The Schwinn Stingray: The Trendsetting Bike of the Sixties

The bike with a stick shift!
The bike with a stick shift!
The 1963 ad
The 1963 ad

What is it about the Sixties, anyway? I mean, the innovation in America was simply at 120%, bursting across all strata from fashion, music, new technology like hand-held hair dryers, color TV, FM radio, muscle cars, the Chevrolet Corvair (the only air-cooled rear engine car made in the US), skateboards and the Schwinn Bike.

I recall see my first ever skateboard. A kid moved into our neighborhood from California. Texas was backwards then, except for progressive Austin. It was a very long thing with skates nailed to it and he was "surfing" on the sidewalk. Blew my mind. I was in awe. All the kids wanted to try it and quickly fell off getting bruised.

Then, schwinn produced its rockstar bike. The impact of the bike was similar to the Ford Mustang or The Beatles then, it would be emulated and copied through the decades. It was a sporty bike with the unheard of "butterfly" handlebars and a long "banana seat". The rear tire was larger than the front. Popping wheelies was what it was known for and it looked liked no other bike anyone had produced.

It began in 1963, as the "Twist" dance swept across America and the world. Schwinn's competitor, Huffy, had noticed that in Southern Cal, kids had some odd looking, yet cool, bikes. They toyed with the idea to produce these but Schwinn had also seen this. The company sent its engineers out to Southern Calif (where, in the 60's, all trends began in America) to see the bikes kids were riding. They were 20-inch frames, with chopper handlebars and a seat that could carry two.

Basically, Schwinn copied what they had seen but had very little faith that the Sting-Ray would be successful across America. In fact, executives had an ongoing bet that it would fail and that less than 25,000 would be made the first year.

The bike debuted in the Summer of 1963, with metallic paint, knobby tires, white banana seat and butterfly handlebars. Life was good to Schwinn for the next seven years as kids dragged their parents into bike shops wanting ONLY the Sting-Ray! They also became a prime target for thieves. They were easy picking when the bike was left outside unchained to a post or something. They could easily be quickly put in the back of a truck or van and sold.

The bike sold for $50-80.00- a hefty sum then. But, owning a the bike was like owing the Chevy Corvette Stingray- everyone looked as you road by. The first years over 45,000 were made and this was just the beginning. By 1966-7, the bike came with a 3 or 4-speed stick shift and slick rear tires. What this did was create a "sports car-like" bike for boys and girls. Some of the bikes had two tone color paint or chrome flared bumpers. The production of the bike continued until 1981 or so, by then, the price had jumped to $70-80 for a basic model and $126+ for the stick shift model.

I had one. Saved my money up. I had it one day. In a flash, it was stolen after I left outside parked in the driveway! I had only been gone a few minutes to get a coke. Came back out and it was gone in 60 seconds. I was crushed.

Today, they can sell for well over $1000 on Ebay depending on its condition. In a way, the bike paved the way for the mountain bike because the Schwinn was a tough, geared, sturdy metal bike with knobby tires. It was for the street and off-road, just the way kids want them then and now.


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1 comment

Jayfort 3 years ago

Had one of those myself. Gold with black seat. Rode it well into my teens until I discovered girls and driving. Also, poor Schwinn, I knew it, Horatio!

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