Jamis Sputnik Fixed Gear Road Bike Pro Review - By kwc
- 46x16 drivetrain with flip-flop fixed/single-speed hub, FSA Vero cranks
- Reynolds 631 size-specific tubing
- Ritchey Comp cockpit
- Sizes: 50, 53, 55, 57, 59 (tested), 62cm
- Weight: 18.9 lbs
- MSRP: $900
Of the various bikes I've ridden, none has attracted as many unsolicited, positive comments as the Jamis Sputnik. This may not seem unusual, but I've ridden $7000 carbon fiber masterpieces and the Sputnik is a $900 steel frame bike. It doesn't even have gears. How is it possible that this is the coolest bike I've ridden? Retro simplicity. Composite materials like carbon fiber may have spurred new innovations in the field of bicycle design, but the simple, matte-black Sputnik is a modern appeal to the past. I was riding the Sputnik around Sea Otter when a kid came up to me. "Is that a Sputnik? My dad has one. It's awesome!" That little encounter expressed the appeal of the Sputnik to me: retro enough for dad, cool enough for son.
The Sputnik is one of several bikes that Jamis is targeting at the urban commuter market. It is a "flip-flop" bike that offers a bit of versatility to this market, while still maintaining simplicity and durability. Flip-flopping may be bad in politics but its fun in a bike: the rear wheel has both a fixed-gear side and a single-speed side. Mount it one way and you have a fixed gear. Mount it the other and you have a single-speed. Jamis designed the bike for the road, so if you're looking for a track bike you may wish to start elsewhere.
Before I get into how it rides, lets take a little detour and talk about why you would even want to ride a fixed gear or a single speed.
Why a Fixed Gear? Why Single Speed?
One of the questions I frequently dealt with when talking to friends about the Sputnik was, "Why would I want to give up gears?" The answer to this question has little to do with comparing the Jamis Sputnik against other bikes with a single gear, but I feel that I should address this quickly as the question is so common. If you want a more detailed guide, there's always Sheldon Brown's article on fixed geared bicycles.
There are many categories of reasons that one may wish to give up gears. Among them are maintenance, money, style, and training. For maintenance, there's no derailleurs to adjust, less cables to worry about, no shifters to fix, and the frame is much easier to clean as there are less parts on it. Anytime I had an issue with the bike, it was easy to diagnose as there simply aren't enough moving parts on the bike to fiddle with. As for money, not only are you not paying for those extra parts, there's also a lot less you can steal off the bike!
By "style," I don't mean hipsters vs. roadies vs. mountain bikers.
Someone might choose a BMW over a Lexus because they think the BMW looks cooler. Or they might like the more comfortable handling of the Lexus. Or they might prefer German engineering. Style has many facets to it, as do flip-flop bicycles. Perhaps you like the simplicity of the frame and lack of cabling. Maybe you like not having to think about shifting when you come to a stop sign. Or you might like the control that a fixed gear bike gives you. Or maybe you just want to do those awesome bike tricks from the movie Quicksilver. Style is one of those things that is hard to define and is one of the reasons why there are so many bike brands to choose from.
I'm not sure training will be a big reason to choose the Jamis Sputnik, but it is another reason to go without gears from time to time. A fixed-gear bike forces you to work on the smoothness of your pedal stroke and work at higher cadences. One of my cycling coach friends advises his clients to train on the track for this very reason. A fixed-gear drivetrain is also more efficient as you're never cross-chaining.
Of these reasons, maintenance and style are most important to me. It rains a lot during the winter here, so I want a bike that I can get wet on a daily basis and not worry about. Any sludge that gets on the bike is easy to get off and the big, fat chain is easy to keep lubed. I also appreciate the mental simplicity of the bike. When I built my most recent road bike, I decided not to stick my Garmin bike computer on it because I had grown tired of the extra gizmos, cables, and batteries. A bike that looks clean and stays clean appeals to me.
These are all reasons why you might choose a fixed-gear or single-speed bike, but why the Sputnik? Jamis built some compromises into the design of the Sputnik to give you more flexibility than a pure fixie or pure single-speed. The flip-flop design lets you ride fixie when you want the benefits of fixed-gear riding, single-speed when you want the benefits of freewheeling (i.e. not having to constantly pedal and being able to go downhill safely). Jamis also put front and rear brakes on the bike. That makes it score less on the maintenance and money reasons, but it also means more safety and control.
All of the components on the Sputnik are black, which go well with the matte black paint job and silver graphics. I never thought the Jamis logo looked cool until I saw it as a badge on this bike. It's a
The Sputnik comes in 50, 53, 55, 57, 59, 62cm frame sizes, with Reynolds 631 steel in size-specific tubing diameters. The fork stands out as it is carbon. The only cabling on the bike is for front and rear Tektro R530 brakes with R200 levers. The crankset is a 46-tooth FSA Vero and the flip-flop hub uses 16-tooth for both the fixed single-speed gears. The wheels use Alex DA22 rims and the rest of the components are from the Ritchey Comp family (seat post, stem, and handlebars). The saddle is a Selle San Marco Ponza Lux, which I absolutely loved. Saddles are a personal choice, but I found it to have the right level of firmness, and it's all-black style also goes well with the frame.
Like most Jamis bikes, the Sputnik comes with a really tall steerer tube that gives you plenty of room to adjust. I appreciate this very much as my body geometry tends to need that extra bit of height to play with. Anyone that doesn't like it can chop it down.
Flipping the flip-flop from fixed-gear to single-speed requires two tools: a 15mm wrench and 2mm allen wrench. I haven't had a flat yet with the bike's Vittoria Zaffiro tires, but it's still best to carry both tools. When you mount a fixed-gear wheel, you need to align the wheel in the rear dropout and get the chain tension correct. The Sputnik has an integrated chain tensioner in the dropout: two little 2mm screws on each side of the rear dropout. Each screw pushes on one side of the axle.
Instead of having to tighten and loosen the axle nuts back and forth to get the wheel aligned with the right chain tension, you can just turn the screws back and forth. You'll need the 2mm allen wrench for this, though in a pinch your fingers will do. You then tighten the axle bolts when the wheels are in the right position. I asked a Jamis rep whether or not these screws were necessary and was told that you don't have to, but the rear dropouts are hard enough that the screws help keep the axle from slipping.
Setting up the bicycle is simplified by the lack of cable stops. Instead of having to measure, cut cables, and attach ferrules, the top tube has guides along the top that loosely hold the cable in place, with little plastic fasteners that clip on top. The plastic fasteners are not ideal. They pop off easily and can get lost, but a Jamis mechanic taught me a simple substitute: black zip ties. I can hardly spot the difference and the zip tie is actually much more secure. It makes me wonder why they didn't use zip ties in the first place.
The Sputnik is not designed for speed so it's only fitting that the flip-flop rear hub is not very fast. After a couple of months of use I notice that it doesn't feel very smooth when I spin it in my hands and I also had to retighten it. Luckily, the hub is as simple as the rest of the bike, so taking it apart is not a problem.
It's difficult to find things to complain about with the design, especially at a $900 price point. A small nitpick is with the cable routing along the top tube. With such a clean bicycle design, I wish the first thing I saw when I looked down wasn't a black cable running along the top tube. I also like to sit on the top tube and, in addition to comfort issues, it was easy to pop off the plastic cable fasteners doing this.
Other issues I might complain about are being fixed in the next model, which they are modifying to enhance its retro appeal. The plastic cable fasteners are being replaced with stainless steel. I also questioned whether or not a carbon fiber fork really fit with the purpose of the bike. It's hard to make a comfort, aerodynamic, or weight argument with a steel frame, single-speed/fixed-gear bike. The carbon fiber fork is pretty beefy, so I don't question it's durability, but in terms of supporting the retro image of the bike, it felt like an off note. The next edition of the Jamie Sputnik will go to a steel fork, which they claim will have similar ride quality.
I have a flat, 7 mile commute to work that is perfect terrain for the Sputnik to handle. There are short sections of pothole-y road to traverse, a shortcut across parking lots with speed bumps, and a debris-ridden bike path behind a school. These aren't much challenge for my normal, carbon-fiber road bike, but there's something about a plush steel-frame ride that lets you tackle them with more confidence and ease. Due to some knee issues that I've been having, I found myself riding the single-speed much more than the fixed-gear side.
This made me appreciate the Sputnik immediately: even though it had a fixed gear, my knee could take days off when it needed to. At first I thought the 46x16 tooth gearing was a little tall: there are some short sections through traffic lights where I have to frequently start and stop, which can get a little tiresome. But on the open road the gearing was perfect. If I take the scenic route home there is more rolling terrain. The 46x16 tooth gearing was just generous enough to let me get up the hill and just powerful enough that I wasn't spinning it out as I accelerated down the other side.
The Reynolds 631 tubing lives up to its billing for me. It has a similar strength-to-weight ratio as aluminum frames, but the ride quality is very smooth. In fact, I did something I probably shouldn't have: I rode the bike around some fire roads. Sure, riding skinny road tires on a gravel road is dangerous no matter what the frame, but with a steel frame you just not as worried about crashing it as you would be with carbon fiber, and you're not getting rattled as you would be with aluminum. I had similar confidence when riding the Sputnik in the rain. I won't ride my carbon fiber bike in the rain due to fear of crashing several years of financial savings, but a steel frame? No problem. It helps that the Sputnik has very comfortable handling that lets you take your hands off the bars, even on bumpy roads. The Sputnik also has rack and fender mounts so that you don't have to show up to work with a brown rain stripe up your back.
I had a harder time judging the benefit of the carbon-fiber fork. It's lighter, but I'm not sure that's worth much on a 19-lb bike. As for ride quality, it lets some high-frequency vibration through. I don't know how much better a steel fork would be, but we can answer that with the next edition of this bike.
The Jamis Sputnik is a simple, yet striking, bike that will meet the commuter needs of many. For those that are used to having gears, it's a good bike to get comfortable with and learn about fixed-gear bicycles without having to fully commit to one. For those that use fixed gears regularly, it lets you give your knees a break from time to time. For either, it's a beautiful retro bike that gets you from point A to B with confidence.