A good friend recently asked for help fixing her bike. She has a Schwinn Varsity and the rear derailleur had lost a pulley. Because the bike was so old, I had to replace the entire derailleur, but now it works just like new. As I worked on her bike, it reminded me of the five Schwinns I have owned over the years and how big an impact they had on a bike life. The pictures in this posts are not of my bikes, I wish I had pictures of all of them 🙁 I chose these pictures because they are similar to the bikes I owned.
My first Schwinn was a classic Stingray like the one pictured here. Mine had a green banana seat and matching grips. I think it had silver fenders and I know it had a 2.25 inch slick tire in the rear, just like a dragster. It was more than a bike, to a kid in 3rd grade, the Stingray was freedom. I could go anywhere from 18 Street to Seerley Boulevard from College to Main Street and I didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. I raced with my friends, did wheelies, delivered newspapers, rode down stairs and jumped off homemade ramps on that old Stingray. Today my kids have Facebook, Xbox, Twitter, etc, I wish I could share with them the joy of that old Stingray.
I spent my junior high years on Guam. My family lived in faculty housing by the university and my neighbor had a brown Schwinn Varsity chained to his water meter. One day I asked if whe would sell it to me and I took my paper route money and bought it. Those old Varsitys were heavy! I am sure mine weighed 50 pounds. But to me that bike was a thoroughbred race machine. During my stay on the island a small bicycle club was formed. I remember a ride in the hills of southern Guam. Of the twenty or so riders, only three of us made it to the top of the hill by Fort Santa Agueda without walking. The other two were adults on Schwinn Paramounts (Schwinn’s legendary top of the line bike), of course I was on my trusty Varsity. When my family returned to Iowa, I had the varsity shipped back and it was my way to re-acquaint myself with my old hometown. I even took it on a 55 mile ride with the local bike club.
I worked all summer the year I returned from Guam to earn enough for a serious bike. I had my heart set on a Peugot PX 10 but by the time I had the money there were none available in my size. So I ended up buying a brand new Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. The Le Tour was one of the first mid-line Japanese Schwinns. It was relatively light for its day and the blue and chrome finish made it look like it could fly. I rode that bike on my first RAGBRAI(a 430 mile ride across Iowa). I added toe clips, bought stiff Italian cycling shoes and replaced the wheels with a pair of sew-ups with Campagnolo hubs and a Regina ORO racing freewheel. I raced that bike in criteriums and time trials all over Iowa. The old Le Tour saw me through my high school years looking at this picture (not my bike but the same model) is like looking at a picture of an old friend.
Many years and four children later, I was living in Wichita, Kansas. I had not yet finished my college degree and I was working as a Red Lobster manager. I wasn’t doing much bicycling. Mountain biking was just coming of age. An employee of mine sold me an old beater mountain bike. It had some nice components but the frame was junk. I went out and bought a Schwinn High Sierra frame that had never been built up. The frame was bright yellow and in the fashion of the 1980’s I tricked it out with hot pink accessories. The next year I returned to college for a year to finish my degree, the bike and I (hot pink components and all) sere a regular sight around campus. Mountain biking was just the shot in the arm I needed to get back into cycling.
I have been fortunate to own a number of great bikes, some of them considered classics to this day. I have also been fortunate to not have to spend top dollar even to buy high end bikes. The Le Tour was the only bike I ever bough new at retail. When I finally got my college degree and a job to go with it my wife let my buy a Schwinn Paramount PDG-70. The PDG-70 was a high end mountain bike, no suspension with Shimano Deore XT components throughout. This bike was a leftover, it was a previous year’s model that had not sold so I bought it new at a significant discount. This bike was sexy and fast. As you can see in this photo The top tube and stem were long encouraging a very aggressive riding position. I rode this bike almost exclusively on hilly single-track trails. Some years later I replaced it with a newer model (not a Schwinn) with front suspension and I sold it to my brother. I think I made a mistake, I like the PDG-70 better.Of the many bikes I have owned, five have been Schwinns. Each one evokes memories and has a special place in my heart.