My wife and I are victims of bad timing. We got married and bought our house during the last housing bubble in 2005, and the amount of debt with which we were comfortable landed us in a decent old house in an interesting neighborhood, interesting in a way that only people who have spent some time in a deteriorating post-manufacturing, mid-sized, midwestern town can understand. The stories of things that have happened on my block are hilarious until I remember that I live in the middle of it. I’ll tell you about them if we ever have a beer together.
My neighbors to the north, however, are great people. They have become our fourth set of parents, bringing over baked goods, garden vegetables, and news of rummage sale finds we might like. That’s how I became the owner of my post-apocalyptic ride, this 1969 Schwinn Deluxe Racer.
I’ve written about several of my old Schwinns here before, and I’ll leave links to those at the bottom of the page. I started collecting antique bicycles when I realized that it made no sense to drive old cars all the time but cruise around town on a department store mountain bike. As usual, my response to this realization is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, so now I have 18 bicycles in my basement (but to my credit, I just sold a ’62 Schwinn Typhoon to a fellow bicycle collector who has a ’65 Buick Riviera project – cool guy).
My bicycle sweet spot centers on late-’60s, early-’70s lightweight Schwinns, especially the bottom-of-the-line Racers and Speedsters. I like my bikes simple and unpretentious, unlike my ’63 Thunderbird.
Back in 2016, my neighbor met me in the driveway as I got home from work, and told me about a bike for sale at a rummage sale a block away, so we walked over there together and found this rough-looking Racer for ten dollars. Knowing that I could easily clean it up to look nearly new, I didn’t even haggle, even though it was sporting a ripped denim seat, the height of fashion in no time that I can imagine.
Side note: my neighbor found and bought the original seat at another rummage sale at the same house a year later. For some reason, my neighbor had to talk him down to fifteen dollars from twenty, more than I paid for the bike itself, but still less than the going rate for a green Schwinn Mesinger seat.
According to the serial number, my bike’s frame was built in November of 1968; therefore, by the time it was assembled, this bike was most likely considered a 1969 model. Notice, however, that the chainwheel is the classic Schwinn cloverleaf.
The 1969 Schwinn catalog shows that Schwinn switched to a lesser-loved “Mag-style” chainwheel that year, and indeed my February 1969-built Schwinn Heavy-Duti uses that newer design. While it’s possible that someone could have swapped parts over the years (something I could verify by looking at the date on the crank itself, although a different wheel can be easily transferred onto the same crank), it goes to show that very little is gospel in manufacturing.
By 1969, the Deluxe Racer was nearing the end of its life; the only differences between it and the standard Racer were chromed fenders, a deluxe seat with extra springs, and whitewall tires. The fenders alone made the Deluxe model worth the extra money, in my opinion.
An odd reason I’m in love with this Racer in particular is its hub, the simple, classic, single-speed Bendix Red Band. I can disassemble, grease, and reassemble one of these hubs in about 15 minutes if I have to get on with it. It’s fine for my flatland riding, and although I love Sturmey-Archer AWs and am fascinated by their internals, most of the time the extra gears aren’t really necessary.
Soon after, Bendix replaced the Red Band with the aptly named Bendix “70.” I’ve never noticed much of a difference between the two aside from the shell, but I’ve never looked that carefully either. By the time the Bendix “76” was introduced, it was “Made in Mexico,” a sign of the times, I guess.
One of the fun parts about old bicycles (and old cars) is piecing together their possible history. Mine was sold at Edward’s Cycle Shop in Flint, MI (our own Joe Dennis’s hometown). How it ended up 50 miles away is lost to time, and the seller didn’t seem to know anything about it either, although from what I remember, he was selling some of his parents’ belongings.
This Flint bicycle license (that was a thing for quite some time) shows that the bike spent at least some time in that longtime General Motors town.
The handlebars cleaned up nicely, didn’t they? Although I love my ’72 Raleigh Sports because it is beautiful as a British “Racer” should be, and my Sting-Rays because they’re iconic and fun, I recently conceded that this is the bike I’d ride through the end of the world if everything went to hell. The seating position is perfect, the frame is the perfect size for my 6-foot height, there are no cables to break, and now that I’ve disassembled it and greased everything, there’s little to go wrong. Plus, it’s Campus Green, one of my favorite bicycle colors, and although I also have a ’71 Racer in Campus Green (with a Sturmey-Archer AW), it has a shorter frame that’s not quite right, like the porridge.
My perfect end-of-the-world bicycle would not be possible, however, if it weren’t for my neighbors to the north. In Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” the narrator’s neighbor, proud of his “wisdom,” famously said that “good fences make good neighbors.” That’s true in some cases, but in others, it’s keeping an eye out for things you know they’ll like. Maybe my wife and I aren’t victims of bad timing after all.