21 November 2015

When I Took A Shot, I Mean, A Ride

Have you ever ridden a Sling Shot bicycle?

1995 model--like Stelios' bike

These days, SS is producing a line of bicycles with conventional tubing dimensions and geometry.  At the same time, they have continued their signature frame design:  the one with the cable in place of the downtube.

If you haven't ridden one of those bikes, you may have seen one.  In place of the downtube, a thick steel cable is attached to the bike with a spring.  Early versions of the frame, from the 1980s, actually had two cables, and the springs were hooked onto the bottom bracket.  On later models, the spring is found at the top tube.  And, on nearly all Sling Shots, there is a hinge on the top tube just before it meets the seat tube.

Stelios Tapanakis, who worked in several New York City bike shops during the '80's and '90's and co-owned Park Slope shop Rock'n'Road with Stella Buckwalter in the late '90's, was a big fan of Sling Shots.  He owned and rode both a road and a mountain model, each equipped with typical components (mostly Ultegra on the road bike and XT on the mountain bike) of the day.  He allowed me to try his bikes on a few occasions. 

The hinge

I didn't dislike either bike.  If anything, I found them rather unremarkable.  I don't mean that in a negative way:  They both reminded me of other bikes I'd ridden and, in some cases, enjoyed. 

1990 model.  I rather like this one.

In particular the road bike reminded me of at least a few Columbus SL frames I'd ridden (and a couple I owned).  Perhaps it had to do with the shocks which, Stelios explained, were the stiffest ones Sling Shot was offering.  (The bikes could be purchased with softer springs.)  I didn't notice any major difference in shock absorption from conventional steel bikes I'd ridden.  Nor did I notice a significant difference in acceleration or responsiveness.

What really surprised me, though, was that the Sling Shot seemed noticeably heavier than the Mondonico Criterium I was riding at the time, even though both bikes had very similar components and wheels and had the same tires.  (I didn't weigh either bike; my impression came from lifting both bikes.)  Even in those days, I wasn't a weight weenie; still, I couldn't help but notice the difference.

I also felt a difference--though less noticeable--in weight between his mountain Sling Shot and the off-road bike I rode at the time:  a Jamis Dakota.  In a way, that surprised me even more than the difference between the road bikes, as the Jamis was a mid-level bike.  Although I upgraded a few of the parts, the overall package was not on the same tier as the equipment Stelios was riding on his mountain Sling Shot.

As for that bike:  I noticed a bit more of a difference in the ride between it and the Jamis than I did between his road bike and mine.  The Sling Shot actually did feel as if it were absorbing more shock than my Jamis, on which I  had a Rock Shox Mag 21 fork, if I recall correctly. (When I bought the Jamis, mountain bikes still weren't sold with shock absorbing front forks; they were still considered an after-market item.) But the Sling Shot also felt less stable going down a hill, as if the bike had a loose head tube.  Stelios used to say that it allowed him more control of the bike.  I suppose that if I'd done more downhill rides, I'd have felt the same way.

So, while neither bike had a disagreeable (to me, anyway) ride,  I could see no reason to sell the bikes I had and "upgrade" to a Sling Shot frame, which cost about twice as much as my Mondonico and who-knows-how-much more than the Jamis.

I got to thinking about Sling Shots when I saw this photo on Memphis Cyclist:

I tried, unsuccessfully, to find more information about that bike.  Is it my imagination, or does it look like it--like the Sling Shot--has a cable instead of a down tube?

The top tube looks like someone crossed a truss and a camelback frame.  What if Sling Shot were to make a frame like that?

Turns out, they did--sort of:

Now I'm going to reiterate something I've said in earlier posts:  In my nearly four decades of cycling, nearly every "new" idea I've seen was indeed new--twenty, fifty or even a hundred years earlier!


  1. Interesting read, I remember seeing the slingshot MTBs here at a show in London many years ago and they never took off. I think I saw one out in the wild at races but that was it. Out of interest did you get to take it up any steep uphills out of the saddle? I can't help thinking there's going to be a lot of side to side flex around the bottom bracket.

  2. Bikesy--Now that I think of it, I did get to ride up a couple of fairly steep hills and, yes, out of the bracket. I did indeed notice a fair amount of side-to-side flex around the bottom bracket though, to be fair, I rode other bikes that flexed more.

    The Sling Shots were definitely interesting bikes.