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:

1 comment:

  1. Yes! Thanks for doing this.


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