(first posted 3/17/2015) We don’t really do bicycles here on CC, at least on a regular basis. But after recently concluding forty years of ownership, please indulge me the privilege of sharing its story. Maybe we can think of this as the Impala Sport Coupe of bikes, if that helps.
The story begins with a much cooler bike and my first totalled vehicle. On my 11th birthday in 1970, I was indulged with the pre-teen version of the Hemi Cuda – a Schwinn Pea Picker. I had been a dedicated Stingray rider since my 7th birthday, but the old gold Stingray was showing its age and I was ready for something new.
My friends were getting upsized five speeds. Kevin next door had been on a Schwinn Typhoon for awhile, but Tim down the street got a new Collegiate which sort of set the curve for the rest of us. I knew that a bike was do-able for my 11th birthday, and got my hands on a Schwinn catalog to peruse the choices.
I have always been a pretty practical and conservative guy, but twelve was an interesting time. Raging hormones? That is probably the best explanation for my sudden mancrush on the Schwinn Krate bikes. Take a basic Stingray, add springs on the banana seat, a 5 speed stick shift, and that ultra-cool chopper-style little front wheel with its drum brake. Being 1970, that metallic green was all the rage and even though I thought the name was kind of stupid, the Pea Picker was the baddest of the most badass bikes on the market.
Now I fully expected my parents to start working me down to something a little less extravagant, but to my amazement, my father ponied up with the object of my desire on the big day. Being honest here, an eleven year old boy can be in a pretty good bargaining position with his divorced dad, and in my supercharged adolescence, I was emboldened to do everything I could with the hand of cards I was holding.
I will also be honest that the bloom fell from the Picker pretty quickly. Unlike with a car, a kid’s bike depends on kid power, and keeping up with my friends on this small-wheeled racer proved to be a challenge. I was set for stoplight drags while my friends were ready for the open road. Ironically, it was just such a drag race that led to the Pea Picker’s untimely demise.
One fine summer day, a friend decided on a spur-of-the-moment race. Oh, you bet I had his ass, right up to the moment that I jammed the Picker into the back of Mr. Bordner’s ’71 Firebird that had never, ever been parked in the street – until that day. The damage tally was pretty impressive: a bumper, taillight and a rear panel on the car, parts of my two front teeth gone, and a badly bent-up hot rod bike. Time to grow up.
With my new Schwinn catalog, I was much more mature. After all, I was now thirteen. I was done with hot-shit kid-stuff bikes and picked out a nice, normal 5 speed Collegiate. My adult nature was starting to come through here, as I purposefully passed up on a 10 speed. “Never had 10 speeds before, and who really needs more than 5?” Bad call, I know, but there you have it. Like an Impala Sport Coupe with a Powerglide instead of the Turbo Hydramatic? Maybe so.
I even picked a nice, mature brown. Brown was in then, and I really did like it. Still do. Upon taking ownership, this bike served to get me all the way to my drivers license. The Collegiate took me everywhere during those endless days of summer before I was old enough to get a job. Its epic road trip was a fifty mile day trip from Fort Wayne to Huntington, Indiana and back. The brown Schwinn was my trusty companion for everywhere I needed to go.
Until I got a drivers license. From that moment, the old bike became a dusty, neglected relic whose time had come and gone. But I didn’t care. Cars were my first love, and hadn’t a bike just been a temporary expedient? Years later, my sister got married and asked if she and her husband could have my bike. “Sure, take it” was my instantaneous reply.
Later, my own kids were starting to get bikes and I got the brown Schwinn back from sis. A little oil on the chain and we were good to go for rides around the neighborhood. The Impala, er, Collegiate was a perfect neighborhood cruiser for accompanying youngsters on their much smaller bikes. Until one day when a tire blew. So, back to the garage.
The kids were pretty much beyond accompanied rides by then, and the old Schwinn sat for a few more years, gathering dust and taking up increasingly valuable real estate in the garage. I remembered it one day when a related topic came up during a CC discussion about something that I can’t remember. That was when our own Jim Grey commented that it would be cool to have a classic bike to ride, causing a light to go off in my head.
I had to be honest and recognize that there were about 4,367 unfinished projects in and around my house, the neglected old Collegiate being just one of them. It was actually liberating to come to the realization that I just wasn’t going to get to it any time soon, and how cool would it be to put it into the hands of someone who would ride and appreciate it.
The bicycle equivalent of a barn find, it needed a bit of work (and two new tires) to be operable again, but Jim came and looked it over and pronounced it worth adopting. So, I am happy to conclude my story by telling you that my former classic Schwinn remains in the CC family under JG’s ownership. A man who will undoubtedly have some better pictures of it than these.
I am plenty happy to have had over 40 years with my bike, and in retrospect, never appreciated it as much as I should have. These old Chicago-built Schwinns may not have satisfied true bike enthusiasts, but they really were built like brick outhouses. I can tell you that the baked-on finish was everything that Captain Kangaroo made it out to be on TV. Maybe one of these times, JG can take a break from riding it to give us a more objective look at this classic bike, one that is not tinted with the soft lens of adolescence. But with nice spring weather (hopefully) around the corner, my advice to Jim would be to stay away from the keyboard and keep riding.
1969 Raleigh Rodeo (Craig Dickson)
1973 Schwinn Speedster (Aaron65)