Progress and continued innovation are dependent on individuals and companies who refuse to accept the status quo, and who decide that they want to try to make something better. These unique individuals bring their own genius and determination to bear as they attempt to solve new problems or find even better solutions to old ones.
The Jamis Hardline was born from the determination of individuals and brands such as these. Specifically, mountain bike businessman and marketer Chris Currie spent over a decade working in his spare time to develop a totally new, innovative suspension design. Jamis Bikes has partnered with him to turn this design into a reality, with two of their lines of full-suspension mountain bikes utilizing the design.
Attempting to analyze a new mountain bike and an all-new suspension design simultaneously, while parsing out how the various component and geometry choices impact the other variables, was a formidable challenge, but I spent over two months putting my mind and body to the task.
The Hardline commands the most aggressive position in Jamis’s 2020 bike lineup. With 160mm of suspension front and rear, this 27.5″ enduro bike is designed to be an aggressive downhill shredder that fears no obstacle. The frame is crafted from beefy tubes of Dyad Pro High Modulus Carbon Fiber and sports an all-new 3VO suspension design.
The Hardline’s geometry largely falls in line with most enduro mountain bikes on the market today. “We’re not pushing the boundaries with geometry,” said Bryan Dubuc, Demo and Event Coordinator for Jamis Bikes. Instead, they’re focusing on the “brand-new, revolutionary suspension design.”
The Hardline sports a 65.5° head tube angle and a 74° seat tube angle. All Hardlines have 429mm chainstays and 13.5mm bottom bracket drops. The size-medium Hardline I have in for test features an effective top tube of 610mm, a 439mm reach, 745mm standover height, a 595mm stack, and a total wheelbase of 1182mm.
The brainchild of industry veteran Chris Currie, Jamis and Currie have been working closely together for over three years to bring the 3VO suspension design to the brand’s long-travel bikes.
What exactly is different about the suspension design? Jamis dives into a very technical analysis on their website, which you can read in detail. Singletracks also recently ran a podcast interview with Currie, which provides insightful backstory to the suspension design. But here are some of the highlights.
According to Jamis, “with the 3VO system’s unique virtual pivot characteristics, we’re able to combine the efficiency of a hardtail with the proper support of precisely-controlled active suspension.”
Currie explains that the “instant center is the point around which the swingarm pivots.” The instant center is “the foundational reference point for a lot of the kinematics of the bicycle, the anti-squat in particular, and a lot of the characteristics of how the bike rides.” But unlike a single pivot, if you have a multi-link suspension system, that instant center occurs at a point in space where imaginary lines drawn through the pivots intersect. That instant center moves throughout the stroke of the shock and controlling and designing the path of the instant center allowed Currie and Jamis to create specific suspension characteristics that they wanted.
In particular, Jamis claims that their instant center provides complete efficiency, with “the most efficient propulsion, with no loss of pedal energy due to suspension movement, regardless of the gear combination, wheel travel, terrain, and rider power output.” The suspension is supposed to react instantly to hits both large and small. Finally, the suspension isolates braking forces for a consistent response.
Axle path is another key component of suspension design. In Jeff’s podcast interview, Currie tried to break it down for us, explaining that “generally, a more rearward axle path is an advantage for […] square-edged hits and things like that, where your wheel naturally wants to move rearward in order to offer minimum resistance to the terrain.” However, “when the axle path is at its most rearward makes a big difference,” he concludes.
Jamis claims that the “key advantages of the 3VO axle path” are reactivity “to square-edge and small bump impacts,” “additional pedaling stability,” “no pedal kickback,” and an “overall vertical path.”
Suspension kinematics only get more complicated as we dive into leverage ratios, but suffice it to say that Jamis claims the 3VO offers one of the best designs on the market today.
The C3 build kit of the Hardline retails for $4,699 and occupies the middle price point of all five Hardline models currently for sale. Below the C3, the C4 retails for $4,199, and the A2 with an aluminum frame retails for $3,199. Above the C3, the MSRP (and build kit) jumps dramatically to the $6,499 C2, and the top-tier C1 retails for $8,499.
The C3 model I tested is specced with a Fox Rhythm 36 Float fork and Fox Float DPX2 Performance Series EVOL rear shock. The wheels consist of Race Face ARC 30 27.5″ rims laced to Shimano SLX M7110 hubs, and those were mounted with Vittoria Martello 27.5 x 2.35″ trail tires. However, Jamis lists the Hardline as compatible with 27.5+ and 26+ wheel and tire combos. The drivetrain consists mostly of Shimano 12-speed SLX components, but the crankset and bottom bracket come from Race Face, along with the handlebar and Aeffect R dropper post. Braking duties are handled by Shimano SLX M7120 brakes, with 180mm rotors front and rear.
Claimed weight for the Hardline is 30.75lbs, but I found a real-life riding weight, including usable tires and a pair of XT pedals mounted up, to hit the scales at 33.25lbs. More on the tires below.
Putting the Hardline to the test
Over two months of testing, I’ve railed the Hardline on hundreds of miles of brutal singletrack. The Hardline and I have traveled to the High Rockies of Colorado and blasted down Durango’s most famous trails, from high alpine mountains to low elevation tech riding. From there, we stopped off in Park City, Utah for two weeks of pedaling and shuttling on world-class singletrack in IMBA’s first gold-level ride center.
After leaving the Rockies, we journeyed to Oregon and have been exploring as many trails as possible before the snow finally falls. From enduro shuttles in Ashland dropping over a vertical mile in elevation, to backcountry pedals in the shadow of Cascade volcanoes, flow trails and jump lines in the Coast Range, and the gnarly backcountry shuttles deep in the Cascades in the renowned destination of Oakridge, Oregon has proven itself to be a diverse testing ground. The Hardline has been tested and challenged on a diverse selection of terrain from across the country. Throughout this extensive testing, I’ve found a few places where the Hardline truly excels.
This slack, overbuilt enduro rig has been superbly designed for downhill shredding. Point this bike down the mountain, and it is ready to send! One of my favorite ways to ride the Hardline is fast and wide-open. When blasting down wide-open trails with long sightlines filled with boulder fields, the Hardline truly excels. The suspension is supple and forgiving, soaking up the obstacles and keeping the bike firmly planted. While Jamis claims that the 3VO suspension works perfectly in all situations, I found that I still had to make a decision on which I would optimize for: smoothing high-speed chatter, or soaking up big hits. Unless you have a truly top-tier shock like a Cane Creek Double Barrel, you generally have to make a bit of a compromise on this point, and the Hardline was no exception.
The bike’s slack geometry only gets more and more stable at speed, providing a confident, balanced demeanor even when the trail seemed to indicate that I should feel anything but relaxed. The 65.5° head tube angle combined with the well-tuned reach and wheelbase creates a very comfortable, centered feeling at speed. This natural, centered rider position shouldn’t be taken for granted — some bikes ride better with a forward weight bias, and a few ride a bit better with a rearward weight bias. Sometimes it can take a while to find where exactly you should position your weight on a new bike, but right out of the box the Hardline felt natural and intuitive.
My second favorite place to find myself astride the Hardline is in mid-air. More than any bike in recent memory, I found the Hardline extremely confidence-inspiring when getting the wheels off the ground. I’m by no means the best jumper, but I found myself throwing mini whips over moderately-sized tabletops, boosting off booters, and launching off drops that I generally tend to just ride around and leave for another day. On multiple occasions, I stumbled across a drop on a trail, rode by it, then looked back up the track and thought, “hmm, I bet I could air that out on this bike…” and then promptly sent it to the absolute best of my ability. The 3VO suspension brought me back down to the ground safely and in control every time, which only encouraged me to continue pushing my boundaries. The Hardline makes me feel like an absolute rockstar when getting airborne, and it forgives me even if my balance isn’t perfect.
When the descents got tight and twisty, the Hardline and I didn’t get on quite as well. While I have piloted it through steep old school switchbacks and spent weeks riding the tight, twisty tracks of Park City, the Hardline really prefers to go fast. I particularly felt like acceleration out of tight corners was lacking. This isn’t to say the bike performs horribly in these situations, but rather, that it’s best-suited for other terrain.
I attribute some of the slow acceleration to the 7° of engagement in Shimano’s SLX hub. Compare the SLX hub’s engagement to the 3.5 degrees of engagement in Spank’s Hex Drive hub, which hits a very reasonable price point, or the industry-leading 0.52 degrees of engagement found in Industry Nine’s Hydra hubs.
Overall, I found the wheelset to be a weak spot in the C3’s build kit. In addition to slow engagement at the rear hub, I destroyed the rear Race Face Arc 30 rim due to poor spoke tension from the factory, and seating tubeless tires (regardless of the brand) is borderline impossible with a floor pump.
Part of the poor acceleration out of the corners could be attributed to the pedaling characteristics of this bike. While I’ve tackled several-thousand-foot-climbs aboard the Hardline, I haven’t enjoyed pedaling this rig uphill. In large part, I attribute this to the 74° seat tube angle.
While I know that Jamis wasn’t trying to push the geometry envelope, a 74° seat tube angle is way too slack for 2020. When enduro bikes like the Privateer 161, also in for review on Singletracks, are being sold with 80° seat tube angles, 74 looks downright antiquated. As a personal note of comparison, the Niner RIP 9 that I spent the last two seasons riding sported a 75.2° seat tube angle, and I wished it was steeper. Losing over a degree when moving to the Jamis Hardline was quite frustrating.
I’m not alone in my opinions, either. In a recent op-ed published here on Singletracks, Features Editor Matt Miller argued that “weight is the last thing we should care about when it comes to mountain bikes,” and specifically highlighted seat tube angles as a more important consideration. In that article, he wrote, “weight is generally considered a negative attribute because it takes away from climbing capability, but I for one will probably never buy a trail bike with a seat tube angle slacker than 75°, because hanging off the back end of a bike and putting more weight and energy into the rear suspension is just an awful feeling.” I concur.
My analysis here is in stark contrast to the marketing materials published on Jamis’s website. Jamis claims that they provide “a comfortable, natural seat tube angle” which “promotes neutral weighting when a rider is seated and pedaling.” I disagree on this point.
Dubuc told me to try the Hardline with about 30-33% sag in the rear shock, and to try climbing with the suspension full-open to see how it performs. While the suspension is very active over obstacles and doesn’t bob much while pedaling, dropping 30% into the travel only slacks out the seat tube even more, effectively creating an even slacker ST angle while climbing. Consequently, I’ve taken to locking out the rear shock simply to keep the bike higher in its travel and the seat tube as steep as possible while climbing.
Weight and tires
While I don’t want to belabor this point, I will note that the stock trail tires specced on the Hardline are an abysmal choice. The block spacing on the tread was too tight, and the narrow 2.35″ tires squared off dramatically on the 30mm internal rims, causing me to almost run a hiker off the trail due to poor braking performance and lack of grip in loose soil. In addition, the sidewalls are paper-thin, which doesn’t bode well for this wrecking ball of a bike tester, or mesh with the Hardline’s aggressive characteristics.
So, I switched to a tried-and-true tire combination with much greater volume, better tread, and thicker sidewalls, which have worked perfectly. But as noted, total weight for this bike with real tires and a pair of pedals is 2.5 pounds heavier than the claimed stock build. That definitely impacts climbing performance as well… but tire quality cannot be sacrificed on a bike that descends this fast.
One final nit to pick on the stock build: as a shorter rider, I couldn’t use the stock seatpost on the size-medium frame. Due to the interrupted seat tube and a relatively long lower assembly on the Race Face post, the dropper wouldn’t go far enough into the frame for me to fit on it. So, I had to spend $200 on the shortest-insertion seat post on the market, and even in a 120mm drop package it barely fit.
I checked with Dubuc on this, and he said that they change the length of the seatpost based on the size of the bike. The stock seatpost lengths are:
- XS (aluminum frame only): 75mm
- Small: 100mm
- Medium: 125mm
- Large: 125mm
- XL: 150mm
You’ll note the only two bike sizes that share the same length post are medium and large. So if you just so happen to fall on the short end of the medium spectrum, that 125mm post may cause some problems for you. If purchasing the bike from a dealer, I’d recommend haggling for a different dropper post to save you an immediate $200 part swap.
Parsing out the various implications of the Jamis Hardline’s geometry, the product manager’s component choices, and the unique design and kinematics of the 3VO suspension is a tall order. Hopefully, I’ve successfully outlined above where I see the various aspects of the geometry, componentry, and suspension design affecting various parts of the Hardline’s performance.
Overall, I found the 3VO suspension to ride confidently and predictably, with no untoward surprises. Does it fully live up to the brand’s marketing hype? Of course not… but nothing ever does. The suspension is nowhere close to riding like a hardtail on the climbs. Also, while Jamis claims that the suspension’s performance isn’t dependent on sag, I actually found that tweaking the sag a few percentage points in different directions created very different ride characteristics, allowing me to optimize for the specific type of performance I was looking for.
Ultimately, 3VO isn’t the perfect mountain bike suspension design that the world has been waiting for with bated breath. It doesn’t radically outperform any of the key competitors at the top of the game today.
But can 3VO play competitively in the same arena? I say emphatically YES. Most of the quibbles I have with this bike are related more to geometry and a few component choices than they are to the design of the suspension linkage, so who knows what could happen if these challenges were addressed in future incarnations of the Hardline?
Final thoughts: Where would I use the Hardline most?
One of my all-time favorite ways to spend a day is to load up my hydration pack and pedal deep into the backcountry, climbing many thousands of vertical feet to access a technical, rowdy, backcountry descent. And unfortunately, I just can’t sign off on the Hardline for that application.
However, I would love to keep the Hardline in my stable of mountain bikes for a very specific application: downhill ripping. I’m a lover of shuttle runs, and living near Ashland has only helped feed this obsession. Twenty bucks for over a vertical mile of downhill shredding? Yes please! I’ve started making the 30-minute drive to ride the Ashland shuttle at least once a week.
For burly downhill runs filled with rock gardens, jumps, and high-speed shredding, the Hardline excels. I would hang on to this rig solely for shuttle days and the occasional lift-served bike park day. When the going gets fast and rough, or you have the urge to get sendy, turn to the Hardline!