The Dakar XC genuinely looks like one of the sportier budget options with a frame, transmission and shock that are worth shouting about – for the money. The cockpit is more throwback than fast-forward though and the fork is a perfect example of why a decent suspension bike comes at a premium price.
Ride & handling: Potential strangled by cockpit and fork problems
The awful RST Gilo Pro fork and unlovely cockpit setup make for front end failings that are painfully obvious in the ride quality. The long stem, narrow bar, steep frame angles and tyres with very little directional grip give an easy to spin steering feel more like a sit-and-ride toddler toy than a bike designed for technical terrain. While they roll fast, the Geax Mezcal tyres are as lethal as homebrew tequila on anything but buff, dry trails, with any trace of dampness on roots or rocks turning them into rotary soap in terms of tangible traction.
Even with the lockout off, the fork spikes with wrist aching, control destroying violence over anything remotely rocky or rooty and drops are only to be attempted at the risk of palm bruising. The rebound and top-out is equally savage, meaning you have to deal not only with the impact, but the untamed recoil and then an oscillating period of echo that’s almost impossible to feel the trail through. The lockout leaves an extremely harsh metal-on-metal clack at the top too, so while it’s useful for wrestling up steep road or smooth trail climbs it’s certainly not a comfort option.
Splurges of sticky green grease started appearing all over the fork stanchions and seal tops from the first ride too, and fork performance got even worse the more we rode so long term hopes are low. This is a big shame as the back end is pretty sorted. It’s easy to set up for different riders and smooth as a lot of bikes up to double the price, tackling couple of foot drops, steps and root or rock sections with a usefully confident composure.
Frame: Decent basic frame layout
Jamis have used the same basic frame layout on the Dakar for as long as we can remember, although this year the proven architecture has been updated with asymmetric rear stays. The pivot bolts need regular checking – our sample needed retightening after the first ride on the Dakar in order to eliminate movement.
The zero stack headset looks modern and you get an air-sprung, rebound adjustable shock rather than a fixed damping coil shock. This saves weight and allows you to adjust pressure and return speed to suit rider weight and/or preference.
Equipment: Light, tunable rear air shock but a shocking front fork
Shimano’s Alivio gears deliver a slick-shifting 27 spread and unusually in budget bikes, it has replaceable chainrings to combat long-term wear. The metal Tektro brake levers give a reasonably communicative feel to the cable discs too. The Mezcal tyres are fast-rolling, too.
Unfortunately the front end of the bike is less lovely. The long stem and short high rise bar are very ‘old school cross-country’ and despite the fancy red anodised compression adjust lever, the front fork is – to be frank – an absolute stinker.