06 February 2011

Which Bike Was Pinned Up?

Back in my youth, millions of teenaged boys and young men had Raquel Welch pinup posters on their walls.  A couple of years later, they (or their younger brothers) hung images of Farrah Fawcett in their dorms.

Around the time FF replaced RW as the pinup queen, I started to work in a bike shop.  On my first day there, I was greeted by this:

Now, before I (however unwittingly!) turn this into a low-grade version of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, I'll bring this post back to the topic of bicycles--namely, the one she's, er, riding.

It's a Schwinn Super Sport.  You can look at it, without distractions, here:

 OK, so it's not the same bike.  But it's the same model. The bike, I mean.  And it's in a shade of red I like a lot.  I think Schwinn called it "bright Burgundy" or something like that.

In any event, the model in both photos is...not as well known as FF or RW.  Oh, the bike--In both photos, it's the Schwinn Super Sport.

Back when I bought my Continental, it was the next model up.  It cost, if I recall correctly, about 25 dollars more.  That may not sound like much, but its price was about 25 percent higher than that of the Continental.  That was a fair-sized chunk of change for most people, let alone a 14-year-old, back then.

Like most people, I couldn't see a huge difference.  However, the Super Sport had a couple of features that may well have made it a more performance-oriented bike.  Those same features also helped to make the SS one of the strangest bikes ever made.

The frame was filet-brazed from Chrome-Molybdenum steel, while the Continental was flash-welded from regular steel tubing.  The Cr-Mo, of course, made for a lighter bike that would have been more responsive.  So did the alloy rims (the Continental's were steel).  

So far, so good.  But if you look closely at the photo of the burgundy Super Sport, you will see a couple of incongruous features.

The most stunningly inappropriate part is the forged steel one-piece (a.k.a. Ashtabula) cranks.  With the steel chainrings and chainguard, it may have weighed more than the wheels.

What's even stranger is that those cranks are paired with aluminum alloy "rat trap" pedals made in France by Atom.  I always thought they were rather pretty, but when I rode a pair (on another bike), I learned that they were very fragile.

Plus, as I recall, the Super Sports had the same welded-on steel kickstands as the Continental and all lower models.  

I think that trying to make a budget "performance" bike is laudable.  But I always had the feeling the designers of the "Super Sport" weren't certain as to whether they were making that, or a two-wheeled tank for kids to pedal off curbs.


  1. I love the page on Sheldon Brown about the Fillet Brazed Cro-Mo Schwinns:
    Schwinn made some good decisions, some bad ones, and some that just made you scratch your head. The Super Sport definitely fits into the "head scratch" category.

    I've seen some Super Sports come up on Portland Craigslist. I'd be tempted to get one if the price was right. The bike shop down the street also had a SS for sale. It had the original Brooks B15 saddle on it, which looked pretty beat.

  2. Adventure!: I've seen that page, too.

    In a way, I can understand why Schwinn made many of the decisions--even those of the "scratch your head" variety--it made. For decades, it was the only American bike maker that had even a pretense of quality, let alone offered performance-oriented bikes for adults. But it also needed to market itself aggressively, and it did that in part by making bikes that people who were looking at European machines might consider.

    Also, when the Super Sports were made, the only alternatives to Ashtabula cranks were European cotterless models, which were expensive, and cottered cranksets. Heavy as the Ashtabulas were, they were superior in a couple of respects to the cottered cranks. And, at the time the Super Sports were made, good Japanese components were just starting to become available. The only bikes that were equipped with them were Japanese. It would be a few years before Motobecane would become the first European manufacturer to spec bikes with SunTour derailleurs and cotterless cranks from the Land of the Rising Sun; Raleigh and other makers soon followed. That showed Schwinn and other companies that it was OK to use them on their mid-priced bikes.

    I recall that someone was making a conversion kit that allowed the installation of a cotterless crank bottom bracket in a hanger meant for an Ashtabula crank. That would certainly lighten the bike and improve its performance; so would changing from the long-cage Huret Allvit (which never would have been spec'd had Japanese derailleurs been available) to a SunTour or Shimano mechanism.

    Good luck on finding a Super Sport with a B-15 saddle that's still usable!

  3. I've never been able to get excited about Schwinn bikes, and reading your post I wonder whether it's because they seem to have made so many of these weird (bicycle) models. It's almost as if just their existence ruins the impression of the brand at large.

  4. Back then even race bikes were heavy compared to today. They weren't out of place by any means, and Schwinn definitely equated quality with durability, which means weight.

    Also, can you say side b00b?

  5. The model in the pinup/poster is not a Super Sport, it is a '74 or '75 Schwinn Continental. I can tell it is an electro-forged (and not fillet-brazed) frame because of the shape of the seat stays, the welded on cable stops, and the oval headbadge. I can tell it is Continental because of the center pull brakes, alloy stem, and alloy randonneur handlebars. I can tell it is a '74 or '75 Continental because those are the only years the Continental was available in a 20" (small!) frame, yellow in color, and with the brake adjusters on top of the hoods.

    Oh, and the other "model" is Kathy Ireland, and just like the Schwinn Continental, she is actually pretty well known...

    Other than that, everything else you said about the Super Sport and Continental was spot-on. I also bought a new Continental when I was 14 (1974).