Friday, February 6, 2009

Swobo Sanchez Review

bought it from cambridge bicycle
most work done at boston bicycle
cost $600
general impression: good enough

i don't really know too much about bikes but i'll try to review this thing. i don't think reviews make too much sense until you've thrashed whatever you're reviewing; i've replaced most of this bike's parts by now, so i guess i can review it. this should be useful to people considering this bike or to people who are considering buying a complete/new fixed gear and don't have much experience with what to look out for.

i've liked this bike, it's held up pretty well. i ride it everywhere, all year round, generally with a large heavy backpack. two times when i've gone into bike shops the mechanics have told me i've ridden it pretty hard for only having had it X amount of time, when i've actually only had it (2/3)X amount of time. which generally makes me feel like a manimal.

the good things about this bike are that it's simple/reliable, is fixed gear ("exercise bike"), is lightweight, is just my size, and looks good. the bad things are that i didn't build it myself, that some parts broke pretty fast, and . . . that's about it.

i'll describe what i've had to do to the bike, in chronological order.

1. ripped shopping cart swobo logos off various parts of the bike. but a few are riveted or sewn in, so they've stayed.

2. bought toe cages. i have no idea why the bike doesn't come with them, but they are as essential as inner tubes. i got plastic ones first, with nylon/fabric straps, and those lasted a pretty long time - until one of the plastic pieces broke from lots of smashing it into the ground in cold temperatures while riding in skates. those cost $20 at REI, i think; i replaced them with $15 metal/leather cages from Boston Bicycle. the leather looks like it's starting to wear out, but the metal cages are way roomier for shoes. seems like nylon/fabric straps in metal cages would be ideal.

2a. got appropriate shoes. you can't stick fat shoes into the toe cages, and you want a shoe that will have enough durability in the toes to deal with constantly being used for grip to stop & accelerate. you also want shoes that are exactly your size, so your toe will be all the way down in the toe cage. xsjado footwraps are particularly good, since they have rubberized toes, a little cushioning, and you generally buy them exactly the size of your foot. or if you're nice, macbeth's wallister shoes are vegan & good for bikes.

3. lots of inner tubes. i probably would have needed more, but i put those Mr. Tuffy things in my tires and they help some. i think some tubes are better than others, but i forget which ones. i probably ought to buy them online, but i just use whichever bike shop is closest/openest at the moment.

4. a few tires. i don't know why the stock tires aren't built for much skidding, but i wore through my first tire as soon as i learned to skid. which is overrated - you stop a little better when you counter pedal, in my opinion. skidding is like cess sliding, it's more for fun than for effectively slowing down. the best two tires i've had were the $35 kevlar hard cases from international bike and the $45 red walled armadillos i got someplace in Andover. the guy there is pretty cool - he was telling me about his days of riding fixed gears at full speed down huntington ave in the middle of the night in the 70s. the armadillo has lasted really long, i'm still on it.

5. chopped the handlebars. the handlebars that came on the bike were pretty wide, almost cruiser-wide. a $4 hacksaw from home depot fixed that - they're now a little less than the width of my shoulders, which seems like a pretty good middle ground between maneuverability in traffic and comfort when alone. one cool thing about the swobo is that it uses some little end caps that screw off, so you can unscrew them, chop the bars, then put them back on & have everything still look normal.

6. bottom bracket & crank axle. these also really blew on the stock version of the bike. they broke after about a month, which was still well under warranty. maybe i just got a bad apple. i couldn't figure out one night why everything felt so loose in the pedals, then all of a sudden one of the crank arms fell off. i carefully avoided dying, then one-foot-pumped it home. cambridge bicycle was really good about fixing it fast, and they seem to have put a good axle in - i've had no problems since.

7. front axle. i broke it somehow after about a year and a half. i took a couple of really long rides, and hadn't had any of the recommended free tune-ups cambridge includes with the sale of a new bike, and i guess the axle wasn't seated right anymore. so it broke, but i didn't realize it until a tube popped and i couldn't get the wheel off. it took a while to get the right replacement axle in stock, but axles aren't too expensive, and i haven't had trouble since then.

8. bottom bracket. like i said, i ride pretty hard, and this thing broke again. they said there was a really quality kind i could replace it with, then somebody else said i was best off sticking with the original kind; i dunno what happened. i bet it'll break again. but they don't cost much.

9. the chain tensioner. the bike comes with little screws that help push the rear axle back. they work pretty well, i guess - i've never tried any other kind, but a tire re-adjustment seems to last longer than it would without them. but the screws are skinny & long, susceptible to being bent (which happened to one of mine), and have a really small, stripping-susceptible head (which has almost happened to the other). i guess i can probably find a replacement at any hardware store, if i get around to it.

10. entire drive train. i couldn't figure out why it felt like there was a whump in my rear wheel - every time i'd get going fast, it'd feel like the wheel wasn't round. so i figured it needed truing & went in for that. they pointed out that i'd broken a tooth in the rear sprocket and had worn out the teeth on both front & rear sprockets, and, mainly as a result, that the chain was nearly dead too. it cost about a hundred bucks to get a really good rear sprocket (a $35 shimano one), a new chain ring (lots of metal, looks crazy) and a beefier chain. the thing rides fast again. it's set at 48/16, and i like it that way.

11. wheel true (adjusting the spokes so the wheel's round & taut). it needed it a little after about two years. i think that's good in a city with this many potholes.

12. fender. i just recently got it, and carrying a laptop & electronics around all the time, i wish i'd had it earlier. i still get my feet & pants soaked, but hey. i wish they weren't so expensive though, and you should be careful not to kick them while getting on your bike - i kicked my flamingo fender & it split a little. remedy: packing tape.

13. seat. its shape is good, but i don't like the way it angles - if i put it high & normal, it'll ride up hard into my nuts. so i have it set as far forward as it'll go, so it'll be closer to flat. but this creates a little wiggle in the seat, which is annoying. if i really cared i guess i'd replace it. but this seat doesn't absorb rainwater & is generally the right size; i'll probably stick with it until it's unusable.

14. frame flecks. the frame is supposedly galvanized steel, bulletproof. (it's still really light - i carry it to the third story at least once a day.) however, lately parts of what seems to be paint have started flecking off, and i expect that's not good. i haven't paid it much attention though.

um, that's it. i like my swobo, i've had to replace a lot of things but probably far fewer than i would've had to if i'd made my own bike. still, i wish i'd made my own, both so it'd have more character and so i could've learned more about how bikes work. anyway, the swobo is simple, pretty, reliable, and geared to go really fast.


  1. cool review! I just ordered a Swobo Sanchez last night and can't wait to ride it!!

  2. For God's sake, clean that beautiful bike!

  3. Leave it dirty. I like how it actually looks ridden. Although you might get some gunk in the important parts of your bike :(

  4. Yeah, perfect review skills, brother. Came here from Google. Thinking about buying a newish Sanchez.

  5. Trying to get winter tires (studded) for my sanchez. Do you know what the max. size tire the bike takes?