Although I was born in 1977, I’m occasionally nostalgic about Bicentennial America, a time that is probably more fun in retrospect than it was for those who lived it. Regardless, I’ve written about it before, and that article and its comments affected me in ways that would come to fruition some four years later.
That article’s comments turned into a list of Bicentennial-themed consumer goods, covering everything from semi trucks to Lawn Boy mowers. I immediately set out to find the most attainable and easily stored item mentioned, the Bicentennial Schwinn Sting-Ray. The prior summer, I had bought a ’77 Sting-Ray for only $65, a screaming deal by anyone’s standards. I planned to flip it, but I discovered it was built nine days after I was born and I fell in love with it. So I had Sting-Rays on the brain anyway.
Here’s my ’77 with my ’73 Speedster. Sting-Rays from the early-’70s onward aren’t as collectible as the Krates and Fastbacks of the ’60s, but they’re still collectible. Even considering their collectability, Bicentennial Sting-Rays are not that easy to find. As you can see in the brochure above, 1976 Sting-Rays came in several colors, and the Bicentennial colors were only offered for one year. Therefore, I didn’t see any at the Ann Arbor Bicycle Swap Meet for three years after I started looking. The few I found online were prohibitively expensive, like nearly a thousand dollars, which is, in my opinion, insane.
Finally, at 2018’s Ann Arbor meet, I found one. It was rougher than I’d like and more expensive than I’d like, but it was nowhere near a thousand dollars. OK, I’ll tell you. I paid $300 for it. That’s a lot, but like I said, there aren’t that many out there and life is short.
Schwinn paint from the ’60s and ’70s is like iron, most of the time. My original paint Schwinns mostly still look great, outside of the usual nicks here and there. Unfortunately, the white paint Schwinn used was apparently not as tough as most of their paint jobs. Plus, being white, it’s easy to see the paint rash from which a child’s bike will invariably suffer. There was, however, no way I was going to repaint this bike and lose the decals, which are the reason I love the bike so much.
Therefore, I took the advice of a few members of the CABE (Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange) and headed to my local Menards to see the good people in the paint department. I took the chainguard with me, and within a half hour, an employee had matched the paint color in outdoor oil paint, which I proceeded to dab into the nicks using a Q-Tip. Sure, it’s obvious if you have your nose up next to the bike, but it looks surprisingly good from a normal distance, and I have a bike I’ve wanted for a while in decent condition, which is all I ever ask for anyway.
And thus, I wish you a happy Independence Day with a short tale of a bike I didn’t really know I wanted until I wrote an article for this website.
Yeah, some people dream bigger than I do, but they don’t have a Bicentennial Sting-Ray, now do they?
“ Yeah, some people dream bigger than I do, but they don’t have a Bicentennial Sting-Ray, now do they?
I laughed way too hard at this. A wise mentor I’d always looked up to told me to “never dream bigger before you dream harder”. Howy was a wise man. Happy Fourth everyone!
It reminds me of the bikes by brother and I had as kids in the 70s. They had banana seats, but I don’t recall the brands at all. All I remember is that mine was metallic purple and his was metallic pea green. When i outgrew mine his became mine.
Chances are they were bought at Calder or Bradlees. I’ll have to dig to see if they had house brands.
Huffy’s cheap K-mart Krate rip-off was called ‘Cheater Slick’. With their small 20″ tires, all of those banana-seat/ape-hanger handlebar bicycles were all show and no go. It’s funny that they were more car-themed rather than chopper motorcycle, especially the ones with the top-tube shifter (which I have no doubt bruised more than a few genitals and were eventually regulated out of existance). But for prepubescent males in the car-crazy sixties, they were ‘it’.
Ahh. The Cheater Slick…Well I remember coming home from 1st grade one day and finding a brand spanking new one and all mine. Completely random! We did not get gifts outside of birthdays and Christmas but it was time for my brother to learn to ride and he got my hand me down. Let me recall the bright yellow paint with flaming cheater slick logo on the chain guard, the yellow fenders with black racing stripes and the black banana seat with yellow racing stripes. Oddly mine had a knobby for the rear tire instead of a slick. I had that bike for years and years. Loved it.
You stirred up a childhood memory of long ago.
The Huffy “Cheater Slick” was my first bike. Dad bought it at the military base PX either for my birthday or Christmas circa 1966 or 1967; can’t remember which. It was bright red with a black & white checkered banana seat.
After I outgrew it, was going to save it for the kids I never had. Still have it in the garage with the original (flat) tires gathering dust. Tried to give it away once but kids nowadays want lightweight mountain bike or lightweight bike for their acrobatic stunts.
I probably knew Schwinn was building a Bicentennial version back then (after all, everyone was making a Bicentennial version of everything) but had long since forgotten that they ever existed. Thanks for this reminder!
Never had any of the Sting Ray variations but that is a great one to own.
I like your yellow Speedster. Speedsters got me started on old Schwinns; especially the three speed Sturmey-Archer ones. That led to Suburbans, and my only white Schwinn – a ’71 Suburban that is also a 3 speed S-A.
And yes, not changing the original Schwinn paint (and decals) is the right way to keep the bikes. Schwinn was of course top quality – paint and chrome plating especially. Ride that bike today.
I got my first new bike as a Christmas gift in 1964 or ‘65, after a few hand-me-down clunkers. I so so so wanted one of the then-new StingRays. Instead, I got a Schwinn Racer with Sturmey Archer 3 speed, in a small 24” wheeled configuration. I hated that bike. I hated its dorky look, and it’s unreliable chain-link shift cable that did not hold up to an 8 year old kid dragging it on the ground. I always got a thrill riding friends’ StingRays Five years later , when I used my paper route money to buy a bike with my own $75, it was still a Schwinn. But not a StingRay; by then those were “kids’ bikes” and I got a ten speed Varsity. Had it for about ten years and rode it everywhere before it got stolen. Built like a tank and weighed about as much as one.
Nice bike. I turned 10 that year and I remember our Cub Scout pack painting fire hydrants in patriotic designs and colors including the one across the street from my elementary school. Walked or rode by it twice a day for years. Bike was a metallic purple Schwinn Stingray that was a Christmas present a year or two before. That bike frame was around for years but with many modifications. Western Auto chrome motorcross style handlebars with fake clear Oakley grips, longer pedal cranks from a 10 speed with a smaller front sprocket, solo seat,and a Western Auto seven spoke cast steel rear wheel. It had a few different colors too but was usually black. To find one unmolested condition like yours is remarkable.
The quarter-century mark is nearing rapidly and my, how things have changed since the bi-C, I wonder how much red white and blue stuff will be available in 2026. That’s a great-looking bicycle, congrats on waiting three years to score an acceptable deal, success like that makes it even more special.
And a man after my own heart willing to be photographed in flip-flops and jeans for those moderately temperate days, only true devotee flip-floppers consider wearing them with anything other than shorts. You can browse a car lot with me anytime, Mr. Aaron65!
Ha ha ha! I hate wearing shoes; I even wear basket sandals to work with my dress shirt and pants. Unfortunately, I’m getting to the age where my feet are starting to hurt, so I’m trying to wear sensible shoes on walks. I hate it.
You can have sandals made with custom orthotics built right in. No more sore feet. I even hate wearing socks and remove them the second that I get in the house. I don’t have the luxury of wearing sandals to work as steel toe safety shoes are mandatory.
Thanks Jack! I was just looking at some Skechers walking sandals, but nobody seems to have a size 11 right now online. Guess I’m not the only one with plantar fasciitis right now. I’ll have to look into those orthotics.
Here in Canada we had CCM (Canadian Cycle Manufacturing) as our version of Schwinn. And CCM produced its own version of the Sting Ray, the Mustang, from 1964 on.
I bought one with paper route money circa 1970, in metallic burgundy, similar to the bike in the attached photo. I was so proud of that bike, that it regularly got washed and waxed, and my father taught me how to look after the mechanicals.
Living in a very small town, we were able to bike for hours on rural roads with no fear of traffic, and we’d ride as far as Grand Bend, which was 20 miles west, to go swimming, or London, which was 30 miles south, to go see weekend matinees. It was a great time to be a kid, and a great time for adventures out on the open road.
I will always associate my Mustang with the fantastic preteen years, where we had no worries or much in the way of responsibilities, and freedom during weekends and summers.
Hey, yes I had one of those, mine was blue. I loved the gearshifter on it. Three speed as I recall. I don’t remember what I did with it after I got my ten speed bike. My folks must have made me get rid of it for lack of storage space.
When I was a kid back then, I noticed the gearshift seemed to be a bit…inconveniently placed for myself and other adolescent males.
I grew up with CCM bikes as well. I think the company was ‘Canada Cycle & Motor’. They go back to the late 1800’s, and were also involved in car and motorcycle manufacture for a time in the early 1900’s.
Their bike business folded in the 1980’s I think. Now they’re mostly about hockey equipment, as any NHL broadcast will reveal.
Joe Cool! That’s you. HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO YOU ALL. (Sorry, George III!)
Hmmm, I see a red Firebird Esprit?, a blue Thunderbird, the Mustang is maroon…where is your white classic car to complete the trifecta? LOL!! Happy Fourth! 🙂
Ack! I don’t have any white cars! My Corvair and my Skylark have white tops…that will have to do!
That bike is dope, and so is this post. We Michiganders have great taste. Happy Fourth!
We do! Happy Fourth to you!
Bicentennial America, a time that is probably more fun in retrospect than it was for those who lived it.
Quite true. Coming off the Vietnam War, the wild and crazy late ’60s-early ’70s, Nixon and Watergate, it was, for me a painful foreshadowing of the culture wars and other elements of current times. And then there were all those Bicentennial Vegas, salt in the wounds.. 🙂
As much as I coveted a Sting Ray in elementary school, I could easily outrun every one, as well as every other bike in my school, with my stripped down Dunelt single speed British “racer”. No fenders, turned down handlebar. But I did enjoy borrowing them to just joy ride and pop endless wheelies.
That’s because you had the best style of bicycle ever made for daily use. I find, as I’m getting older, that I’m spending more time restoring British roadsters than any derailleur equipped road bike, because they’re just so much more useful.
And you don’t have to put on all sorts of fancy spandex clothes to be comfortable on the bike.
Imagine what you could have done with a Sturmey Archer AW hub on the back . . . . .
Being three on the bicentennial my memories are few, but I do remember everything being in red, white, and blue.
That is a great looking bike and the idea for touch up paint was a great one. Do you only ride it on July 4?
Nope, I alternate the two Sting-Rays for “riding in circles on my street” duty. I’ll go for a leisurely aimless cruise within a block of my house while my wife is watering her plants in the evening. They’re no good for long rides (go figure), but I did take it for a longer ride with my parents this morning.
Great collection of vehicles you have there! Love the color on the ‘Bird!
Happy 4th to you!
Thanks, same to you!
I remember the bicentennial Varsity, but not the Sting-ray. Very nice bike you have.
I got a new 5 speed Fastback when I hit 13, and despite multiple gears, it was really slow. Even slower than my S10 pickup. But I loved it.
I’ve had to pare back my vintage Schwinn collection considerably. If I can’t lift it up to hang from the garage ceiling, then I don’t have the room for a bike. I can’t lift a Sting-ray, so I’m limited to a Flamboyant Red ’76 Superior, a Kool Lemon ’74 Sports Tourer, and a Sierra Brown ’69 Paramount. I really can’t ride them at this point, but it’s still pleasing to look at them.
Sports Tourer, Superior, Paramount. Fine bikes. I bought a Sports Tourer & the parts were completely worn out from someone riding it many many miles. I’d have rebuilt it but it didn’t fit me well enough. Cleaned & adjusted its old parts & passed it along. When I was a kid, rode a Varsity for some years before it was stolen. Delivered papers in all weather, went on long distance day rides. They’re heavy, yet the rigidity and good parts and perfect (for me) geometry makes them better riders than many competing makes.
Glad to hear you kept that Sports Tourer out of the land fill. I rescued mine from the trash and refurbished it with period correct parts.
So many fond memories of these old Schwinn bikes. Seeing one now takes me to a happy place.
The Schwinn Variety, to me, is the greatest 10-speed road bike ever made. Yes, it’s heavy as hell, low end components, and no snob value.
But back in the early 1970’s as a whole lot of adults who rediscovered bicycles after having not ridden anything since the 50 pound paperboy specials of their childhood, and having no clue how you take care of a lightweight, precision-built European road bike, would have killed anything less than a Varsity within weeks.
To this day, I’ll still happily pick any any worthwhile to restore Varsity and refurbish it for resale to the local college students. It’s reputation as a cheap commuter bike is untouchable.
Nice post. I never forgot the wind-in-your-face sense of freedom and exhilaration bicycles gave me as a kid. It led to a series of 10-speeds in my 20’s and 30’s, and to abandoning car use in the city and bike touring in 9 countries in my 50’s & 60’s. The next chapter will likely be electric. 🙂
Happy birthday, neighbours.
Still cycling daily, 19 bikes in the garage, my main commuter ride is a 1969 Raleigh Sprite (Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub). If it’s six miles or under, one way, and I don’t have to carry a large load, the bicycle takes priority.
Just got back from CarMax where I test drove a BMW i3 and a Chevrolet Bolt. Yes, that’s where my next car is definitely going.
Very cool, Aaron! I’ve always wanted a bicentennial but you’re right, they don’t come up often. Yours is really cool as it’s singlespeed. Most I see are the dorky 5 speeds with the post-Nader thumb shift.
I have a ‘76 Sting-ray I hold close to my heart, too but it’s Kool Lemon.
You should post a picture, Sam!
Let’s see if this works…
Right on, it does.
I’ve had this almost three years now. Took awhile to clean off all the Iowa mud but she’s a looker now. Kool lemon is such a happy color, I think that’s what I like about it the most. It’s also a great rider, quite fast.
In my neck of the woods we would have had a name for any of the locals on a Schwinn Stingray. A thief. Most of my bikes were bought well used or made from scrounged parts. I had a blast on them just the same.
My folks wouldn’t consider buying me a Sting Ray as a kid, having spent good bucks on a Schwinn Mark IV Jaguar for my eighth birthday in 1958. So, I found a Schwinn kid’s frame and built my own.
Which was the beginning of a five year career as a professional bicycle mechanic, and a current business/hobby of restoring antique bicycles.
This was the British version – the Raleigh Chopper, with its “Arrow Wedge” frame.
I remember these from childhood and lusted after one…until I had a ride of a friend’s.
Heavy, slow, wanted to whelie all the time and with no weight on the front tire, this taught me what the word “understeer” meant.
They look cool though and today I would love to find one in metalflake orange….
Maybe we need a part of this site called “Kickstand Classics”?….
We sold Raleighs at Dad’s store, too (Charlie The Bicycle Man, Lima, OH). Choppers look VERY cool! But beware of the crank hanger breaking off the frame…..
Likewise at the shop that I worked at, A.R. Adams Cycle in Erie, PA. However my tenure there was during the Seventies Bike Boom, and everybody wanted drop-bar 10-speeds, to the exclusion of everything else.
Bottom line: No Sting Ray-styled bicycle ever made was any good for actually going anywhere. At least Raleigh had the ability to come up with a different design, although they also sold a copy of the Schwinn Sting Ray.
You need to take two wooden clothes pins and use them to attach old playing cards to both sides of the front fork, so that the cards rub up against the spokes, to make a realistic motor sound. Back in the day, no self-respecting kid would have ridden his trusty Stingray without that setup. It would be like the kid’s dad driving a car without a vinyl top. It simply wasn’t done.
Oh, I remember that and baseball cards were throw away items back then unlike now.
That is why baseball cards are so valuable. They were bought by young boys who flipped them or chewed them up in their bike spokes. There was less than 1% of boys who treated their cards as heirlooms. They were nerds. We were cool. They are now rich. I am not. But I was cool. My grandkids don’t believe it. They are rich. Their grandkids believe it.
Or had parents who threw out their card collections after they left for college.
I had six Roberto Clemente rookie cards, among my other stuff. When I see what they sell for nowadays . . . . .
Never had one of these as my first real bike when I was six years old was a black 24″ Schwinn three speed that needed a curb for me to get on. Changed out for a 10 speed metallic green Super Sport when fourteen. Everyone else had a Sting-Ray. That changed out for an 18 speed blue Univega Viva Sport when 30 years old. Last rode it in 1998 but used it all over San Francisco from 1990-1998. Got a mountain bike for riding with my son. Looked at the Univega last week and very sad. Last night and this morning restored it completely with new non-rusted parts, new tubes and gumwall tires (hard to locate), wheels bearings repacked, chain lubed, pivot points oiled and new handle bar tape. Now it looks spiffy and ready to go!
Aaron, you’ve brought back a lot of memories for me with this post!
Dad was a Schwinn dealer (Charlie the Bicycle Man, Lima, OH) from 1965-1977. So I’m sure he had some bicentennial Sting-Rays in stock.
I remember that there were several other models available in white with the red, white, and blue paint scheme to celebrate the occasion.
The catalog pictures you posted reminded me of one of the reasons Schwinn struggled from the late 70’s on – they didn’t take the BMX bike thing seriously. By the time they tried to do so, it was too little, too late.
And I’m astounded at how much some of those bikes from back then are worth now.
Love the comment. I was the head mechanic at A.R. Adams Cycle in Erie, PA, 1970-1974/5 during the Bike Boom. Still have memories of that shop being closed on Sunday (Blue Laws) and Tuesdays (the day the Schwinn and Raleigh shipments arrived), going to work on a Tuesday to set up the bikes already sold (we’re talking a six week waiting list, not unlike buying a Harley in the 90’s), and having people follow the truck in, pounding on the door, demanding we open and sell them the bikes we were setting up. Having no clue that those bikes had been bought and paid for six weeks earlier.
Then 1974 hit, the Bike Boom was over, and suddenly it was starvation time for the bicycle shop. I moved on to the local iron foundry, working third shift to pay my grad school tuition.
I have no doubt that every bicycle manufacturer made a Bicentennial model. Until mountain biking and BMX took over, that’s about all they had to have a product that would sell well.
Is that a Sloan ladder next to your fine ’53 Buick?
Not quite – it only has four steps. 🙂
This was my first bike, a Sears Free Spirit Bicentennial copy of a Sting-Ray. The chain guard was as bad of an idea as it looked, my earliest lessons in medal working derived from trying to keep it clear of the chain after abusing the poor bike with badly landed jumps. The giant chain ring did make it the fastest 20 inch bike in history, and to this day I stretch chains in a matter of weeks as a result of legs developed pedaling up the hills of Albemarle and Dekalb counties with Bonneville salt flat-appropriate gearing, starting on my sixth Birthday.
I should have written that this is a ‘borrowed’ photo of the same model of bicycle that I had.
How did I miss this article on the original posting? I could have gone on nattering for days on the subject.
Original Schwinn Sting Rays are the Hemi muscle cars of the antique bicycle world – bikes, due to the pull they have one Boomer’s memories, that go for insane amounts of money considering their relative importance in the world of bicycles.
To put this into perspective, the author pays $300.00 for a Seventies (not Sixties, which would go for at least double that amount) example of the genre, and a low end model at that. n But, it’s an original, genuine Schwinn.
Meanwhile, my biggest loss in the garage/shop fire last November was a 1935 Armstrong 3-speed roadster (think “village scene in Downton Abbey, those big black bikes with the rod braking systems and full coverage chain case”) which was given (you read that right, given) to me by another collector because he’s wasn’t going to get around to restoring it. They don’t go for enough money to be a regular market item.
Yes, a 45 year old kid’s bike, that was never ridden much of anywhere, is worth dozens of times more than an 85 year old piece of transportation and British history. I had that bike 75% restored when it was destroyed in the fire.
Never underestimate the strength of the “collectible” market. Or the ends that a Boomer will go to just to be able to relive one’s childhood.
No, I’m not putting the bike down. It’s just the realization that I’ve got a collection of vintage Rossin’s (aka, a bicycle equivalent of an 80’s Lamborghini, including the overly loud “Miami Vice” factory paint jobs) that wouldn’t even come close to the going price of one 60’s Schwinn Crate – bikes that were absolutely unrideable if you wanted to go more than a mile or two in any direction.
There are few more powerful forces in the universe than a Boomer’s memory.
I’m not a Boomer though – I have no original memories of this bike. I never had a Sting-Ray as a kid – its day had come and gone. I bought it because I like it. I don’t need to ride it long distances; my favorite bikes for riding are lightweight Raleighs and Schwinns, most of which sell in the $100-$150 range in quite nice original shape.
***I do understand what you’re saying, that Boomers have driven the market on goods that have little intrinsic value aside from nostalgia. The same is beginning to happen with “Radwood” cars and the like. I just want to make it clear that nostalgia for my own youth had nothing to do with this purchase.
Understood. As someone who lived thru the entire Sting Ray fad, I never could really understand what my generation saw in them. Of course, I’m looking at it thru eyes that have raced bikes (very unsuccessfully), done a fair bit of long distance touring, and have been bicycle commuting on and off for over fifty years now, and even as a kid never used a bicycle to piddle around the neighboring streets, but rather to actually do ‘distances’. Things like 6-7 miles into town to the one newsstand that carried the monthly science fiction magazines.