Clarity: the Jamis Renegade

Clarity: the Jamis Renegade

I was having a conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago and we were talking multi-surface road bikes, adventure bikes—okay dammit—gravel bikes. I made the offhand comment that there weren’t yet many production gravel bikes.

Him: What? There are plenty of production gravel bikes!

Me: Not from where I sit.

Him: What do you mean?

Me: If you can’t fit a 700C x 40mm tire on it, it’s not a real gravel bike yet.

I admit, that’s a pretty hard line. In fact, the answer is more complicated than that. Tire capacity is a big factor, but geometry is the other great decider. If a bike has 6.5cm or less BB drop, I consider that more of a cyclocross bike. I’ve encountered notable exceptions (the Pivot Vault doesn’t handle like a ‘cross bike), but for me to consider a bike a true all-road machine, I want to be able to fit a big tire on it so I don’t have to worry about center-punching a rock into the rim (and flatting) on a descent. Flatting due to running too-small tires is an ever-present fear of mine.

My solution: I don’t run tires smaller than 35mm ever, and I run a larger tire any time I’m able.

When I ran across the Jamis Renegade I was served up an instant reminder that sometimes the people who really get it don’t work for the biggest manufacturers. I’ve not met the product manager who oversees the Renegade, but I can tell you this cat gets it.

Suppose you’re going to buy a gravel bike. Unless you live someplace like Emporia, Kansas, where you can ride until the cows have returned home and left once again on roads that will never be paved, you’re probably going to spend some time doing things that aren’t, strictly speaking, gravel riding. You’ll probably pedal on some pavement. Maybe you’ll do some gravel events. Maybe you want to put some fenders on it and use it for your winter training bike. Or for commuting. Why not run it at some ‘cross races? It’s probably lighter and has more gears and better brakes than your old steel (or aluminum) rig. Heck, wouldn’t it be cool if you could finally do that bike packing trip with your friends you’ve been talking about? Maybe you get a second set of wheels set up with slick tires and it becomes your only road bike.

That, to me, is the real promise and possibility of a gravel bike. It’s not a do-everything bike. It is, however, a do a whole lot of stuff bike.

Jamis is one of those brands that doesn’t get the attention of bigger brands like Cannondale, let alone Giant. But they have been producing value-filled bikes for decades. In looking over their web site this spring I realized the Renegade is a bike that needed reviewing.

The Renegade hits five different price points. In addition to the top-of-the-line Renegade Elite ($3899), there is the Renegade Expert ($2699), Renegade Exploit ($2099) the Renegade Expat ($1199) and the Renegade Exile ($799). The Elite and Expert feature carbon fiber frames, while the Exploit and Expat are designed around steel frames and the Exile with aluminum. Every one of these bikes is well done for their price point.

Let’s start with the basics of the bike I reviewed: the Renegade Elite features a carbon fiber frame and fork, Ultra mechanical drivetrain with hydraulic discs, American Classic MTB Race wheels (12mm front, 12x142mm rear, 32-hole), a Ritchey cockpit, Clement tubeless MSO X’plor tires (36mm) and Fi’zi:k Aliante saddle. All for $3899. It’s a premium parts pick when what I usually see on a bike in this price range are no-name Taiwanese (or Chinese) parts, not parts I’m willing to buy aftermarket.

Another big difference between this bike and some other bikes in this price range is that it comes in six sizes. Five is pretty common. One fewer set of molds cuts tooling cost and reduces the amount of inventory you have to carry.

The sizing run is good, too.

48: 51.7cm top tube, 36.0cm reach
51: 53.2cm top tube, 36.9cm reach
54: 55.1cm top tube, 37.8cm reach
56: 56.9cm top tube, 38.7cm reach
58: 58.6cm top tube, 39.6cm reach
61: 60.1cm top tube, 40.5cm reach

I rode the 56, which comes with a 90mm stem. I swapped for a 100, but if I was riding mostly singletrack, I’d probably leave the shorter stem. Trail ranges from 6.5cm down to 5.8cm. I’d have expected a bit more bottom bracket drop than the 72mm on this bike, but out on the road the bike turned in without hesitation.

I rode everything from singletrack to fire roads to empty asphalt that wound into the mountains. While I expected it would perform ably on anything both wide and unpaved, but the bike surprised me just as much on singletrack as on paved descents. It was nimble through tight terrain as I wove between rocks too large to ride over.

Given my life, when I look at a drop-bar bike that can take big tires, I’m generally considering two different riding scenarios: pure road and mixed-surface. I’m not doing much in the way of touring or bike packing. If my boys were a bit older, I suspect that I’d be looking at doing more of that, or at least, I’d permit myself more room to dream about it. But that’s just my personal life. Were I a product manager, I’d want potential customers to be as unrestricted in their use of the bike as possible, and a well-made all-surface road bike is perfect for maximum adaptability.

The Renegade Elite (and Expert) comes with mounts for fenders so it can be your rain bike. It also comes with mounts for racks so that it can be a traditional, full-blown touring bike. But it also comes with double mounts so that you can mount bike packing racks or extra bottle cages; it’s up to you.

I fundamentally don’t believe one bike can do everything. However, a gravel bike is one place where you can look to give consumers a bike suitable to a number of different purposes without sacrifice. You can ride this thing on the road. You can ride it on dirt roads. You could race cyclocross with it. You could used it as rainy commuter. You could load it up with bags and ride it across the country. Or you could ride off into the wilderness with a sleeping roll. Hell, to get the full range out of this bike, I’d need to plan out my rides on a calendar weeks in advance.

What I love most about this bike isn’t its chameleon-like nature, but the fact that every time someone swings a leg over the saddle they’re rolling a lightweight, carbon fiber bike that handles well and cost less than $4k. That’s the part they can enjoy every day.

Final thought: More versatile than a pickup truck, and a good deal more fun.

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  1. Quentin

    I agree with the 40mm minimum. I’ve been riding 40mm tires on the dirt roads of west Texas for the last couple of years. Most of the time, skinnier tires would be fine, but conditions are highly variable. A lot of unpaved roads here are dirt without gravel, and their condition can vary from week to week or even day to day depending on when was the last rain or the last time heavy farm equipment was driven over a road. I periodically find myself in extended “sand traps” and I start thinking about getting one of those frames that will also take a 27.5×2.1 tire.

    I assume eventually there will be entry level road bikes (like Shimano Sora & Tiagra level) that come with disc brakes. Those kinds of bikes should probably come with 32mm tires and frame clearance for 40mm, and skinnier tires should become the domain of specialist bikes that cost more. That kind of versatility I think would be a great selling point to a first-time road bike buyer who is still trying to decide what kind of riding he/she wants to do.

    1. chris

      A good number of disc brake gravel bikes can take 650b tires with much larger tires. This Jamis Renegade, for example, has pics on their website with Horizon 650b 47mm tires.

  2. Hoshie99

    Perhaps this trend may perhaps die down, however, I am a fan of it.

    I agree that room for 40’s and a lower BB are some of the ingredients that will make the bike more capable offroad.

    My gravel bike is my Redline cross bike. I am fortunate to be able to squeeze a 38 in it even though it was positioned as a cross race bike and is over 5 years old. Extra clearance and a reasonable BB drop (70) makes me believe that a forward looking product manager understood US cross racing and what could create a more balanced geometry perhaps earlier than some others.


  3. MattC

    WOW! I must admit I haven’t been in the least interested in a ‘gravel’ bike (mostly cuz there’s really no place I’d need one around here…it’s either full-on MTB or skinny-tire road). But this bike actually makes me think it would be fun…I’ve always wanted to do some bikepacking, and that this bike is truly capable of both skinny-tire road and fat-tire dirt AND fully loaded bikepacking blows my mind! If they had an option for a ready-to-ride 2nd set of wheels (w/ road tires & disc rotors) along w/ it at time of purchase it would be perfect! I’m actually saving for a new road bike right now, and this one really peaks my interest!

  4. Steve Mulford

    I’ve been running GravelKing 40s on my 2017 carbon Salsa Waribrd ever since I bought it. No problem with clearance.

  5. VeloKitty

    Geometry-wise, it’s very close to Specialized Crux or a Cannondale Synapse (and a lot of cyclocross bikes), but it does offer more flexibility with support for large tires and more mounts.

    I find the looks mediocre. The SuperSized bottom bracket area and the headtube aren’t very elegant.

  6. Jeff Klun

    Thanks for reviewing the Renegade. I have been looking for a bike that can multi-task between gravel, modest touring, perhaps some longer brevets. The ability to mount racks, fenders, and/or a third water bottle as well as can take 40mm for gravel makes it attractive. I am curious how it handles vibration absorption compared to something like the Salsa Warbird, Specialized Diverge, or Lauf True Grit. Can anyone comment on that?

  7. DonB

    Trek is funny.. they have an aluminum crossrip3 that makes a good gravel bike, but isn’t really pushed as such, 105 components for about $2k. I think it takes up to 50mm tires, but I know for sure it takes 40mm as that’s what I’m using. It has fender and rack mounts also,.

  8. Ron

    Ugh, I finally have my road bike stable where I want it (and my cross and commuters) and now I find myself…dreaming of one bike to do it all! The horrors!

    I’m actually all set for now but maybe I foresee: a) one true road machine b) one cx race rig c) one gravel/touring/commuting bike. Oh, and a cheapo SS for bad weather commuting when I know I’m not gonna feel like washing it after the ride.

  9. WL

    thanks patrick, i found the 520 steel version on craigslist and am enjoying it. its serving me well as my gym-shopping-errand-
    long way home machine. thanks for the tip.

  10. Tim

    My renegade expat replaced several bikes. I got rid of road, commuter, and a my touring bike. It’s really that versatile. My wife has identical bike in 650 b size outfitted with panniers. Mine is currently being outfitted for bike packing. I love, love love this bike

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