Vintage Schwinn Bikes: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Updated April 11, 2022
Vintage Schwinn Spitfire bicycle

From streamlined Aerocycles and classic Phantoms to Varsity eight-speeds and Sting Ray Krates, vintage Schwinn bicycles are popular with collectors. In addition to the fond memories these beautiful bicycles inspire, enthusiasts praise their quality workmanship and enduring value. Whether you're considering a vintage Schwinn for personal use or want to invest in a piece of American popular history, you'll have a lot of options.

History of the Schwinn Bicycle Company

For more than a century, the name Schwinn has represented a leader in the bicycle industry. The company began in 1895 when partners Ignaz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold founded their corporation Arnold, Schwinn & Company. Eventually, the market for adult bicycles grew smaller as cars became more affordable. Arnold sold his share of the company to Schwinn, who realized the importance of manufacturing and marketing bicycles for children. With lower prices possible due to advances in manufacturing, the market for children's bicycles began to grow.

Ignaz Schwinn continued to grow his company while making important developments and contributions to the bicycle industry until his death in 1948. These advancements included the following:

  • Balloon tires
  • Built-in kickstands
  • Rear wheel brake
  • Spring fork
  • Cantilever frame

Identifying an Old Schwinn Bike

If you find an old bicycle at a flea market, yard sale, or thrift store, it's important to be able to identify what you have. Knowing how to tell if a Schwinn bike is vintage and how to tell whether your old bicycle is made by Schwinn can help you determine whether you have found a valuable transportation treasure.

Look for the Schwinn Head Badge or Logo

Schwinn head badge

Most Schwinn bikes will feature a head badge or plate that identifies them as a Schwinn. This badge varied in style, depending on the style of bike and the year it was made. However, if you see the Schwinn name on the badge, it's probably a Schwinn bike. If the badge is missing, you may still have a Schwinn. The manufacturer distributed unbranded or rebranded bikes through other companies, especially prior to the 1950s.

You may also see the Schwinn name or logo in decals on the bike. Check the frame for any indication you may have an old Schwinn.

Find the Schwinn Serial Number

You can determine whether a Schwinn bike is vintage by looking up its serial number. The serial number appears in different places on the bike depending on the year and the place the bike was made. Not all vintage Schwinns have serial numbers or follow a set convention for placement and numbering. If there is a serial number, it will always appear on the actual frame of the bike, rather than on a removable part like the seat, handlebars, or wheels.

  • 1940s and before - Schwinn did not begin regularly using serial numbers until 1948, although some other Schwinns have them. Older serial numbers tend to start with a "B" or a "Z," but usage was not yet uniform.
  • 1950s - Vintage Schwinns from the early 1950s may have a serial number stamped on the frame on the bottom of the crank hanger. Bikes from the later 1950s may have a serial number near the part of the frame where the rear axle attaches.
  • 1960s - For vintage Schwinn bikes from the 1960s, look for a serial number on the rear fork end of the frame itself or the part where the axle attaches for the rear wheel.
  • 1970s - Many vintage Schwinn bicycles from the 1970s have the serial number stamped on the head tube of the frame.

Compare Your Bike to Photos of Vintage Schwinns

Vintage Schwinn advertisement

One of the best ways identify an old Schwinn bike is to compare the bike you have to advertising images and photographs of other Schwinns. This can give you some clues about the model, the year it was made, and any options it may have.

Assessing Value of Old Schwinn Bikes

If you're considering buying or selling a vintage Schwinn, you'll need to get an idea of how much it is worth. Condition is a major factor in a bike's value. To determine the condition of your bike, examine the paint, tires, spokes, and all equipment. If possible, identify the model. The more you know about the bike and its condition, the better your estimate of its value will be.

In excellent condition, vintage Schwinn bikes can be worth thousands of dollars. In rough shape, they may still be worth several hundred. Compare your bike to others that have sold recently to get a sense for how much it might be worth. These recently-sold examples of vintage Schwinn's can give you a starting point:

  • A 1971 Schwinn Stingray Grey Ghost sold for almost $4,000 in 2022. It was in very good condition and was almost entirely original.
  • A 1970s Schwinn Grape Krate with mostly original parts in and in good condition sold for almost $3,000 in 2022.
  • A 1966 Schwinn Stingray in muscle blue sold for about $1,700. It had been disassembled in a box for many years and was in perfect condition.
  • A Schwinn Black Phantom from the late 1940s or 1950s sold for $1,000 in 2022. It was in fair condition with few details given about it.
  • A vintage Schwinn tandem bike in an attractive blue color sold for just under $400, despite minimal details about its age or condition.

Buying Vintage Schwinn Bikes

If you're interested in purchasing an antique or vintage bicycle made by this iconic company, you'll have plenty of options. Price varies significantly, depending on the condition, age, scarcity, and desirability of the model. Whether you're looking for a fixer-upper or want a bike in mint condition, there are plenty of places to shop.

eBay

eBay is a great resource for all kinds of antique and vintage items, including Schwinn bikes. You'll see many of the models Schwinn produced in the last half of the 20th century, along with some older models from the earlier part of the company's history. You'll also find parts for Schwinn bikes of all ages. If you're buying a vintage Schwinn on eBay, be sure to ask lots of questions about the bike's condition. Also keep shipping costs in mind, since packaging and transporting a bike can be costly.

Old Roads

Old Roads specializes in vintage bicycles from several different brands, including Schwinn. You can browse their selection online, and they also offer a great deal of helpful information about assessing a bike's condition. Before they are sold, all the bikes are tuned up by professional bicycle mechanics.

Craigslist

Although the selection of merchandise is constantly changing, Craigslist can be a great place to score a deal on a vintage Schwinn. This isn't the place to go if you need a bike immediately, but if you're patient and watch the listings carefully, you may just find the vintage bike of your dreams.

Local Resources

Although shopping online for a vintage Schwinn may net results, you may have better luck if you look at local shopping resources. Bicycle stores and repair shops often carry used or vintage bikes, and they may have some beautiful Schwinn models available. Additionally, you can find vintage Schwinn bikes at garage sales, estate sales, antique shops, and flea markets.

Restoring Vintage Schwinns

Often, vintage bikes are not in great condition when you find them. In fact, this can be a great way to purchase an old Schwinn for an affordable price. If your vintage Schwinn needs some restoration, you can buy parts on eBay or from VintageSchwinn.com, a site devoted to Schwinn enthusiasts.

Certain restoration jobs may be easier than others, and depending on your skills, you may want to avoid the following major issues in a vintage Schwinn:

  • Bent frame
  • Bent fork
  • Severe rust damage
  • Weak points in the frame

Popular Styles of Vintage Schwinn Bicycles

Schwinn bicycles. If you need help downloading the printable, check out these helpful tips.

The following are highlights of two of the most popular of these vintage treasures.

The Black Phantom

Carnegie Science Center display 1950s Black Phantom bicycle

The first Schwinn Black Phantom was manufactured in 1949 and was in production for ten years. Highly desired by collectors, original Phantoms are very hard to find. The company reissued a limited production of the original model in 1995. Special features of this classic bicycle, which was issued in black, red, green, and blue, include the following:

  • Patented Schwinn forewheel drum brakes in the front and rear wheels
  • Whitewall tires
  • Taillight
  • Streamline fender light
  • Cyclelock steering mechanism
  • Tank with horn
  • Chrome steel fenders
  • Rear carrier
  • Three spring padded saddle
  • Bow pedals on the later models

Sting Rays

Schwinn Sting Ray bicycle

Manufactured from 1963-1979 Schwinn Sting Rays were considered one of the coolest bikes of the times, at least by the younger generations. The Sting Ray design was unique, featuring a banana seat, 20-inch tires, and raised handlebars. These bikes were manufactured in 1, 2, 3 and 5-speeds in several styles:

  • Classic
  • DeLuxe
  • Super DeLuxe
  • Fastback
  • Ram's Horn Fastback
  • Krate

Sting Ray Krate

Schwinn Sting Ray Orange Krate 1968 bicycle

The Sting Ray Krate series featured a fat rear tire, rear shock, and a 16-inch front tire with a springer front end. Painted in bright hot rod colors, each Krate also had the popular Stik-Shift. Colors of the Krate models include the following:

  • Flamboyant red (Apple Krate)
  • Flamboyant lime
  • Radiant coppertone
  • Sky blue
  • Violet
  • Black
  • Campus Green (Pea Picker)
  • Kool Orange (Orange Krate)
  • Kool Lemon (Lemon Peeler)
  • White (Cotton Picker)
  • Silver Mist (Grey Ghost)
  • Sunset orange
  • White with bicentennial decals
  • Cardinal red
  • Emerald green
  • Golden yellow

Beautiful Pedal-Powered Machines

Do your research, both online and at local bike shops, to get the very best deal on vintage bikes or to restore your Schwinn to its original condition. Whether you dream of repairing your childhood Sting Ray, hanging your shiny red Phantom on your den wall, or amassing a large collection of vintage Schwinn bicycles, you are part of the love affair many people have with these beautiful, nostalgic, pedal-powered machines.

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Vintage Schwinn Bikes: A Trip Down Memory Lane