Is it good enough to recommend to friends and family who want to start mountain biking for under $500?
"How much do I need to spend for a mountain bike?" is a question we often hear from folks looking to get into the sport or get some exercise on bike trails. Our answer is often $600-$800 minimum and that is often met with disappointment. In the mountain bike enthusiast world, that figure is perfectly reasonable to get started. But to someone foreign to this alternate bike universe, anything over $500 is a difficult pill to swallow.
Related: Best bikes under $1,000
That's why when Schwinn offered us an "under $400 mountain bike" to review, we took the time to look at the specs and decided it was interesting enough to try. Is it worthy to take on the trail and progress with? Read on and find out.
Schwinn Axum Highlights
- Aluminum frame with 100mm suspension fork,
- Front and rear mechanical disc brakes
- Designed to 'fit' riders 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 2 inches tall
- 1x8 drivetrain with 11-40 cassette
- 29x2.6 tires
- 35mm alloy double-wall rims
- 60mm stem with 720mm bar
- Internal cable routing ready for dropper post
- More information: Schwinn Axum at Walmart.com
Is it enough bike?
The highlight of the bike is an aluminum frame that looks well built and seems to have the right geometry. Then the surprises come as we discover it has 1x8 gearing, which is decidedly modern with the lack of a front derailleur. 29er wheels with 2.6 tires and wheels with 35mm width is pretty compelling as well. Front and rear disc brakes and 100mm fork polish off the spec that sounds too good to be true for a sub-$400 bike.
As far as minor details are concerned. We were pretty surprised to discover that the frame had a seat tube hole ready for internal dropper post routing. The short 60mm stem seems progressive but the narrow 720mm bar is a bit dated. The presence of a kickstand is not ideal for a mountain bike but easy to remove and resolve. The Schrader valved wheels are not as easy to convert to de facto Presta standard for trail bikes.
The Fit - One size fits all?
One significant issue with this bike is it only comes in one size at the moment and it's big. Schwinn says it can fit riders as short as 5'4" but that's clearly a stretch. I'm 5'8" and used to long bikes but this bike was just way too long. I checked the geometry charts and discovered that its top tube and reach are about the length of an L to XL Specialized Epic. Undeterred, I pushed the saddle way forward and installed a 25mm stem and I was comfortable.
The easiest way to guage the size of the Axum is by top tube length. Its 645mm top tube is longer than a Large Specialized Epic's.
I had to install a dropper post, of course, to evaluate the bike properly and the easiest recourse for me was to install the wireless Reverb AXS that was present in another bike in the garage. Installation took only a couple minutes but this seatpost will normally set one back $800.
* $398 is a new frontier for a trail-capable bike.
* aluminum frame is a treat at this price point
* 1x8 gearing is simple and appropriate
* 29x2.6 tires are perfect for a hardtail
* disc brakes at this price are good
* lock-on grips make adjustment and upgrading easy
* Dropper post cable ready
* Includes kickstand that is very easy to remove
* brakes are not quite enough for enthusiastic riding
* chain drops since no derailleur clutch or retention system
* 35 lbs is pretty heavy for a hardtail
* the one size available is huge
* front shock is very heavy and hardly moves
* Schrader valve tubes is not common in mountain bikes and is more difficult to convert to tubeless
So we took the bike on the John Nicholas Trail in Saratoga CA, an interesting trail that descends 1500 feet, perfectly suited for the intermediate rider.
We climbed up the pavement and the bike rolled like a champ with its low-knob 29x2.6 tires that didn't have the stickiest rubber. The road pitched up to a 15% grade and we were quickly pegged on the lowest gear of the bike. We managed but are fairly sure a beginner would start walking on these pitches. Shifting was crisp and the bike stayed in gear, no problem the entire ride.
As we started descending, I had to take a lot of effort to bed the brakes in as there was little braking power for trail riding. The first few corners and dips happened and the bike rode fine! The frame felt good and lively as I was able to get trail feedback but it wasn't unnecessarily rough. Hit this nice huck to flat near the start of the trail and felt a hard 'clunk' as I bottomed the fork out. Did that jump a couple more times with a smoother landing and I didn't hit the limit of the fork travel. On one of the attempts though, the chain fell right off as this derailleur has no clutch for chain retention and the chainring didn't have a chain guide or a narrow/wide profile either.
29 x 2.6 low knob tires on wide rims provided a great balance between rolling resistance and cornering grip.
As the trail got interesting I started to pick up speed and confidence with the bike. The fork didn't do that much but this trail didn't need much suspension travel anyway. The chain rattled like crazy as there's no clutch or chain slap protection on the stays.
The big issue that arose was brakes. This bike was capable of good speeds and fun but brakes are barely enough to slow it down for spirited descending. I resorted to two-fingered braking, started braking earlier and had a good ole time all the way to the bottom.
Aluminum, internal dropper routing ready frame exhibits a higher purpose for this bike beyond its $398 entry-level price.
Would I recommend this bike? Most definitely yes. If someone only had $500, I'd say buy this bike and spend the rest on some accessories. If one gets hooked on riding, the bike is worth upgrading starting with brakes, dropper post, and pedals. Would I recommend this bike? Most definitely yes. If someone only had $500, I'd say buy this bike and spend the rest on some accessories. If one gets hooked on riding, the bike is worth upgrading starting with brakes, dropper post, and pedals.
The biggest concern is only one the big size and if you're 5'10" or taller, then it's good. But if you're shorter than that, special components can be used fit riders down to 5'7" in height.
It's an entry-level bike in the classic sense and this seems to set a new price floor for bikes that can be taken on a real mountain bike trail.