Monday, November 7, 2011

2012 Schwinn Coffee review

Recently, I was looking for a simple 3-speed bike that I could use for these 3 things:
- daily work commute in regular clothes and shoes,
- relaxed riding on bike paths around the town,
- weekend family rides with some grocery bags or a child seat for Dr. J. attached to the rear rack.
After some research and a test ride, I decided to get a 2012 Schwinn Coffee. Here is my review.
2012 Schwinn Coffee (Click to see details. Warning: very large file! Source: Schwinn website)

First impression
The bike is pretty good looking. It is a modern bike but with some retro styling. After a test ride I knew it would be comfortable and it should serve quite well for my needs. At f
irst, I was also positively surprised how "light" that bike felt. Then I weighed it and it turned out to be 16.5kg, which is definitely not light, but acceptable. So maybe it was just me expecting the Coffee to be much heavier somehow. The price was attractive as I as able to get it for only $400. One more thing I immediately noticed was that both screws used to adjust brake cables were not secured properly and even worse, the head set was not tightened (You could easily feel that fork was loose)! Lousy bike store job of putting the bike together. Honestly, I don't care that much since I would double-check it myself anyway, but many people would just ride the bike, as received from the store and then wonder why is everything falling apart.

Frame and fork
It is a Chinese-built steel frame and a steel fork. The frame is definitely not the prettiest one around since it does not look like those old classic ones - no lugs. It has some ugly featur
es like the seat tube cluster with seatstays that are welded to both sides of the seat tube but are not tapered.

On the positive side, it has a pretty comfortable geometry: 69deg head tube angle for a better pot hole handling, long wheelbase for more relaxed riding (And no toe overlap at all). It features a "Schwinn" emblem on the head tube and decals on the top tube. That's nice.

It does not have brake pivots as it is designed to work with caliper brakes. It has several braze-ons, most important the ones for a rear rack and a fender. The bottom tube has a bunch of braze-ons for shifter cable so this means that the shifter cable runs around the bottom bracket and is fully enclosed in housing. This is good as it prevents water from getting into the housing and corroding the cable. It also has a welded-on kickstand mount.

The fork is made of steel with something that is supposed to pretend to be a lugged crown. Threaded tube. No brake pivots. Fender mounts included. Overall, not bad. For lighter use this frameset could work fine.

Aluminum rims (good), 36 spokes (good), unknown front hub (not so good), Shimano Nexus 3-speed rear hub (great), Kenda Kourier cream (!) tires 700x38C (nice). Unfortunately, tube valves are those crappy Schrader ones. Overall, not bad, I guess.

Shimano 3-speed hub is a nice change from all derailleur-powered drivetrains. Especially in a city bike. It turns out that 3 speeds is probably all I need, even on some hills that I have on the way to work. The only "problem" is that the difference between gears is much, much larger than in my 20-speed cyclocross bike, which means than going uphill I have to remember that I can't that easily fine-tune in the right gear. I have to push the bike uphill in the 2nd gear for a little longer before switching to the 1st one. It is something I have to adjust to. Changing gears is easy and of course they can be changed even when bike is not in motion. That is really nice.

The bike has 170mm long Schwinn aluminum cranks with a steel 38T chain ring. The rear Shimano sprocket has 19 teeth. This gives a really nice range of gears. I can ride pretty fast on a flat bike path and still handle those hills. A welcome addition is the chain guard with a "Coffee" logo. It is not fully enclosed guard but still protects my pants from getting messy. And it is made of sheet metal, i.e. is more stiff than those cheap plastic ones. Pretty good. Exactly what I wanted.

Brakes and shifters
The bike has Tektro dual-pivot caliper brakes. I found them to be fully adequate in most road situations. They feel good, are powerful and thanks to dual-pivot design they should be easy to adjust. Obviously, as most rim brakes, they lose some power when wet but even then I did not have any problems stopping my bike at all. They look like standard road calipers but wider. Levers are by Tektro as well, long, 4-finger type. The shifter is the Shimano Revo 3-speed. Overall, very good. No complains here. 

Handlebars, stem, seat post, saddle
Coffee comes with a Schwinn high-rise quill stem for threaded forks. Handlebars are 105mm rise bars, swept-back. The bike has a regular, old-type seat-post with a separate saddle clamp. Not sure if I like it but it is more compatible with some old saddles that require non-standard clamps (i.e. for rails that are not round). The saddle is a "Schwinn Classic Downtown with rivets" (That's what Schwinn claims on their website.). I can't find any rivets in mine. It is a sprung saddle, which helps a little but honestly I find it to be literally a PITA. I will be replacing it with Brooks really soon. 

Other components
Grips are by Schwinn. Color-matched with tires. I think they are good enough. I may change them to something else but I don't feel like paying $100 for some fancy Brooks leather grips. The bike comes with some some cheap plastic pedals with reflectors. They do the job so far. Maybe some metal ones would be better but I am going to leave these until they fall apart.
There are also fenders, made of metal. The rear one is a bit shorter than many city bike fenders. I read many comments that cheap bikes come with terrible fenders that are wobbly, soft, bend easily, etc. The Schwinn ones are pretty good, I think. They seem to be quite rigid as I can't really bend them by hand. They stay firm on bike and don't wobble. We will see in the long run.
The rear rack is really a great looking, chrome-coated piece of steel. It looks lightweight, has a mousetrap-like spring clamp on top and some short, vertical rods positioned down (These will help securing bungee cords). It has a red safety reflector installed in the back (I will put some rear light there in the future). It is a nice rack for my daily commuting since I can put my panniers on it and since I never really stuff them anyway (Just some keys, wallet, phone, lunch, some papers), a lightweight rack would be totally sufficient. For family rides with Dr.J. in the back (In a Co-Pilot seat), this rack would be too weak. This is not an issue for me as I can put on this bike the heavy duty rack from Elka's bike. 

The good:
+ nice geometry, relaxed position,
+ 3-speed hub,
+ decent brakes,
+ good looking,
+ kickstand,
+ metal chain guard.

The bad:
- uncomfortable saddle,
- some frame features could be finished better,
- Schrader tube valves.

The ugly (The verdict)
Overall, I am very happy with this bike. It should serve me well for what I intend to use it. As a light commuter in a pretty good weather, it should work very well (And you can read here that this is what my commute is like). Can it replace a proper heavy-duty commuter/transportation bike? Definitely, NOT! Here is why:
- poor saddle,
- too weak rack,
- no mounts for the front rack,
- no full chain guard (chain will get messy in mud and rain),
- fenders with no splash guards,
- rim brakes (worse in mud and rain),
- welded-on kickstand (What if it breaks off?),
- no lights.
As you can see, not a chance. If you want a serious commuter bike, you bike-commute EVERY day, you bike for a case of beer every weekend, you smile in rain and you just LOVE New England snow blizzards, then get a proper heavy-duty commuter bike (Dutch-style like this Pashley or Opafiets). Keep in mind that those will cost you an arm and a leg, since they are roughly 3-4 times more expensive than this Schwinn (~$1500+). Truth is, you wouldn't have to replace anything in those, and they should survive ever the worst beating. You get what you pay for.

I will be upgrading my Coffee with a rear light (to feel safer on the road with cars), and with a good leather saddle (to save my butt). I am not counting the stronger rack (for the child seat) and panniers since I have them already. Still, this will cost me total of around $550. Not bad for a simple utility bike.

Update: Read also my impressions after several upgrades and 17 months of use.


  1. Great review. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I think Schwinn has taken the right approach here. The only thing I would change would be: rear coaster brake instead of caliper, super-strong mountain bike-styel front brake, add attachment points for a front rack, include a full chain case, and have the front fender come lower to protect pants from road dirt better. Then, it doesn't cost too much more, and it can be made has hardcore as we want. I just ordered mine, to replace my stolen Gary Fisher Simple City. Mine too, is a second bike to my Specialized TriCross cyclocross bike. I love the TriCross, but my wrists hurt after a while, and it is hard to go slow enough for my wife to keep up on it.

    After having it for a while, which Brooks saddle do you think you'll fit to it? I have a B67 on my TriCross; but I'm not sure how much more upright the riding position is on this bike for comparison. Do I need one of the full-cush models, or can I switch the one over from the TriCross?

  2. Thanks. I find both brakes perfectly acceptable on this bike. They are powerful enough. Yes, fenders could be a bit longer.

    I put B67 on my Schwinn. It works great and is super comfortable. B72 could be a god choice too.

    In general, you have to be aware what kind of bike it is. Yes, it is cheaply made. It is pretty low-quality, light-duty vehicle. For the kind of riding I am using it, it is really good. But most important, Coffee is really comfortable and easy to ride. I can easily ride it hands-free (which I normally don't do).

  3. Hi! I just bought mine a Coffee 2011 model not much of a difference except the tires. I bought this to replace my stolen Dawes Lightning. I can't afford the more fancier prettier bikes so I look for bikes that look cool and perform well. I live in L.A and my bike is my main source of transportation YES I DON'T OWN A CAR IN LOS ANGELES. I am also thinking of adding a Brooks Saddle to mine so thank you for your recommendations. I want to add a dog carrier too for my pug to ride with me this summer do you have any ones that you might recommend?

  4. I am glad you like your Coffee. As you probably noticed - it is nothing fancy but it does the job. I use mine daily and so far I have no complains.

    Just remember to lock your Brooks saddle with at least a thick cable when you park your bike. The saddle will be the single most expensive component of your Coffee so it would be good not to have it stolen. I would remove the whole saddle with the seatpost and take it with me if I was parking the bike for a long time.

    Regarding your puppy, unfortunately, I have no experience with pets on bike. You can either install a basket on the rear rack or buy a front carrier. Rear rack is probably a bad idea since you will not know what your pug is doing. I would suggest a strong front basket such as this one from Wald: (or similar). Notice how it attaches to the front axle. It would be a strong and sturdy carrier for your pet. Put a blanket inside and you are good to go.

    There are specialized solutions too such as this thing:

  5. Hi! I just ran across this blog review funny I have a 2011 Schwinn Coffee and I love her. Interesting you mentioned "One more thing I immediately noticed was that both screws used to adjust brake cables were not secured properly and even worse, the head set was not tightened (You could easily feel that fork was loose)!" Actually this maybe an engineering or perhaps a defect in the construction of this particular screw. Because I had the exact same problem even though when I got my bike I made sure all the screws were as tight as possible. I was riding and this screw just popped out and the fender came loose and I went flying forward. Anyhow I was lucky only got my ego bruise and a little tender arm but yes this happen but other then that this is a great bike. I get alot of compliments on it!

  6. I wonder if you might be able to do me a favor and measure what stem size the 2012 Coffee has?

    Wrap a piece of tape around the stem (where it comes out of the headset) and rip it to the exact circumference, and then stick it on a ruler. It should be either about 2-3/4 inches long (70mm, for a 22.2mm stem diameter) or a bit more than 3-1/8 inches long (80mm, for a 25.4mm stem diameter).

    I have seen the specs from the Schwinn site for the Coffee -- but with stems you can never tell what they're measuring (steerer outer diameter, stem diameter, handlebar bracket).

    Thanks a lot if you have the time to bother!

  7. @eeooeeooee

    Why not just use calipers? :)
    I measured exaclty 20.89mm and I noticed that there is "21.1mm" written on the headset nut.
    I hope this helps!

  8. where did you buy your coffee? im also in boston and why to buy one asap. thanks

  9. I had to call several bike stores around to find out if they had one in stock. Finally, Bicycle Bill at 253 North Harvard Street had one.

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  11. I really like this kind of bike! thank you for your detailed review!

  12. Just a warning for folks looking to fiddle, the I.D. of the fork on my 2008 was the rare and obnoxious 21.1mm size, meaning most stems (common 22.whatev) won't work. Either you get a specifically 21.1mm stem or change out the fork, which is what I did (new steel lugged for from NL with a generator bracket)