The Diamondback Haanjo EXP tickles me in ways no drop bar bike has ever done. That was before I spent more than 60 miles getting hammered on it at this year’s Grinduro gravel race. Olive drab paint and subtle graphics, knobby tires, wide-ass handlebars, a third water bottle cage and rack mounts? Yes. Please. Lycra wearing racers cringe all you want! This bike is for me! Before my first ride I was already dreaming about the back roads I could explore and the places a bike like this could take me.
I am not a roadie. My two-wheeled passion started with knobby tires and a desire to get out and explore new trails. When throwing a leg over a typical drop bar bike, I usually find myself limited by both the chassis and my confidence in the handling. My ideal road bike would not be for paved roads. No, it would be for any road, or as Diamondback categorizes its Haanjo family of bikes: alt-road. It’s a line of bikes that can take you from your daily commute all the way to epic adventures. The Haanjo doesn’t shy away from the steepest fire road grades or the sweetest singletrack. It is almost as if (and I mean this in the most endearing way possible) some granola-eating-jort-wearing product manager’s passion project slipped past the naysayers and hit an absolute home run.
The Haanjo line includes a few variants, and the EXP is the only model that gets the smaller 27.5 wheels and knobby 2.1 tires, though it’s just as happy running a 700×40 setup like the other Haanjo models.
The geometry puts the ride characteristics right in between a cyclocross bike and a full-blown touring bike with a taller headtube and slightly longer wheelbase than a cross bike. The biggest standout “tech feature” for the EXP lies in its 3×9 setup with bar-end shifters. The armchair elitist in me hated on the 9-speed triple right away, but looking back I will take my foot, stick it in my mouth and eat some humble pie. There is a reason for this gearing, and the only way to find out is to get into a situation where you NEED it. The ultra-lower gear range can take you anywhere, and the simple, reliable drivetrain parts like chain, cassette and chainrings are robust and easy to replace when they wear out.
Calling the ride qualities of 27.5×2.1 tires a game-changer has been done before. However, in this day and age it’s refreshing to see this tire size in a mass-produced, affordable and readily available complete bike. Swapping out the stock knobby Schwalbe Smart Sams to something like WTB’s smooth Horizon Road Plus tires could make the bike into a super-capable road commuter for longer miles and rolling hills.
Thoughtful details on the carbon frame such as rack and fender mounts, Di2 compatibility and three bottle mounts round out the ultra-versatile package. You’ll also find thru-axles front and rear, a full carbon fork, HED wheels and an 11-34 mountain bike cassette.
The only thing missing for my requirements was a dropper post. The PNW Rainier is one of a handful of 27.2 mm dropper posts that can fit bikes like this. With a Specialized Command Post dropper remote mounted to a Paul Components adaptor, this bike and I were ready for anything.
The Ride (and the Race)
I had just signed up for the second Grinduro race in Quincy, California, when the Haanjo EXP was launched. After struggling through the event the prior year on a cyclocross bike, the Haanjo seemed perfect for the variety of high Sierra backcountry terrain the race provides: more than 60 miles, close to 10,000 feet of climbing and four timed stages, the last of which is a 13 mile twisting single track section wrought with berms and loose decomposed granite.
On a long ride, race or multiday adventure, I’ve learned to seek out comfort and control above all other things. In my darkest moments this year I found myself just flat-out stoked with the performance of the EXP. The gearing, tires and overall feel of the bike felt like they were designed for the Grinduro and rides just like it—and in a way they were. Coming into the last 14 mile singletrack timed segment with tired arms, a sore ass and a cool buzz, both the bike and the rider were ready and willing. As I finished this final segment it dawned on me how truly versatile and capable the EXP is.
The proof is in the pudding when a drop bar bike can take a rider through miles of high elevation off-road climbing, harrowing ass-behind-the-saddle descents, and singletrack built by and for mountain bikes.
One of the biggest benefits I’ve found with drop-bar hydraulic brakes is the ability to modulate with one finger while on the hoods. The mechanical TRP brakes on this bike forced me into the drops for the majority of my braking, which I found to be less than ideal. The ONLY other gripe I have is that the front thru-axle is the new road standard of 12 mm. This eliminates the ability to run most models of mountain bike wheels already in my garage.
With the ability to run either 700x45c gravel tires or 27.5×2.1 mountain bike tires, the Haanjo is one of only a handful of mass- market bikes aimed at the dirt-touring crowd that’s been offered for the past few years. Diamondback has responded to this burgeoning market segment with wide bars, wide rubber and a spec sheet that has astonishingly thought of everything. If your rides are mostly dirt, and road bikes just never got you going, I dare you to take a peek at the Haanjo. It’s not a road bike, and I love it for that. I know there’s more of you out there.