The Schwinn High Sierra was a top-of-the-line mountain bike back in its day. Today, if you can find one, it makes for the perfect touring, commuter, or around town bike. This thing is overbuilt and can take a real beating. Since buying the High Sierra, I have converted it into a touring bike and put about 400 miles on it so I thought I’d write a little review even though the bike is over 30 years old.
- 4130 Chromoly steel frame
- Shimano Deore 18 speed drivetrain
- Shimano Biopace triple crankset
- ARAYA 36 hole 26-inch wheels
- Sunrace thumb shifters
- Suntour roller-cam brakes
The Schwinn High Sierra is a classic 80s mountain bike with a few unique features including some that are no longer in use on modern bikes. Here are my thoughts on a few:
This bike came equipped with an 18 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain with a Biopace crankset. The Deore stuff is solid, mid-level gear that works well and is very durable. I wasn’t sure about the Biopace feature at first but it has grown on me quite a bit. Biopace means that the chainrings are not completely round. They are slightly elliptical. This became popular during the mid-80s to mid-90s.
The idea with the elliptical gears was that there would be less resistance during the hardest part of each pedal stroke. This area is known as the ‘dead zone.’ It occurs where the crank arms are about vertical. Biopace is meant to allow your feet to accelerate through the power stroke when you are pushing down on the pedal. In theory, this makes it easier to pedal through the ‘dead zone.’ This is helpful when climbing. You don’t really feel it when cruising on flat surfaces.
Overall, it seems to work but it feels a bit funny at first. Now, I actually kind of like the feature although I’m sure it was discontinued for a reason. Shimano claimed that Biopace was easier on the knees than round chainrings. When the current crankset wears out, I will probably replace it with a modern round model.
For a bit more info on Biopace, check out my guide: Oval Vs Round Chainrings
Suntour Roller-Cam Brakes
The only thing I don’t like about this bike is the roller-cam brakes. They are a real hassle to adjust. It took me over an hour to get the rear brake properly set up after cleaning it and installing new pads. I believe a special tool exists to do this job but I don’t know if it would help much. Another problem is that roller-cams are no longer being manufactured so getting parts may be a challenge. They do use the same pads as cantilevers so finding replacements is not a problem.
The one good thing I can say about roller-cam brakes is that once properly adjusted, they work very well. They stop the bike better than cantilevers and stay adjusted. I have not had to touch them since installing the new pads. I believe U-brakes are compatible with the bike so that may be a future upgrade.
For more info, check out my guide to roller cam brakes.
Schwinn High Sierra Frame
The best part of the High Sierra, by far, is the 4130 Chromoly steel frame. It has a long geometry which makes the ride very stable and comfortable. The fork rake adds a nice natural suspension. These characteristics make for a perfect touring or commuting frame to customize to fit your needs. Braze-ons on the rear and fork allow for a rack to be installed.
Final Thoughts About the Schwinn High Sierra
I had been shopping around for an old steel 26-inch mountain bike to convert into a touring bike when this Schwinn High Sierra popped up on Craigslist nearby. I didn’t know anything about the High Sierra as I wasn’t even born when it came out. It fit all my criteria so I took a little drive to check it out. The bike looked like it had been sitting around unused for quite a while but was in excellent condition for its age. I bought it for $150. I am very happy with my purchase.
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- Planning My First Bicycle Tour
- 700c Vs. 26 Inch Bike Wheels: My Pros and Cons List