Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vintage Mountain Bike: My 1984 Schwinn Sierra

Rockin' those bull moose handlebars....80's style.

I rarely take self portraits, but this one seems very period correct, Star Wars tee shirt and all.
As a followup to my last few articles about vintage mountain biking, I wanted to introduce some of my readers to what a first generation mountain bike looks like. I recently acquired this 1984 Schwinn Sierra for 70 bucks a few days ago. This was the first mountain bike made by Schwinn and 1984 was the first year of production. This model was a mid-level option at the time, with the High Sierra being the top of the line mountain bike in the lineup.

My first impression of this bike is how indestructible it feels while riding. This bike comes with really beefy Araya 26x1.75 alloy wheels with high flange sealed hubs that are bolted onto the frame. The wheels alone probably have a combined weight of  over 10 pounds, including the tires and tubes. Although this was a bit of a drawback while climbing, I feel that these wheels can rollover and mow down anything in their path. I don't think there is anything that I can do to easily taco these rims. 

This bicycle features the highly coveted bull moose handlebars. Bull moose handlebars have a unique design that combines the stem and handlebars into a single welded piece. Adding to the uniqueness of this design, this bike comes with old school friction thumb shifters as well. 

"Bull Moose" handlebars and thumb shifters, also known as "thumbies".
The brakes on this bike are truly unique. They are not the disc brakes seen on mountain bikes today or even the V-brakes seen on most 90's mid-school mountain bikes. These are first generation cantilevers, made of all steel with a winged shaped design.When adjusted, these brakes have incredibly good stopping power, although the front brake pads on this bike are starting to squeak and show their age.

Dia Compe cantilever brakes were one of the first braking systems used on mountain bikes.
When I got this bike, it was covered in silt over years of not being cleaned or maintained. The grease was 30 years old and never changed out throughout it's existence. I took this bike apart, regreased all the bearings and dunked most of the drivetrain parts in Simple Green to get the years of dirt and grime buildup off of them. I re-lubricated the chain as a temporary solution but will end up replacing the chain and freewheel in the future to make it ride just a little smoother. 

So, how does it ride? Let me start off by saying that this bike isn't for everyone. Its an old bike, there should be no illusions of it riding like a modern mountain bike or better. For one thing, climbing hills on this bike is more difficult because of the bigger front chainrings, the longer wheelbase and the overall weight of this steel bike. I made all of the hills I normally make on this bike, but found myself climbing on my largest rear sprocket most of the time. Granted, I had a backpack full of my camera gear when I took these photos on my last ride.  What this bike lacks going uphill it makes up for on the way back down.  This bike rides like a beast on flat singletrack and  takes downhills with speed. Its important to keep in mind that people were not thinking of riding their bikes over rock gardens or getting massive air off of jumps when these bikes were made. In the early years of mountain biking there was a big focus on trekking rather than racing like there is nowadays. Having a durable bike that could take a beating was key, but people also had the common sense to get off their bikes when the terrain became too gnarly. The mountain bike was originally designed to take people where a road bike couldn't go. In it's humble beginnings, it was purposed as a tool for exploration rather than an off road racing machine. Although this bike is heavy, there is no compromise to it's durability and this mountain bike rides like a tank. These are how the first mountain bikes that rolled off the assembly line were built.

This bike marks the start of a new focus for my blog, as well as a shift in the type of bikes that I will be collecting, riding on and talking about. I'll still do a couple of articles on vintage road bike riding, however the preservation of old-school mountain biking culture has taken precedent. One might assume that I'll be going off on a tangent of all things 90's mountain bike related, like talking about John Tomac's drop bar riding position or Tinker Juarez. Not at all; I'll be talking about mountain bike culture from the way I grew up seeing it, not from a nostalgic ex-racer's point of view. Some very interesting articles to come. Stay tuned!


  1. going to pickup same bike tonight but in blue, rusty chain, and minor rust on the bull moose bars, but looks all original, including the 2 original wheel reflectors, $35, probably too much, 18 inch frame, i'm 5' 10", probably too small but.... i'm 68 yrs old and a very much struggling bike mechanic, and generally just a struggling guy period, this is my 1st mtb ever. your Sierra looks great. we'll just have to see about mine, good luck to me tonite, have no idea of the weight of this thing. good luck to all, don't think i'm a robot.

    1. I would just enjoy the bike for what it is. Early mountain bike geometry wasn't spetacular, nor did it provide a lot of weight savings. I would say that the price is right for $35. Put a new chain on it and re-grease the bearings and you have a solid performing bicycle.

    2. thanks for quick reply, unloaded bike in dark, quick ride, will run thru gears tomorrow, smooth, quite pleased with overall condition, has scratches, decal flaking, some call it patina ( ha ) " moose bars ", grips like yours, a little rough on ends, no kick stand, has arayas, shimano, d/c brakes and pads, 3 stickers, 4130, Taiwan made, caution brake/rain, one chrome sticker faded( dealer maybe ) #s G 0284, 4544739, appears to have had indoor storage except upon pick up ( owner checked seat for wetness ! ! ! ! ) no dirt, no grime, dusty, wheels spin true enough, rust on chain and cogs, Bontrager tires, Bell seat, no frame reflectors front/rear ( dislike that greatly ) just like originality, will take your advice, new chain and grease, bearing check, enjoy for what it is, one more thing, the sloping down of sides of the top of the fork crown ( just read that is one year only, 1984.) will try to verify that. if you are curious, bike is on Richmond, Va. craigslist for $50. thanks for advice, good luck to you, bill.

    3. I must comment on your remark about the brakes on this vintage schwinn sierra, THEY WORK ! I was very surprised at the stopping power to say the least.

  2. I recently bought an 84 Sierra frameset on eBay but it hasn't arrived yet. I'm trying to have some parts ready to go to build it up and stumbled onto this blog post while I was looking for info. So I was wondering since you have one, do you know what seatpost diameter it needs? And do you know if the stem quill is 1" or .833. Thanks!

  3. Just picked up a 84 high Sierra at a thrift store for 14.99. Cleaned it up,and added some air. Rides and looks new. Like a time capsule.

  4. I bought my 84 Sierra new in 1984. Replaced the tires, tubes and brake pads in 2023. Still rides and looks great.