Thursday, November 5, 2009

SWOBO "SANCHEZ" - BICYCLE FRAMESET

Swobo Sanchez
Bicycle Frameset (frame, fork and headset)
Swobo, Inc. - www.swobo.com
8 out of 10

I've wanted a Swobo Sanchez ever since I first started riding fixed gear bicycles three years ago, and now I have finally one. Let me just say that this frame-set lives-up to the hype that I had managed to build-up around it t in my head. I can honestly say that I absolutely love this bike.

I had been aware of fixed gear bicycles (a bicycle with a single "fixed" gear that doesn't allow for "coasting") for quite a while before finally cobbling together my own conversion (a road bike converted into a fixed gear). I'd see these bike being ridden around by friends and bathing-adverse strangers every now-and-again, slightly intimidated by the potential for bodily harm (most fixed gear bicycle rider don't use brakes, but rather the torque from their legs to the chain to the cog in-order to stop), yet still intrigued by the sheer simpleness of these machines. Then one day my girlfriend's friend (and by extension, now my friend) Gina came over with her fixed gear bike, and that was that.
As my girlfriend and Gina chatted in the living room, I stood in the kitchen, just marveling at Gina's bike. "No derailer? No gears to 'ka-chunk' and eventually throw? Hmm...," I thought to myself. "Just that one gear. How 'bout that?" And damn if these simple bikes don't exude an clean, sexy aesthetic. I was doomed. I had to have one.

Sure, sure, in the 'roid rage that is hipster-hating (which is, in itself, ironically "hip" these days) , fixed gear bicycles rate about as high as the electro/clash music genre, white belts and the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Fixed gear bicycles are derided by chunkheads, "proper" bicyclists and even "former" fixed gear riders alike (talk about jumping "off" the bandwagon!), and seem to be as far from the subversive bike messenger culture that spawned this "trend" as Urban Outfitters (who just happen to have their own brand of fixed gear bicycles for sale) is from your house.

But even mountain bikes (a multi-billion dollar industry unto itself these days) were once considered a "trend" by spandex-clad "purists"; likewise, this fixed gear "fad" doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon, either. These days, it seems that almost every bicycle manufacturer has a fixed gear division with a quasi-bohemian, urban slant. Which leads us to Swobo.

In doing my research (wherein I just Googled "fixed gear bike"), I came across an interesting little company named Swobo out of San Francisco. A seemingly little, independent bicycle manufacturer, Swobo may or may not be an off-shoot of the Santa Cruz Bicycles mountain bike division, overseen by ex-professional skateboarding bad-ass Rob Roskopp, and headed-up by former Bianche design chief Sky Yeager.

After patiently waiting and saving-up my money for three years, I was finally able to purchase a Sanchez. It didn't hurt that Swobo had recently reduced the price of this frameset from $399.00 to $199.00, either (sorry, but as of this writing, it looks like the sale is over). This package came with the frame, a straight-blade fork, seat clamp, track-end adjustment screws and a Cane Creek headset. The Sanchez also comes with "complete" with various Swobo parts (wheelset, handlebars, saddle, etc.), but I like this stripped-down arrangement much more; augmenting this set-up with higher quality components of your choosing.

The first thing you notice about the Sanchez is the galvanized tig-welded steel tubing. Actually, the frame and fork are painted that galvanized steel color (from what I understand, early Sanchez frames were actually galvanized steel, but cost became a factor, so subsequent framesets were simply "galvanized-like" painted). The next thing you notice is the weight, as in "light as a feather." Built-up, the Sanchez can be easily lifted off the ground using only your index and middle fingers. The last thing that you will notice is people guffawing "dirty Sanchez" upon telling them the name of this bike.

I built my 60cm Sanchez up using a variety of cheap-ish parts. I purchased the saddle, seat post and handlebars directly from Swobo. The Velocity wheelset was purchased (surprisingly trued) from a dealer on eBay. The Thompson headset, MKS pedels, and Strong V grips were purchased at The Bicycle Business here in Sacramento (www.thebikebiz.com). And the used Shimano Octolink crankset, a new Ritchey bottom bracket and a set of Vittoria Zaffiro tires were purchased where this Sanchez was built-up: at Whitworth Cycles (www.whitworthcycles.com). All-in-all, building-up this bike cost me no more than $600.00.

The Sanchez has a very tight, track inspired geometry which lends itself very well to its tight handling. Even at 60cm, this bike feels bigger than it really is. It's hard to explain: you feel that you are mounted atop a taller steed than it is, yet the Sanchez handles almost as nimbly as BMX bicycle. And I don't know if I just want to believe this, but it seems as if the Sanchez actually absorbs bumps, train tracks and other abrasively hash road anomalies. As my daily commuter, the Sanchez performs flawlessly

So, how about some bad news, then? The Sanchez that I purchased was surprisingly free of flaws, save for two. The first was found on one of the drop-outs on the fork, which was, shall we say, "tighter" than the other. This could be a rare variance (Swobo's frames are manufactured in Taiwan), but annoying, nonetheless. Even after filing the drop-out out a bit, fitting my wheel's hub spindle in was a bit of a tight squeeze. Of course, were some wretched wheel thief to come a-calling on a day when I didn't secure both my frame and front wheel to a poll (I'm ashamed to say that it's been known to happen), they'll have a bit of a time getting this wheel free. Moving on...

Now, I'm not a fixed gear freestyler myself, but Swobo claims its two taller Sanchez framesets (60cm and 62cM only - sorry fans of smaller frame sizes) can do bar spins. I'm 6', 1" so I found the 60cm frame a perfect fit for me. However, one day while lofting my bike over my shoulder, I noticed the very top of my front tire rubbing against the downtube when the Zaffiro spun around 360 degrees (the tires measure 700x23c). Since I'm not a "tricker", this doesn't really matter to me. But a promise is a promise, Swobo. I'm just saying...

That being said, the Swobo Sanchez is a fantastic bicycle, and one that I highly recommend for anyone looking to upgrade from their conversion. Or for those attention-deprived among you looking for a bike that will get "looks." Or for anyone who desires fellow bicyclists to approach your bike, rub it with two fingers and say "Is this galvanized?" (Quick tip: let them believe that!)

For nearly the cost of a Bianche Pista, you can get a complete Sanchez that you can easily assemble in no more than 15 minutes, from box to ride (or so claims the Youtube video below.) For the full "fixie experience", give generously at you local bike shop and slap some higher-quality parts on-to your Swobo rig. Peel-off the oddly-placed top tube "Swobo - Sanchez" badge near the seat post (it's metal, but it's secured to the frame like a sticker), and away you go.

Ride through some mud, even! ("Dirty Sanchez." *snort!*)

1 comment:

  1. Great write up; SWOBO is an up and comer. I have a merino jersey from SWOBO and it's paying dividends in the cold. I bet if you upgrade your forks you'll have a champ on your hands.

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