleeker positioning, having the weight off your hands will be a boon to novice to intermediate riders. All of which is to say: it’s a great starter bike that, thanks to quality parts, will keep up with you until you’re ready for something faster.