The subtle graphic on the seat tube of the Eclipse notes that this is the 25th anniversary edition of this model. Boo! Caught you by surprise, hey? Back at V1 the Eclipse was all steel, and that was how things rolled in the peloton. Nowadays a high performance steel-framed bike is a rare sight and few mainstream manufacturers have persisted with the material. Steel is seen by many as the domain of the custom builder, or the needlessly retro rider shod in a matching retro woollen jersey.
Jamis are one of a handful of mainstream brands that have stuck with steel frames, although these make up a minor portion of their range when compared with their carbon and alloy models. In fact, Jamis are well known as a bastion of modern steel bikes in this time of featherweight carbon super bikes. Rather than just being a token nod to the past, the Eclipse is the modern incarnation of a long running model and it needn’t be pigeonholed into being a ‘retro’ bike simply due to the material used in the frame. That said, Jamis first started to use Reynolds 853 tubing on the Eclipse back in 1997, so there is a healthy dose of heritage pulsing through the ferrous tubes of this machine.
Jamis combine an 853 front triangle with their own tapered steel stays, and a Jamis branded all-carbon fork with alloy drop-outs. The tubing is referred to as Size Specific Tubing (SST), which means that Jamis use different diameter and thickness tubes depending on the frame size. This gives each size its own particular ride quality which in theory should be best suited to the body metrics of a rider that would be anticipated to ride that size frame. The seat collar is welded onto the top of the seat tube in classic fashion, and Jamis have spec’d the beautifully minimal Ritchey lost wax drop-outs for the seat/chainstay junction. The headset and bottom bracket are both traditional external style fitments too. Overall, the Eclipse cuts a slender and classic profile. There is nothing oversized or obnoxiously modern to spoil the clean lines.
Devoted riders of steel frames will tell you that ‘steel is real’ and that it’s all about the ‘feel’. It’s so esoteric that unless you’ve ridden a steel bike you just won’t understand, but you’d seemingly be faced with a moment of pure enlightenment if you jumped aboard a steel machine. I’ve owned a few modern steel bikes myself, and I can attest that there is something about them that makes them very different to most carbon or alloy bikes. Steel can certainly be ‘real’. Real flexy, real heavy, real rusty. It may also be none of these. The base material need not define the bike, but undoubtedly it will have some degree of influence on how the bike performs depending upon how the designer chooses to use it.
In the case of the Eclipse the tube sizes are pretty middle-of-the-road. Not old-school pencil thin, but not as oversized as some of the tubes in say a Columbus Spirit tube set or a Pegoretti chainstay. For most conversations that centre around the ‘feel’ of steel, the overriding point will be how smoothly steel rides. Steel is ‘springy’ for want of a better term (anyone wanting to look up the scientific qualities of steel will find plenty of online forum info, so I won’t even try to explain here). Steel has the capacity to flex a little and the material can work to take the edge off bumps and dead roads. This can also be achieved with carbon and alloy, each in its own way, but there is something intrinsically pleasing in the way a nice steel frame glides over a chip and seal road and the Eclipse definitely has this.
As noted earlier, the Eclipse cuts a slender profile. The tubes seem incredibly skinny if you have just jumped off a typical 2013 carbon frame, and the fork is similarly anorexic. Despite these small dimensions, the Eclipse will never be light in the modern sense of the word, but that’s not really the point here. Stand up and pedal and the Eclipse seems light. Your senses definitely talk to one another, as the slender tubes and low profile/low spoke count wheels can’t help but look light, despite what the scales might say.
The slender profile of the Eclipse really defines the bike, both visually and also in terms of performance. It would be fair to spot the small proportions of the frame and fork and think ‘light’, but also ‘flex’, and in practice the latter is the correct deduction. Again, jumping off of your 2013 carbon machine and onto the Eclipse you’ll notice the flex, especially in the front of the bike. Push too hard into a decreasing radius bend and grab some brake to correct: you’ll know right away that tapered steerers and oversized carbon tubes have their place as the Eclipse politely excuses itself from the commotion, and takes its own path towards the outside of the road. If you’re used to a muscly bike then the Eclipse takes a few funky corners to get comfortable with!
Once you adjust your riding style to the Eclipse’s conditions there is little to complain about in terms of ride quality. Sprinters and serious racers can leave the Eclipse alone. It won’t be offended; Jamis specifically designed the carbon Xenith line for those riders. The Eclipse is a statement bike. It clearly says ‘I am not here to WIN, but I am here to RIDE.’ Ride can mean all kinds of things including riding fast, really fast even, but it needn’t be if you don’t want it to.
Over the review period I got to do all kinds of riding on the Jamis. It was a great bike to have in the garage for real-life use. Commuting, early morning group rides or extra miles, and long rides to feed the soul on a weekend. In all these situations the Jamis held its head high and it slotted easily into the spot of the default go-to bike. I’ll ride a review bike in place of my own, as if it was my own, but not all bikes like to do that. Some are too racy or style-specific for general duties and that’s a part of learning that bike. The Jamis is the antithesis of this: it’s a stylish and forgiving bike to commute on, it’s got enough pedigree to go toe-to-toe on the bunch ride, and it can go all day too. If I’d pinned a number onto my jersey during the review period I would have ridden my regular bike, but that’s about the only reason I could think of to leave the Jamis on its hook.
I’ve mentioned that the Eclipse doesn’t have the stiffest front end going around. I’m yet to ride a steel bike that doesn’t twist around when you give it a hard enough time, but it’s all relative to what you know. Most of us will never ride the epic climbs and descents of a Grand Tour stage at even close to the speed that riders did in the ’80s on their steel bikes, bikes that were not as stiff as the Eclipse. Some guy once said, “It’s Not About The Bike”. He was probably right! To flip the scenario, the twist and twang in the Eclipse lets it hug the road when stiffer bikes would clang and skitter. If you know the road well enough to plan your braking well before a big corner (or to stay off the brakes entirely) then you can rail the Eclipse around just about anything. The flex that is disconcerting under braking is hero-making when you’re in the drops and lent over, with your fingers away from the tempting hook at the bottom of the Ultegra lever.
The Eclipse rolls with a full Ultegra 6700 groupset (with the exception of a 105-level chain and cassette) and this is fitting. The Ice Grey colour is discreet and lets the performance of the group do the talking. The ability of the Ultegra is bankable every time, and Jamis have spec’d a compact crank which fits nicely with the non-race personality of the Eclipse. The compact crank gives a slightly lower range and you can tick along in the big ring most of the time and still have the nice bailout option of the 34-tooth ring. This is perfect for the kinds of long climbs or fatigued legs that you’re likely to encounter during a big day of riding out the back of nowhere – the Eclipse lives for those kinds of days.
The honchos at Jamis HQ have done the unthinkable for a $3,500 bike: there isn’t a single fibre of carbon anywhere on the Eclipse other than the fork! Steel might be old hat, but high quality steel is not cheap. A good portion of the sticker price of the Eclipse is in the frame, possibly more so than on an equivalent priced carbon bike. Jamis have gone with the tried and tested range of Ritchey alloy cockpit parts, and there is nothing to turn your nose up at. The bend of the bars is compact and comfy, and the post and stem are both lightweight and user friendly. Jamis could have issued a Ritchey saddle to match, but instead chose a San Marco Concor. The Concor is an ideal match to the Eclipse: it’s a long-running model that’s been updated over time, but retains is heritage too. The Concor has been a racer’s favourite for decades. The slender and curved profile is deceptively comfy for hours on end, and looks classic. My own bike might be stiffer than the Eclipse, but it now has a Concor saddle on it too.
The other large part of kit that hasn’t been mentioned is the wheels. We don’t see many Ritchey wheels in Australia and I’ve not seen the Eclipse’s WCS Zeta wheels before. The Zetas use a traditional box-shaped rim profile and J-bend spokes. Again, a fusion of traditional style with modern execution. The Zetas look minimal and I held concerns about their durability. The low spoke count and light rim didn’t seem like a good combination for long-term durability. During the review I managed to ride through a particularly nasty pothole, the type that scares the daylights out of you and leaves you wondering how you didn’t end up on the deck. My first instinct was that I’d be calling Jamis the next morning to apologise for trashing their wheels. I stopped right away to check. Both survived unscathed. They are still spinning smoothly and all seems to be good, thank goodness.
It’s worth noting that the fork on the Jamis has a 15-20mm taller axle to crown measurement than most road forks. The amount of space available for the front tyre is cavernous. A 25mm tyre fits so easily that I would think a 28mm wouldn’t be out of the question (although I didn’t have one to test my theory). A 25mm is no problem in the back of the frame either. The tall fork also throws up two other topics. Firstly, the Ultegra brake caliper has barely enough reach for the brake pads to reach the braking track of the rim. The pads have to be slammed to the lowest possible point to avoid rubbing the tire, and careful setup and ongoing maintenance will be crucial. Secondly, the tall fork adds to the stack height of the Eclipse. The head tube length is only 140mm on the 56cm frame but the extra fork length and external headset cups bring the overall stack height of the Eclipse into line with bikes with similar top tube lengths, and makes for a taller stack than on an equivalent sized Jamis Xenith carbon frame.
For the price of the Eclipse you can pick up an equivalent spec’d carbon bike too, in fact you could just about have your pick of the market! But would you? It all depends really. I like pizza, my favourite colour is green and I have a penchant for ’90s era New York hip-hop. What you like may (ok, very probably) be totally different and for that reason the Eclipse has its place in 2013. Arguing that a cassette Walkman is better than an iPod would be assigning a needlessly retro value to a dinosaur technology. However, I’d happily entertain that your 1970 Gaggia punches out a better Ristretto than the shiny new spaceship down at the café. That is an observation of taste, and the Eclipse tastes good.
The TIG welds on the Eclipse frame are neat, but not artistic. The frame finish is clean and crisp and there is nothing attached to the frame that brings it down. I especially loved the Ritchey drop-outs! Despite all cockpit parts being alloy, they’re high spec alloy. Good enough for the Pro Tour is good enough for me.
Performance is why high-quality steel bikes are still made. The ride qualities of a steel bike cannot be denied and the Eclipse is one smooth operator. As a total package the Eclipse melts away into the road, but you’ll quickly find its limits if you insist on aggressively man-handling it.
Most brands will offer more performance for the dollar than the Eclipse, if performance is measured in watts, grams and deflection. There are few off-the-shelf steel bikes around and compared with building your own from parts the Eclipse is an attractive plug-and-play solution.
Despite what the marketing tells us on a daily basis, the Eclipse would be more than enough bike for most Bicycling Australia readers (myself included). Sure, it may be heavier and flexier than some of its price point rivals, but it’s also supple and comfortable and the weight and flex are not such an issue unless you are in it to win it. It’s the perfect bike to let everyone know that you’re not vaguely interested in being a wannabe café pro, but you are deadly serious about loving every ride.
Frame: Reynolds 853 main tubes w/double tapered stays & Ritchey drop-outs
Fork: Jamis carbon 1 1/8 with alloy drop-outs
Headset: Ritchey Pro Logic Aheadset 1 1/8
Stem: Ritchey Pro 4 Axis
Bar: Ritchey WCS Curve alloy
Seat post: Ritchey WCS 1-bolt alloy
Saddle: Selle San Marco Concor cro-mo
Crank: Shimano Ultegra 6700 50/34
Bottom bracket: Shimano Hollowtech II
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 6700
Shift/brake levers: Shimano 6700
F/derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6700 clamp-on
R/derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6700
Cassette: Shimano 105 5701
Chain: Shimano 105 5701
Wheels: Ritchey WCS Zeta
Tires: Vittoria Rubino Slick 700 x 23