I wasn’t in the market. I already had five bikes. There was no more room in the garage. And then, one quiet Tuesday arvo, out of curiosity, I threw a leg over a Jamis Renegade Expat and went for a spin around the block. By the time I rolled back into the shop I was muttering “sweeeet” under my breath and thinking about which bike would have to make way for it.
The thing that jumped out immediately, in that first ride, was the handling. Sure, it didn’t leap forward like a race bike, but it was far snappier than the Surly Cross-Check that I owned at the time—the bike in my collection that compared most closely to the Renegade.
But what was more impressive—and continues to put a smile on my face—was the cornering. It was lively, poised, and far more accurate than the Cross-Check. When you pointed it, it responded promptly, tracked consistently, and you could lean in with confidence. The Cross-Check, by comparison, was like a bowl of noodles; when you point that thing into a corner, you don’t really know where you’ll end up. It’s an excellent bike in other ways, but as a pure riding experience, it was trounced by the Jamis.
The handling of the Renegade was so good it could even be compared—vaguely—to my vintage high-end racing bike, a Rossin Performance from the early-mid nineties. The Rossin is beautifully trashy, steel, and it’s a damn bullet. Going downhill on that thing is an experience to enliven the senses, and can cause one to ruminate upon one’s mortality. The faster you go, the more it rewards you, and when you get it right, cornering on it is like getting sucked into a vortex. One second you’re in the land of the living, the next you’re glimpsing truth and beauty. But to get there requires experience, confidence and a little—how shall I say it—life-endangering wildness.
I’m not saying that the Renegade has the heart-stopping handling of the Rossin, but it offers up a taste of this excitement in a much more approachable, safe and versatile package. In other words, you don’t have to be an intemperate speed-zealot to reap enjoyment by the barrow load, and afterwards you can go and do the shopping on it. It could do everything that I wanted it to from a practical perspective, but with some flourish! By the end of the month I had put some dough down, and had my Cross-Check on Gumtree.
So what exactly is the Jamis Renegade Expat? This kind of bike goes by a few names, depending on who you ask, but the most common ones are adventure bike or gravel bike—although neither moniker reflects just how versatile they are. They’re part of a relatively recent wave of bicycle design that takes technologies and innovations from the pro racing scene and applies them to bikes that are more appropriate for the general public, and more useful to people’s lives.
And I think it’s great. In the past, if you were shopping for a bike, you had a choice between a thoroughbred racing machine—something like my Rossin—that was very light, very fast, and very limited in its applications, or a starkly utilitarian bike like a Surly Disc Trucker (which has by-and-large replaced the venerable Surly Long Haul Trucker) that is amazingly sturdy, and would do all your real world jobs, but that is about exciting as a limp lettuce leaf. Enter the gravel bike.
Frame and fork
The heart of the Jamis Renegade Expat is a Reynolds 520 steel frame combined with Jamis’ own ECO (Enhanced Compliance Offset) carbon fork. Going for carbon at the front end cuts a fair bit of weight compared to steel, and makes the handling sharper, but limits how much weight you can load it with. Bidon or Salsa Anything Cages are fine (each fork leg has double eyelets), but if you wanted to run front panniers with this bike, you might consider replacing it with a steel fork. I did notice that the carbon fork was a lot harsher on rough surfaces than the raked steel Surly Cross-Check fork, but for the more accurate handling, it was a trade-off I was willing to make, and it didn’t take long to get used to this new normal.
As far as the frame goes, Reynolds 520 is solid, reasonably light, and doesn’t cost a lot. It’s the same tubeset that comes on some of the Jamis Coda series commuter bikes. We’ve sold squillions of them over the years and I can’t remember doing a single frame warranty, so we know it’s up to the task – some of those commuters get serioulsy loaded. If you did want the weight reduction, stiffness and refinement of a higher-end tubeset, you could look at the Jamis Renegade Exploit or Jamis Renegade Escapade, both of which utilise the superior Reynolds 631 tubing. Being a purveyor of fine steel, I was tempted by these offerings, but in the end I was satisfied that 520 was more than good enough for what I wanted to do, and of course at a friendlier price.
For the kind of usage I intended, when compared with the Exploit or the Escapade, the Renegade Expat also had a more appropriate parts spec. I envisioned long rides in remote locations, as well as everyday utilitarian duties, so I put more value on simplicity and reliability rather than super-slick shifting or extra-powerful braking. Of course I still wanted things to work well, but I was happy with slightly more mid-range parts that are easier to fix on the side of the road if necessary.
This mid-range approach is typified by the brakes. The Expat comes with the well-regarded TRP-Spyre cable-actuated disc brakes, compared to the hydraulic brakes on the Exploit or Escapade. Hydraulic brakes are amazing, and far more powerful, but cables are easy to get your head around mechanically, and require no specialised tools. Well maintained hydraulic brakes are usually quite reliable, but anything may occasionally need adjustment. At the end of the day I didn’t want to be mucking around getting brake fluid all over my hands somewhere out the back of Suggan Buggan.
Braking power is decent for a cable-actuated system, but occasionally I did find myself wishing for a little more. Happily, you can achieve this for not a lot of money by installing compressionless brake housing such as the Yokozuna Reaction system, something I plan to do when I next replace my bar tape. We’ve done this on a few bikes now, and the results are well worth it. The other thing I love about the TRP-Spyres is that you can use standard Shimano pads with them, one of the more ubiquitous in Australia, meaning you should be able to walk into most local bike shops and buy them on the spot.
Gear changes come courtesy of Shimano’s Tiagra 10-speed groupset, and is impressive given its mid-tier status. Sure, Tiagra doesn’t shift flaulessly under load like Ultegra might, but do you really need that on the supermarket run? For the most part the shifting was light, accurate, and more than good-enough to keep me happy. Also, 10-speed is a little more forgiving than 11-speed when it comes to tuning, again making it more approachable for your average home mechanic, as well as a little easier to troubleshoot on the road.
The rims are WTB i23’s, which are laced to Formula cup-and-cone hubs. It’s straighforward stuff, but they are sturdy enough to get the job done. I quickly became fond of the relatively wide rim width—23mm internal—which results in a wider profile for a given tyre compared to a narrower rim. A wider profile provides more grip, and allows you to run them at a lower pressure, which increases comfort. It works beautifully, and makes quite a difference to how a bike rides. If you wanted to upgrade something, though, the wheels could be a good place to start. A premium set would just add that bit of zest, and make a excellent bike…excellenter.
The other potential upgrade that jumps out for my intended use is the crankset. It’s a basic FSA affair—nice and simple—with the ubiquitous 50-tooth big ring and a 34-tooth small ring. But despite the ‘compact road’ ratio, when combined with the stock 11-32 cassette, I feel that that it’s geared too high for most long-distance, loaded riding. If you do a lot of unladen riding on sealed roads, or if you are a total beast (like our manager Stu, who actually did away with his lowest gears for his 50km+ daily commute) it will be just fine, but for bikepacking and touring purposes in particular, you will probably find yourself grinding in the smallest gear on a lot of hills, and wishing you had a couple more.
The first thing I did when I got the bike was swapped the cassette for an 11-34 (the maximum size compatible with the stock derailluer), and the 50-tooth chainring for a 46-tooth that I had lying around. The 46-tooth chainring I found to be a lot more useful, but I feel I could go down to a 44 with no problem, and I still pined for something smaller than a 34-tooth small ring on my longer, off-road ventures. Problem is, 34 is the smallest you’ll fit on the crank, so I’ll probably end up swapping the whole thing out for something else. If this is something you are interested in doing, you can always chat to one of our friendly staff and they can take you through the options.
So what is it good for?
I’ve talked about the Renegade Expat’s handling, but what of its oft-mentioned versatility? Can you have one bike to rule them all? Well, kind of. I’ve owned my Renegade for nearly a year now, and here’s what I’ve done on it so far.
When I commute on my Renegade Expat, it’s usually with panniers, and the whole Renegade series has the necessary mounts for racks and mudguards. With 28mm slick tyres, it’s a pleasingly fast rolling bike, however if you load up the panniers with heavy stuff, it does lose some stability. Due to its shortish chainstays, the weight tends to hang over the back wheel, which makes the front end ‘fall over’ a bit when cornering—not to the extent that it felt unsafe, but it was less stable than the Cross-Check, for example. But then again, the Renegade Expat is not a real hauler. If you want something that’s super-stable with heavy panniers on board, get a Surly Disc Trucker, or a Kona Sutra, or a Fuji Touring. These bikes are all fantastically sturdy, but they are lumbering beasts by comparison.
A trip to the market for me involves hitching an Andersen Shopper to my Renegade Expat. The Andersen Shopper is almost unbelievably dorky, and makes me feel about twenty years older than I actually am, but it’s one of the coolest bicycle products that I’ve ever used. It’s basically your grandma’s shopping trolley, but you can hitch it to the back of your bike, and it makes the weekly shop laughably easy. Ride, unhitch, fill with cucumbers and sourdough, hitch, ride, unhitch, wheel inside, unpack straight into fridge. The whole setup is magical, and the Renegade works perfectly as the engine of this grocery train.
The Goldfields Track is Victoria’s longest off-road bike trail. Some parts of it are very rough, and are best tackled on a dedicated mountain bike. The 60km section between Castlemaine and Bendigo is more forgiving, and in April I did it on my Renegade Expat, shod with 700X41mm Surly Knards. These are close to the maximum width you’ll fit in a Renegade, and it was enough to tackle some steep and stony firetrails, plus plenty of single track in between.
This is my favourite application for the Renegade, not only because I love travelling by bike, but because the Renegade Expat seems particularly well-suited to it. Why?
It’s really comfortable. The Renegade has a pretty long head tube, and the steerer tube pokes out a long way on top of that. This allows you to achieve a very relaxed riding position for all-day comfort, which is great for reducing fatigue on multi-day expeditions. I prefer a more aggressive position, which I’ve achieved by clamping the stem about half-way down the steerer. This gives a good balance, allowing me to lay down some power when I want to while still being comfortable enough for long days in the saddle. The ergonomics of the Shimano Tiagra shift/brake levers are excellent, providing a comfortable hand-hold on long rides, whilst the Ritchey handlebars offer a pleasing array of alternative positions. I feel like I can ride for days and days on my Renegade, and cover some distance while I’m at it.
It’s also got a lot of water bottle mounts. As well as the usual two inside the main triangle, the Renegade has one underneath the downtube, as well as two more on the fork legs. The advantage of this isn’t so much that you can carry five water bottles at a time (although you can do that), but that you can run a full frame bag (giving you more storage) and still carry three water bottles (enough for most trips) without messing around with hose clamps and electrical tape.
With a full bikepacking kit on board, the Renegade Expat still handles superbly, because the load is spread across the bike rather than hanging off the back like panniers. It continues to corner sharply, descend confidently and put a smile on my face. This, combined with the comfort, combined with a build kit that is well-tailored to this kind of riding makes the Renegade a real pleasure to take out into the countryside for a multi-day expedition, such as this four-day ride I did with a couple of work mates last year.
One bike to rule them all…swiss army knife on wheels…jack of all trades; these cliches are thrown around like confetti in the cycling world these days, but they wouldn’t exist without a kernel of truth. The Jamis Renegade Expat does lend itself to a great many applications. What’s more, it achieves this while providing a genuinely enjoyable ride. I’m all for bikes being utilitarian workhorses, but when you have to resign yourself to ponderous drudgery to achieve this, it’s a sad day for everyone. I want my utilitarian workhorse to tickle my rowdy side. The answer for me is the Jamis Renegade Expat.