Monday, December 12, 2016

A Guide to Schwinn 3 Speeds


Every so often, I get questions about Schwinn 3 speeds: "which one should I buy?"; "what is this bike?"; "is this bike worth buying?"; etc. My goal here is a very rough field guide to Schwinn 3 speed type bicycles, particularly from the 1960s an earlier. This is not meant to be an encyclopedia of every possible model, but it is intended to provide a "quick reference" for the person who is looking at a bicycle and wanting to know the overall era. I like to think of these bicycles as occurring in broad "generations".

Note: this guide does not include the Schwinn Paramount. The Paramount was a top-of-the-line bicycle with lugged construction, and in the early years, often built in the Wastyn shop. These are unique bicycles apart from all others. If you are buying a Paramount, you should consult a guide dedicated to the Paramount models. This guide is meant for the more mundane and common 3 speeds we see on sale online, at garage sales, and in basements.

This is a guide for 3 speeds and single speed utility-type bicycles only - 10 speeds and "road bikes" are not covered here.

Not every single possible variation of three speed is covered here. Listing every possible option or variation is too long a task for this webpage. This is meant as a "quick reference" guide.

Generation 1: Late 1930s - Early 1950s

Notes: These early Schwinn lightweights are my favorites. They are generally very well-made and generally very good riders. The fillet brazed frames are nice, especially if they have a three-piece cottered crank set. The Cro-Mo frames are often gems, especially when coupled with lightweight wheelsets. The New Worlds are good utility bikes and a solid answer to the English Sports Light Roadster bikes. The post-war Continental is a revelation to ride, at least compared to the heavy balloon tire bikes of the 1940s. There are no "losers" in this group, assuming the bike is complete, fits, and is not damaged.

 Generation 1-A: Late 1930s - 1945

Schwinn began to manufacture a new line of "lightweight" bikes in the late 1930s. The bikes included 3-speed, single speed, and coaster brake models. New Departure 2 speeds also come up from time-to-time. 

Schwinn New World: entry level model. Fillet brazed seamless drawn tubing made of steel. Can be single piece cranks, or three-piece cottered cranks. War era models have black out parts and fewer plated parts. Bikes produced into 1942 as wartime blackout models. Usually flat-top fork blades. Can have a locking cyclock fork. Hockey stick type chainguard with clamps or McCauley metal painted chainguard with adjustable clamps. Fender braces usually mount to axles and have a combined wire brace and spacer ring design. Collectible value: B+; Ride Value A-

New World bicycles from before 1945:

Schwinn Superior: fillet brazed mid-level model (remember the Paramount was top-of-the-line). Chromium-Molybdenum steel alloy frame. Usually three piece cottered cranks. Fork with torpedo-shaped blades with round tops. Can have locking cyclock, but that seems to have been uncommon in the Superior fork. Can have hockey stick or McCauley metal chain guards with wire stays and special mounting tabs on frame and fork blades. Collectible value: A-; Ride Value A

Production interrupted by World War II.

Generation 1-B: 1946 - early 1950s

Schwinn updated its production methods shortly after WWII. They also, thankfully, resumed making lightweight bicycles in both utility and performance models. Their range expanded to include the excellent Schwinn Continental bicycles. Unfortunately, adult bicycling did not catch on, and Schwinn revamped their lightweight lines in the early 1950s.

Schwinn New World: entry level bicycle still. Converted from fillet brazed seamless tubing to electroforge welded construction of plain still. Some frame joints still fillet brazed, particularly around the bottom bracket joints. Heavier frame than previously. More one piece crank models seem to turn up in the post-war New Worlds, but cottered cranks still an option. Braces change from wire-type to thicker type. Forks commonly have torpedo-shaped fork tubes now. Collectible value: B; Ride value: B

A post-war New World with single speed freewheel:

Schwinn Superior: Cro-Mo fillet brazed frames. Sometimes appear with New World-style thick braces linked to the front axle and to a back loop on the rear drop outs. Postwar Superiors are very uncommon. Often have unique "chevron" Superior decals. Appear with two-state, metallic paints. Really interesting bikes with uncommon graphics. Apparently have ornate, contrasting fender dart and ornate seat tube decal with the word "Superior" written in vertical, block lettering. Collectible Value: A- (post-war but still uncommon); Ride Value: A.

The uncommon post-war Superior as seen on the CABE:

Schwinn Continental: a higher-end addition to the line up. Cro-Mo fillet brazed frames with ornate "winged" graphics and fork darts. Often have metallic, two-stage paint colors. Lightened alloy fenders. Bright silver hockey stick chainguard has paint matched accents. Wire fender braces. Can sometimes have the very valuable "two-part adjustable stem". Stainless steel rims and duraluminum hubs. Frame tubs are noticeably larger than New World. Three piece cottered cranks with slim, oval profile. Collectible Value: A-; Ride Value: A

A rather nice Schwinn Continental:

Generation 2: Early 1950s - Mid 1960s

In the early 1950s, Schwinn moved its entry and mid level bicycles to electroforge welded construction and heavier, thick-walled steel tubing. The New World of the late 1940s and early 1950s was of this construction, and the welded construction moved into other bicycles. The Continental and Superior models were gone, and replaced by the World Varsity and World Traveler lines. Later, the World Varsity mutated into the 10-speed Varsity road bike and the Racer became the entry level bike.

Earlier bikes from the mid-1950s and before still had tube-type fork blades, usually of the torpedo/round-top shape. The bikes of the later 1950s had flat bladed "Ashtabula" forks. The tube-type forks tend to ride better.

Generation 2-A: Early to mid 1950s

 World: entry level bike with welded frame. Front fender has a "blade" pattern like a shark fin. Generally given a coaster brake single speed rather than a three speed. Catalog does not show hand brakes. Ornate winged frame decals. Chromed steel rims of S-6 pattern. Collectible Value: C-; Ride Value: C. 

Collegiate: not to be confused with later bikes. Welded frame, coaster brake single speed. Brightwork fenders, but generally a budget bike still. Can be distinguished from later "Collegiate" bikes through the use of older-style coaster brakes and shark blade front fender.

Varsity: ornate, large darts in contrasting colors on fenders. Shark blade front fender. Three speed hub. Ornate, winged graphics in contrasting colors on frame. Welded frame construction of thick-walled tubing. Chromed S-6 type rims. Plated steel hubs. Beware models with a Sturmey "SW" hub - these are often faulty. Stick with AW models or replace the SW with an AW if you intend to ride much. Hand brakes can be plain steel early on, and later became alloy Weinmann brakes. The Weinmann brakes are especially pretty good. Brake handles were initially steel, later alloy Weinmann. Collectible Value: B+; Ride Value: B. 

A World Varsity as seen on Dave's Vintage Bikes:

Traveler: similar to World Varsity but one level up. Has brightwork/stainless type fenders. Shark blade front fender. Brakes similar to World Varsity. Brake handles similar to World Varsity. Ornate winged globe graphics similar to World Varsity. Traveler decal on hockeystick chainguard. Collectible Value: B; Ride Value: B. I give the collectible value edge to the World Varsity because of its unique, ornate painted fenders. The brightwork fenders of the Traveler were considered a more premium option in their time, but today are common. They ride basically the same.

A 1954 Schwinn World Traveler:

Sport: a three speed drop bar road bike. Not covered here, but worth mentioning that it exists.

Tourist: a very rare bike meant to replace the Continental. Apparently not many were made. Three speed rear hub. Seamless Cro-Mo tubing with fillet brazing. Light, alloy fenders of profile similar to the 1940s Continental. Do not confuse this bike with later (Generation 3) "Tourist" bikes from Schwinn. Those are welded, heavier, lower performance bikes. The 1950s Tourist is a rare, Cro-Mo, hand brazed bike.

Generation 2-B: Late 1950s to Mid 1960s

Note: the Schwinn S-5 rim appears in the early 1960s. This rim is a wider rim with a ridge in the center (the S-6 was a standard, flat/box pattern rim). The S-5 is a copy of the English Westrick rim and it not a very good performing rim at that. It is a heavy, dead-feeling rim compared to its English cousin. On the other hand, the S-6 endrick continued on as well and still performed reasonably well. Opt for an S-6 over an S-5, unless you are dead-set on originality where an S-5 was used.

Racer: front fender with raised blade. Striped and painted fenders. Welded frame of steel (thick wall).  Three speed hub option, but also came with coaster brake single and two speed options. Flat ashtabula fork blades. The bendix coaster brakes are surprisingly strong, but somewhat heavy. Can have hand or coaster brakes. Collectible Value: C; Ride Value: B. 

A 2-B Racer as seen on

Traveler: similar to the 2-A Traveler, but with a large, ornate seat tube decal and plainer decals on other frame tubes. Eventually the large seat tube decal is replaced with plainer decals as well. Brightwork fenders still. Shark blade front fender until mid-1960s. Three speed rear hub. Steel hub shells. Hand brakes and hand brake levers alloy by Weinmann. Eventually receive the "S" seat in contrasting colors, whereas 2-A Travelers had plainer seats.  Flat fork blades. Collectible value: B-; Ride Value: B. 

Sport: again, a drop bar road bike worth mentioning, but not discussed as a utility bike here.

The Varsity eventually becomes a 10-speed road bike. The Continental name also comes back, again as a 10-speed road bike. Note: the 10-speeds are not considered related to the earlier three speed variations by the same name. These later bicycles are road/sporting bikes in more the European "lightweight" tradition than the American "utility lightweight" tradition.

Post Script: Generation 3: Mid-1960s and Later

Schwinn dumped the shark blade front fender in the mid-1960s. Later bicycles have names like Speedster, Deluxe Speedster, Racer, and Deluxe Racer. The collectible value of these bicycles is generally quite low compared to earlier bikes. With S-5 rims, the bikes seem particularly dead and heavy riders. Really, the decline in Schwinn's innovation for 3-speed bikes seems to have happened some time in the 1950s. The 3-speed bikes soldiered on as utility riders, but the real innovation had long since moved to 10-speed road bikes. Appear at first with clover-leaf sprockets, but later with blade-type "mag" sprockets, as well. By the 1970s, bikes had more plastic and more reflectors.

A Generation 3 Schwinn 3-speed:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Cold Weather Hits

This is the first truly cold weekend here this winter. The temperature was in the 30's all day, with a bit of a wind chill on top of that. That's not enough to stop me from riding though. The roads have not gotten any snow or salt, so it's perfectly fine to ride, just a bit cold. I have been giving the 1941 Schwinn New World road time, and it's quite enjoyable.

This brown Brooks B66 saddle looks great with the dark red paint. The saddle has just a hint of red in the sunlight, which is perfect with this bike.

 One thing I do suggest: have at least one bike with relatively low gearing in your garage. This New World is 46 teeth in front and 22 in back, which is fairly low. On a windy day when you're wearing a ski coat and winter clothes, you'll want the lower gearing. The extra wind resistance is a pain, but the lower gearing makes up for it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

1941 Schwinn New World On the Road

It was grey and chilly today, but not as windy as yesterday. I took the recently re-built 1941 Schwinn three speed for a ride, and it performed nicely. It's a pleasant riding bicycle.
 There's plenty of debris and leaves on the ground this time of year. You have to have good tires and tubes to roll over all the tree-related junk in the road.

The bike has a worn sort of look that befits its age. The paint is original and relatively clean, though thin in a few spots. The decals are faded, but mostly intact.

The "hat in the ring" is a great touch. The emblem goes back to the 94th Aero Squadron and fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker in World War I. The emblem was associated with American-built speed and capability after Rickenbacker shot down 26 German planes in the First World War.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

1941 Schwinn New World

The final project this year is the revival of a 1941 Schwinn New World. This is a dark red colored, standard sized men's bike that was stripped of its parts and left only a "core".

The bike still had its frame, part of its headset, its fork, two of the three fender braces, the fenders, and the fixed bottom bracket cup. Pretty much everything else was missing.

The challenge here was to take a bicycle core and build a full, high-quality bike of it that would also be very faithful to the 1940s era of New World bikes.

The result is a very nice bicycle.

 I needed to build a three piece crank set. I located some 1940s era Schwinn bottom bracket parts. This is a cottered crank set with the familiar clover leaf sprocket.
At first, it seems like it might be the usual one-piece clover set up. Instead, it's a very nice, three-piece set with Schwinn script on the crank arms.

 Interestingly, Schwinn apparently copied English Hercules or Phillips parts when it designed its cottered bottom brackets of the 1930s-40s. I had a bunch of Birmingham Hercules parts in my boxes and found that the adjustable cup and lock ring fit perfectly. Hercules cotter pins needed only minor filing to fit. The spindle is a Phillips and fits nicely, though probably is a shade longer than the original Schwinn spindle would have been. It is very close and works well though.

 I was lucky enough to find one of those generic, McCauley Metal chainguards from the early 1940s, and it even came in the correct color. These chainguards appear to have been made for a variety of bicycles and had adjustable mounting hardware. I had a bag of the hardware unused, so decided to use the clean hardware on this bike. The chainguard turned out to be a nice match.

 The grips are Schwinn script type, but are reproductions. They're pliable and comfortable. The bell is appears to be an elevator bell made into a bike bell. This came from Amazon and is new.

The resulting bike is quite nice. The red is a little faded in spots, but it seems to have fared pretty well. 
Overall, the presentation is pretty good. I opted for white walls because they look nice with the red. A brown Brooks B66 saddle is comfortable and finishes the bike.  It has a correct Sturmey Archer shifter.

The pedals are Torrington #10 and the bike rides really nicely. It's nice taking a bare bike core and building it into a high-quality, period piece, especially one this old.