Behold the finest bikepacking rig on the market.
In the scrum of 30-some test mountain bikes we tried this season, the Jones Plus stood out like a zombie at the high school prom. It wasn’t the most popular bike by a long shot, and several unadventurous testers even passed on riding it because of its eccentric design.
That conflict reflects an interesting fact in today’s mountain bike world: Even as bikes are increasingly excellent as a whole, designs are growing more homogenous. Carbon fiber is the standard, full-suspension is almost mandatory, travel is increasing, and 650B wheels are the new norm.
Against that backdrop, the Jones Plus, with oversize, 29+ tires and a fully rigid steel frame and fork, looks like an anachronism. The riding position is high and upright, the 2x11 gearing choice bucks the trend toward a single front ring, and many would say that the long wheelbase and chain stays are old school. Yet in spite of its unusual form, the bike has been praised by virtually everyone who has ridden it.
That didn’t surprise us. We appreciated the Jones Titanium Spaceframe we tested several years back and have loved the 29+ platform ever since Surly debuted its Krampus two years ago. The three-inch tires on semi-fat rims and additional rollover of the plus-size circumference add traction and stability well beyond any standard mountain bike.
Many in the industry will tell you that the 29+ standard is too heavy and unwieldy for most riding, but we’ve never found that to be so—and especially not in the case of the Jones Plus. True, the wheels weigh a little more and the steering isn’t BMX fast, but the well-considered geometry gives you a feel of riding in the bike—not on top of it as you might expect with such big wheels—and the combination of fork rake and offset keeps the handling surprisingly tight.
On the hour-long test loops around Tucson, rider after rider returned from trips out on the Jones with the high praise and big smiles that we’ve found so common on fat bikes. Except at 26.5 pounds, the Jones isn’t portly and torpid like some fatties can be. Several testers even took to jumping it off some pretty sizable launches, and everyone (minus perhaps Jeff Jones, himself) was surprised how agile the bike proved to be.
The Jones Plus arrived to us with a full range of custom packs, signaling its bikepacking intentions. So once the main test was finished, I loaded up the bike with gear and hit the trail for a four-night, self-supported adventure on the Arizona Trail.
This is where the Jones Plus shone. If you’ve ever bikepacked, you know that carrying the necessities—pad, sleeping bag, tent, stove, fuel, water, and a range of apparel—can be a logistical challenge. Not so on the Jones. The mainframe pack was so voluminous that it easily carried the tent, stove, fuel, and a 250-ounce bladder of water, and the two cylinder packs on the truss fork took the rest and kept it extremely stable. There was so much space that I removed half the included packs.
While most bikes loaded with all that gear would be almost impossible to pedal on steep, singletrack terrain, the Jones Plus was surprisingly deft, in large part thanks to those three-inch tires. I cleared steep arroyo entries and exits that I know I’ve walked before and never felt overloaded or cumbersome.
Over the course of the trip, I appreciated the upright position as it kept the water weight of my pack off my back—and therefore had me feeling fresh, even after four and five hours in the saddle. The carbon H-Bars, which look more like a weight-lifting device than a handlebar, provide tons of usable hand positions for excellent variety on long days, and the carbon is notably more dampening than the previous metal iterations. The steel frame and big tires also contributed to the bike’s soft, easygoing trail feel. It’s not cushy like suspension, by any means, but the truss fork design, curved seat stays, and lower tire pressures courtesy of the oversize rubber kept the Jones Plus from feeling jangly and harsh like most hardtails.
I’ve done lots of bikepacking in the last decade, and I daresay this is the most capable and comfortable adventure bike I’ve ridden for the purpose. Given its weight and positioning, I probably wouldn’t choose it for racing something like the AZT300. But for getting out into the woods and riding big, self-supported days, I can’t think of anything better.
We did have a few, small complaints. Most notably, the original Stan’s Hugo rims that came spec’d proved extremely soft, and we dented them beyond tubeless usability after just a few rides. That’s actually the third set of these rims we’ve ruined, and Stan’s has recognized there’s a problem and is working on a new extrusion and design. In the meantime, Jones got us a replacement set of wheels with WTB Scraper rims, and we had no subsequent issues, even after we railed the bike at speed through long scree fields as a worst-case-scenario test.
The only other niggle: the Surly Knard tires, which we like just fine and held up to lots of desert treachery. But we’d have preferred a chunkier tire.
That’s one change that’s about to sweep over 29+ bikes: more manufacturers are investing in the size, and a range of tires, wheels, and even a suspension fork is on the horizon. Considering that the few 29+ bikes currently on the market are basically one-offs that have used the only existing components available, it’s amazing how well they have ridden. In the case of the Jones Plus, that’s testament to owner Jeff Jones’ attention to detail and design fastidiousness. But the coming proliferation of parts makes us think that this platform is about to explode, à la fat bikes, with the influx of lighter materials and better parts.
That’s not to say that we want Jones to delve into carbon or suspension. The simplicity and relatively low cost of the Jones Plus ($1,350 frame set; $5,185 as built with Shimano XTR; $835 for the packs) is part of what we love about it. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, the Jones Plus is a quirky, highly capable machine that can stand up to pretty much any adventure you throw at it.