40 years later: The Schwinn Sports Tourer

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 a Shimano Tourney was installed that was incompatible with the Huret dropout. I’ll restore the dropout’s original derailleur attachment using a Heli-Coil thread repair kit. I will create an adapter that will allow me to bolt a modern derailleur in place using the original mounting threads.

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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”).

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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.

Links:

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.

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About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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29 Responses to 40 years later: The Schwinn Sports Tourer

  1. Ray Keener says:

    Sam, I can get you a 6-speed 14-34 freewheel, Shimano MF-ZH30. Not seeing any 5-speed with this kind of range. How about a Falcon 14-28 5-speeder? The shift up to the 34 had to make that Huret rear derailleur curse loudly in French anyway…

  2. Lar Davis says:

    Wonderful article, Sam. I think I’ve got one (or more) of those Shimano freewheels from the Trek 560, if you need a spare cog or such.

  3. Corky Stewart says:

    Anyone on this thread interested in a perfect condition Sports Tourer from May 1974? I haven’t ridden it in years and it looks lonely hanging on the bike rack in my garage. Time to give it a new home with a collector. If interested, contact me and I’ll take some pictures to send.

  4. Pingback: Les Schwinn is More: Enter the junk box | 16incheswestofpeoria

  5. Pingback: Les Schwinn is More: Strip and Give Me 34 | 16incheswestofpeoria

  6. Mark Fulton says:

    Nice to know there are still a few of these floating around. I bought one used in about ’79 from a bike shop I was working at (being a bike fixer and then a grad student, I didn’t have a lot of green stuff to drop on bikes, and this thing always rode pretty nicely). It’s morphed a few times over the years, but I still ride it.

    The Nervar cranks fit the old TA triple chainwheels, so I built the drivetrain into a half-step plus granny “15″ speed (really about 12 usable gear ratios) within a couple years of the purchase. The original derailleurs worked (and still work) fine with that. It had light wheels with “skinhead” tires at one time, which was great fun for riding on asphalt, but a bike thief in my Madison WI neighborhood thought the wheels and tires were pretty cool too, so the original wheels went back on.

    In the last 15 years I’ve started a family and gotten a professor job, and our neighborhood in northern Minnesota has very little pavement (and sandy trails), so for about a decade, the thing sat in the shed. It accumulated rust and dust.

    I’ve recently gotten some 27 x 1 3/8 cyclocross tires, and re-built it yet again into an upright for road and light trail use. Still a pleasant ride in its current re-configuration, and works OK for trails, although the new tires don’t allow clearance for fenders.

    Original components still in use: front wheel, stem, fork, Weinmann centerpull brakes, Nervar crankset, front (steel Huret) and rear (Schwinn LeTour = Shimano Crane) derailleurs. Everything else has changed once or twice.

    It looks like hell (rust speckles and scratches on the pain job), and it’s pretty heavy. Who cares? It rides fine, it’s ridiculously stiff and sturdy, and it’ll probably still be rideable after another 40 years.

    • There’s a great deal to be said in favor of riding an old bicycle, especially one old enough that it is not so out of date as it is out of time. A rider with the latest electric derailleur system does not judge the value of her purchase against your bicycle; she is left to find some sorry soul riding last year’s 11-cog wonder, actuated by (gasp) roughly the same cable system as a Peugeot U-08. That rider is worthy of her pity; you and I, on the other hand, strain her ability to understand what she is seeing: satisfied riders atop machines only slightly more sophisticated than The Wheel from The Wizard of Id.

      We are not so far gone with the Schwinns, however. Our pace is their pace. Our expectations, fully in line with our machines’ capabilities. We are properly aligned with the roads even though our mounts may not be. Salut!

  7. Dan says:

    I am proud to say that I own the same bike, same model. I found it at an Estate Sale in the backyard chained to a tree. It was in bad condition, but I restored it back to life and ride it frequently. It was a steal for $5.

    Do you know what the value of the bike is today? It has all of the components that you highlighted. And it is that light blue color.

    • Ah, the value of an old bicycle. I am not aware of a busy market for Schwinn fillet-brazed frames. What we do have to refer to is the Internet, but being able to find references to the bikes and an eager market are two different things. I wasn’t in the market for mine when it became available, and I only studied it after the fact. The one catalog I reviewed listed the bike in 22, 24 and 26 inch frame sizes, which means I never would have searched this bike out except for the fact that it was one component of a cycling estate. At 5-foot-7, even the frame I have is too big. They are sometimes listed on eBay, sometimes for hundreds of dollars. But then again, that’s eBay. Asking a price and getting it, again, two different things. If someone’s looking for a used road bike, the Schwinn is competing with every used road bike made since the 70s, most of them better equipped and lighter, and all of them made with Campy style dropouts, instead of the Schwinn’s Huret design, and front forks 100mm over locknut instead of the Schwinn’s 91mm. If someone’s looking to recapture the bicycle of their youth, in mint condition, I’d be surprised to get more than $500–and I’m just pulling that out of the air, not being aware of either the hypothetical bike or the imaginary buyer. I’d say ride it until the wheels fall off. Then put the wheels back on and ride it some more.

  8. Andy Drechsel says:

    I too, also have a light blue Schwinn Sport Tourer,from 1972 , KH 017965.
    It is for sale for $175.00 in Rochester N.Y.
    ajdrechsel01@aol.com
    The front wheel I believe was swapped out,the front hub does not say Schwinn,and the rear wheel has a 6 speed cassette with a Shimano derailler,everything else looks right.
    The frame is about a 23 incher.

  9. Dan Miller says:

    I am looking for a 26 inch frame Schwinn Sport’s Tourer. I rode one for 16 years until it was stolen out of our garage.

    • Sorry about your loss, Dan. You must be pretty tall to ride a 26 inch. The 22 inch I’ve just about completed–just need struts for the front fender–is big for 5-foot-7 me, but with upright handlebars curving back toward me, I’m making it work.

      • Dan Miller says:

        It was a terrific loss for me. It was like my brother. I was working at a Schwinn Shop in 1972 when I bought it. I assembled the bike. No one else ever maintained it. It was $220 at the same time the chrome Paramont was $550. I should have gotten the Paramont but as a teacher I was only making $7600 a year. Every scratch on the bike had a huge story to it. I added lots of upgrades like handlebar stem, seat post, pedals, fingertip shifters and derailleurs. We took it in our van when we vacationed in San Fransisco. I made the comment that I could ride the bike up any of the hills. My wife bet me dinner at Chinatown that I could not. I did it. Friends used to kid me that the bike had granny gears on it. I could go up any hill at about the same pace a person would walk their bike.

      • If you have a picture of you and the bike, and want to participate, I’d be happy to post your story on the site, not so much as the story of a treasured bicycle lost as a story about someone who valued a machine enough to continue riding it–for decades. Though I’ve gone through a few bikes over the years, I don’t believe I’ve ever abandoned a machine because it was worn out, but I haven’t had any of them as long as you have, either.

        If you want, mail bikewritercat (at) gmail (dot) com.

    • Tim Lieu says:

      Dan,
      I have a 26″ Yellow Sports Tourer that I can sell you. I was trying to find someone with a 24″ to trade with, but no luck so far. Where are you located? I’m in Southern California. Email me if interested.

      Tim

      • Dan Miller says:

        How much is it? Could you send a picture? Mine was yellow. Maybe you’re the guy that stole it.; ) I am in Illinois. Would you be willing to box it up and send it? My e-mail address is dmiller155@aol.com

  10. James Jaeger says:

    is there a good place to look for a frame like this… am looking for a ’72 opaque green or blue frame for schwinn sports tourer

    • Just took a look at eBay. Several Sports Tourers are listed, but only one at a price I’d consider ($160). And I’d only consider it if I could pick it up, because at $70, shipping is a killer. Things to watch out for: bikes with the same name but aren’t the Sports Tourer you’re looking for. There’s a black Taiwanese Schwinn listed that way, and it’s nowhere close to the same thing.

      In any case, review the listings carefully. That $160 bike doesn’t have the original wheels, and I wonder whether the rear derailleur is actually a match for the Huret dropout. If not, you’ll either have to find a derailleur that was built to fit or do what I did and fabricate a derailleur angle adapter.

      The other listings feature significantly higher prices, but will almost always require work before they’re roadworthy. Like the yellow one for $399. The missing parts–seatpost, pedals–are one thing, but the lister “power washed” the bike. Depending on how thorough the job was, the bearings are probably washed out and now rusting.

      Why the interest in the Sports Tourer? Did you once own one? If not, be sure to read all my Sports Tourer posts. They’ll give you an idea of things to watch out for–and the amount of work you’ll need to invest in.

      Hope that helped a bit.

  11. I just picked up a Sports Tourer that has been hanging for many years. Everything looks original, including tires, which would likely disintegrate if pumped. All bearings appear dry, almost solid grease and difficult to turn, not from wear, but I believe from lack of wear(use). Now it hangs in my shop. I hope to restore it, as is. I am hoping to only clean, re-lube, and re-con. Maybe have it ready for my annual “ride your age” trek in November.

    • I’ve been working on a friend’s racing bike with similar issues. The headset felt like it was screwed down tight, but it was (mostly) the concrete consistency of the grease. I’m looking forward to its shake-down cruise; always fun to liberate the lightweight machine trapped inside the time machine.

      I like that idea of a ride your age ride. Might try it next February, when it’s once again an even number.

  12. carol jackson says:

    I have a schwinn long neck. What is that worth?

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