Review: Schwinn Axum – best under $400 bike from Walmart?

Under $400 bike that is actually ready for real mountain biking

Pro Reviews

Is it good enough to recommend to friends and family who want to start mountain biking for under $500?

Description

“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.

Climbing, it’s pretty darn capable.

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
  • 1×8 drivetrain with 11-40 cassette
  • 29×2.6 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

100mm fork with lockout and disc brakes

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 1×8 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.

It’s a big bike, bigger than an Large size Specialized Epic.

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.

A 1×8 system is quite progressive and risky at the same time.

Strengths

* $398 is a new frontier for a trail-capable bike.
* aluminum frame is a treat at this price point
* 1×8 gearing is simple and appropriate
* 29×2.6 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

35.32 lb is the weight with pedals and kickstand as shipped.

Weaknesses

* 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

Box stock, we trusted it enough to give a good shakedown.

The ride

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 29×2.6 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.

Verdict

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.


About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.



Comments:

  • Mike says:

    “(…)and the chainring didn’t have a chain guide or a narrow/wide profile either.” – that last statement seems false.

  • Ron says:

    I mean… dropper? Who ever only wants to spend 500 bucks on a mtn bike won’t want to spend even 1/5 of that on a dropper. Ride the bike as is – even finding a 25mm stem or 40mm stem will cost a good percentage of the bike. Glad the rest of the bike seemed okay to get someone into the sport – but lets be realistic with the ‘upgrades’ for this line of budget.

    • Teddy says:

      They have released a blue model with a dropper post for $500 total. This review wasn’t all that great, especially going out of his way to mention he used a wireless dropper that costs 800 (we get it, its a seat post costing twice as much as the bike har har). But a dropper post is a great upgrade, whether you buy the blue model or buy a used/clearance post and route it yourself.

  • Shawn says:

    I think this is a great thing Schwinn is doing. Being able to pick up a somewhat modern, trail-worthy, and upgradable mountain bike from Walmart under $400 is a great way to get into the sport. They failed to mention that it has a tapered head tube also.

  • Derek says:

    I dont’t understand the comment about being realistic about upgrades for this bike. The frame has modern geometry, is boost 141 QR, tapered head tube, internal routing for a dropper and a replaceable derailleur hanger. Those specs are on par with some big brand trail bikes, like the Trek Roscoe to name one.

    Given the specs for the frame, you would not be throwing money away if you upgrade as you go. There are some low cost upgrades that can be done to this bike to make it really solid and you’d still come out better than bikes at the similar price point after upgrade costs.

    Shimano mt 200’s hydro brakes can be had for ~$60,
    If you wanted to go to a clutch derailleur, Box Components has the Box 4 rear D and shifter for $90, Suntour Epixon 120mm air fork for $170 on amazon. Total for upgrades and bike: $720 or so. I just spent more than that on my fork for a build I just did.

    I spent 750 on my Diamondback line as my first bike and the Axum has more future proofing to it. The question is, what is the long term durability of the frame? No one knows at this point. I have the dropper post version of the Axum on the way to see for myself soon enough.

  • Ozzie says:

    I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a little project bike like the Schwinn Axum. As a starter, entry-level mountain bike, this is a sweet deal.

    This is my train of thinking:
    If the rider becomes hooked and wants to climb the MTB brand ladder, the rider can sell and use the earnings to upgrade. They could also buy parts as they ride and wear out parts. The pay-as-you-go system offers so much more in the EXPERIENCE for the hobby itself. Researching parts, learning basic and intermediate bike mechanic skills, learning riding styles, one’s likes and dislikes…all this is amazing experience.

    If the rider doesn’t get hooked, they are only out $400 unless they sell and recoup some cash.

    There are many schools of thought, but one thing is for sure: Schwinn is starting to create a change in the market mentality that will make the hobby/sport more accessible to a larger audience. It will push the market to think and make much better entry-level bikes that are ACTUALLY worth their Bike Shop sticker price.

    More people on bikes, more smiles on the trails.

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