Schwinn stories; a lot of people have them, but they aren’t always written down and shared. One of our goals on the SchwinnRed blog is to share those stories, the ones that bring back great memories as a child and inspire adults to rediscover the freedom that a bike can evoke. These stories are from real Schwinn owners around the world, and we want to hear yours too. For a chance to be featured on the SchwinnRed blog send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your Schwinn story!
Rob recently was featured in the Around the World in 30 Days Schwinn contest. Through his presence on our Facebook page we realized that Rob had a pretty neat restoration story and we wanted to learn more. Here is the interview that we had with Rob.
Rob: The bike was my 13th birthday present. I received it in Spring of 1978, purchased at Pete’s Cycle in Bel Air, MD. Every kid in the neighborhood had a Schwinn from Pete’s. In 2010, during the restoration, I went into the store to get new dealer stickers, which were still exactly the same as 1978. The ink is slightly more pink which is good because it appears to have some built-in fade.
Schwinn: What was the feeling the comes to mind when you remember receiving your bike?
Rob: Smell is the sense that brings back the most memories. I remember the smell of Pete’s, browsing bikes and accessories, and picking out the Flamboyant Red Varsity. I remember the salesman saying something about mine being from the last year’s stock. Seems to me we got a discount on it because of that. My best friend had a Sting-Ray, and I was really excited about getting my first Schwinn and joining the ranks of the other neighborhood kids and their 10-speeds. Our neighborhood was a sparsely populated suburban “development” and bikes were the best mode of transportation.
Schwinn: At what point did you realize that your Schwinn needed to be refurbished?
My wife and I had gotten into biking around our neighborhood after we discovered it was easier biking to the town’s 4th of July festivities than driving a car and fighting traffic. We made it a Sunday morning activity to exercise and keep ourselves young. I have a ’93 GT Outpost Mountain bike I had been using, and my wife had a mountain bike from BJ’s Wholesale club. During our Summer Vacation in Ocean City, MD, in August 2010, I thought about my old Varsity rusting away in the crawl space under my parents’ house since the early 80’s and believed it would make a better road bike. I started doing a “feasibility study” to see how available parts were to restore it. That’s how I found Ride Schwinn’s Facebook page, among some other websites to research serial number codes and part sources.
One of the more interesting aspects of the research was the date code on the headbadge, which indicates the day of the year the bike was assembled at the factory. My Varsity’s assembly date was Halloween Day, 1977.
Rob: I’ve worked in the Automotive Collision Repair industry my whole working life, as a painter. I have many bike and motorcycle frames and some other non-automotive objects in my repertoire, including a Bicentennial Sting-Ray I painted for a co-worker. Having the skills and tools to do auto body work came in handy. There were also a few local bike shops in my area to ask questions and acquire tools.
Schwinn: Can you tell us a bit about the process of refurbishing your bike?
Rob: There’s a fine line between returning something to functionality and complete restoration. Some things are best left with their original “patina” and put back into working order. There were so many Varsitys produced in the twenty or so years their production ran, so they’re not as collectible as some of the other Schwinn models. Mine was a no-brainer, since its sentimental value exceeded its collectible value. I wanted it to look brand new.
Once the decision was made to completely restore mine to as close to showroom condition as possible, I began disassembling it and procuring the parts to rebuild it. During disassembly, I discovered that nearly every part of the bicycle has some form of date code stamped on them. Fortunately, the moving parts were well lubricated, so the drivetrain needed only cleaning and lubricating. Most of the chrome parts were too severely rusted to polish, so I replaced the handlebars and stem, the crank chain guard and shift lever assembly with used parts purchased on eBay, and sent out some parts for re-chroming. The frame and forks were stripped using automotive paint stripper and the surface rust sanded and primed.
The day I brought the frame to our auto body shop to repair, I was walking across the parking lot and noticed a “Laser Red Pearl” Lincoln Navigator. I held up the forks and eyeballed them and saw the color was a nearly perfect match for the Flamboyant Red of the bike, so Ford paint code E9 is the color I chose for the bike.
Decals were a tougher hurdle, since there aren’t many reproduction options for the 76-79 style graphics. My sister dabbles in the graphics biz, so I measured and photographed the original SCHWINN and VARSITY decals on down tube and top tube. She created a proof sheet of the lettering and emailed the file to a printer in Oregon who printed them on clear waterslide decal film, as were the original decals. I applied the decals to the repainted frame and clear coated over them to encapsulate them and prevent them from wearing out. The Schwinn Quality Chicago decal was an eBay purchase, and as I mentioned before, the Pete’s Cycle sticker supplied by the bike’s original dealer. The finishing touch decal was the “Wet Rims Require Increased Stopping Distance” decal that was purchased from Memory Lane Classics, suggested by Ride Schwinn. The spears on the forks are rubber stamp painted at the factory, but I brush painted them on my forks. (This took several attempts before I was satisfied).
During the time of finding parts, I had as my eBay search criteria, the keywords Schwinn and Varsity. Of all my searches for parts I was not able to net any listings for the correct color of handlebar tape (all searches of “red” turned up Bicentennial Red). I tried at a local bike shop, but they couldn’t get any transparent red bar tape. It was when I searched “Flamboyant Red” that I found two rolls of NOS (New Old Stock) Schwinn handlebar tape.
The only ‘upgrades’ on the bike that are not refurbished original or NOS parts are the wheels and tires. The rims are Weinmann alloy, and the tires, Kenda gumwalls. The Varsity is quite heavy by today’s standards, so the aluminum rims help a little with weight savings.
Schwinn: What would you say the level of difficulty in refurbishing a bike is, and what would you say to someone who wanted to try to refurbish a bike as well?
Rob: To refurbish a yard sale or basement find to riding condition doesn’t require special skills, and there are plenty of self help videos online to get advice for how to change tires, lubricate moving parts or adjust brakes and drive trains.
For someone who wants to do a total restoration, including refinishing, my suggestion would be to research the bike’s value before jumping in with both feet. I frequently quoted the line from Jurassic Park “Spare no expense,” since it has much sentimental value. Since I did most of the work myself, I tried to stick to a $300 budget. Actual dollar amount, because some of the items were gifted to me, would realistically be in the $500 neighborhood. Still, about the same dollar amount to buy a new mid-range quality bicycle.
Schwinn: Now that your bike is refurbished and looking brand new again, how do you spend your time riding your Varsity?
The first time I road-tested the bike, it was a cold, sunny day with a little bit of snow on the ground, in February 2011. When I looked down at the shiny chrome and bright red handlebars, thirty-three years instantly shrunk down to what seemed like yesterday and thoughts of my brand new Varsity retuned, right down to the “ching” sound the chain makes when shifting between sprockets, and the clicking of the rear hub when coasting.
The Varsity is mostly relegated to ours and the surrounding neighborhood rides that average 6-10 miles. For trail riding, I still have my GT Outpost, and for vacationing, I have the Schwinn 4 One-One I received in the Ride of a Lifetime Sweepstakes. My wife has her 2012 Schwinn Searcher Comp hybrid that is a great bike for all our rides.
Since most of the scuffs on our other bikes seem to occur when we transport them, I rarely put it on a rack or in the back of a truck, so I stick with the places within riding distance from home.
Schwinn: There is a great picture of you and your sister with your bike and her on her trike which you re-did 33 years later. Has biking always been an important part of your life and how would you encourage those who are thinking about biking, but have some hesitations, to start biking?
Rob: I’m a sentimental person, which you can tell by the efforts I’ve put into this whole venture. I, but mostly my friends and family, were totally surprised when my sister agreed to recreating the 1978 photo. And thank goodness for my grandmother who kept a great photographic record of us growing up!
My first “real” bike, with gears, and hand brakes was a Toys ‘R’ Us 3-speed banana seat bike that my grandfather bought for me, and at 8 years old, assembled it myself, out of the box in their driveway.
Other than the time between my mid-teens, when concentrating on work, and then starting a family in my early twenties, through my late twenties when I got the mountain bike (complete with baby seat for my daughter), I have always enjoyed bike riding for recreation. Now that I’m older with not so great knees and back, biking is still one of the best low impact methods of staying in shape, not to mention a perfect way to stay connected with friends or significant others.
Schwinn: Thank you so much Rob for sharing your story!