Friday, June 9, 2017

Quality, American-Made Three Speeds: 1940s Schwinns

 When you're buying a bicycle, buy the "best" bike you can afford. Don't go cheap and come away thinking you've got a "better deal" just because you spent less money. Buy the most bike you can afford, whether it's a new bike or a vintage bike.

And when you build-up a vintage bicycle, use good-quality parts and thorough re-building. While you have the bike apart, completely clean and re-grease the bottom bracket. Check for damaged or missing bearing balls. Remove rust from inside the rims. Invest in good-quality brake cables, brake pads, tubes, and tires. Get a good, leather saddle. These are just a few examples of keeping focus on a quality build that will last you a long time.

In past times, the same held true. In the 1940s, Schwinn offered a couple of options in high-quality bikes for the adult touring and sporting markets. The best of the bikes was the classic Paramount, but mid-range models like the Superior and Continental offered a high-end bicycle in a more affordable price. The New World was still an excellent bicycle, and formed the baseline model for Schwinn. You could not "go wrong" with any of these bicycles.

By keeping all of these bicycles of very high quality, Schwinn established an ability to make modern, high-performing bicycles in the 1940s. A buyer could walk into any Schwinn shop and order a high-quality bicycle at a price point that would work well.

The casual, vacation tourist might be fine with a single speed, coaster brake New World. A more advanced rider might like a three-speed New World. A sporting club rider might do well with a three speed Continental, while high-end buyers would go for the Paramount.

Compared to a single speed balloon tire bicycle, these bikes must have been very different to consumers of the time.  They still perform very well today, and the Continental and Paramount frames are still considered outstandingly well-made and viable platforms for vintage club bikes.

Today, we've become accustomed to junk bikes sold in big box stores. We even have come to accept that certain bicycle shops will sell low-end, junk bikes with clunky frames, cheap components, and slap-dash assemblies. I tend to think our ancestors went more with quality over quantity - buy a New World and buy a bike once rather than buying a big box bike every 2 years.

Even in the 1970s, people were still writing to Schwinn asking about parts and service available for late 1930s and early 1940s era lightweights.

The two bikes pictured are both from the 1940s, and the red New World is from before World War II. It's very likely the original owners of both bikes are deceased, yet these Schwinn bicycles ride on, 70+ years after they were first built.

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