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  1. #1
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    1973 Schwinn Varsity

    I found an '73 Varsity in my grandpa's basement. I've made it my project to fix it up and make it suitable for touring. What is a good option for rims? I'm looking for something quick release and obviously 36 spokes. Thanks.

    Also, any other recommendations on fixing the bike would be GREATLY appreciated!

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    We can't tell you how to fix it if we don't know what's wrong with it. Pictures would be helpful. You might also try the Classic & Vintage forum as they have quite a bit of experience with this sort of thing.

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    What condition is it in now and what do you think you want to do with it? If you aren't willing to use the existing components and plan to "modernize" this bike, it's going to be far more involved and cost more than you think. Be aware that sentimental attachment can be very expensive.

  4. #4
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    The Varsity was a very heavy bike. You can replace the steel rims with aluminum. Remove the one-peice crank, add an adapter and install an alloy three-piece crank. But the frame will still be a boat anchor which isn't the best for touring. Also, does the frame fit you well? If not, it would be even more of a waste to start this.

    I'd suggest cleaning and lubing it. Replace the tires, tubes and brake blocks as needed. Then ride it as is.

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    Can'tre Member 3alarmer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdimpsey View Post
    I found an '73 Varsity in my grandpa's basement. I've made it my project to fix it up and make it suitable for touring.
    Also, any other recommendations on fixing the bike would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Sorry, suitable for touring can't be done with this bike without
    selling it and using the money to get something that is.

    Fix and ride around town as is, or sell and start a touring
    fund. I understand there's a purple Varsity in Sheboygen
    on which someone expects to clear a healthy profit.

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...=#post12055964
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    No wonder everybody hates you.

  6. #6
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    I agree that a 1973 Varsity can't be made suitable for touring. It wasn't suitable when new in 1973, and since then bikes have gotten vastly better. Moreover, since your bike is so far out of date, you'll always have limited options for replacement parts, which will end up costing you more than a modern analog.

    For less than you'd end up putting into this bike, you could find a nice used bike more suited to your needs.

    If you decide that you still want to restore, be sure to work up an estimate of what it'll need and what it'll cost. All too often on this forum we see people start restoration projects and end up with too much in to quit yet still not have a decent bike. The time to abandon a restoration project is before you've put the first dollar into it.
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  7. #7
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CACycling View Post
    I'd suggest cleaning and lubing it. Replace the tires, tubes and brake blocks as needed. Then ride it as is.
    Yep. Ditto. +1000...
    Jeff Wills

    All my bikes.

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    I completely agree with the others about the Varsity not being a good candidate for a tourer. It would be good experience for you to do a basic servicing, replace a few parts as needed, and ride it.

    Now, with that said, I will relate a little experience we had in our shop last spring. A young guy came in with a '70's Varsity, outfitted with a rear rack and loaded up pretty good with panniers full of supplies, camping gear, etc. He was on a true cross country trip, east coast of the U.S. to the west coast. Final destination California. We're located about right in the middle, so by the time he came into our shop he had already made it nearly half way.

    He had a couple of broken spokes. I don't remember if we ended up selling him a new wheel or just replaced the spokes or what, I didn't do the work on the bike. I'm SURE we recommended a new wheel, because he indicated he had broken quite a few spokes along the way. But money was probably an issue, so it may have gone either way. Anyway, I did get a chance to briefly check out his bike. To this day, when I think about that bike, I'm still dumbfounded that he had made it as far as he had on that thing. Every conceivable thing seemed to be wrong with it! The headset was indexed so horribly it was hard to imagine riding it. The wheels were obviously a wreck (at least when he came in). The tires were worn out. There was some problem with the brakes. I'm sure every bearing on the bike was in need of servicing. You get the picture, it was a complete, seemingly hopeless, mess.

    The fellow was the opposite of the bike, however. Fit as a fiddle and with a contagious, positive attitude. Riding on average, he informed us, 85 miles a day. Camping most nights, occasionally staying with folks along the way he had contacted before the trip. And when he came into our shop he was, of course, anxious to get back on the road. I talked with him, told him of all the problems I had found with the bike just by briefly inspecting it. He took it in stride and assured me he'd be fine.

    He did give us the web address of his blog. We enjoyed following his trip through the blog for most of the next month, and realized as we read his stories from the road that it really WASN'T about the bike for this young man, he was just out there making do with what he had and living life to the fullest. He made it to the California beach community he was headed to, and we still have a picture of him standing in front of our shop with the bike pinned on our bulletin board by the cash register. He is a customer we have not forgotten. And that bike......THAT BIKE!!! Never underestimate a '70's Schwinn Varsity!
    Last edited by well biked; 01-12-11 at 09:50 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by well biked View Post
    And that bike......THAT BIKE!!! Never underestimate a '70's Schwinn Varsity!
    Maybe more accurately, never underestimate the ability of some people to persevere IN SPITE OF the 70's Schwinn Varsity. This was a triumph of positive attitude over common sense.

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    Good bikes help, but it's definitely about the strength and attitude of the rider.

    For a frame of reference consider that in what was maybe the first RAAM, Thomas Stevens rode across the US on a Penny Farthing in 1884 covering 3700 miles in 105 days. That's on roads (where they existed) that were incomparably worse than they are today. That's also without gears, decent brakes, high pressure tires, a support vehicle or any niceties we'd all consider absolute musts for a touring bike.

    Whether a Varsity is a suitable touring bike isn't about whether it can make the trip -- it can --, but whether it makes sense compared to other options. If it can be gotten working for a reasonable cost and the OP prefers not to spend more, than he should go for it. OTOH, he should set a cap on what he puts into it, so as to avoid ending up with an expensive white elephant.
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  11. #11
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    You can tour with any bike, even a 70s Varsity, but if you want to upgrade it to a touring bike, you are better off starting with nothing than starting with a 70s Varsity.

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    I don't mean to sound argumentative, but why the hell can't someone tour on a Varsity? Lot's of people did it before. Is there better bike's out their? Of course! But I don't drive a '91 ford windstar because I like it or it's the best mini van a 20 year old could dream about (sarcasm). I drive it cause I had it, it was free, and it still works. Yes I understand that the windstar is far from a bike, but the point is the same. The Varsity isn't impossible to tour on. Impossible means nothing to me.

    So as I previously asked, what is good option to replace the rims?

  13. #13
    Senior Member catonec's Avatar
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    as inexpensively as possible.
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    I can't speak for others, but I agree that the varsity could be toured on. From my perspective it's a question of how much work it needs, and whether that same money could be better spent on an alternative. Using your 20 year old Windstar analogy, would you take one out of the junkyard, and spend big dough to replace the engine, rear end, brakes, a new radiator, and 4 new tires? Or might you do maybe better buying an 8 year old Chevy van.

    If you want to replace the rims, you have to make a decision whether to stay with the 27" or change to 700c. All things being equal 700c makes more sense because there's greater selection of both rims and tires. But a 700c wheel is 4mm smaller in radius, so make sure your brakes have room to move the shoes down 4mm before deciding.

    Then compare the cost of rebuilding on your hubs, or buying a prebuilt wheel which will probably cost less (if one can be found that matches) but won't be as well built as a good hand built wheel. If you want to keep costs down, consider looking around for used wheels, or another used bike with good wheels. Sometimes the best bargain in refurbishing an old bike is to find a second bike, and using the better parts from each to build one good bike.

    But, and please don't take this as a put down of your desire to rebuild your Varsity - find out what it needs and what it'll cost, before you spend your first dollar. Replacement parts are so expensive compared to complete bikes that it's easy to end spending much more than a bike is worth.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdimpsey View Post
    I don't mean to sound argumentative, but why the hell can't someone tour on a Varsity? Lot's of people did it before. Is there better bike's out their? Of course! But I don't drive a '91 ford windstar because I like it or it's the best mini van a 20 year old could dream about (sarcasm). I drive it cause I had it, it was free, and it still works. Yes I understand that the windstar is far from a bike, but the point is the same. The Varsity isn't impossible to tour on. Impossible means nothing to me.

    So as I previously asked, what is good option to replace the rims?
    That depends on your locale. Within 15 miles of my place are a handful of shops that likely have some olde 27" steel wheels pretty cheap and some alloy rimmed choices for a little more.

    If you want some fancy new alloy rimmed wheels, I'd probably go with this $100 set from Harris.

    Sometimes you can find better complete bikes for $100 if you keep your eyes peeled.
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    If I was gonna tour on it, I'd make sure everything was in good shape. If I needed to replace the wheels I'd likely scrap the project and start with a different base bike.

    If the wheels are good to go I might go for it on the Varsity. I'd want to spend the bare minimum for my comfort. New cables, new tires, new bar tape, new saddle. Inspect and consider new chain.

    Repack all bearings.
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  17. #17
    Can'tre Member 3alarmer's Avatar
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    Of Course You Can Tour On Anything With Wheels

    Quote Originally Posted by pdimpsey View Post
    I found an '73 Varsity in my grandpa's basement. I've made it my project to fix it up and make it suitable for touring. What is a good option for rims? I'm looking for something quick release and obviously 36 spokes. Thanks.

    Also, any other recommendations on fixing the bike would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Dear Mr.Dimpsey,

    You should not ask questions to which you are unwilling to
    listen to the answer. You have gotten reasonably sound
    advice on this thread. Good luck in your endeavor.

    Respectfully,
    Mike Larmer
    Quote Originally Posted by Terrierman View Post
    No wonder everybody hates you.

  18. #18
    Constant tinkerer FastJake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdimpsey View Post
    I don't mean to sound argumentative, but why the hell can't someone tour on a Varsity? Lot's of people did it before. Is there better bike's out their? Of course! But I don't drive a '91 ford windstar because I like it or it's the best mini van a 20 year old could dream about (sarcasm). I drive it cause I had it, it was free, and it still works. Yes I understand that the windstar is far from a bike, but the point is the same. The Varsity isn't impossible to tour on. Impossible means nothing to me.

    So as I previously asked, what is good option to replace the rims?
    Something used and inexpensive, made out of aluminum. I'm thinking in the < $40 range.

    Obviously you don't want to hear this, and I hate to just reiterate (again) what everyone else has said. But seriously, I would not spend $100 on a set of rims for an old Varsity. Yes, you can tour on it. But if you search carefully you could also find a decent used bike for $100 that doesn't need much work, and will be vastly lighter and better (for touring) than the Varsity.
    Why "derailer" is the correct way to spell the gear-change mechanism: sheldonbrown.com/derailer.html

  19. #19
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    pdimpsey,
    here is a link for a decent set of 27" wheels that wont brake your bank

    Front = $39.99
    Rear = $44.99

    They are not 36 spoke wheels but 32 spokes should serve you just fine even for loaded touring.

    http://www.jensonusa.com/store/produ...oad+Wheel.aspx

    Many of the arguments others have mentioned are true but I think if you want to tour on your bike you should do it. Write a blog or post back with tales from the trails so we can read about how your trip goes.

    I think too many people get hung up on equipment. Living in a developing nation I see people puting bikes to use everyday that folks in the US would be drop jawed about. Many are old and in various states of disrepair but they work and serve a purpose.

    To All: The best bike is not the lightest, Not the fastest, Not the prettiest, Not the most expensive, Not the most current; the best bike is the one that gets ridden. And the most important piece of equipment is the nut on top of the seat.

    As we say in motorcylce circles...Keep the shiny side up!!!

    -j

  20. #20
    tcs
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    You might enjoy:

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/varsity.html
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/varsity-shaddox.html

    "For a quarter century the easiest way to show you were a sophisticated, discriminating cyclist has been to make disparaging remarks about the Schwinn Varsity." I love that quote!

    Anyway, back in 1976 thousands of Americans rode bicycles across the country on the Bikecentennial ride. Since they didn't have experts telling them they couldn't, a surprising number pulled their Varisties out of the garage for the ride.

    Although overly heavy and highly geared for long distance touring, the bikes held up very well - on average, they were more robust than the UJBs used by other riders. (I overhauled a number of bikes post-ride.)

    Clean it and regrease it. IIRC, you'll need a medium-ish crescent wrench and a flat blade screwdriver to completely disassemble a Varsity.

    Relace the existing hubs with aluminum 700C rims. Spring for new brake blocks, cables and housing. Put toe clips and straps on the pedals.

    Now you'll have an interesting and highly functional bike that will be very effective for pleasure riding and commuting.

    About "touring": there seem to be as many definitions of bicycle touring as there are people who have ridden a bicycle. IMO a well-running Varsity would be suitable for light touring or S24O.

    Fully-loaded touring is more challenging/demanding, as those folks found out back in '76. Principally, the Varsity is resistant to having lower gearing fitted without spending some $$$. (Fun fact: Frank Berto began his now 40-year-long cycling techno-journalism career by trying to fit his Varsity with lower gearing!) If the touring is more important than the bike, I'd probably start with an 80s purpose-designed touring bike rather than a bike-boom era Varsity.
    Last edited by tcs; 01-13-11 at 06:44 AM.
    "When man first set woman on two wheels with a pair of pedals, did he know, I wonder, that he had rent the veil of the harem in twain? A woman on a bicycle has all the world before her where to choose; she can go where she will, no man hindering." The Typewriter Girl, 1899.

    "Every so often a bird gets up and flies some place it's drawn to. I don't suppose it could tell you why, but it does it anyway." Ian Hibell, 1934-2008

  21. #21
    Senior Member Homebrew01's Avatar
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    I bought 2 hybrid bikes on Ebay for $30 each (local pickup - no shipping) with all aluminum parts, 21 speed indexed shifting. If I was going to do any kind of riding, I would much rather ride them than the Varsity. The main point being (as others said), that you may spend the same amount of money fixing the Varsity as you could spend on a decent used bike.
    Bikes: Old steel race bikes, old Cannondale race bikes, less old Cannondale race bike, crappy old mtn bike

  22. #22
    tcs
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    Quote Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
    But seriously, I would not spend $100 on a set of rims for an old Varsity.
    Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to source an inexpensive or free old bike and then pay top retail dollar for up-market repair/replacement parts.

    I paid $2 each for a couple aluminum rims at a swap meet.
    "When man first set woman on two wheels with a pair of pedals, did he know, I wonder, that he had rent the veil of the harem in twain? A woman on a bicycle has all the world before her where to choose; she can go where she will, no man hindering." The Typewriter Girl, 1899.

    "Every so often a bird gets up and flies some place it's drawn to. I don't suppose it could tell you why, but it does it anyway." Ian Hibell, 1934-2008

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