I’m in the process of writing up my notes on the Jones’s titanium SWB for Bikepacking.com. Whilst unashamedly disjointed, this post is intended to help me sift and organise some thoughts!
Amongst the bicycles in my personal collection (all variations on steel ‘plus’ bike theme and burly cargo bikes, I have to confess), I own the original version of the Jones LWB – from back when it with a 135mm QR rear spacing. It’s a joy to ride and it was my gateway into the Jones Geometry that I’ve grown to love – mainly because it’s both comfortable and capable. Sometimes comfy bikes aren’t always that proficient on trails, and trail-slayers aren’t that great for long days in the saddle.
Last year, I spent a number of months riding the relatively affordable Jones SWB Complete – an $1800, ‘shorter’ wheelbase, 27+ iteration of my own bike. I took it to Europe for the summer and rode it almost everyday, be it on gravel routes with Schwalbe G-Ones or technical, cross country trails with Nobby Nics.
I came to the conclusion that whilst both the SWB and the LWB have their own distinct characters, the similarity in riding position and design ethos means there’s a good degree of overlap too. Ultimately I decided that whilst I prefer the LWB’s 29+ wheels for chunky mountain biking – it’s smoother over the roughstuff – I found the SWB more appealing to travel with, in part because of its more compact physical size and the greater choice of tyres. For bikepacking, its smaller diameter wheels open up more seatpack options for shorter riders, too.
Temptation comes in many forms
Then a fortuitous opportunity arose. Jeff sent the newly launched titanium version of the SWB to try. The all-important geometry is identical to that of the SWB Complete, with the addition of an eccentric bottom bracket, a lightweight truss fork, and of course, the delightful, corrosion-free space metal tubing.
I have to admit that the Jones product line isn’t the easiest to decipher. This includes the fact that there are, in fact, two ti version of this bike: a classic diamond frame (offering more framebag space and some weight savings) and Joone’s iconic Spaceframe (supposedly more compliant and undeniably sharp looking). The all-important geometry numbers are the exact same.
And just to muddy the waters more, there are steel versions of this bike too, which differ from the SWB Complete I tried – because like the ti ones, they have eccentric bottom brackets and truss forks.
Make no bones about it. The titanium version of SWB is an extremely expensive frameset and in many ways, it’s an indulgence! Yet whilst I’ve always favoured more accessibly-priced bikes, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try such a dreamy freedom machine. Somewhat unexpectedly, I’ve now spent the better part of 6 months riding it – thanks to COVID-19 and my resulting stay in Mexico!
Dirt + trail
For the last few months in Oaxaca, the SWB has proved itself an ideal steed for both day rides on dirt roads (rural terracarias) which are very much a mixed bag in terms of surfaces, and blue-graded (and occasionally black) technical singletrack, as seen on Trailforks (the latter would have been more enjoyable had I brought my dropper post).
I’ve also ridden the SWB on an 800-mile bikepacking trip along the Baja Divide (see an upcoming story in the Bikepacking Journal), prior to holing up in Oaxaca during the pandemic. And, I pressed it into service for a gamut of shorter bikepacking trips and gravel day rides in New Mexico, before I crossed the border south.
I should add that neither do I own a road bike nor anything that’s not made of steel, so I’m used to riding relatively portly machines – generally in the 35lb/16kg bracket, once you factor in a Rohloff drivetrain and a dynamo hub. So whilst I’m the first to point out that the weight of a ‘travel bike’ isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed riding such a light and responsive steed! This has been especially welcome on day trips – the bike’s a rocket!
Of course, this isn’t just down to the weight savings of a ti frame. In fact, most of the fat’s been cut with this particular build. It’s very much a ‘no holds barred’ kind of deal, including titanium eeWing cranks, a Kent Erikson seatpost, and DT hubs laced to Jones’ C-Rims. I toned down the setup Jones sent to me by changing drivetrain – I opted for my Shimano 11 speed setup, rather than the SRAM Eagle that came with the bike.
And gravel too…
Jeff Jones touts the versatility of his bikes, so since borrowing the ti SWB, I’ve worked my way through a number of wheel and tyre variants to see how this really plays out. I’ve tried it with 29×2.2 Schwalbe G-One Race tyres (for fast gravel riding), 29×2.6 Schwalbe Nobby Nics (trail riding), 27.5×2.8 Schwalbe G-Ones (all-round touring), as well as the 27x3in Maxxis Chronicles that are on it now. With each wheel size and tyre choice the SWB takes on a different character, albeit with far less of the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ compromise that I might have expected.
In short, it really feels fast as a gravel bike and it really is fun as a mountain bike. This means that I rarely find myself wishing I had ‘the ideal bike’ for any given situation. I just get on with enjoying what I’m riding.
The fact that I can tweak the bottom bracket height certainly helps with this versatility. For example, as much of my riding here includes technical singletrack, I’ve adjusted it to the highest position. This is 12mm higher than the way I ran it on the Baja Divide and it makes a significant difference to pedal strikes, especially as I favour broad platform pedals, rather than lower-profile clipless ones. If I was spending most of my time gravel riding, I’d probably lower it back down again.
Wheel size digression
Given so many possibilities, it’s been an interesting process exploring options and figuring out what I like most. Although I’m a vocal fan of the plus tyre format, I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoyed riding it in 29×2.6-mode. ‘Wide trail’ makes good worldwide travel sense too. For one, there’s a vast array of tyres on the market to choose from. I always nose around local bike shops to see what’s around. Here in Oaxaca there’s a bit of everything. I’ve spotted Specialized 27.5 x 3in tyres, and even a couple of sets of 29x 3in Bontragers, but it’s the 29×2.3-2.5 range that has the most options by far.
I’m from the UK, so it stands to reason that I’m always worried about mud! Note that whilst there’s a generous handful of mud clearance in the frame and fork, it’s the chain line – when you’re in the largest sprocket – that can become an issue on 1x drivetrains. A 2.5/2.6in tyre allows more room between the tyre and chain, whilst a 3in tyre risks running so close that the chain scoops up mud and transport it around the drivetrain. A skinnier tyre also tends to bite into mud better – rather than planning across it.
Of course, there’s always the option of fitting a narrower (27.5 x 2.8in) plus tyre, should you want to keep to the 27+ rim size, especially as there’s an adjustable bottom bracket that can make up any shortfall in ground clearance. After all, when mud isn’t a concern (or you’re running a Rohloff or 2x chainring), 27x3in tyres are fantastic for off-road bikepacking. As a tyre size, they’re both confidence-inspiring and comfortable for long, roughstuff days in the saddle, in really make up some of the comfort shortfall from not having front suspension. Oh, the choices!
Add in Jones’ iconic H-bars to the brew – and a top tube length designed to make the most of their generous, 45-degree sweep – and you have yourself an incredibly well-rounded machine. I love how the combination of H-bars and Jones Geo affords a very usable number of hand and body positions – similar to those offered by drop handlebars, but without the compromise in comfort when you’re stooped down in the drops for long periods of time. It’s here that the bike differentiates itself from simply fitting a different set of handlebars/wheels to a conventional rigid mountain bike – in that it’s as much about a rethink in body position as it is about adaptive handling.
I could ramble on for a while longer. But here’s what I’m getting at: I love the inherent versatility of this bike. In its dream titanium form, it’s light enough that it’s no slouch on fast gravel day rides, whatever surface you encounter. Throw in some fatter tyres/a dropper post and the SWB transforms into a fun mountain bike for everything but the most demanding trails. Load it up with bags and enjoy a riding position that’s extremely conducive to long, comfortable hours in the saddle.
And that, my compadres, is my kind of bike!
My friend Matt is a Tall Person and thought the Jones LWB Complete worked very well too.