Contrary to common belief, the crew at Mountain Bike Tales loves downhill bikes. In fact for many of our editors, downhill racing ranks among some of their most cherished disciplines to cover, watch, and just simply be around. So why then, you must wonder, don’t we do more downhill bike reviews? The answer is simply this; we lack the trails and manpower to do such a review justice. We love to goof off on fast descents and enjoy catching some decent air as much as the next rider, but to cover a genuine downhill race bike properly, we feel that it would have to be not just ridden, but raced by our crew. Then and only then would we feel qualified to speak intelligently on the bike in question.
That said, about the closest we get to that territory are do-it-all trail bikes that lean toward the aggressive side of the spectrum. Media guys would say that summarizes “all mountain”, while others might call them aggressive trail bikes, or even just full suspenders. Case in point: the Jamis Dakar XCT 3. Whatever label you want to slap on it, we just call it a whole lot of fun.
Our Dakar demo test bike came equipped as follows: Fox 32 Talas R (15QR) fork and a Fox Float R shock out back (5 inches of travel), Hayes Stroker Trail brakes front and rear. Shimano XT Rapidfire shifters could be found atop a Ritchey Mountain Pro Rizer bar, shifting duty was the culmination Shimano XT derailleurs and a SRAM Powerglide cassette and FSA cranks/ chainrings. Finally Mavic XM317 rims came wrapped in Kenda Nevegal rubber.
All told our medium sized test bike came in at 31 pounds with platform pedals and would cost $2,999 to pick up a build exactly like ours.
Sizing it up
The Jamis Dakar XCT 3 looks pretty rugged on the stand and climbing into the saddle at a standstill only further conveys this impression. The rider is positioned quite upright with the sensation of the bars coming back to greet him (rather than having to stretch to reach them). The distance to the pedals is fairly squat as well. The linkage is perhaps one of the most overbuilt we’ve ever seen with an aluminum bridge connecting the seat tube with the down tube just below the shock. Factor in a very relaxed headtube angle and you end up with a bike that screams downhill orientation. Of course, just a glance at the spec sheet offers up some confliction to this notion. 5-inches of travel is hardly “big hit” territory these days and the rest of the package seems better suited to trail duty than genuine descending. Ever confused as our testers found themselves, the only way to discover exactly what Jamis’ engineers had in mind with the Dakar XCT 3 was to take it out in the muddy trails outside of Buffalo, NY for a little abuse.
Powering away on the Dakar is actually quite a bit snappier than we expected. While not in any danger of giving the wispy XC-boys anything to worry about, the 31-pound machine gets up and goes with minimum bobbing, weaving, or wallowing. In fact, even the platform-less Fox Float R didn’t have us wishing for the old lever. Chalk it up to the solid-mount bridge sitting just below the shock, or perhaps the combination of unique angles and materials, either way the Dakar’s design mimics the feel of a platform valved shock without the added weight or complexity.
Shifting was always clean and precise for us, even after we managed to goo up the cogs pretty thoroughly. Braking too was certainly better than adequate in the slimy stuff we call early spring. Tire spec is pretty spot-on for the rider who balances between loose stone, muddy trails, and frequent water crossings. There was a slight sensation of rolling resistance on only the hardest of hardpack but we weren’t ones to complain after such honest performance in the slop.
Well just as we thought we had the Dakar all sorted out for our review, a most disturbing characteristic was discovered in common on all of our reviewer’s note cards. It turns out the Dakar is pretty darn finicky when it comes to carving tight singletrack, sharp switchbacks, and isn’t too keen on low-speed cornering of any kind. Almost like a mini-29er, the front end seems to make a habit of digging in and stopping when you apply serious leverage to the bars. We suspect the headtube is a bit too relaxed for its own good on the flats and when the going turns upward. Of course, with mountain bikes, almost every substandard trait in one area is most always a source of strength in another.
As such, the Dakar XCT 3’s lazy steering demeanor on level-ground turns into pure handling bliss once gravity’s taken hold. Descending is undoubtedly what the Jamis was built to do, as we were quite unable to upset the chassis on even the steepest chutes. Pick a line, any line will do, and expect the Dakar to stick to it like glue. We could almost suggest that the Dakar XCT could be pressed into full ought downhill duty if not for the fact that the 5-inch suspension package simply isn’t versatile enough to absorb everything the course could throw at it. Sure it soaks up random trail clutter with the best of them, but the type of rock gardens, drops and just plain nasty lines that make up a modern gravity-oriented racecourse begin to find the limitations of the Fox equipment. The chassis seems more than willing to give it a go but a few stiff jolts to the wrist can suggest otherwise.
It’s actually rather tough to put a specific tag on what Jamis has set out to accomplish with the Dakar XCT 3. Here is a chassis with slack-enough numbers and sufficient natural rigidity to dominate high-speed descents (if not true downhill courses), limited by 5-inches of trail-tuned suspension. Or if you prefer to look at it another way, here is a trail bike with a nice well-rounded component mix that is a hampered by being overly built, a bit too relaxed in the geometry department, and pretty lousy handling. In either scenario, it feels like just a few pieces to the puzzle are all that’s required to force the Dakar into choosing a side, taking a stand, knowing its role.
Were it ours to experiment with, the consensus is that we would throw away the trail stuff and replace it with heavier, beefed up components in effort to make it a genuine shuttle runner. It would be very interesting indeed to test the limits of this bike with a dual chain ring, nasty coil-over and maybe even a dual-crown fork. We suspect that the Dakar would be capable of pretty amazing things. Of course, it is just as likely that we’re way off the mark and that the XCT’s truest strength could be found on the trails with only some factory geometry tweaks. The only trouble is that it’s a lot easier to swap components than it is to change a frame’s dimensions!
As it stands, we would have to say that the Jamis Dakar XCT 3’s target would be a rider who enjoys his trails rough, choppy, fast and with minimal climbing. It’s possible to press the bike into park duty as well, assuming of course the rider sticks to runs that meet the above criteria. Once the ground levels out and tight corners enter the equation, the Dakar’s downhill charms begin to unravel.