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No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company

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No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company

Old 03-25-14, 05:28 AM
  #26  
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Even most recently, the Schwinn brand has created the Madison fixed gear. I find it, in some ways, synonymous to the way that the Varsity was a stepping stone to the "higher end" bicycle market.
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Old 03-25-14, 06:50 AM
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This is a great thread, guys. I have a Waterford bike which is pretty much my go to bike even though I also have a high end plastic bike. When I decided to buy the Waterford my LBS called them up to have it built and Dick Schwinn answered the phone, took the details, and sealed the deal. Heck, I wouldn't be shocked if he welded the frame.
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Old 03-25-14, 07:30 AM
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old try

Yes--you are very correct. The Paramount was a world class bike. Two of my sons still have upscale Schwinn bikes. Both of them have down tube shifters that made the bikes some of the cleanest ever produced. One even has the brake cables hidden under the handlebar tape, so it is almost as clean as a track bike.
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Old 03-25-14, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by dazevedo View Post
I had to laugh at this part - imported from Japan simply because Schwinn's factory was unable to manufacture bikes with the "newfangled" lugged frame technology. It was the beginning of the end for them.
If that is really in the book then who ever wrote it was lacking in research.
I probably just over-summarized that part, as the book seemed to be very well researched although the book was intended more as a business case study than a detailed history of the industry.

As I recall, what they said was that Schwinn was unable to make frames of this type in their main Chicago factory. The Paramounts were built at another location, with much of the welding and brazing done by hand. The bikes were expensive to make and sold at a high price for that era, but it was OK for Schwinn since they were sold as a high-end "premium" model.

When the market for that type of bike started to pick up, Schwinn was unable to make bikes at the volume and price point that dealers were demanding and had to import them for a few years to meet the demand. As I recall, they did start making the LeTour and similar bikes stateside in the late 70s or so, possibly at the new factory in Greeneville, MS, although I don't recall those details from the book.
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Old 03-25-14, 09:14 AM
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BTW, the way that I discovered this book was when I read David Eggers' novel of a few years ago, "A Hologram for the King." In that book, the main (fictional) character is an ex-Schwinn executive who had been saddled with trying to make a success of the ex-Soviet-bloc factory in Bulgaria that Schwinn bought into in an attempt to make bikes more cheaply for the European and other Western markets. So there are a number of interesting references back to that experience that the character reflects on throughout the book, which generally reflects on the demise of American manufacturing.

In an afterword, the author noted this book as one of his sources, and that's why I went out looking for it.

Last edited by DougG; 03-25-14 at 09:14 AM. Reason: Fix spelling
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Old 03-25-14, 09:19 AM
  #31  
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Giant began producing bikes for Schwinn in 1977. The Hungarian debacle was around 1988. Schwinn's bankruptcy was in 1992.
Whoa. I didn't know Giant was producing bikes for them that early!
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Old 03-25-14, 10:26 AM
  #32  
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I had 3 Schwinn bikes, a Varsity 5 in 1979, a Traveler in 1983, and a Prelude in 1986. The Prelude had Columbus chrome-moly tubing and SunTour groupo. The rear dropout broke in July of 1998. Since the frame was supposed to have been under a lifetime warranty, I searched out a Schwinn dealer ( I lived in Indianapolis at that point, not in the city where I purchased the bike). They contacted Schwinn, who at this time had been purchased by a group called Questor (probably the Colorado group mentioned earlier in this thread). THEY determined lifetime warranty meant 10 years. I didnt expect a full credit for a 12 year old bike, but I didnt expect the bum's rush either. FWIW, I switched to Trek then.
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Old 03-25-14, 12:51 PM
  #33  
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Originally Posted by az_cyclist View Post
THEY determined lifetime warranty meant 10 years. I didnt expect a full credit for a 12 year old bike, but I didnt expect the bum's rush either.
I'm not a bankruptcy lawyer but I imagine the extent of the new owner's liabilities were spelled out right along with the purchase of the assets. I bet the long time Schwinn blue collar employees took it in the shorts, too.
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Old 03-25-14, 02:02 PM
  #34  
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
I'm not a bankruptcy lawyer but I imagine the extent of the new owner's liabilities were spelled out right along with the purchase of the assets. I bet the long time Schwinn blue collar employees took it in the shorts, too.
Oh I am sure they did. The hypocrisy of it is what got me; the new owners wanted the Schwinn name, but didnt want to back it up.
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Old 03-25-14, 03:43 PM
  #35  
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[QUOTE=JanMM;16608121]
My 'upgrade' to a Made in Mississippi '79 Super LeTour

The Greenville factory opened in 1982 Your 79 would have likely been a chicago built machine, maybe Panasonic
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Old 03-25-14, 04:36 PM
  #36  
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Originally Posted by dazevedo View Post
I have no idea if they didn't build lugged lower cost frames from lack of skilled workers , or they stuck with a 3 class tier so to say first class lugged Paramounts, second class fillet-brazed Sports Tourers ,Super Sports and third class electro-forged the Varsity's, Continental's.
Nah, they sold plenty of inexpensive lugged frame bikes (undercutting their own Chicago bikes) during the 1970s bike boom - they just didn't manufacture them.
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Old 03-25-14, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Nah, they sold plenty of inexpensive lugged frame bikes (undercutting their own Chicago bikes) during the 1970s bike boom - they just didn't manufacture them.
They sold plenty of lugged bikes in the mid to late 80's also that were made in Greenville. Le Tours and Travelers
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Old 03-25-14, 04:59 PM
  #38  
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Nah, they sold plenty of inexpensive lugged frame bikes (undercutting their own Chicago bikes) during the 1970s bike boom - they just didn't manufacture them.
Yea that was my bad there. I wrote I have no idea if they didn't I meant to write why, not if.
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Old 03-25-14, 05:19 PM
  #39  
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Originally Posted by DougG View Post
I probably just over-summarized that part, as the book seemed to be very well researched although the book was intended more as a business case study than a detailed history of the industry.

As I recall, what they said was that Schwinn was unable to make frames of this type in their main Chicago factory. The Paramounts were built at another location, with much of the welding and brazing done by hand. The bikes were expensive to make and sold at a high price for that era, but it was OK for Schwinn since they were sold as a high-end "premium" model.

When the market for that type of bike started to pick up, Schwinn was unable to make bikes at the volume and price point that dealers were demanding and had to import them for a few years to meet the demand. As I recall, they did start making the LeTour and similar bikes stateside in the late 70s or so, possibly at the new factory in Greeneville, MS, although I don't recall those details from the book.
As stated earlier that was true until Frank Schwinn moved the Paramount production onsite in 1959 to the Chicago site in the cage area. Where all Paramounts from 59 until the end where hand assembled with the exception of the bike boom 70's when they had Don Mainland's shop make the excess Paramount production which was around 10 frames per week to Schwinn's 15 frames per week.They also started the brass fillet-brazed Superior, Sports Tourer and Super Sport in 1962 thru 1978 in the cage area besides the Paramount's.
As far as I can find all the lugged framed bikes other then Paramount's where outsourced frames.
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Old 03-25-14, 05:21 PM
  #40  
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Just requested through inter library loan. Thanks for the tip.
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Old 03-26-14, 04:50 AM
  #41  
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Originally Posted by dazevedo View Post
Where all Paramounts from 59 until the end where hand assembled with the exception of the bike boom 70's when they had Don Mainland's shop make the excess Paramount production which was around 10 frames per week to Schwinn's 15 frames per week.
Where as out in the main factory during the height of the 70s bike boom they were stamping out (quite literally) ~1,700,000 Varsities and Continentals a year. That's ~33,000 a week or one new bike every 17 seconds, 24/7!
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Old 03-26-14, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Where as out in the main factory during the height of the 70s bike boom they were stamping out (quite literally) ~1,700,000 Varsities and Continentals a year. That's ~33,000 a week or one new bike every 17 seconds, 24/7!
I agree this is really what made Schwinn, versus the Paramount. Analogously, Chevrolet is not really about the Corvette. Sure enthusiasts love Paramount and Corvette but it's not essence of what these companies are about.
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Old 03-26-14, 08:22 AM
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Originally Posted by dazevedo View Post
As far as I can find all the lugged framed bikes other then Paramount's where outsourced frames.
They made a few Le Tours in the Chicago factory at least in 1980. That was before the unionization effort. The last year of Paramount production at the Chicago facility was 1978. None were made until the Waterford facility was opened in the early 80's. They produced their own lugged frames in the 80's at the Greenville factory ( Le Tours, Travelers).
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Old 04-28-14, 02:54 AM
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I thought this thread I was gazing at in the Classics & Vintage forum might be interesting because some of these guys who restore and build a lot of classics are also using their extra parts fixing up these early '70s fillet brazed chrome moly Schwinn Super Sports (Quite a different bike than what they became a decade later.)

https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...nal-parts.html

I can remember considering aluminum rims on my Varsity when I first started riding but abandoned the idea when I bought my Italvega. I probably wouldn't sink money into one of these old frames, even a chrome moly one, but it's kinda cool seeing the results when somebody without anything better to do does.

He got the weight down to around 26 lbs on the red one.



And here's a clean almost original '62 Schwinn Continental from the following C&V thread.

https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...ntinental.html
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Old 04-28-14, 07:17 AM
  #45  
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I haven't read the book and, as such, am wondering if it mentioned anything about the unfair and often one-sided "free-trade" agreements that essentially discriminate against many U.S. manufacturing companies...
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Old 04-28-14, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by FMB42 View Post
I haven't read the book and, as such, am wondering if it mentioned anything about the unfair and often one-sided "free-trade" agreements that essentially discriminate against many U.S. manufacturing companies...
That had nothing to do with it.
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Old 04-28-14, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by rebel1916 View Post
That had nothing to do with it.
Care to explain your comment?
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Old 04-28-14, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by FMB42 View Post
Care to explain your comment?
Sure, the problems started in the 70's, free trade deals weren't an issue, hell, Schwinn was doing much of their manufacturing overseas anyway. Schwinn refused to innovate or modernize their plant, they drove crummy bargains with Chinese manufacturers, upper management were not involved with cycling, they refused to seek investors, and as a result were very heavily in debt. A perfect storm of mediocre, third gen, family dynasty management.
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Old 04-29-14, 03:47 PM
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Speaking of Schwinn, I was at my mom's house over the weekend for a visit. Was rummaging through the basement and came across a can of Schwinn LPD-9 spray lubricant. Must be between 30 - 40 years old! I brought it home and am displaying above my workbench.
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Old 04-29-14, 07:40 PM
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At the bike co-op we get fairly frequent donations of old Schwinn's - usually 70's and 80's mid levels. Looking at them today as transportation bikes, they are solid. If they've been kept in somebody's garage, away from moisture, then with some fresh lubrication, cables, and rubber, they are ready to go for another few decades. Their only glaring weakness as far as I'm concerned is their brakes. Chromed steel rims just don't provide a good braking surface.

I recently upgraded my daily commuter from a Continental to a Motobecane Grand Jubile of similar vintage. The Moto is lighter and feels sportier, whatever that means.

I've sort of come to the conclusion that Schwinn built bikes people needed, but the imports were the bikes people wanted.
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