This used “trail” bike slips into my list of bikes that I’d like to own. I think it fits the “bikes with odd stuff” category so I had no choice but to grab it fast as I could.
7. bikes with odd stuff – linkage fork, Manitou rear shock,
Raleigh Twenty, unique heritage, etc.
Not a linkage fork, but a wierd suspension setup and perhaps you could call it unique heritage as it is some sort of a descendent of a legendary Schwinn Homegrown. Not the Homegrown, but along the same line of development which begat the “Underground Developed” decal. I’m gathering from my Googling, that Schwinn kept up this so called Underground program through this 1998 model year, the Underground being real mountain bikes meant to be used rather than the Schwinns sold at Walmart, Target, etc. meant to be bright and colorful and sitting next to a Christmas tree. I know they did something similar to road bikes like the Schwinn Prelude that I owned and rode until the wheels fell off.
What attracted me to this particular model is the Sweet Spot™ suspension, a curiosity, and a throw back to a time in mountain biking history when people were still trying to figure things out. Today, now that we pretty much seem to have figured things out, pretty much all mountain bike look the same. Oh, and I didn’t have a red bike, that was also an attraction ;).
What was this Sweet Spot™ suspension? Well it wasn’t a Schwinn thing , they just used the Sweet Spot™ version of what was known as a unified rear triangle(URT). Lots of bikes used some version of the URT; I’ve ridden bothTrek and Rocky Mountain bikes, but I think that both had urethane bumpers for a shock so they didn’t really do much as a suspension. There is a good write up here at PinkBike which talks about The Short, Turbulent Life of URT Suspension.
As I recall from that time back in the 90’s, suspensions, especially rear suspensions, were bouncy, really bouncy, which when climbing, bouncy became a power robbing issue. The Sweet Spot’s claim was that by moving the pivot forward and up as well as locating the bottom bracket on the swing arm, bounce was reduced and climbing ability enhanced. I think I remember reading somewhere that you had full suspension while seated, but the geometry when standing made the suspension 4 times as stiff. It wasn’t a full lockout like a hard tail rear end, but it did and does feel stiffer as you transfer your weight from the seat to the pedals. I can attest to their whole line of thinking after having pumped up a few of Galbraith’s gravel roads both seated and standing. Pedaling easy while seated, lots of bounce; shift up a few gears, put more weight on the pedals and the bounce goes away. Works great on the first climb or two, but after that, when I am tired and just want to sit down to grind out the climb, well then enjoy the pogo stick effect. That’s the first negative; another will be along later, but here’s a positive first.
I found that climbing on single track is where this rear suspension really worked for me. Shifting my weight in and out of the saddle to negotiate rocks, roots and things alway seemed to have just enough rear suspension to roll over these obstacles, yet seamlessly feel like a hard tail when you need a little quick burst of power. And it was an unconscious thing, it just happened, and I felt like it was a mountain goat; guess that is the Sweet Spot™.
Ok, now the other negative; the stem is sooooo very long that you feel like you are tillering a sailboat. The stem is soooo very long that your body is stretched out like you are riding a too big road bike out on the drops. The stem is sooooo very long and the fork angle so steep (also flex toothpick stachions) that on almost any downhill obstacle has you feeling like you might do a front end flippero, hit a drop on a downhill and you really could be doing that flippero. I guess it’d be fine if you just took to the air for the downhill stuff, but that isn’t me… I ended up walking a few…you know that live to ride another day thing. It is weird though, I have other similar vintage bikes that have longish stems but they must have more front end rake because while they were longish stems, they never felt as dangerous as this S-30. How long is it really? My measuring tape says 5-1/2″ inches, which is 140mm, which is also 105mm longer than the last stem I purchased off Amazon. Wait a minute…140mm is 4 times longer than 35mm….that really is sooooo long.
And then I can hear the designers laughing; let’s make it so the rider’s weight is really pushed out over the bars, then let’s leave off a quick release seat height adjuster. 😉
Back to positiives. Cool shiny retro seat; who does that? Avid V-brake and levers are really good for the mostly non-disc bike era; perhaps better than their Shimano peers. The bike is almost completely stock and has held up well for it’s age given that the previous owner said that he had ridden it a lot; I’m guessing that they weren’t hard miles on the rear suspension since there was a rack attached back there that essentially locked out rear swing arm action. The only non-stock items seemed to be the tires and the right side shift lever. The tires were age cracked and now have been replaced by Schwalbe Black Jacks (cheap). I’ve got an Ebay order coming for a new right side shifter because I wanted them to be stock, as well as I wanted the shifter to not be an 8-speed shifter mated to a 7 speed cassette; we don’t need to be confused by empty clicks.
Am I going to keep it stock; yes. I so much want to replace the stem with something about 100mm shorter just to see how it rides and I may do that temporarily, but the plan is to keep this a time capsule.
6/6/21 Update of sorts – When I rode my maiden voyage on this S-30 I was more than shocked at how precarious and unsafe i felt riding downhill on some local trails, on a route that I ride often and find to be fun and mostly mundane. Had I forgotten what it was like to ride a 90’s mountain bike? Was the S-30 really a poor performer regardless of era? Had i just gotten used to newer geometry and riding position? To shed some light on what was going on I planned to ride my newer Stumpjumper along the same route and see how I felt; I was thinking about comparing to my 90’s Stumpjumper, however it was in a state of disassembly that I couldn’t just throw back together. As it turned out it the newer Stumpjumper had a flat when I pulled it down so my plan changed to a more ambitious ride; the “gravel” bike I’d made from the 90’s Scott Boulder. I chose it because underneath the drop bars there was a 90’s mountain bike, albeit a ridged bike.
What I found was that the S-30 will hold it’s place as a bike that is precarious and unsafe for me on the downhills. I say that because even with drop bars, I felt more stable and in control riding the fully rigid Scott over all downhill obstacles (roots, rocks, small drops) than I did negotiating the same terrain on the Schwinn. Body positioned with weight way out over the easily compressed front shocks doomed the Schwinn; riding the rigid Boulder with hands on the brake hoods allowed me to reposition my weight so I could confidently handle most anything the trails had for me.
More to follow on this as I run the same trail route on other bikes.
6/13/21 Update – Ran the same route on my newer full suspension Sturmpjumper (2007?) and as one would expect the even newer Rockshox Recon and Monarch shocks did the job well. Climbed great, descended confidently; I was the limiting factor, not the bike.
6/20/21 – Last update on this bike; Yes, I did do the short stem wide bar thing, at least temporarily. I got a cheap stem with a 35 mm length as opposed to the stock stem at 140mm. I also bolted on a set of Ritchey bars that were a few inches wider and had a little bit of rise, also gained a little real world width by ditching the funky climbing bars. Abracadabra it’s a new bike. Super quick steering for tight trails, better body weight positioning for the downhills and barely anything was given up for climbing weight position; I think there was 1 or 2 short steep sections that I had trouble keeping the front end from popping up. I actually like to ride it. I guess I might just archive the stock parts and leave the updates on for a few more rides.