Last November, I nailed a post to this site under the title ‘Rapid Prototype’. I had obtained an unknown frame from a friend who featured in ‘Interesting Interview No.1 – Terrance Malone’, and this special frame had no markings, serial number, or provenance. It gave some clues to it’s heritage in that it had Italian ITM forks on it, so I assumed romantically that it had been made by one of the big Italian frame makers and found its way over the border into Switzerland. Terrance gave me the key to unlock a journey. However, more research was required…….
I had posted pictures of the built-up bike on various sites and someone commented, “It looks like an S’Bike”. This got me thinking, because the Swiss designed and assembled S’Bike does look very similar. I then learnt that the S’Bike frames were actually made over the border in Italy, and by the famous Verlicchi company. This organisation ‘was’ (before Verlicchi went bust in 1996) an iconic company and famous for designing and making Ducati racing frames, plus parts and frames for other big motorcycle brands like Aprilia. They made a few mountain bike frames from full suspension models for other brands to the Swiss S’Bike. Verlicchi also had a good relationship with the Italian ITM bicycle component company. More research required…….
Terrance had started this saga by handing me the unknown frame in the first place, and as luck would have it, he had an S’Bike in his garage that belonged to his friend. I asked if he could send me the dimensions so I could check them against my prototype. He sent the numbers and pictures and there was a distinct family resemblance. One of the many things that I don’t know about these bikes is, what the term ‘S’Bike’ actually means? Is it short for Swatch Bike or Superbike or……..More research required……
Spending time doing research on the internet can be an unpredictable journey, and one which can take you to nowhere or somewhere. Eventually, I found on a local Swiss selling site, an advertisement for a brand new S’Bike frame. S’Bike actually went out of business in 1994, so this frame had been sitting in its box for at least 27 years. I messaged the seller and asked for some photos and frame dimensions. The seller was living very close to the Italian border and less than an hours drive from the place where the Verlicchi plant was located, and also very close to where I believe the bikes were assembled. Interesting, and more research required…….
The seller responded with pictures of the frame and informed me that he actually had originally 8 frames, had sold one, and had 7 left. Research has highs and lows during the process, and this was suddenly ‘a big high’. I asked the seller to send me dimensions and measurements and pictures of the 7 frames. It turns out that 5 of the frames share the same dimensions (56cm beam tube) as my prototype, and the other two were obviously a very small size. Of the 5, 56cm frames, one had its original derailleur hanger missing as well as one of the rear brake bosses wasn’t fitted correctly. The frames were still in their original boxes, appeared to be the last generation of the rigid frame design and serial numbered, but they didn’t have any of the S’Bike branding stickers/decals on them. This meant that they never got onto the assembly line in Switzerland. They also did not have any forks with them. Hmmmm…….more research required……..
I excitedly did a deal for 4 of the 56cm frames, paid the seller by bank transfer and the seller posted them to me. S’Bikes are quite rare as they weren’t made in big numbers, were ‘a bit out there’ in terms of design and it’s not easy to find a lot of information about the company. One of the founders of the company was Francesco Quinn, the son of the American actor Anthony Quinn. He got involved with the Swiss watch company, Swatch, who got interested, and then they got Verlicchi on board, at least, I think that’s how it happened. Being a Ducati owner, I know Verlicchi were famous for their amazing steel trellis designed motorcycle racing frames, but in the 1990s, aluminium arrived and manufacturers, including Verlicchi started using big aluminium beams in their frames to wrap around engines, so I guess that Verlicchi and the Swiss S’Bike designers just applied the same thinking to the S’Bike frame design as they had with the latest motorcycle frames. The frames I bought did not have any forks with them, but S’Bike also applied innovative thinking to their forks as well, because some of the production bikes were supplied with motorcycle-style upside down suspension forks branded STM, which I also know nothing about, but most had rigid forks fitted. Guess what? More research required…..
When you’re interested in anything vintage like bicycles, cars, motorcycles, instruments, tools, cast iron kitchen ware etc etc, there is always a huge amount of excitement when some genuine New Old Stock turns up. Knowing that these frames have been sitting somewhere for 27-ish years, unwanted, or cared about, or even widely known about, really scores high on the excitement-ometer. I wait impatiently for the postman to deliver the frames. I had taken a risk in buying them without seeing them, but I wasn’t going to drive the 8 hour round trip during these ‘you-know-what-times’. The frames were in their original packaging, so I had assumed and gambled on them being good stock ready to be assembled into finished bikes. Locating the original branded S’Bike frame stickers will be tricky and of the correct logo, for these are later designated model frames, I think?. More research required…….
The postman arrives with two boxes that have S’Bike printed on the side. I assume that each box holds two frames. I have assumed correctly. I open the boxes like a kid and look them all over. They are perfect. I unwrap one of them totally and I notice a sticker on the downtube proclaiming the name ‘Kinesis’. Hmmmm, that’s weird! Kinesis is a Taiwanese company that makes bikes and parts and it is clear from the frame sticker and the serial number that these were not made by Verlicchi, but by Kinesis. I naively assumed that all S’Bike frames were Italian made, so I had clearly assumed wrongly. So how many S’Bike frames and models were made, and by who? More research required……..
After checking the frames for any damage or flaws, I took one of them down to the garage to meet my Prototype and guess what? There is a definite family design likeness and not just in the iconic looks, but in geometry and dimensions too. Even the cable routing is the same. So, can I really prove 100% that my Prototype is a first S’Bike? No. Is it very likely? Very much so. Just look carefully at the picture below, which has the S’Bike frame fastened to my bike and apart from the lower tube and seat brace, they’re identical. It is at this point that I am very pleased, but I think more research is required…….
Anyway, having unearthed these S’Bike frames, it’s my MTB duty to share them with the global cycling community (for a price obviously ?). As I have a pair of NOS 26” wheels that would fit these frames, I will keep one of them to build. I would then have the (claimed by me) pre-production Prototype and the later version of the range, but then I would need the other versions made in between these two and then, before I know it, I’m a fully paid up S’Bike collector. Doh! Maybe more research is required regarding ‘collector’ behaviours……..
My Swiss S’Bike journey clearly hasn’t ended yet, so I do also need to do more research and hopefully, with some help from others, I can find someone close enough to the business at the time to give me the full picture and story. Maybe I can even do an ‘Interesting Interview’ with the designer or owners of the business. Maybe, I might even find some left over S’Bike components as well as the artwork to get some stickers/decals made up. As there isn’t a definitive history and details of the full S’Bike story, I’ll update this post as information comes in, so if you can help, we can do some more research together…….
All photos by the Author