Pros: Excellent climber, great handling, sealed cartridge bearings in all pivots
Cons: Tioga rims & Edco hubs untested. Chain rubs on swingarm in some gear combos.
Sure there are plenty of enginneers out there trying to tell you what bike is the best, which one is most effecient, fastest or whatever. But do we really care about that? What it comes down to is does the bike make you smile?
The good news about Schwinn's new Rocket 88 design is that it makes me smile when I am out on the trail. Simply put it rides like a champ. It also makes me smile when I think of the price, and how much more I am getting in the schwinn than almost any other bike on the market. So it is no doubt that I would suggest this bike to almost anyone, here's why.
When pretty much every magazine reviewing your bike starts their article off with "I really wanted to love this bike...but" youy know that you have alot of work to do in the off season. So while all the other companies were out picking out colors for their 2001 product, Schwinn was back at the drawing board trying to figure out where their idea went wrong. And they found it, the bottom bracket pivot to be exact, and made the necessary changes.
Well 12 months and a healthy helping of sealed cartridge bearings (one standard size for every pivot in the frame) later and the second generation of the Rocket 88 was born. Unlike its unyeilding predecessor, the 2001 Rocket's suspension actually moves more in the vertical direction than in the horizontal one. And after a few months on the test bike not a single pivot has loosened up.
When the rubber hits the dirt the Rocket rides like a champ. I found that on arcing medium speed stuff that the handling was spot on, comfortable, and stable. High speed descents on the otherhand seem to overwhelm the bike. On whippy high speed coners the bike had a tendency to understeer and drift a bit. To the frames credit the Michellin Tires were a bit sketchy which contributed to the understeer sensation I'm sure.
It was not on the descents that the bike impressed me, but on the climbs and flats. Not only was this bike a better climber locked out than both the i-drive race and the S-Works, but it climbed so well that I found the lockout somewhat useless. When pedaling the suspension was barely noticeable doing most of its work on the medium sized bumps that mess up your pedaling the most. Like Giant's NRS design, small bump perfomance is sacrificed for effecient power transfer. The bike can handle big bumps well, although it never quite feels suspended, which to me was a good thing.
For those of you who are interested in a bike for racing I think the Stage 1's setup is prime. The suspension works amazingly well, and with dual lockout, it sprints like a champ. While this bike shares the SID SL with other bikes out there I have found that it did not feel nearly as flexy on the schwinn.
The component highlights I found were definitely the Avid SD 5 brakes, which were stronger than the XTR brakes that I normally ride. Furthermore, seeing a pair of the feathery XT cranks stock on a bike made my heart sing, a move so suspiciously perfect I began to lookout for the second coming.
Of course while the bike did make me smile when riding, I found myself frowning when I had it back in the shop. If you ever want to see me get peeved just design a frame with bad cable routing or chainline, and steam will come out of my ears. In this case the Schwinn used a cable routing underneath the top tube. While the front triangle is too small for successful portaging, the cables were exposed to more goo than necessary. Next is a little thing that happens when you ride in the little chainring and the higher end of your cassette in back. The chain rubs on the bottom of the seatstay, it makes noise and is really annoying.
What made me frown even more were the wheels. The swiss made edco hubs are nice and light, and they also have a freewheel mechanism that is nice and unpredictable. Call me old fashioned but I like my freehub to be shimano or maybe Hugi, anything else I just don't trust. The fact that a $2400 bike came with tioga rims of mysterious origin is a bit irksome. They do have a machinede sidewall and welded seam, but still, at this price I would be willing to spend the extra $50 or $100 for a Mavic rim.
The final problem that I had with the wheels had nothing to do with the rims and hubs. Wherever they are putting these wheels together they need to seriously consideing adding some spoke tension to the wheels, which are coming really loose and flexy out of the box. For those of you not quite familiar with how wheel tension works, if you run a wheel really loose you will break spokes and bend rims, simple as that.
In the end I would still suggest the bike despite the wheels. Heck for the price you could buy a set of Crossmax for it and still come out in descent shape.