Update: This article shows the original condition of the Schwinn. Enjoy, but be sure to take a look at some of the newer stories, too.
When I got the chance to pick up a portion of Les Siegrist’s cycling estate, I was more interested in the Park Tool stand and hand tools than this wheelless, 22-inch Schwinn Sports Tourer, but I almost remembered Les riding it, and the Schwinn had a Nervar cotterless crank in pretty good condition, so I adopted the bike as well. If nothing else, it had been a while since I last had the opportunity to swear at French components.
The round sticker indicates we’re not looking at a Varsity or Continental. An Internet search quickly led me to Mike Rother’s essay on Schwinn fillet-brazed bicycles. The Sports Tourer has seamless, straight-gauge chrome molybdenum tubes, not the heavier, longitudinally welded (electro-forged) tubes made in Schwinn’s own factory from coils of steel strip and destined for the vast majority of its production.
I’d forgotten that in the 1970s Schwinn made three types of frames: electro-forged (Stingray, Varsity and others), fillet-brazed (Superior, Sports Tourer, Super Sport) and lugged (Paramount).
Fillet-brazing is an expensive, time-consuming way to build a frame, and Schwinn had been building frames similar to this since the late 1930s in Chicago. Usually, frame builders charge more to make fillet-brazed frames than lugged frames, but the Paramounts featured double-butted tubing (thicker on the ends, thinner in the middle and pricier than straight gauge tubing) and were better finished than the fillet-brazed frames.
It looks like a good old electro-forged frame, with the top tube, head tube and seat tube flowing smoothly into each other, but this lighter, hand-built frame took a lot longer to build than a Varsity or Continental. (The electro-forging process used to create most Schwinn bicycles was a high-speed production wonder.)
Schwinn Approved language shows up on third-party parts, including the centerpull brake calipers, front derailleur clamp and the brake extension levers.
Extension levers make it difficult to “ride the hoods” by wrapping your hands around the main brake lever bodies. They’re also more difficult to modulate than the main lever. Without close attention to cable adjustment, many riders find the extension levers bottom out on the handlebar before sufficient braking force is achieved. One of my favorite jobs back in the day was to delete the extension levers and install gum brake hoods, along with new handlebar tape.
Twin-Stik shifters feature the Schwinn “S” as does the aluminum stem, which necks down to Schwinn’s 0.833-inch stem diameter before entering the fork steerer tube. (This is a smaller diameter than the 22.2-mm stems used by other makers, which makes finding a replacement, let alone a different length stem, difficult.) When I rebuild the bicycle, I’ll probably install bar-end shifters if I stay with dropped handlebars.
Items like these shifters, the brake extension levers and the steel kickstand made it difficult for the average bicycle buyer to distinguish fillet-brazed Schwinns from their lower-priced brethren. The fact that the frames closely resembled other Schwinns didn’t help, though the forged dropouts and tubular fork blades were clearly different.
The Nervar crankset never got the spotlight afforded to its French competitors, Stronglight and T.A., but it was a competitive offering and this particular unit looks to be in pretty good shape.
Here’s the gear chart based on the Nervar’s 54 and 40-tooth chainrings and the original 14-34 five-speed freewheel specifications. The 40-34 chainring/freewheel cog combination provided a fairly decent climbing gear.
The shifting pattern is also pretty simple: On the 40-tooth chainring, I’d probably shift the rear derailleur from the 34 to the 17, then shift the front derailleur to the big chainring and make one more rear shift to get to the 104-inch top end. (I’d also cross-chain the small chainring to the 14-tooth in the rear to pick up that 77-inch “in-betweener.”)
Unable to maintain the 104 for any reasonable length of time, I’d stay on the big chainring and shift the rear derailler to the 28-tooth cog before bailing to the smaller chainring. Of course, I don’t have the original freewheel and finding a five-speed with a 34-tooth cog is likely to be pretty difficult. Most likely I’ll end up with a 14-28 and kiss that sweet climbing low goodbye.
The original derailleur was threaded directly into the lowest part of the dropout instead of using an adapter plate to attach to the slot of the dropout. Somewhere along the way, the dropout threads were damaged and a Shimano Tourney derailleur was slipped into place. I’ll restore the dropout’s original derailleur attachment using a Heli-Coil thread repair kit.
No hiding the serial number under the bottom bracket with Schwinn. It’s just above the lower headset cup on the right side of the frame. This frame was manufactured in March (“C”) 1972 (“H”).
Here’s the clean and simple Schwinn Chicago head badge. You’ll never see another one like this on a new bike.
While this frame was being brazed and filleted, Schwinn was losing to changing technology and competition. The next year the company would begin importing lugged frames. In a few more years, the United Auto Workers would unionize the Chicago plant, Schwinn would establish a relationship with Giant and try a new plant in Mississippi. Twenty years after this Sports Tourer frame was painted Opaque Blue, the original Schwinn, the dominant U.S. brand of the 20th century, would close shop for good.
Dave Kirk explains how he approaches fillet brazing on his custom frames. Sheldon Brown’s websites are a wealth of information for the bicyclist. Here’s Mike Rother’s essay on fillet-brazed Schwinn frames. Fillet brazing can be used to make a very nice frame, but the real marvel in the Schwinn factory was the high-tech electro-forging process, used to make everything from Stingrays to Continentals. Marc Muller explains how Schwinn turned coil strips of steel into its own tubing. At one time, riders would type up gear charts and tape them to their handlebars. Some still do. If you’re interested in what all your cogs add up to, Sheldon made it easy to generate your own. The Chicago factory, the fillet-brazing section and the amazing electro-forging line are long gone, but Richard Schwinn, great-grandson of founder Ignaz Schwinn, turns out beautiful hand-made bicycles in Wisconsin under the Waterford moniker. Waterfordbikes.com also hosts Tom Findley’s scans of Schwinn catalogs from 1895 through 2000. Check out the 20-pound, 12-ounce Superior Racer from 1939.