I am not really a beach person. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like beaches a lot. I’ve just never been a person that can sit on a beach for very long without feeling the restless need to get up and do something. Last winter, on a wonderful vacation with my family, I kept catching myself yearning to go for a ride. We had access to a couple of rusty beach cruisers, which were great, but we were on a small island with only sand roads and there was just no place to get out and stretch my legs on the bike. It is rather pathetic, I know, but as much as I was enjoying myself, I was also feeling my fitness slip away day after day. This started me on a quest to find something that would work in this setting, that would allow me to get out and ride so afterwards I could more completely relax and enjoy my time with my family. After looking at typical pedal boat options with plastic pedals and effective crank lengths of about 60mm, I was about to give up on finding something that would ride, feel, and perform like an actual bike – something that I could not only enjoy but also get actual training benefit from. Enter the Schiller S1-C Water Bike. Immediately when I saw it, I was intrigued. It looked well-made and appeared to be what I was looking for. After a bit more research, I learned that it was actually rather portable and, if split into two pieces of luggage, it could be transported on most airlines as normal checked baggage. I decided it was worth a try.
Frame: Powder-coated, tig-welded T6 aluminum. Supports up to 300 pounds. Size options include S/M or L/XL. (I am 6’3” and the L/XL fit me great)
Drivetrain: Gates Carbon Belt drive with 172.5mm cranks and a 1:7.5 gear ratio
Other parts of note: RaceFace handlebars, Ergon grips, Velo saddle, quick-release seat post clamp, water-bottle cage included
Running Boards ($350). Mine had them and they came in very handy. Worth getting.
Automatic Inflator ($199). Would be nice to have, but definitely not a necessity.
Inflatable Platform ($295). Mine did not have this, but I think it would be worth adding. It carries up to 300 pounds so you can bring along a friend, a cooler, snorkeling gear, or anything else. Do yoga on it, fall asleep, whatever.
Fishing Pole Mount ($75). If you like fishing, this would be a must.
Grapnel Anchor Kit ($50). I have visions of taking this thing out and using it as a base for snorkeling someplace, so this would be good to have.
Steering Extender ($40). A nice option to adjust for a more upright fit, if that is your preference.
Transportation and Assembly:
The bike comes with its own carrying case – which will hold all parts except the frame itself. The entire set-up weighs about 90 pounds total, but is pretty portable and could easily fit in any SUV or crossover vehicle, and even in the backseat or trunk of most regular sedans. I was immediately impressed by the overall quality of the construction and the parts – though at the price I would have been pretty disappointed with anything less. Assembly, even for my first time, was a breeze. Schiller’s website claims that it takes less than 10 minutes for assembly and disassembly. This is certainly true – if you don’t feel the need to inflate the pontoons (something that I would suggest – assuming you want the bike to actually float). I used the nice, high-volume dual-action pump that comes with the bike and was working pretty hard to get each of the two pontoons inflated in about four minutes. So about 8-10 minutes to unpack everything from the included carrying bag, install the handlebars and pedals, attach the propeller drive unit to the frame, and then attach the frame to the pontoons, in addition to the 8-10 minutes of pontoon-inflation time and you are comfortably ready to go (once you recover from the upper-body workout of inflating the pontoons). Call it cross-training…
Even when fully assembled, the S1-C is quite easy to move. I assembled it on a small beach and had no trouble shouldering the bike and walking with it into the water. My test ride took place in September on a lake in northern Colorado, and though the weather cooperated nicely, I still wasn’t too excited to get too wet getting on for the first time. It would be simple to do a dry launch from a dock, but off of a beach and into a headwind with some pretty good waves (for a lake) coming in, it proved to be a bit challenging. So I removed my shoes, set them on one of the pontoons, and walked it out into knee-deep water so I could comfortably lower the propeller unit into the water and have enough time to hop on before it drifted back towards the beach and started dragging the sand. Since the bike was nosed into the beach, I backpedaled for a few seconds so I had plenty of room to turn around, and headed out to deeper water. I was immediately impressed by the stability of the bike. I weigh about 180 pounds and could easily stand on one of the pontoons, and even jump up and down, without any fear of tipping over. Though I did not feel like jumping into the water on this day, the bike is clearly capable of staying upright and stable with someone jumping off and then climbing back up. The first thing I noticed once I started pedaling was how comfortable the pedals and straps are. I was concerned that there would not be much foot support, or the straps would be uncomfortable and not do their job well, but that was not the case at all. The pedals provide a large platform and the toe straps are soft, padded, adjustable, and surprisingly secure. I tried it with regular shoes, sandals, and bare feet – and it worked pretty well with all of these variations. Of course, this did not stop me from eventually switching out the stock pedals for a pair of SPDs and strapping on my mountain bike shoes to really test it out. I will say that on calm water, I would probably go with the clipless pedals and cycling shoes. However, I was impressed enough with the stock pedals that, with a bit of wind and waves I would probably go with light shoes or even sandals. For a short and casual ride, bare feet would be just fine as well. My feet are in pretty bad shape from previous injuries and surgeries so I need all the support I can get, but for many, bare feet might be the default.
Once I started pedaling, I was pleased to learn that the S1-C would, in fact, provide a good cycling work-out. I had been a bit concerned that I would run out of gears but that was not the case. It seemed to be geared just perfectly for what I was doing. My cadence was well above 100 rpm with harder efforts but even if I had more gears, I wouldn’t have been able to hold that speed for very long anyway. The bike remained stable against the wind, over decent-sized waves, and even significant wakes from other boats on the lake. Never did I have any feeling that I would tip over – and actually enjoyed the periodic mountain-bike-type simulation when the wakes came. My only issues had nothing to do with the S1-C itself but rather the fact that, a few times, I had to remind myself that I was on a watercraft rather than on an actual bike. Whenever I stopped pedaling, it slowed down quickly. It handled well, but certainly a lot more sluggish than a regular bike – and it did drift a bit. The other performance-related observation was that it felt, in some ways, like riding on rollers. With less momentum than a regular bike, I could really feel the changes in power at different positions of my pedal stroke. The propeller is small and light and is met with the resistance of the water, so if it is not getting perfectly consistent power input throughout the pedal stroke, it tends to slow down pretty quickly rather than continue to spin. Of course, this is not a bad thing from a training and riding perspective – it just serves as a good reminder to maintain a consistent and circular pedal stroke, kicking through the top and pulling through the bottom, rather than just mashing on the downstroke. Again, I don’t really consider these points as criticisms, but rather almost compliments. This thing is designed well. I was looking for a watercraft that simulates riding a bike, and it actually did its job so well for the most part that these observations only served as reminders that I was, in fact, not riding a bike.
My maiden voyage lasted for about 80 minutes and I averaged just over 4 mph. That was with a few hard efforts and a few rests, but mostly pretty steady endurance-pace riding. My top speed was 9.8 mph, and that was basically a sprint effort. Schiller claims a top speed of 10 mph and that is clearly achievable, but don’t plan on holding that speed for long. And interestingly, Strava also informed me that I gained 22 feet of elevation during the ride. Yes, of course I recorded the ride on Strava. Good luck replicating that segment and beating my new KOM! Now if I could only figure out how to put a power meter on this thing…
I was drawn to the Schiller S1-C water bike hoping that it would be a lot of fun while also replicating a cycling workout in locations that it would otherwise not be possible. It achieved both of those goals admirably. I was impressed by the thought that went into the design as well as the quality of construction and the overall ease of transport and assembly. I kept looking at it and thinking about what I would have done differently with regard to component selection and, more importantly, design. Honestly, I think they nailed it. Now I just need to talk one of my friends into buying one so I have someone to ride with.