From the February 1995 issue of Bicycling magazine:
Get That Checkbook Ready. Our Annual Dual-Suspension Shootout Has Found 4 (Almost) Bugless Bikes.
Do we really test our test bikes? That's a question some manufacturers have the gall to ask. Sometimes they'll relate how Such-And-Such Magazine returned a bike and--get this--the little nubbins weren't even worn off the tires.
Believe us, on this group of '95 dual-suspension machines, those nubbins are long gone. Vaporized. So is a good deal of paint, a crankarm (bent in a crash), a derailleur hanger, and sundry other parts--including considerable patches of our skin. That's what happens when you test bikes in Moab, Utah, the land of slickrock and the mythological Kokopelli man, which we can only assume means "dual-suspension tester" in some ancient tongue. Moab's terrain is so severe that it's hard to imagine life without dual suspension.
But we didn't stop there. We freighted the bikes to our Northern California office for rides in the redwood forests. This took us from dust to downpours, letting us evaluate just how much water could be ingested by the bikes' various linkages and shock absorbers.
This is the third consecutive year we've done a major dual-suspension review. This group--including the Schwinn Homegrown Suspension, Catamount MFS, GT LTS, and Pro-Flex 855--represents significant new designs available early this model year. (We'll review even more dualies in upcoming issues.) In the past, we concluded that bounce bikes represent "emerging technology." In other words, keep a firm leash on your checkbook until they get the bugs out.
Well, we're glad to announce that most bugs are gone, and those that remain are packing their little bags. Most of the group we tested offer significant comfort with minimal "biopacing" (pedal-induced suspension action), long the annoyance in most dual-suspension designs. This is primarily because of the advent of the unified rear triangle (URT), a feature used on the Catamount and Schwinn. With it, the bottom bracket and rear axle are "unified" through rigid frame members, eliminating the bothersome chain tightening and slackening that occurs with other pivot arrangements. We've gone on record to predict that this design will supplant all others, and we feel even more confident now that we've had significant saddle time on several unifieds.
The unified design, as well as the multiple-pivot frame found on the GT, comes close to satisfying the standards Bicycling has set for rear suspension: (1) it must be fully active and not "locked out" by pedal action (otherwise, why bother?); and (2) it must minimize pedal-induced suspension movement. The latter is anathema to anyone who covets a smooth, circular stroke like that experienced on a road bike.
Despite the advancements exhibited by our test group, dualies in general still suffer from myriad small problems, such as:
Excess complication. Pivots, air/oil shocks, and the like increase the chances of a long walk home. Thus, the cardinal rule of dual suspension: carry an all-in-one tool.
Limited calf clearance because of protruding cantilevers or swingarms.
Reduced rear brake force caused by convoluted cable routing.
Awkward (or nonexistent) water bottle placement.
Enough linkage and drivetrain noise to spook wildlife.
Limited saddle height adjustability caused by "interrupted seat tube" designs. (Long seatposts contact the shock or frame when lowered.) In fact, we had to carry cut-off posts to accommodate our range of testers.
We ranked the bikes based solely on suspension design--and not components--because spec varied widely. In this group, the Homegrown was our top-rated bike, followed closely by the Catamount. GT's rig ranked third, Pro-Flex fourth.
In the end, we again asked ourselves: If it were our dough, would we buy one of these bikes? Depends on the terrain and our reason for riding. Not one tester, for instance, said he would want to use one for a cross-country race. Despite tremendous advances in pedaling efficiency, the energy cost and weight penalty of dual suspension is still a concern. But for riding the harsh ledges and rock gardens of Moab, we wouldn't want anything else. What's more, if you love descending, technical climbing (where dual suspension aids traction), or want more comfort, then the best of these bikes is worth the investment.
1. Schwinn: Homegrown Suspension
A plush ride without the usual penalities.
There's a lot Schwinn's Homegrown dual-suspension bike won't do. Thank goodness.
It won't trash your pedal stroke with suspension-induced chain kickback. It won't impersonate a pogo stick when you jam out of the saddle. It won't double as an oil tanker anchor.
Until now, these were the prices you paid for dual suspension's benefits. But the latest generation of softtails comes close to zapping these bugs. And of the 4 machines in this review, the Homegrown comes nearest to being pest-free.
We tested the $2,600 Shimano Deore XT equipped model. (Schwinn's Homegrown full-suspension line also includes a Shimano LX version for $2,000 and a trick American Group bike for $3,200.) The Homegrown sports a unified rear triangle, Fox air/oil shock with adjustable rebound damping, and the "Sweet Spot" pivot, located above and forward of the bottom bracket. Schwinn licensed the Sweet Spot concept from California designer John Castellano (as have Ibis and Wilderness Trail Bikes).
URTsters claim the rigid, one-piece rear end all but eliminates suspension-activated bobbing in the drivetrain. After thrashing the Homegrown on Slickrock's moonscape and NorCal's mudscape, we agree. None of us could dig up any inchworming no matter how gnarly the terrain.
The downside is a slight loss of traction when you're climbing technical, ledge-infested trails and want the rear wheel to bite hard. In this case a bobbing bike, such as the Pro-Flex 855, can work better. But, in our view, the trade-off isn't worth it. We'll take the Schwinn's superior pedaling efficiency over any biopacing bike that's marginally better on steep stuff.
A more serious knock against unifieds is that when the shock compresses, the saddle drops. This means saddle height is constantly changing. On the trail this didn't bother us, although we're usually anal about seat height. Unlike on the road, it just isn't as critical off road, where we're all over the bike anyway.
So what's the payoff? It's obvious on the first bumpy section I ride. On a hardtail I'd be pedaling squares or not pedaling at all while the saddle slams into my butt and shock waves wash up my legs. My speed would be dropping and my fatigue increasing. But on the Schwinn, with its 3.75 inches of rear travel, I stay seated and maintain something close to a round pedal stroke on all but the worst sections. In short, I go faster and get less beat up. "Cushy" is how every tester described the ride.
But what about those times when you're climbing or sprinting out of the saddle and you don't want highly active suspension? Enter the Sweet Spot pivot. Its location is designed to make the suspension 4 times stiffer when standing than when seated. So when you jump out of the saddle, the Homegrown feels like a hardtail bike.
Although the Homegrown weighs a reasonable 25.8 pounds, we can't help thinking it could be lighter. The TIG-welded 6061 oversize aluminum frame weighs 5.8 pounds, and the rear triangle alone consists of 8 tubes. It looks needlessly heavy and complicated, especially compared to the other unified bike in our test, the elegant Catamount. Schwinn chose the design for improved heel clearance, top-tube cable routing, and so you don't need a special brake--all commendable goals--but the result is lots of extra metal. What's more, the Homegrown exhibits chain slap on fast, bumpy descents.
The Rock Shox Judy XC LT fork, with 2.5 inches of travel, lives up to its billing. It's equally adept at gobbling big ledges in Moab or snacking on roots and logs in NorCal's redwood forests.
Overall, we liked the Homegrown because it behaves like a hardtail when you need rigidity and like a suspension bike when you need cushioning. It's close to being a bike we'd buy to race cross-country. More than any machine in our test, the Homegrown shows how far dual-suspension bikes have come.
Distributed by: Schwinn, 1690 38th St., Boulder, CO 80301; consumer info: 708/231-5340 (IL)
Country of Origin: U.S.
Suggested Retail Price: $2,600
Sizes Available: 17, 19 (tested), and 21 in. (center to top of seat tube)
Weight: Frame, 5.8 lbs.; fork, 3.5 lbs.; complete bike, 25.8 lbs.
Frame: Easton aluminum main frame and rear end with Fox adjustable air/oil shock; Rock Shox Judy XC LT elastomer/oil-damped suspension fork
Wheelbase 41 in.; 104.1 cm
Seat tube 19in.; 48.3 cm (actual, center to top of seat tube)
Top tube 22.8in.; 57.8 cm (effective)
Head angle 73.5 degrees
Seat angle 74 degrees
Chainstays 16.8 in.; 42.5 cm
Bottom bracket height 12.4 in.; 31.4 cm
Fork rake 1.6 in.; 4.06 cm
Trail 2.18in.; 5.53 cm
Component Highlights: Shimano Deore XT group; GripShift SRT800 X-Ray shifters; Sampson sealed titanium bottom bracket; Dia-Compe PC-7 brake levers; Tioga Alchemy AheadSet; Tioga Clipman clipless pedals; Sun 32-hole CR17A rims; Wheelsmith XL-15 stainless-steel spokes with alloy nipples; Tioga Psycho K 26x1.95-in. tires; Selle San Marco Integra MSA saddle; Control Tech aluminum seatpost, aluminum stem, and aluminum bar-ends
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