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Are Varsity's a good bike?

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Are Varsity's a good bike?

Old 01-15-15, 12:22 AM
  #1  
commodus192
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Bikes: 64 Schwinn Varsity in Coppertone, 74 Raleigh Super Course MKII, 72 Mercier 300, 71 Atala Gran Prix, 2002 Trek 1200 and approximately 25 others I'm too lazy to list - of which 15 of those, are Varsity's (my fav)

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Are Varsity's a good bike?

Just kidding.......

Seriously....this was not an actual question.

So, I'm a Schwinn Varsity/Continental nut. I'm one of those guys who shudders when someone posts something about a Varsity and braces myself for the 'it's a heavy POS' talk. Generally, it's partially true....BUT, today I ventured on a 700 mile trip for a rather special one, to me anyways. It's a 1964 - in radiant coppertone. Has all of it's Sprint attire including leather saddle and old Schwinn tires. I'm always picking up Varsitys for 20 - 30 bucks and often chuckle myself when someone has one for sale for over $100 - but this one I was willing to put the mileage in for. I live in Vermont - picked this up outside of Philadelphia, but will be Varsiteering with it this weekend in Manhattan at my inlaws, after I clean it up, tune it up and put some bar tape on and adjust things. Even the kickstand is still all chrome.

Love love love the coppertone...

Just wanted to share - I know there are a few on here who like the Schwinns as much as I.
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Old 01-15-15, 12:30 AM
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I would ride one if I could find one out here that wasn't neglected to death.
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Old 01-15-15, 01:08 AM
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The Varsity is an iconic bike. I especially love the "Sprint" years and I believe Coppertone was one of Schwinn's best colors ever. I am also a Schwinn nut and while I do lean more towards the higher end models I absolutely appreciate the Varsity, especially the '60s and early '70s models. I look forward to seeing and hearing more about your new acquisition.
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Old 01-15-15, 01:10 AM
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Bikes: 64 Schwinn Varsity in Coppertone, 74 Raleigh Super Course MKII, 72 Mercier 300, 71 Atala Gran Prix, 2002 Trek 1200 and approximately 25 others I'm too lazy to list - of which 15 of those, are Varsity's (my fav)

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Here in the hills, they are terrible - but around NYC, I love them. People either love them or hate them I guess. I have a yellow 73 that I keep chained up in Harlem at my inlaws just to have as needed - I paid 20 bucks for it. No one ever bothers it - and it's always there for me to use, which I do every couple of weeks when I'm there. I take it home with me every now and then to give it a cleaning and steel wool the particles of rust that tend to grow on it from being outdoors and probably pissed on. .
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Old 01-15-15, 01:12 AM
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Thanks Metacortex! I will certainly update my lap around Manhattan with it. I too, just love the coppertone; not always easy to find it seems. Thank you!
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Old 01-15-15, 01:22 AM
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So, this isn't your bike?
https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...t-5-miles.html
1968 Coppertone Schwinn Varsity Tourist in Fantastic Condition!
Only $995!!!

They were made sturdy. I think Schwinn had a lifetime warranty for something on the frame, perhaps that welds didn't fail. But, they were also heavy and just plain cheap.

No doubt good beater bikes, but they certainly got a bad rap from the roadies with exotic European bikes.
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Old 01-15-15, 01:37 AM
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Yeah, they're sorta OK I guess. In a way.

Thank God I'm too old to settle for "OK."
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Old 01-15-15, 02:04 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
But, they were also heavy and just plain cheap.
They were definitely heavy but they were not "cheap". In fact compared to similar bikes of the time they were quite expensive! The higher price bought quality, durability, the Schwinn dealer network... and some extra weight.

The Varsity wasn't in competition with "exotic European bikes", it was in competition with every other introductory 10-speed at the time and it was far better than most. And even though it was more expensive than most entry level 10-speed bikes from other manufacturers Schwinn sold nearly *3 million* Varsity models between 1960 and 1978. Yeah it was heavy, but as an entry-level 10-speed it was fantastic.
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Old 01-15-15, 02:08 AM
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Bikes: 64 Schwinn Varsity in Coppertone, 74 Raleigh Super Course MKII, 72 Mercier 300, 71 Atala Gran Prix, 2002 Trek 1200 and approximately 25 others I'm too lazy to list - of which 15 of those, are Varsity's (my fav)

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I lost my virginity in the back of a Schwinn Varsity, alone. Ha! Come on guys, give my 50 year old Schwinn a little love here eh?!!!! Someone cared enough to keep it alive and relatively shiny for 50 years....which means for every year it sat, it gained a whole dollar in value, which is approximately what I paid in gas and tolls today haha! But seriously, I think it's grand.
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Old 01-15-15, 02:41 AM
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I'm always glad to hear from anyone that appreciates the Varsity for the excellent, appropriately-designed bike that it is.

I've put in the miles on Varsities, here in the hills no less, and while the weight is a workout/training enhancer that allows one to get more training value out of shorter, more casual rides, the layed-back "cruiser" geometry also makes these bikes rather unique within the road bike world imo.

So I always tell folks that these bikes work best when the frame size is as big as the rider can possibly ride, since these bike's unusually high bottom bracket otherwise has riders selecting from the smaller frame sizes that likely won't allow the rider to get their body leaning forward as needed for climbing hills while "out of the saddle".

As bikes for just cruising around town on level ground, the geometry works especially well, except maybe the high bottom bracket (that was intended to keep the wide pedals from striking the pavement as inexperienced riders took corners while pedaling).

So in order to get enough forward reach, I have to ride literally the largest frame size that I can straddle (which is a 24" frame since I can't straddle the next-larger 26" frame size).
It wasn't even until the 70's I think that the huge 26" frames became available.

And so especially when riders choose a Varsity's size by measuring the seat tube up to the very end of the extended clamp portion, they will end up with a frame that is just plain too small to stretch out on or to lean forward out of the saddle aggressively enough to attack steep hills.

I've been able to increase the stem extension to as much as 9cm on these as a way to increase the forward reach, without any handling issues surfacing, but the layed-back cruiser-style angles on these bike's frames won't allow much of a stem length increase before the steering starts to get heavily "floppy".

But other than these quibbles, I have to commend these bike's style, build quality (things like the bottom bracket bearings and kickstand) and the thick-walled frame tubing that is so hard to dent.

I do have a hard time understanding why someone would leave their bicycle, any bicycle, outside in the rain though. Are apartments so small in NYC that their isn't room inside for a bicycle?
I'm glad that no one steals parts from that bike in Harlem at night, must be a pretty good neighborhood(?).

Oh, and congrat's on the Varsity that you bought!
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Old 01-15-15, 02:59 AM
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I have the Varsity's cousin- A 10-speed Suburban. I love it- and my Speedster as well. Both on the same frame as the Varsity. Sure, they develop my arm muscles when I have to lift them- but they can take anything the road can throw at you. The ride is sweet and smooth. Definitely not finicky- they are simple, take then apart with a medium size adjustable and a common head. To me the whole EF family is the Tri-five Chevy of bicycles. As I gaze at mine now, they look good.

Spend most of your time running around on a Varsity, and when you mount your gee-whiz carbon fiber job, you'll fly.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio the Schwinns were status and quality to us kids. I had Huffys and a Colombia back then. I honestly can't say I ever got jealous, but I always admired my grade school best friend's Continental- Coppertone in fact. I wasn't concerned with weight or components- but his bike was a beuty and I knew it was built well.
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Old 01-15-15, 04:50 AM
  #12  
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I flip them if they are cheap enough. I would never dream of keeping one, though. There is a weight set in the closet for that.
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Old 01-15-15, 06:43 AM
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Nice find!
Now you just need to find some Coppertone tape...

I have a few pre-68 Varsities ( 2x 63, 2x65, 2x66) as well as Continentals (61, 62, 64)... My first Schwinn wasn't a Varsity, but was a Suburban (5-speed). I traded it in for my first new Schwinn in 1981 after having problems with the GT100 derailleur. I got an 80 Suburban with the FFS (almost got a Motobecane Nomade II).

They were good solid bikes....
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Old 01-15-15, 07:24 AM
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This "question" even in jest often brings out a lot here!

Thanks for asking it...you made me think about the Varsity. While it is heavy and has minimal components, it is an icon in the American world of bikes. I grew up riding one and had no clue that it was (1) too heavy), (2) shifted awfully, (3) had steel rims that would not stop in the wet, which I rode it in frequently, (4) the seat was terrible, (5) etc., etc., etc. But...I bet I put thousands of miles on that bike!

It took me to: (1) play baseball and later tennis, (2) the grocery store for my mom, (3) my friend's houses, (4) around town, (5) other towns nearby, (6) my first half century...the list goes on and on...it gave me...some freedom!

And...it basically never failed me...

Now...how many of our upscale, pricey, light weight, etc. bikes can claim all of that...

Getting a touch misty eyed for my old Kool Lemon, beat up Schwinn Varsity Sport...
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Old 01-15-15, 07:42 AM
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The Varsity was surely a game changer when it came to my neighborhood in the 1960s--the first "English racer" we had ever seen!
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Old 01-15-15, 07:48 AM
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I owned a 1963 coppertone Varsity in 1964.

I was a young teenager. It was the third bicycle I had ever owned, and the last bike for nearly twenty years. Any "racing" bicycle in those days was a rare item in the small Midwestern town where I lived at the time, so this bicycle was special. And those coppertone Varsity's will always have a special hold on me. The pictures you posted nearly brought tears to my eyes.

The Schwinn Varsity made me a road cyclist.

Today I mostly ride modern road bicycles. But (although they rotate and change) I always keep at least one shiny, restored, steel, 10 speed, with down tube shifters hanging on my wall. I just feel like if I didn't have a classic-vintage bike... no matter how many modern bikes I owned... I'd be bikeless.

Originally Posted by commodus192 View Post
So, I'm a Schwinn Varsity/Continental nut................. today I ventured on a 700 mile trip for a rather special one, to me anyways.
You're doing God's work! Thank You.
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Old 01-15-15, 08:34 AM
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When I was in college in the early '70's and the bike boom was just getting going, the Varsity was the thing to have to ride from the dorms to the frat house. They were also theft bait because more people wanted one than had one, and even the thieves knew the Varsity was the best bike in the world. The Continental was the Varsity for rich kids. Varsity dudes sneered at my Italian bikes: an Olmo and a Bottecchia. Even my girl friend had a yellow men's frame Varsity.
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Old 01-15-15, 09:48 AM
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My freshman college roommate had a Varsity, and only a few weeks into the semester he won, in a contest, absolutely for free, an Atala. I thought the Atala looked awfully nice but he declared it was a piece of junk because it didn't weigh anything, so he kept the Varsity and sold the Atala for $100, a nice chunk of change in 1973.
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Old 01-15-15, 10:07 AM
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My first drop bar bike, around 1970, a blue one. It was responsible for me realizing that there must be something better. OK, a lot better. For that I am grateful and give it my respect, but not exactly undying affection. Your coppertone one is pretty nice, though.
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Old 01-15-15, 10:09 AM
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Bikes: 64 Schwinn Varsity in Coppertone, 74 Raleigh Super Course MKII, 72 Mercier 300, 71 Atala Gran Prix, 2002 Trek 1200 and approximately 25 others I'm too lazy to list - of which 15 of those, are Varsity's (my fav)

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Love hearing these old stories of yore! It seems so many of us had a hand, or rather feet - in world exploration via a Varsity or what not. dddd....I never even thought about the bottom bracket's height before - your description of it's handling style relative to many of your points is perfectly described. In regard to leaving one of my bikes outdoors - I do happen to completely agree with you. It goes against my grain. However, my guilt in doing so is superceded by the fact it was left for dead to begin with, and at the very least, it is seeming some action and is a useful member of bike lanes in NYC. There is simply no room in those apartments in Washington Heights. My wife's family is Dominican - the whole neighborhood is actually (and Harlem is a very vibrant and safe place nowadays) and there are more people per square inch than air. I bought the yellow Varsity for 20 bucks along with a Continental with a nasty fungus growing on it. The Continental cleaned up real well - hardly a blemish anywhere on it. Not a fan of opaque blue, but - it was fun to clean up and get working again. The Varsity was more banged up and a better candidate for NYC; and I still try to make sure it remains clean and functional despite exposure to the elements. I will absolutely not even ride this coppertone one though in even a sprinkle!

Thanks guys for the votes of confidence - really appreciate it and it's nice to see some endearing love still exists for these classic old road bikes; I will remain on God's side doing God's work on them lol!




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Old 01-15-15, 01:48 PM
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Warms my heart to see that the yellow bike is respected by the thousands of passers-by. I can't think of a bike better able to withstand such storage, perhaps especially the Varsity bottom bracket that features quite-oversized, high-grade chromium ball bearings and a water-repelling (instead of water-trapping) design, not to mention the galvanized cups and cones to further deter rusting. And no alloy seatpost, handlebar stem or crankarm to fuse galvanically to the seat tube, steerer or pedal spindle threads, respectively.

The Varsity was, and is, in many ways, a superior bicycle!

Judging by the blue bike's saddle height, since it's an EF Schwinn I'd say that you are likely riding close to an optimally-sized frame (fantastic looking bike btw).

And LOL, looks like you got a heck of a workout loading those two bikes onto the car's rack!

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Old 01-15-15, 02:03 PM
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I never thought much of the Varsity (beyond some of the great colors Schwinn used on them (nice coppertone by the way)), until I read this Sheldon Brown article, which I'm sure many of you are already familiar with: Inside the Varsity
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Old 01-15-15, 02:13 PM
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This is a photo of an early/mid '60s Schwinn that I bought for $14 when I was a teen. People had ridden Varsities and Continentals across the country "back in the day", but I wasn't meant to be one of them. I was able to do 40 to 50 mile rides on the Schwinn back then. It used to be a nightmare pedaling it up steep hills. I can still remember worrying about being able to make it back on really hot summer days. Then I discovered lightweight Japanese road bikes (with the correct size frame). They got me addicted to riding. Nothing, however, beat the Schwinns for durability and ease of maintenance.
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Old 01-15-15, 03:55 PM
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This conversation reminds me of my trip to the bike shop (a Schwinn dealer) to buy my first ten speed. Having recently immigrated from England, my concept of a great bike was something that the Tour de France riders used, and conversations with my english classmates often revolved around which frames (Dayton, Dawes, Raleigh, etc) and derailleurs (Benelux, Simplex) were best. I wanted a Raleigh Record, Grand Prix, or Super Course but the dealer was giving me and my dad the heavy sell on a Varsity. My dad asked him why he thought the Varsity was best and he replied that if I left the bike in the driveway and the car drove over it then the Varsity would probably survive and a Raleigh wouldn't. He acknowledged that other than that a Raleigh was the better bike. I got the Raleigh.
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Old 01-15-15, 05:01 PM
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dddd: You're absolutely correct, the blue's frame fits me like a well fitted glove, whereas the yellow one more like OJ's glove...a bit cramped; it's much too small. Fun, but small. Love your enthusiasm with them; great minds think alike!

clang: Love that article on his site; I've always been surprised there are not any pictures easily found of the Schwinn factory during it's hey day anyplace. There are a few, but not many. Thank you!

cycleheimer: Thanks for sharing that photo; that's fantastic. I guess I was a lucky one, or unlucky - my first roadbike was an 'Itoh' - but as I grew a bit more, my dad bought me a Schwinn Varsity. Back then, weight of a bike was the furthest thing from my mind - although that seems to still be the case today (but definitely not all the time lol).

davester: LOL. Yeah you probably made the better choice. We had a Raleigh dealer and Ross dealer in town too, besides a Schwinn one. The Raleigh guy is still in business and I try to buy tires and stuff off of him as business is pretty tight for him nowadays. Now...since you had a Raleigh, maybe you should splurge and buy yourself a Varsity - after all, I had a Schwinn, and just recently bought a Raleigh Supercourse MKII. For 20 bucks. I love it. And yes, that is ducttape on the handlebars....got to buy some tape lol

Before and Sort of After:

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