Monday, March 8, 2010

Bikes Outside: Schweet Home Chicago

This week's Bike Outside is no less than an American icon. The "Electro-forged" Chicago Schwinn is the bicycle equivalent of a slant six Dodge: Ubiquitous in its day, by no means the fastest or the lightest of its kind out there, but sturdy as hell. It's overbuilt and under-appreciated. When a post-apocalyptic mutant runs out of gasoline to power its 1970 Dart, it can pull an intact 1970 Schwinn from the nearest bomb crater and pedal onward.

I found this bike chained to a railing on Farmington Ave in Asylum Hill. Judging from the extended paintless area on the frame of this bike, it has been chained thusly thousands of times. This and the rest of the paint layer surface strata make this beater a patina powerhouse. It wears the scars of a lifetime of hard usage without fanfare or apology. If terms like unassuming and badass can coexist in a single place, they can do so on this bike. It's also old-school all the way. I like the cloverleaf chainwheel, the alloy quill stem and the stem shifter. The upright handlebars and skinny chain guard make it look more like an old 3-Speed at a distance until you spot the derailleur out back. The "mattress" style saddle has seen better days, making this a short-trip bike for all but those with the hardiest posteriors. A front caliper has gone AWOL, leaving a lonely left brake lever behind and continuing the widespread Hartford tradition of one missing/malfunctioning brake.

This was another instance where a bike's owner came out as I was photographing it. The fender-equipped Schwinn has served as his foul-weather beater for the past few decades while his nicer Fuji comes out when the weather is nice. We had a good time talking bikes and such until I remembered that I had already been running late before I stopped to bike bond. I've forgotten his name (I'm terrible at remembering names) but I'll probably catch up with him at his store one of these days when I have more time. Nice guy.

The basic idea of this bike has been recreated in Schwinn's current retro lineup as the "Willy" with some welcome updates to the gearing (twist-grip 7-speed vs. stem shifted 5-speed) and brakes (which now stop the bike when applied). Schleppi's Jenny is its femme counterpart.

These Chicago-made bikes rode the final wave of the American bicycle industry before it crashed on the shores of the Malaise Era and retreated overseas. An affordable, decent domestic bike for everyday people became the stuff of tag sales and flea markets after that. Luckily, bikes like this will be around for decades to come. They will outlast us all. This Schwinn is just plain solid.

1 comment:

Karma said...

Beautiful stuff.