23 May 2012

Schwinn Sting Ray Dreams: A tale of unrequited desire

 

In the late 1960s and very early 1970s just about every red-blooded boy from the age of 10 to 14 wanted a Schwinn Sting Ray. But we didn’t want just any bike with ape hanger handlebars and a banana seat. We wanted one of the Krate series from Schwinn. They had names like Orange Krate, Apple Krate and Lemon Peeler and they were everything a boy could want.

I remember walking or riding down to Sailing’s Cyclery and grabbing full-line Schwinn brochures. Those were the ones shot at Knott’s Berry Farm in California and featured young teens and pre-teens wearing bellbottoms, like what we had.

Somehow, I never got a Krate of my own. Instead, we’d find used 20-inch frames and order seats and handlebars through the mail — no Internet back then! After that we’d spray the bike yellow or orange or another screaming color using a rattle can. Of course, our machines only had a single speed — unlike the Schwinns — and weren’t nearly as cool.

But somehow my brother and I survived not having the coolest bikes on earth and not having shiny paint and disc brakes and that awesome stick shift to change the gears in the rear hub.

Our bikes weren’t uncool, not like the upright machines we started with. But they were the closest we could get to our dream bikes. We’d take them off road to a makeshift dirt motocross course or we’d ride on the pavement and slam on the coaster brake and skid until we blew the rear tire. And although our Sting Rays weren’t as shiny and as lust-inducing as the Schwinns that had inspired us, we had put them together and they were well and truly ours. 

Just the other day I saw an Apple Krate at a motorcycle collector’s home and it brought back a flood of memories. As I saw that beautiful old Sting Ray I came to the conclusion that I’d far rather remember those bikes than those awful bellbottoms we wore at about the same time!

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