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1974 Schwinn Varsity 10 speed - Need some ideas

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1974 Schwinn Varsity 10 speed - Need some ideas

Old 08-29-12, 03:02 PM
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trollzy85
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1974 Schwinn Varsity 10 speed - Need some ideas

Hello! I've been heavily relying on these forums for information for the past 6 months just by reading past posts and whatnot, but I finally decided that I'd make make my own post and perhaps get some help.

I've been commuting on my 1979 Motobecane Grand Touring back and forth from work for several months, but someone messed with it while I was at work, and as a result the bottom bracket was damaged. I know it's hard to find compatible parts for old french bikes, so I decided to get another bike to commute on while I take my time getting my motobecane back in shape. I wanted something built like a tank, so I bought an old varsity. It's in really nice condition. Zero Rust. Everything is there.




The only issue I am having with it is that it's difficult to switch between gears. You have to apply a lot of pressure, where as my motobecane always shifted effortlessly. I have never messed with shifter cables or derailleurs before, but I am thinking a new back derailleur and tune might be in order.. Which leads me to my first two questions:

What is an affordable alternative derailleur that would fit on the varsity?
and are there any easy to follow resources out there that'd help me learn how to do the swap/tuning myself?

Other than that, I was hoping you ladies and gentlemen would have some tips and tricks to lighten the weight on this beast of burden. I plan on removing the kick stand, maybe switching out the front tire, and removing the front fender. I was also interested in switching it from a drop bar to a cruiser style handlebar, like a velo orange tourist (to give you an idea of the general shape of handlebars.. I don't know a ton of bike vocab). good idea? bad?

Regardless, I plan on holding onto all of the bits, so I can convert it back to stock later on.

James N.
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Old 08-29-12, 03:17 PM
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A mid-80s derailleur such as a Suntour AR or ARX would drop in there okay; I did that on my '73 Varsity. You could probably pick one up in the Classic & Vintage Sales forum. If you haven't changed out the cables, you should probably do that too. One last thing is if you can find a ramped 5-speed freewheel (like those used with modern indexed shifting), that would improve the shifting as well. I think they are common from 6 speeds and up, maybe not so much for 5 speeds. If you can find one, it should cost no more than $20. You might be able to get a 6- or 7- speed freewheel to work, but you would need to add about 1/4" (6 mm) spacer to the drive side and cold set (bend) the frame to the wider width (not that hard to do).

Here is an Amazon search for 5 speed freewheels; I can't tell if any of them are ramped.

I like the old school speedometer!
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Old 08-29-12, 03:31 PM
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I'd say lube cables and housing on the Varsity and it would rumble along well. Most parts are interhangeable on Schwinns so if you found a donor bike, like a Suburban, you could just switch parts over. I'm not sure somebody could do anything to your BB on the Moto to make it fail, unless they started taking it apart.
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Old 08-29-12, 03:35 PM
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Replace the cables. Lube the shifters. Done. I've succeeded in getting that Allvit derailleur to work well. It's not a stunning performer, but it's adequate, and it's a tank, like the rest of the bike. It's not the best riding bike, but the tankishness is mind-blowing. Designed for a 13 year old boy who abuses everything he touches.
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Old 08-29-12, 07:08 PM
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I sell ramped 5 speed freewheels in my shop. They are list price 14.99 I believe. Looks like the sunrace one listed in doohickey's link is the same one that I usually stock. Any LBS should be able to set you up!

I get lots of old road bikes coming in for new alloy wheels and I always suggest a ramped freewheel and modern chain to go with the new set of wheels. If these advancements were made before clicks, friction shifting wouldnt have as bad a rap w/the unwashed masses!
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Old 08-29-12, 07:44 PM
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How I turned my 1974 Varsity into a decent commuter:
1) removed kickstand
2) replaced 5-speed freewheel w/ an ultra-6 speed
3) removed spoke protector and chain guard
4) removed front pedal reflectors and installed toeclips
5) replaced TwinStik w/ downtube shifters (shim required)
6) replaced padded mattress saddle w/ old Brooks
7) replaced Weinmann brake pads w/ salmon KoolStop
8) new brake cables and housings
9) replaced wheelset w/ aluminum rims
10) replaced rear derailleur w/ SunTour V
11) installed period correct Pletscher "mousetrap" rear rack
12) installed period correct Bellwether cylindrical front bag

Total cost of the upgrade was minimal, because most of the parts came from my junk box.
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Old 08-29-12, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Replace the cables. Lube the shifters. Done. I've succeeded in getting that Allvit derailleur to work well. It's not a stunning performer, but it's adequate, and it's a tank, like the rest of the bike. It's not the best riding bike, but the tankishness is mind-blowing. Designed for a 13 year old boy who abuses everything he touches.
It's amazing though how a 40 year old shifter or derailleur or brakes on these bikes are still functional. Clean them up and they still work. Even the wheels seem super-durable compared to today's offerings.

Although I have to ask what they were thinking when they designed those stem shifters. A quick brake and you are into two daggers.
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Old 08-29-12, 08:42 PM
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Originally Posted by trollzy85 View Post
...I was also interested in switching it from a drop bar to a cruiser style handlebar, like a velo orange tourist (to give you an idea of the general shape of handlebars.. I don't know a ton of bike vocab). good idea? bad?
That's fine, although you will need to change the brake levers to go with the tourist bars.

But in the mean-time please do yourself a favor and fix the angle of the current drop bars, it is painful to look at, much less to ride! Loosen the stem clamp bolt (on the front of the stem) and rotate the bars until the ends are about 15 degrees down from horizontal. Basically the ends should point towards the rear axle or just slightly above. Then re-tighten the clamp bolt. That will allow you to use the drop bars properly, as well as to reach the brakes. See the attached picture for reference.
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Old 08-29-12, 09:18 PM
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I to would also recomend you buy a new 5/6 speed ramped freewheel while your at a new chain to match the freewheel may not be a bad idea. As for the shifters deriallers I have worked on a lot of older Varsity's and for the most par they seem pretty good considering age and price. If you feel you need to change them some decent vintage Suntour AR or VX stuff is pretty good cheaper option as others have said. As a whole this bike should make nice commuter bike pretty much as is.
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Old 08-29-12, 09:35 PM
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I've got one of those too - same year, size, color, fenders. I ride it all over city streets - it's a tank but all that steel flattens out the bumps and potholes nicely. Shifting isn't the easiest but it is fully functional and I actually like the stem shifters as I'm not in the drops on this bike too often. Plus, it's super durable and coasts forever on even the slightest downhill slope...
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Old 08-29-12, 10:41 PM
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People always mention Twinkies and cockroaches as the only things that would survive a nucleur war....but I'm pretty sure many a Varsity or two would survive quite well too.
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Old 08-30-12, 12:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Savagewolf View Post
People always mention Twinkies and cockroaches as the only things that would survive a nucleur war....but I'm pretty sure many a Varsity or two would survive quite well too.
Scwhinns classic Varsity Sport circa 1970-1980 is a hallmark of bicycles basicaly the best selling model bike of all time solid a will built bike for adults at a affordable price then or now. Considering how tough they are and they broke the million mark in numbers a few will survive no matter what.
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Old 08-30-12, 05:40 AM
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As stated above, new cables,[ maybe housings, too,] grease , wax, Kool-Stop Salmon brake pads, & ride it.
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Old 08-30-12, 06:10 AM
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Originally Posted by gerv View Post
Although I have to ask what they were thinking when they designed those stem shifters. A quick brake and you are into two daggers.
Remove the 'daggers'...and there's the stem. And if you're braking that hard, then there's the pavement.

Schwinn pursued the U.S. adult cycling market for nearly 40 years, doggedly trying various bikes and pitches to get American grownups to ride bikes. Nothing really worked. In the 1960s they offered bikes based on the classic European road bike pattern in a wide spread of price points. In the late 1960s the entire market for adult bikes amounted to less than 200,000 units a year in a country with a population of over 200,000,000.

The bikes were appealing and sexy, but one ride and American adults would walk away shaking their heads. The down turned bars offered multiple hand/body positions, but to use the brakes, the rider had to go down on the drops, and to shift all (10!) those gears the rider had to reach way down to the down tube.

Schwinn's engineering genius of the day, Frank Brilando, had an inspiration. He designed shifters and brake levers that were easy to reach from the upright riding position of the tops of the bars. Schwinn fitted Brilando's stem shifters and 'safety levers' (sic) on the Varsity for the 1969 model year.

By 1972, sales had expanded by a factor of forty (40X!) and over 8 million new 'ten speed' road bikes were being sold to American adults every year, and almost every one had drop bars fitted with stem shifters and 'safety lever' brakes.

To this day, it's next to impossible for manufacturers to sell American adults bikes that don't have easy to reach gear shifts - of course for road bikes we've moved from stem shifters to brifters in the decades since the bike boom.
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Old 08-30-12, 06:15 AM
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Originally Posted by zukahn1 View Post
Scwhinns classic Varsity Sport...they broke the million mark in numbers...
During the heart of the bike boom (1972-1974), Schwinn was building over 1,500,000 Varsities every year - that's one every 21 seconds 24/365.
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Old 08-30-12, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Schwinn's engineering genius of the day, Frank Brilando, had an inspiration. He designed shifters and brake levers that were easy to reach from the upright riding position of the tops of the bars. Schwinn fitted Brilando's stem shifters and 'safety levers' (sic) on the Varsity for the 1969 model year.
The Twin-Stik shifters were actually introduced in 1967. They were covered by a design patent in 1967, followed by an engineering patent in 1969.

Frank Brilando was an incredible engineer, one of Schwinn's best assets. Besides the Twin-Stik, his other most visible design was the Double Plateau Sprocket Assembly, an iconic chrome-plated Schwinn component if there ever was one.

Brilando didn't invent the dual-position brake levers (aka "Safety Levers"). They were assigned to Yoshigai Co., better known as Dia-Compe, however Schwinn did introduce them on its bikes in 1969.

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Old 08-30-12, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Replace the cables. Lube the shifters. Done. I've succeeded in getting that Allvit derailleur to work well...
+1 This is all it takes.

For yet a bit better shifting, find an old Suntour 5-speed freewheel (or, even better, a Shimano Z-series 14-28t, 5sp freewheel) and use with modern chain (7, 8 or 9-speed) for the best friction shifting possible.

Note that using ramped freewheels with friction shifters doesn't give any audible fedback as to an impending shift, so a poorly-positioned shift lever is "unreported" with sudden ghost-shifting then a possibility.

The "ramped" freewheels are always for index shifting.
And on a related note, brifters always use ramped freewheels.
Both issues have safety implications, and I've seen riders momntarily lose control in either case using the wrong tpe of freewheel/cassette.

Lastly, modern chains do not work right with some of the French-made Varsity freewheels (annoying false-neutrals).
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Old 08-31-12, 12:42 PM
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New cables, clean the shifters and use it. They will smooth out with use. I've crashed several times on Varsitys and never been damaged by the stem shifters. I prefer those shifters over the down tube type. Heavy? Come on! Grow a set of lungs and legs! They weigh about what many unloaded touring bikes weigh. I cruise at 15 to 18 mph in town with one and its a smooth ride.
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Old 09-02-12, 01:40 AM
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One thing about Varsities is you do have to get used to the feel and the handling, which are very different from other bikes.
They're quite good once you adapt, unless you have to carry the bike up stairs frequently or unless the bike is even slightly too small for the rider, which is more-serious problem with these (Varsity and Continental) models.

The Varsity stem shifters were perhaps the first (and nearly the only) ones to have the shifter pivot offset in front of the stem quill, which moved the shifters closer to the bars and gave a touch more clearance for one's knees. They're good shifters imo, but the chromed "bumper steel" offset mounting ring no doubt turned off many performance-obsessed riders and racers and made headset adjustments something of a nightmare.
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Old 09-02-12, 07:17 AM
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Make it a 12 speed! I upgraded my Varsities with a modern chain and a Shimano 6 speed freewheel with twisted teeth (Uniglide?). They shift well (Quick with a positive engagement - kinda like adding a "shift kit" to an automatic transmission), will work with index shifters, and are a little narrower than a 6 speed Hyperglide freewheel. If you get any frame rub, an extra axle washer on the inside will usually take care of it.

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Old 09-02-12, 07:50 PM
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Just a FYI, the original Allvit rear derailer won't move across 6 cogs without modification to increase it's travel.

My current 1976 and 1964 Varsities have 6 and 7-speed freewheel and cassette, respectively, the '76 in a 24" size with the stem shifters and the '64 in a 22" size with Ergo levers.

I usually find it easy to fit 6-speed freewheels to older bikes that came with only 5, but the Allvit's as I said require modification for more gears or for anything larger than a 28t cog.
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