In the early 1990s, a bike-racing, surfing and snowboarding Northern California named Tim Parr realized that two of his three passions offered lifestyle clothing that set trends outside their respective industries, and cycling wasn’t one of them. So he developed Swobo, a sort of counter-culture line of hip and trendy clothing that caught the attention of bike messengers and wanna-bes everywhere, setting off a trend even he didn’t imagine at the time.
Now Parr, older and wiser, has introduced a line of Swobo counter-culture urban bikes, designed by Sky Yaeger, responsible for all the cool Bianchi USA bikes from 1992 – 2006.
I got my hands on the Swobo Otis right after the Tour of California. Yaeger was watching Stage 2 in Sausalito (Swobo world HQ), so I saw the Otis well before the first pre-sold batch arrived in California. True to form, and consistent with the Swobo way, the Otis didn’t appear to be all that much from a distance, but upon closer inspection, there was plenty to notice.
Yaeger, a 30-year bike industry veteran, is a solid bike designer,
capable of deliciously simple concepts for less money than most. The Swobo Otis was birthed on Yaeger’s computer after riding the SRAM 3-speed coaster brake hub.
Just like the simple but practical Merino wool used by Parr in much of the Swobo clothing line, Yaeger incorporated several key elements into the Otis, including a street-tough, round and box-section 7005 butted aluminum tubeset, a 30mm riser bar with BMX-like handlebar end-caps, and some not-too-laid-back geometry for cruising slow or making hay through the city. The Avid mechanical front disc brake adds a nice touch to the clean custom alloy fork. Yaeger also wisely added water bottle bosses,
rear rack bosses, and the ability to add fenders, important features for any commuter bike. The stealthy matte-black finish fits in any stable, topped off by the unobtrusive top-tube and head-tube badges. There are no other Swobo markings on the Otis, just as customers have told Yaeger during her Bianchi days.
Sometimes certain bikes offer enough flexibility in the sizing and fit
(thanks to sloping top tubes) to allow multiple people an opportunity to ride the same bike. Such was the case with the 20-inch Swobo Otis I tested in March. Myself, my 5’8″ wife, and my 12-year-old son all put the Otis through the paces in downtown Mountain View.
The Silicon Valley is no stranger to bicycling, and nearly every street has marked and/or dedicated bicycle lanes, which we used heavily during a busy Friday evening. The Otis handled nicely for well-designed, affordable and balanced bicycle. The wheelbase was good for nearly every situation (curb hopping and wheelies especially), and the internal gearing was smooth and quiet, the way it should be. The integrated under-the-saddle bottle opener is a nice touch for those craving a fresh root beer or other beverage after a jaunt through town.
COLOR Matte Black
FRAME 7005 butted aluminum
DETAILS Horizontal dropouts w/integrated adjusters
FORK Swobo alloy w/CroMo steerer, 1 1/8″
HEADSET VP, 1 1/8″ threadless, Swobo laser-etch top cap
HANDLEBAR Swobo alloy, 30mm rise
GRIPS Swobo dual-density, 125mm
HB END CAPS Swobo machined aluminum, w/2.5mm set screw
STEM Swobo alloy, 2-bolt
BRAKES/LEVERS SRAM iMotion coaster rear, Avid BB5 mechanical disc front
CRANKSET Truvativ Isoflow, 38T w/CNC alloy guard
BB Truvativ, cartridge
CASSETTE SRAM, 19T
HUBS SRAM i-Motion 3 rear, Swobo front w/locking Q/R
RIMS Alex DP17, 36 hole
TIRES Kenda Kwest, 26 x 1.5″, puncture-resistant
SHIFTERS SRAM iMotion 3-speed twist shifter
SADDLE Swobo, w/custom bottle opener
SEATPOST Swobo alloy, 27.2mm
SEAT CLAMP Swobo alloy, 1-bolt, laser-etch logo
WEIGHT What it needs to weigh, according to Swobo
(approximately 32lbs on our scale)
No nonsense 36-holers, built with SRAM i-Motion 3 in the rear, and
Swobo’s nondescript front with locking Q/R in front. Typical of most
lower priced-point bikes, Alex DP17 rims are used for durability. The puncture-resistant Kenda Kwest 26×1.5-inch tires round out the rolling duties.
VERDICT: 4/5 stars
The Swobo Otis is certainly more of a mad scientist hybrid of adult-sized BMX and old-school paperboy bike than something our parents rode. But it’ll be hard for anyone to argue against the go-anywhere, do-anything sensibility of the Otis, especially those city-dwelling bike commuters. Add fenders and a rear rack, and voila!, instant two-wheeled splendor to and from the office.
SIZES: 16″, 18″, 20″ (tested), 22″. PRICE: $699US. Visit Swobo.