Riders who are just starting out, or are on a tight budget, often start looking at bikes that cost $500 or less. While more experienced riders (and readers of this site) might scoff at anything that costs less than a grand, entry-level bikes offer an important path into the sport. So, I decided to test the $398 Schwinn Axum to get a feel for what buyers are getting for their money.
With a bike at this price point, there’s not a lot of room to distinguish the build in terms of the quality of the parts, but the overall spec can offer a point of differentiation. Schwinn does a nice job including parts that check the right boxes, at least on paper.
For starters, the Axum ships with a one-by, eight speed drivetrain. Buyers expecting the number of gears to be closer to 12 speeds will be disappointed, but the key here is the lack of a front derailleur which for many buyers, makes the bike both easier to operate and easier to maintain. The gold chain and lightweight-looking chainring adds a bling factor as well. The 11-40 gear range may leave beginner riders — especially those attempting to tackle steep terrain — wanting more, but again this seems like a solid choice for the bike’s intended buyer and usage.
Schwinn equips the Axum with 29er wheels and 2.6-inch-wide tires. The 35mm-wide rims are a nice match for the tire width, delivering good stability and rollover capability. It’s not quite a plus bike, and that might actually be a good call.
Up front there’s a suspension fork as most mountain bike buyer expect, and to be sure it’s as basic as you can get. The brakes are disc, though mechanical and not hydraulic.
One piece of the build kit higher-end buyers are not used to seeing is a kickstand. I took endless ribbing from my riding buddies when testing this bike, but honestly I enjoyed the convenience. Still, I won’t be slapping a kickstand on my own bike anytime soon, and buyers can take this one off if it bothers them.
All told, the build weighs 35+ pounds without pedals.
In order to keep costs low, Schwinn designed the Axum with just a single size in mind. That’s right, this mountain bike is “one size fits all.” Well, technically it fits all the people between 5’4″ and 6’2″ tall. Rounding up, I’m 6’3″ tall, so technically I’m outside this bike’s intended height range. Yet, I was able to raise the seat as high as I liked, and felt comfortable enough to bang out a couple 25-mile+ rides on the Axum.
A big part of fit is the cockpit setup, and here Schwinn chose a straight, 720mm-wide handlebar paired with a 60mm stem. While the bars are on the narrow side, the 60mm stem sits nicely between “too long” and “too short.”
The head tube angle is 67.8° which isn’t nearly as stuffy as some other bikes in this price range. The 435mm chainstay length is pretty average for a 29er, while the reach and wheelbase are comparatively short, especially for riders like myself who are on the tall end of the height chart.
A subtle gold sparkle finish on the otherwise black aluminum frame adds some detail. Many who saw me riding this bike remarked that it’s not bad-looking. I even spotted a routing port for an internal dropper post, though at this price clearly buyers will need to purchase one separately.
On the trail
It’s not fair to compare the $398 Schwinn Axum to a much more expensive bike, so I’ll try not to do that here. Instead, I’ll point out what I learned about the bike while riding it on my usual, local trails with my usual group of friends.
Right out of the box the Axum wasn’t shifting correctly, but I decided to ride it anyway. I don’t recommend doing this, but I mention this because many riders may do the same without even knowing something is wrong. After that first ride I had Chris from my local bike shop, Loose Nuts, check it out. He straightened the derailleur hanger just to be sure (these can get bent in shipping) and found the problem was a maxxed out B-screw. Unfortunately the screw is meant to push off a piece of the derailleur that was itself bent, meaning it couldn’t be fully fixed. The result was a derailleur that was never quite in the right position to keep the chain full tensioned.
The good news is the bike shifted much better after Chris worked on it, enough for me to ride without worrying about the shifting. However, the lack of chain tension caused the chain to drop — a lot. The strangest thing is I could ride down a set of stairs and the chain would stay glued. But as soon as I hit a smooth piece of tarmac the chain would fall off. This inexpensive drivetrain doesn’t feature a clutched derailleur, a narrow-wide chain ring, or a chain keeper, all of which could reduce chain drops.
One of the most surprising things I found is the Axum climbs great. Like, it climbs really, really well, in some cases better than my own hardtail. The no-name 29×2.6″ tires appear to have a fast-rolling tread pattern yet I found they hook up well even in greasy climbing conditions. The bike is heavy which keeps it planted, the head tube angle is fairly steep (another plus for climbing), and the narrow bars keep the front end from wandering.
The Axum handled technical conditions pretty well too. I cleaned everything on my local trails including techy sections others in the group had to walk. The one area where the Axum balks is on steep descents since there’s no quick and easy way to drop the seat height.
On smooth surfaces, the Axum is fast and stable, albeit at times too stable with a bit of an auto-steer feeling similar to a fat bike. Unfortunately the fork is no match for riding fast over bumpy terrain. The 100mm fork offers little more than shock absorption and is not tunable beyond the simple lockout. It’s good for taking the sting off some hits, and in my opinion better than a rigid fork, but that’s about it.
Not surprisingly, the mechanical disc brakes are also underpowered for fast riding. Like the fork, the brakes are probably adequate for riders just starting out, or casual mountain bikers.
As a physically-fit rider I found the gear range to be more than adequate, and I had no problem compensating for the heavy weight of the bike on longer rides. However, some riders may find the gear range too limited for climbing.
Does this bike offer a good value for the price? I think so, but not every rider is the same, and everyone has different goals and expectations when it comes to mountain biking.
Some might consider this bike with the intent of upgrading parts down the line — the fork in particular is ripe for improvement. However, at this price point there really aren’t any upgrade parts that wouldn’t be overkill, outside of maybe a $99 dropper post. [Update: A $499 version that includes a dropper post is now available.] If I owned this bike I would look to replace parts with similar quality pieces as they wear out, and look to move onto another bike once I found myself looking for better performance.
The Schwinn Axum is a budget bike with a smart build spec that many riders will enjoy. While some things about this bike will annoy riders, it should provides a fun experience overall.