As far as production hardtails are concerned, the Esker Japhy is one of the most excellent all-rounder options out there. Truthfully, I had very little to critique with the steel Japhy, and so I was elated when they reached out asking if I’d like to throw my leg over a new titanium Japhy. Read on below for my thoughts and a full gallery of details…
For those unfamiliar with the Japhy or Esker Cycles, and if you haven’t read my steel Japhy review, I’ll offer a quick rundown of the details found in this capable platform.
Esker describes the Japhy as:
“Japhy was born out of the desire to ride everything from the backyard to the backcountry. It is designed and built to satisfy your adventurous side and is equally at home on your favorite flow trail or an overnight epic. Japhy is the hardtail you reach for no matter what the ride ahead promises.”
Similar to its kin, the Hayduke, the Japhy was designed with bikepacking in mind. The Hayduke is built upon a steel chassis and a 140mm travel fork with 27.5″ wheels, whereas the Japhy is a 29er intended to be built with either a 120mm travel fork or a rigid fork a la ENVE, etc.
Both the Japhy and the Hayduke have received accolades from media like us and customers alike, so Esker knew it was worth investing some more PR&D time making a titanium version of the Japhy.
Japhy Ti: Going Through Changes
While I enjoyed the steel Japhy for our all-mountain terrain here in the Southern Rockies, I did have a few qualms with it. For starters, I have a hard time with modern stack measurements on production hardtails, which I feel are painfully low on size XL bikes almost entirely across the board. The Japhy in both sizes, large and x-large, are specced with a mere 110mm length of headtube, resulting in a stack height of 614mm for said sizes. That is very low, especially for a 120mm travel bike, especially when you consider the size small and large have 604mm of stack. This bike is saying, from a geometric point of view, that a 6’2″ tall rider only needs 1cm more stack than a 5’2″ rider.
Charging on the steel Japhy. I’ll be the first to admit I felt a little too far forward on this bike on steep trails…
I kind of feel like I’m beating a dead horse over here – in a lot of ways that shorter riders often feel – but it is damn hard to find a true-to-form size XL bike in today’s cycling industry. The solution, from my perspective was pretty simple: make an XXL frame with a 130mm head tube for taller riders and for those riders who aren’t super flexible.
Knowing my qualms with the stack height on the size XL, I have some good news! Esker is now offering up a size XXL with a 135mm headtube! I love it when brands listen to their reviewers and customers. They just didn’t have a size XXL for me to review in this period, so I’ll focus more on what did change between the steel XL Japhy and the titanium XL Japhy.
When I initially reached out to Esker about this issue, they replied with the following:
“The production version of the Ti Japhy will mimic the current Steel Japhy in geo, along with the addition of an XXL in Ti. The bike you tested was just one version before production, and we will be using size-specific head tubes (95, 100, 110, 120, and 135) moving forward. We have also gone away from the bolt-on cable guides for Ti Japhy. Instead, we will use the zip tie style mounts that we use elsewhere, one reason being to make Japhy more of a trail bike and differentiate that mix and match routing for the Hayduke, which is positioned with more versatility as an adventure bike. The Ti and Steel Hayduke will also see updates which will position it more in the adventure/bikepacking segment with some small changes. These changes on Japhy and Hayduke will carry over to the steel versions later in the year.”
Aside from the addition of a size XXL frame, the most notable change in the newest Japhy is the titanium tubing! Titanium has such a unique and relevant ride quality on a hardtail mountain bike, especially on a frame that can fit a 2.8″ 29er tire. The resonance on the trail is muted, as are brake bumps in corners, rooty chutes, and baby head rock-filled arroyos. If you were to offer me a carbon full suspension or a titanium hardtail to do a big hard ride or tour on, I’d gladly pick the latter any day.
Yet, not all titanium is the same. I’ve ridden some ti bikes that use super oversized tubing with big, thick gussets and have felt them to be dull in terms of ride quality. When you over-engineer titanium, you’ll lose the springy ride quality its best known for. The Japhy was the first Chinese-made titanium bike that rode like my Moots Womble. It flexed on corners while feeling light and nimble on steep climbs, like dancing uphill. The bike flexes with you but not in a bad way, rather, it feels like it’s following your lead.
This has a lot to do with the tubing profile of the downtube, which is neither too thick nor thin (cold-shaped 3/2.5 titanium), coming in at a 45mm diameter. For a 200lb rider like myself, this diameter created such a ripping ride quality. Any bigger and you can drastically alter the frame’s flex, and any smaller, it’ll flex in less-than-desirable ways, such as the tires kissing the chainstays.
What I love the most about titanium hardtails is how you can pump and flex through corners while the frame snaps back into place. It’s genuinely a unique ride quality and is worth the premium price point.
The Japhy Ti has a lot going on, even in this minimal presentation. It’s easy to look at the beautiful bead-blasted finish or the welds that look like a stack of dimes and overlook some of the more specialty details like the Portage Dropout and chainstay yoke. While the steel Japhy utilizes a crimped chainstay to gain the proper chainring and tire clearances, the Japhy Ti utilizes a machined chainstay yoke, which adds a nice touch to the frame itself, as well as a solid solution for cramming a 2.8″ 29er tire in with a boosted 1x driveline.
This is the one detail I wish my Moots Womble had as the yoke also adds a bit of stiffness to the bottom bracket area, avoiding tire rub, and also squeezes a few more millimeters of clearance in one fell swoop.
Titanium also offers several opportunities for finishing options. The Japhy Ti utilizes a rainbow-arrayed logo treatment, matching anodized titanium bolts and a beautiful bead-blasted finish.
It’s hard to say when the supply chain shortages will dissipate, and so I’m always stoked anytime I get the opportunity to review a new bike model these days. Knowing that a bumpy road lies ahead, Esker did their best to offer three build tiers for the Japhy Ti complete. The lowest tier, JT1 ($4400) uses a mix of components and Deore brakes, the JT2 ($5200) uses GX brakes, and the JT3 ($6000), XT. Each of these tiers uses various fork, wheel, crank, and dropper/cockpit specs. Yet, these days, the specs on each tier are subject to parts availability.
This particular Japhy Ti is Tim from Esker’s bike and, as pictured here with an XTR build kit, weighed in at 29lbs. You don’t buy a titanium bike for its weight. You buy one for the exquisite ride quality.
After writing such a thorough review of the Japhy Steel, I wasn’t sure what a full review of the Japhy Ti would look like, yet here we are! My take away from riding both bikes in the same terrain is that the titanium frame offers up a far superior ride quality when compared to the steel chassis offering. Yet, I must say, titanium is a premium material and the price point for a frame reflects that. If you already have a steel Japhy and are looking for an upgrade this year, a titanium Japhy frame will run you $2,300.00, which is almost the price of a full steel J1 complete ($3000) but, in my opinion, is worth it.
Yet, the biggest upgrade worth noting is a proper XXL size with a 135mm head tube and more stack for us bigger riders. If I had a size XL Japhy steel complete that felt a little small, I’d gladly upgrade to a properly-fitting frame made from titanium.