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Chicago Schwinns
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Sheldon Brown photo
by Sheldon "Electro-forged" Brown
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The Chicago Schwinns were among the most bomb-resistant bikes ever built, and they were built with unique technology . With the exception of the Sports Tourer, Super Sport, and Superior, they are welded, not brazed. The head tubes look as if they were fillet brazed, but they weren't. The head tube and the tapered segments that lead into the the top tube and down tube were actually made from two special forgings that were "electro-forged" (welded) together down the centerline, then ground smooth, so the seam is not usually visible. There are necked-down parts that fit into the top tube and down tube, like internal lugs.

Marc S. Muller has a very detailed explanation of this process, in his superb article: Inside the Varsity, which is now on this site.

NEW! Mike Rother has an excellent overview of the fillet-brazed lightweights, also on this site.

The flat-bladed forks were also forged. The Typhoon probably dates from the late '50's or '60's. If I recall, it was what Schwinn called a "cantilever" frame, where the seat stays pass by the seat cluster and continue on in a graceful curve to join the bottom of the head tube. Older Schwinn "cruisers", such as the Excelsior that was the inspiration of the first mountain bikes, used a straight lower top tube from the bottom of the head tube to the seat tube.

They also manufactured their own rims in the Chicago factory, the "Schwinn Tubular Rim". These rims, like the Chicago frames, were among the sturdiest ever built. The parts that say "Schwinn" were made by Schwinn in their enormous Chicago factory (which I had the pleasure of touring in the early '70's). Parts that say "Schwinn Approved" were made elsewhere to Schwinn's specifications.

Sometime in the 1970's, the Schwinn Chicago factory was organized by the United Auto Workers union, who felt that bicycle factory workers should be paid on the same scale as automotive workers. Unfortunately, the realities of the marketplace didn't agree, and Schwinn closed the factory, transferring most production to Japan (Panasonic) and Taiwan (Giant). Schwinn also built a factory in Greenville, Mississippi, but it didn't last, and even bought a factory in Hungary, but the deal fell through, and Schwinn never imported any Hungarian bikes to the U.S.

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Schwinn Tire Sizes

In general, U. S.-made Schwinns take oddball Schwinn size tires, with the exception of 630 mm/27 inch, which is standard.

Good mathematics doesn't always help you when it comes to bicycle tires. For example, most "middleweight" Schwinns take 26 x 1 3/4 tires, which are hard to find, not 26 x 1.75 as used on other brands. You might think that these are the same, but they are not.

The 26 x 1.75 size is the normal I.S.O. 559 mm size used on most mountain bikes; the 26 x 1 3/4 (I.S.O. 571 mm) is not interchangeable with any normal tire of similar width, although its bead circumference is the same as the "650C" size used on some high performance 26" wheel bicycles.

Designating the width with a fraction instead of a decimal usually signifies a straight-sided rim, not a hook-edge rim. The rim/tire diameter is also slightly different. Let the tire buyer beware! There are similar problems with other Schwinn tire sizes. The most common difficulty is that the Schwinn 26 x 1 3/8 (I. S.O. 597 mm) interchanges with the British 26 x 1 1/4, not the British 26 x 1 3/8 (I. S.O. 590 mm). For details, see our article about 26-inch tire sizes.

The Schwinn Paramount

by Matthew Gorski

The Paramount was developed for track and road racing by Emil Wastyn, a 6 day racing frame builder, mechanic and Schwinn dealer in Chicago, who immigrated from Belgium.

This was a no-expense-spared project of Frank W. Schwinn, who wanted the bike to be introduced in 1938. It was an unqualified success, other than that it was very expensive to produce and showed little if any real profit potential. Sponsorship of 6-day riders produced a team to showcase the Paramount, the riders such as Jerry Rodman (The Michael Jordan of that time in Chicago) and the rest of the Schwinn Co. bicycle line.

In time, the Paramount came in a variety of models but remained expensive to produce and purchase.

Fast-forward to the 1960-70's, when Italian-made road and track bikes moved in to take over much of the mid- and high-end market.

After the bike-boom of the early 1970's, Paramount was in a poor state of affairs in regards to competition and advancing technologies. In 1979, Edward R. Schwinn Jr. was made president of the company and promptly closed down all of the Paramount operations until they could be brought up to date.

Marc Muller, a young new Schwinn engineer, was given the responsibility to head up the project. The Paramount operations were moved to Waterford, Wisconsin, where the Paramount was reborn with a modern factory and workforce. Schwinn then partnered with 7-Eleven, establishing a team including Eric Heiden. When 7-Eleven decided to hit the big time in racing, Schwinn went its own way due to a lack of funding. Schwinn was, however, able to recruit an up-and- coming rider named Lance Armstrong to its ranks.

Schwinn was sold in 1993 to the Scott Sports Group, which retained the Paramount name/trademark but sold off the Waterford factory. It was purchased and is now run by Marc Muller, Richard Schwinn (the great grandson of Ignaz Schwinn) and George Garner. George got his start at Hans Ohrt Lightweight bicycles in Beverly Hills. He bought Valley Cyclery in Van Nuys, California in the late 1940's (I worked there in 1979) and established 4 more shops in the Los Angeles area. I mention him and his background because he was instrumental in working with Frank W. Schwinn, Ray Burch and Schwinn's marketing department to develop the "total-concept store" as well as uniform work procedures, marketing, advertising and company service schools to keep all dealers up to date.

Waterford Precision Cycles is alive and doing quite well, a great success in its own right. That success is owed in part to early pioneering efforts with oversize tubesets such as 753 and 853 as well as its unique relationship with Reynolds.

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Related Pages on This Site:

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Schwinn on the Web

The Schwinn Web site had a Collectors' Page with info on dating, serial numbers, etc. but the page is now available only in the Internet Archive. If you find yourself in Ohio, you might check out the Bicycle Museum of America or in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry.

Oscar Wastyn Cycles

The best source I know of for old Schwinn parts and bicycles is The Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange

Mark Smith has a nice page about his Schwinn bikes , also some good Schwinn Repair and Restoration tips.

If you like Stingrays and Krates (I don't...don't get me started!), check out the page abotu them.

If you are interested in Varsities or the Electro-Forging process, you must read Marc S. Muller's Inside the Varsity. This article is so good, I put three links to it on this page, so you wouldn't miss it! This article had been unavailable for a while, but now has a permanent home on this site.

For the story of the decline and fall of the Schwinn company, check out the online review of No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, An American Institution, by Judith Crown and Glenn Coleman

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Articles by Sheldon Brown and Others

Reports of the demise of this Web site are greatly exaggerated! We at thank Harris Cyclery for its support over the years. Harris Cyclery has closed, but we keep going. Keep visiting the site for new and updated articles, and news about possible new affilations.

Copyright © 1996, 2008 Sheldon Brown

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Last Updated: by Harriet Fell