Schwinn is an old and iconic American original brand stretching back over 120 years. For anyone wanting to buy a new bicycle, the question has to be asked, do you get bang for your buck?
Schwinn is commonly regarded as an intermediate in quality, depending on who you ask. The cheapest ones sold in department stores are targeted mainly at consumers who need a basic commuter rather than a seasoned cyclist. It is a great bike for kids learning to ride for the first time.
For what you pay, a Schwinn bike is reliable enough to last some time, depending on how much abuse it endures and how well you look after it. But is it a good value for money, and could your money be better spent on something else? Let’s take a closer look.
Schwinn Bikes, A Little History
Schwinn Bicycle Company, established in 1895 in Chicago by two German immigrants, Ignaz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold, were pioneers. A mechanical engineer by profession, Schwinn had started working on prototypes while still in Germany and, shortly after arriving in the US in 1891, established Arnold, Schwinn, and Company.
Their fortuitous beginnings coincided with the most popular mode of transport at the time, bicycles, and they quickly found success. They were lucky to reside in Chicago, the center of manufacturing and industry at the time, pushing thousands of bikes daily to supply huge demand.
The introduction of the motorcar with 485 American automobile companies producing cars by the early 1900s led to a decline in bicycle demand, and sales dropped to 25% of previous numbers. In addition, competition from other entrants into the market meant that Schwinn was competing on all fronts.
The only way to stay relevant at the time was to absorb the competition. Schwinn bought out Excelsior and Henderson and diversified their interests to manufacture motorbikes. By 1928 they were the third largest motorcycle company in the US, beaten only by Harley Davidson and Indian.
Unfortunately, Schwinn’s dominance was short-lived. The stock market crash of 1929 impacted business to the extent that many companies had to close their doors. Schwinn was no exception, with Excelsior-Henderson having to file for bankruptcy.
Frank Schwinn, an heir to the Schwinn empire and the founder’s son, took control of operations and changed the company’s focus to producing lower-cost bicycles to appeal more broadly to the masses looking for cheaper options.
The 1940s and 1950s saw Schwinn’s fortunes change for the positive again. They took advantage of the new trend whereby department stores would sell their brand of bikes by keeping their name on the bikes sold, thereby creating wider brand recognition.
Settling in comfortably through their boom years, Schwinn became complacent and failed to keep up with changes in the industry. They did not initially produce BMX bikes, which became popular with kids, and by the 1970s found themselves out-competed by cheaper Japanese imports.
Their factory didn’t evolve either, and by this time, they didn’t have the capital to renovate and modernize their production facilities, causing their market share to drop drastically and forcing them to declare bankruptcy by 1992.
Questor Partner Funds, owners of GT Bicycles, bought Schwinn out by 1997 and turned their attention to producing mountain bikes. Although well received initially, they also went bust by 2001. Although keeping with the Schwinn brand name, the company is now owned by Pacific Cycle Company.
Schwinn Bikes And The 21st Century
Schwinn possesses a rich pedigree when it comes to innovation. They have learned from their mistakes and today produce a range of products, including electric scooters, home exercise bikes, and various cycling accessories. Despite their best efforts, Schwinn still struggles to compete in a very busy market.
Their bicycle range includes two main lines, the cheaper department store variety targeting the average consumer looking for an entry-level bike and the signature series, which includes urban and road bikes, cruisers and mountain bikes, kids’ bikes, and electric or hybrid bikes.
How Does Schwinn Compete Price Wise?
The bikes found in department stores are cheap and very basic, reflecting their quality and features. The signature series are better, yet not all that expensive compared to other brands in that price range.
Schwinn’s mountain bikes, a popular type of bicycle in today’s market, are priced at between $400 and $1300 in 2022. Cruisers are similarly priced, and Hybrids up to $2000 are at the top of this range.
Their road bikes are a little pricier, with the excellent Fastback Carbon bike going for up to $2300. There are, of course, many cheaper options.
Schwinn Bikes, Reliability And Durability
The jury is still out on whether Schwinn’s department store bikes are better or worse than other brands in this space. They are fairly well regarded but not particularly durable as bikes that may be cheaper.
The signature series, being more expensive, are generally better and more reliable. A Schwinn signature bike, however, would not be expected to perform particularly well on a very challenging course and may not be a bike of choice for a more competitive cyclist, and certainly not a professional.
Build Quality And Value For Money
One thing that can be said in Schwinn’s favor is that they have a wealth of experience in bike design. Compared to similarly priced bikes imported from China and other Asian countries, this American thoroughbred does strive for the best effort in terms of quality vs. price.
As with most bikes in this market sector, their designs come in three frame materials, aluminum, steel, and carbon fiber. The steel ones are usually found in bikes sold in department stores. Cheaper than aluminum and carbon fiber, steel is also durable. It is also heavier.
Aluminum is found in the upper price range. Lighter and strong enough to last some time, this is the most commonly found material in Schwinn bikes. Carbon is the strongest and lightest but comes with a substantially higher price tag.
Most consumers report Schwinn bikes as having lasted a reasonably long time. However, they tend not to hold their value as secondhand used bikes. This is unsurprising, though, as all but the most expensive bicycles aimed at professional cyclists fall into this category.
Bikes are like exercise treadmills, and many people with good intentions lose interest fairly quickly after purchasing them. You can quickly pick up a secondhand Schwinn in the used bike market at a good price.
Schwinn Bikes, Five Of The Best
Schwinn produces bikes for all tastes and preferences. Even within these bike classes, there are several options to suit every requirement and budget. Here are some top picks for each category of Schwinn bicycle.
A comfortable bike with wide balloon tires and seat, this bike requires the rider to cycle in an upright, relaxed position. Mechanically simple and easy to maintain, there are even variants with a single gear. This bike is best suited for casual cycling on flat terrain.
Best choice: Mikko 3 Step-Thru
Armed with a 3-speed twist shifter, this vintage-style bike is perfect for a casual ride in town or on the beach.
With wide knobby tires and shock absorbers, this rugged off-roader is durable and comfortable enough to manage potholes and gravel trails easily.
Best choice: High Timber ALX
Well priced in the intermediate range, this aluminum all-terrain beast features a 21-speed trigger shifter and mechanical disc brakes—a good allrounder.
Schwinn’s Hybrids are versatile in-between options for those wanting to experience the best of both worlds. With skinnier tires that allow for good traction off-road and speed on paved roads, these general-purpose performers can handle all terrains and conditions.
Best choice: Network 1 Step-Thru
With a step-thru frame for easy access, this aluminum hybrid framed bike is suitably well priced and a good choice for first-time bikers, daily commuters, and weekend outings.
The skinny tires and lightweight frame allow this bike to cruise at high speed for the avid cyclist with little time to waste. Options include drop-bar handlebars allowing for faster, aerodynamic rider position, or flat-bar handlebars, although designed for slower ride speed, are more comfortable for the rider.
Best choice: Fastback Carbon 105
The Fastback Carbon 105 is the priciest bike in Schwinn’s lineup, with good reason. The carbon fiber frame allows for super lightweight performance that is sure to appeal to the advanced expert cyclist. Comes with carbon steerer and fork with front and rear caliper brakes. This bike is worth every cent.
Electric bicycles are here to stay. The pedal assist motors are designed to provide external power when you need it most, giving you that extra distance when your own energy reserves are depleted.
No need to worry about distance and steep hills anymore. This bike can take you further, faster.
Best choice: Marshall Step-Thru Electric Bike
Built for everyday use, this machine has a maximum 35-mile range on a single charge. You can throttle up with pedal assist up to 20 MPH, ensuring you can visit your friends on the other side of town. You can increase your ride with an optional extended battery—a very attractive proposition.
There is something for everyone with many types and styles of Schwinn bikes. When choosing a bike, it is important to consider your height and size. Schwinn bikes are designed with the average consumer in mind and are a very good choice for the budget conscious. After all, over 120 years of history behind them is a testament to their sustainability in a tough market.