Thursday, May 31, 2012

Past Projects: 1976 and 1977 Schwinn Varsities

The first 'vintage' bikes I ever bought were these old Schwinn Varsities.  If I remember correctly, the mens' machine was manufactured in 1976, while the ladies' step-through model was made in 1977.  I picked them up from a guy in St. Louis for a very good price - especially considering they were more or less road-ready when I brought them home.  Initially, they were given a quick tune-up and Ginger and I were pretty much immediately riding them around town.  But eventually I decided that they would look really swift with a thorough cleaning.  And while I had the bikes apart, I decided to try my hand at overhauling them as well.

The bikes got new wheels (aluminum for Ginger's step-through, steel for mine), along with rubber and tubes.  I wrapped Ginger's bars in black and mine in blue.  I ripped out the ancient cables and housing and ran some shiny chrome-colored housing, which looked awesome with the rich red color of the frame.  And the headsets and bottom brackets were overhauled.  This was my first experience with ashtabula cranks in my adult life, and I can say with certainty that they suck.  I also took the derailleurs apart and cleaned and regreased them piece-by-piece.  This was actually not such a good idea, as it took a lot of time for very little reward.  Since then, I've found that scrubbing the shit out of the still-assembled derailleur with some diluted cleaner makes it look just as nice, and a few sprays of Tri-Flow will get the pulleys spinning just as freely.

Since this was my first real restoration project, it took a long time to get the bikes back together.  It seems like I spent most of my time gawking at the computer screen, sifting through various bicycle repair websites, scratching my head with a grease-stained finger and wondering where I went wrong.  But eventually, I got them reassembled.  And they ended up looking really nice.

One warning I would give to anyone considering buying a Schwinn Varsity, though:  they are extremely heavy.  The full bike easily weighs over 30 lbs.  So as our little fleet of bicycles grew, we set the Varsities aside and spent more time on notably lighter bikes.  At some point it became clear that we weren't giving the old Schwinns the respect that they deserved, so I sold them.  I wanted to sell them as a pair, but it just didn't happen.  The step-through model sold first, to some college student who knew nothing about bikes.  She just wanted something to ride on the trail for exercise, and I grudgingly let her peel the bike out of my anxious grip.  I don't even want to think about how badly that beautiful machine is probably being neglected right now.  The mens' model sold soon after, and it went to another college student who was really super excited about riding around on a good-looking vintage road bike.  I was happy to see it go to an appreciative new owner.  In fact, I saw that old Varsity just a few weeks afterwards, racing down Hitt Street, drawing envious second glances from passersby - myself included.


  1. Hi I stumbled here through the Trailer Park Cyclist blog. I gotta say those Schwinn's look show room! You did a really nice job on them, those college kids got good deals. My first 10 speed rebuild was also a Varsity the lady I sold it to came back on from the test ride with a big grin and told me it made her feel 13 again.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Ryan. Glad you stumbled across us!