By Andy Bruno
Driving through western Michigan on my way to a family get-together I decided to stop by the Slingshot Bicycle Company world headquarters, located in Grand Rapids. If you’re not familiar with Slingshot, they have a long history of building flexible bicycle frames. And if you’re anything like me, your inner sense of proper physics makes you wonder how these bikes actually work. That’s because the down tube isn’t a tube at all, but a stainless steel cable and a spring. Then again I don’t know much about physics…
Slingshot has been around for 25 years now, so they must be doing something right. Their materials, models, and owners have changed, but the basic idea of building a flexible bicycle is still there – at least on most of their frames. And according to the Slingshot gang, they have a very loyal and growing international following. They’ve even had some recent impressive race results, including Danielle Musto’s second place finish at the 2006 NORBA 24 Hour Endurance National Championships.
While my tendency is to distrust such a radically different bicycle design, actually seeing the bikes really made me want to ride one. The "Sling Power" comes from the spring and steel cable down "tube" and a flexible joint on the top tube. The joint is made of a fiberglass board, called a "Dogbone", and is located right in front of the seatpost. The flex in the frame apparently gives the rider a more efficient pedal stroke, helping you ride faster while using less energy.
The bikes I looked at were the Ripper (26" XC), the Farmboy (29er), and the DD-X (cyclocross). They also have a folding mountain bike and are working on a folding cyclocross frame. A road bike is coming out late in 2007.
The cyclocross and road frames don’t have a flex joint and have a more traditional down tube, so they don’t incorporate the Sling Power technology. The frames are designed this way in order to comply with UCI regulations.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to take a test ride but they’ve invited me back the next time I’m in town. And I’m looking forward to it.
A very special thanks goes out to Aaron, Chris, Jason, and Scott for showing me around their shop and sending me on my way with 2 six packs from Founders Brewing Company, a local Grand Rapids brewer. My co-conspirators at Dirt Rag HQ were much obliged.
You can check out the bikes and keep up to date on all things Slingshot at their website www.slingshotbikes.com.