If it has wheels, I like it. Even things that have no wheels, as long as they're meant to have them. With the exception of a furniture dolly - I have a fixation on things that are designed to roll, that make our lives as humans easier - or, at the very least, more enjoyable.
Like my affection towards the neglected automobile, I also like neglected bicycles. Growing up in rural Vermont, my life was transfixed by my ability to get a glimpse of the larger world around me, by pedaling my bike. As a youngster, it started with my Big Wheel, and then - at the height of popularity, the BMX bike, which segued into the road bike. BMX changed my life. It's literally all I cared about, while my only neighborhood friend and I would spend every little bit of money we had on accessories for our BMX bikes and then head to Twin State Schwinn in Claremont, NH where they held races every weekend on the most amazing track built. It was good clean fun; however, as the years rolled on, it became very competitive as more professional riders started showing up leaving us wannabee locals in the dust. It was still great fun.
I still have my best friends BMX from those days - that's him - sitting on it with me on the left, as well as him racing on it. A Ross 142THX. If you google it, you'll only find my inquiries in forums pop up. It seems this is the only one left in existence. I had a Ross Snapper. Sold it in high school for some gas money.
As years rolled on, and I got taller with a thirst to pedal less on the open road, I yearned for a road bike. At Twin State Schwinn and Toy Castle, it was a rainbow mecca of colors for the Schwinn line ups - with Varsity's and Continentals on display. While my first road bike was an Itoh, in a deep red, I later obtained my first Schwinn Varsity, in orange. While in college, I ghost rided it one too many times into things and then left it chained to a bike rack for the Summer. Upon return in the Fall, it was gone.
If you've made it this far with my blathering commentary, you are already know that Varsity's are universally snubbed by anyone with even an inkling of bicycle knowledge. They are the ex-taxi's of the bike world - right up there with a Huffy or box store Roadmaster. They are heavy. They are clunky. But they are also sturdy, and actually ride quite nice. They also clean up well with a bit of steel wool and elbow grease. Schwinn made millions of them - and millions of them still exist and can be had at very reasonable costs, if not free. FInding the cheapies isn't difficult, but I've noticed in the last couple of years, that the prices are going up for them online. Not that anyone is biting, but people are certainly asking. I own a ton of Varsity's. Whenever I can get one, I take it home. I strip it down, lube the things that need lubing, buy new tires and bar tape, clean them up until they shine - and more times than not, end up looking near new. Absolutely anyone can do it - including adjusting the friction shifters. But even my best looking one - a 1976 in Lime Green - nearly spotless, I wouldn't dare sell it for more than a $100. Anything more than that, is just......weird.
As the bike boom of the 70's really took off, and Schwinn was spitting their bikes out like potato chips, there existed some differences in Varsity's from the early to mid 60's. Schwinn Varsity's during that decade, were using Sprint components, vs. the standard "Schwinn Approved" equipment, and also had down tube shifters. They also were devoid of the pie plates on the front chain rings, and were equipped with a leather saddle, smooth pedals and red dot brake hoods with serial numbers stamped into the rear droputs vs. the headtube. Also, the well known Schwinn head badge, was not of the type you see on the later models. Arguably, some of the best colors for these bikes were from that era - from black, to purple, to radiant coppertone. For me - I'm a coppertone man - my radar is always on for a coppertone colored Schwinn Varsity and I will drive great distances to get one, including Continentals. I bought these each for $100 - both were in pretty bad shape, the Continental had a nest of dead wasps in the bottom bracket. But both cleaned up well - and the Varsity - of all my bikes....this is one of my favorites. Continental is just as terrific.
There is just something about that coppertone.
I have a lot of vintage road bikes - from the unworthy to really nice examples that sport Reynolds 531 tubing and Compagnolo components. They are indeed superior in ride and weight when compared to the trusty Varsity, but not nearly as fun, easy or cheap to acquire and mess around with. I've taken my Varsity's on very long trips over the years (with a better saddle), and had a blast on them. Most recently, I decided to take my 64 Varsity in coppertone on the NYC 5 Boro ride. I've done the 5 Boro many times. It's basically a nice traffic free bike around the city, hitting all 5 boro's - starting in Manhattan and ending in Staten Island for a total of 43 miles. It's flat, other than the Queensboro and Verrazano Bridges - and smooth. Felt like a million bucks riding the old thing around, and had a couple people actually recognize it and make simple chit chat about it.
There exists several excellent articles on the Schwinn Varsity - that can explain better than I ever could, the importance and the romance that the Schwinn Varsity holds over all other bikes on the road. Here are links to those articles to cut and paste into your browser:
The nice thing about an old Varsity, is that you can pretty much leave them anywhere - and no one is going to bother it. I bought a kool yellow 1972 Varsity and an Opaque Blue Continental a few years ago that was destitute and homeless for $20.00 a number of years ago. The Varsity was a little small for me, but after going through it and cleaning it up, I use it as a city bike in NYC. As you read this, it's currently chained up there in the event I need a bike in times I'm in Manhattan to bang around with. When I chain it at my in-laws in Washington Heights (Northern Harlem), I take the front wheel off, just to deter anyone from whacking it to death, and when downtown and more busy - I just leave it chained to a bike rack. Been there for years. I take a small pump with me - blow up the tires, and scurry around the town as needed. I'm going to take it back home with me soon to give it a once over again - it's starting to get rusty again. Here are some pics of when I got it - and how it came out:
The blue Continental was in terrible condition - the gumwall of the tire literally crystalized onto the rim, but after a good deep cleaning, I converted the bottom bracket to hold a modern triple crank and appropriate rear derailleur. Looked great, and rode like a dream. Still heavy, but had a lot of new gears to choose from for once in it's life:
If it isn't rusty..............
It's caked in oil and grime:
Still awake? I think I've talked enough about it. Here are a few more pics of some of the Varsity's I've gone through. I always take them down to NYC and give them a once over and typically ride around Central Park, through Time's Square to lower Manhattan to the bike bath on the Hudson River.
My suggestion if you find yourself interested in fixing up an old bike - no matter what it is, is to find a local bike co-op and to check your local recycling center for parts - or even a potential candidate. You wouldn't believe the bikes that exist in cellars and garages across the country, and how people will either dump them or donate them. My local co-op, the Bellows Falls Bike Project has been absolutely a God send and necessity. Parts are reasonable, often in abundance - and their existence serves a greater purpose beyond the hobby. Thanks for reading.