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The Sting-Ray: Was It the Coolest Bike Ever?
Posted By Patrick Kiger On May 13, 2013 @ 2:39 pm In Legacy | No Comments
If you were a prepubescent boy in the mid-1960s, a great deal of your social status hinged on your bike. If you rode a big clunky cruiser with fat tires that looked like a hand-me-down from Beaver Cleaver, you had no chance for membership in the Cool Kids Club, even if you adorned it with streamers and stuffed baseball cards in the spokes.
No, what you bugged your parents to get you for your birthday or Christmas was a Schwinn Sting-Ray. It had strangely tiny wheels and an undersized 20-inch frame, with a curvy “banana” seat and ape-hanger handlebars. Adults thought it was goofy, but in your mind, it looked exactly like one of the Harley-Davidson choppers you saw in the newspaper ads for those drive-in movies you weren’t old enough to go to see yet. You imagined pedaling around your neighborhood, slouched back as you clutched those plastic-handle grips, looking so boss as you popped a wheelie and balanced on the back wheel for a split second, like a cowboy trying to break a wild horse.
Schwinn executive Al Fritz, who died on April 7 at age 88 in Barrington, Ill., was the bicycle industry visionary responsible for your youthful fantasy. As the then-Chicago-based company’s director for research and development in the early 1960s, Fritz found out that kids in California were getting old 20-inch-frame bikes from the scrap heap and customizing them to look like motorcycles by replacing the factory seats and handlebars. He devised a prototype, and although company management initially snickered at the idea, it quickly became a runaway hit. From 1963 to 1968, Schwinn sold nearly two million Sting-Rays, and the style became so popular that for a while, with competitors churning out clones, it accounted for 60 percent of all the bikes sold in the United States. Here’s a video that plays tribute to classic Sting-Ray advertisements:
Here are 5 intriguing facts about Fritz and his brainchild:
Photo: Nels P. Olsen via Wikipedia
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