1 August 2012

Two-Wheel Tire Shredders

Schwinn Sting-Rays put a generation of kids on some of the coolest bikes ever made

If it has wheels and moves, someone will want to personalize it. Nowhere was that more prevalent than in southern California in the 1950s and ’60s. Teenaged boys modified their flathead Fords, and beside them their younger brothers customized their bicycles with things like banana seats and “ape hanger” handlebars.

Recognizing the trend, in June 1963 Schwinn introduced the Sting-Ray. The bikes came in five wild colors: Flamboyant Lime, Flamboyant Red, Sky Blue, Violet and Radiant Coppertone. Parents weren’t so receptive to the non-traditional design, so the Sting-Ray wasn’t an immediate hit. But kids loved the large rear tires, chrome fenders, butterfly style handlebars and the solo polo seat.

Schwinn borrowed a page from the automobile manufacturer’s marketing book and introduced new Sting-Ray models and features annually. The three-speed hub debuted in 1965, and the five-speed Stik-Shift was first offered in 1966. The Kratebikes — the muscle cars of two-wheelers — came out in 1968 with names like the Apple Krate, Orange Krate, Lemon Peeler and Pea Picker. They carried a price tag of $86.95, and advertising dared kids to “Blast off and move out to a whole new world of cycling thrills aboard the flashiest Sting-Ray ever designed.” For 1968 only, Krates featured a full-floating bucket saddle and a large aluminum front brake. The coveted disc brake was introduced in 1972, and production continued until 1983, when 10-speeds and BMX bikes captured the imaginations of America’s youth.

Marc Savarise, who has been collecting and restoring Sting-Rays since the mid-1990s, believes nostalgia draws people to the bikes today. When he and his wife go out for a ride, they attract comments from strangers who remember these wild bikes from their childhoods. Marc’s interest stems from his own desire to have one as a kid. His mother worked two jobs to keep things together, and a Sting-Ray was not inexpensive. “Can’t afford it,” she told him repeatedly, but he still recalls how he felt the day he came home from school and found an Apple Krate in his room. “The excitement of that moment is still with me and I’m reminded of it every time I go out to work on my Sting-Rays.” He rode the Apple Krate well into high school, even when all his buddies had moved on to 10-speeds.

Marc believes the 1968 Orange Krate, Lemon Peeler and Apple Krate are the most collectible Sting-Rays, with the ’73 equipped with rear disc brake a close second. Most valuable among Sting-Rays would be the one-year-only 1971 Grey Ghost, with black grips and seat. It cost more than $100 when introduced; these days a complete and original example commands more than $2,500.

Like many wheeled wonders, eBay is a great source for Sting-Ray bikes and parts. If you ever lusted for one as a kid, Marc will tell you to indulge your whim. They’re as much fun now as they were 40 years ago.

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