Trek have spent a lot of time with their star slopestyle and dirt rider Cameron McCaul developing their Jack range of jump bikes - and it shows. We get airborne on the top-of-the-range Jack 3.
The frame uses a hardcore version of Trek's Alpha alloy tubing, complete with burly squared front end, reinforced head tube, massive cold-forged dropouts and a super-low top tube that's almost parallel with the thickset seatstays. The chainstays are also reinforced with replaceable stainless steel grind guards.
Trek have dropped the price of the Jack 3 by £150 this year, making the spec excellent value. The Manitou Stance Static fork has a short 80mm stroke that's ideal for taking the edge off hard landings and smoothing rough trails without compromising take-off push. There's no wallow or wander when pushing through berms either, so long as you crank the skewer up tight.
We're very confident of the strength and performance of Bontrager's Earl equipment. The stem, seatpost and crankset are the premium light but tough King Earl versions. The less weight-conscious but just as slam-proof Big Earl range covers the super wide riser bar, long, multiposition, reinforced-flank saddle and tidy lock-on style grips. Rolling stock is the well-proven Earl wheelset with 2.4in Earl rubber to match.
Shifting is handled by a durable Shimano LX/Deore gear mix, and although most jumpers won't touch the inner ring, it's useful if you're pedalling back up for another run. Hayes HFX 9 hydraulic discs provide solid, if slightly brutal, braking. Check the bottom bracket bolts regularly, though, because we've had several sets of Truvativ Howitzers (the BB used here) work loose randomly.
With the smallest 13in frame setting up a super-compact (22in top tube) ride position, this is a bike that begs to be manualled and mauled round the trails straight from the box. It'll lift or swap ends with an ease that even the most cack-handed beginners appreciated, while experienced riders were impressed with the overall weight balance. Most riders would chop the riser bar down pretty savagely, though.
As with any full sized bike, it's not quite as manoeuvrable as a 24in-wheeled rig, but the low overall weight and balance of the frame really boosts agility and general ease of riding. In other words, you'll still be busting out your best ones even after a couple of hours sessioning. The bigger wheels also mean it copes with less groomed trails, general freeriding or Shore work much better. The Earl treads have enough stick for street, but also a well-spaced block tread that'll hold speed well without spilling or sliding sideways unless it's really wet.
Initial reluctance among the ramp snobs rapidly turned to grudging respect then outright enthusiasm for the Jack 3, to the point where it became the most borrowed rig in our test centre.