THE STING-RAY BIKE

stingray

The Schwinn Sting-Ray was a cool bike. Period. If you had one in the 60’s it made you cool also. The bike was first introduced in 1963 and was known as “the bike with the sports car look”. By 1964 it had won the praise and captured the imagination of kids across the USA. The cost of a new Sting-Ray was $49.95. The bike featured a short frame, high rise handlebars ( butterfly), and a long bucket shaped saddle, also known as a banana seat. The Schwinn Sting-Ray became Schwinn’s best selling bike almost overnight. It’s dramatically different design was new and modeled after the way kids were refiting and customizing their own bikes in Southern California. Bikes were just a way to get to your friends house before the Stingray, then with the Stingray a bike was meant to cruise on with no particular destination in mind. Before many of us stepped up and owned an official Schwinn we would  create the Sting-Ray look with any small framed bike that was in the garage. Just add the butterfly handle bars and a banana seat and you had the Sting-Ray look, which was just fine with us. It became cool to ride your bike to school again. Almost every kid that I grew up with had one, they were that popular.  Then on one magical Christmas there would be your own official Schwinn Sting-Ray under the tree , now you were super cool. We would treat our bikes like parents did their new cars, the first scratch always hurt. But many scratches were to follow as kids started mastering the “wheelie” by lifting up on the handlebars and riding on the back wheel for as long as you could. It was really hard to master but once you had it down you could ride for blocks or until a car came across your path. Then some genius invented a device called a wheelie-bar that was attached to the rear wheel making it possible to pull a wheelie and fall back on the wheelie-bar for balance. It was cheating, but a good way to ride forever on one wheel. You could ride the bikes over jumps, in the dirt, off curbs, anywhere. It was a renaissance of bike riding. The original Sting-Ray had only one gear and foot brakes. The foot brakes made it easy to get a lot of speed going and then slam on your brakes and leave skid marks, which was also cool to a 12-year old. It did make the tires wear down fast though. The bikes were so simple that even a kid could change the seat and handlebars, or make the butterfly bars go straight up or lean back. In 1965 the black slik rear tire was added. I don’t know if it made it ride any different but it sure looked good. We all tried to save up and add the slik to our own bikes. The banana seat made it easy to ride double, but peddling for two people really sucked . It became a little easier when Schwinn introduced the 3-speed Stik-Shift mounted on the frame. It looked really fine but in reality when you added the gears it just wasn’t the same old Sting-Ray any more, too complicated with gears, kids couldn’t fix their own bikes anymore. We stuck with the simpler 1-speed version. We would spend from sun up to sun down riding the Sting-Ray often in groups of 4-6. It became popular to takes off the wheels and chain and custom spray paint your bike. It sounded good but in reality a 12-year old isn’t really prepared to take the time to do a nice paint job. If it didn’t look good we would just let it dry and try again, which made for a bigger mess. It also painted over all the Schwinn markings which took down it’s resale value but that didn’t matter as none of us were planning on selling our bikes. Fancier Sting-Ray models began appearing like the Apple-Crate, Pea-Picker, Orange-Crate and more, all involving multiple gears and hand brakes, but those never really caught on. They are nice to look at now and I actually have a vintage Pea-Picker in the garage. The Sting-ray provided some great memories but two things could bring an end to riding your Sting-Ray. One was theft which really wasn’t the problem it was today and you knew most of the kids in your town so it would be tough to get away with it. But the second one was permanent: High School, just not cool at all to ride a bike to school. You either walked or were lucky enough to have an older sibling with a car. The Sting-Ray took it’s place in the back of the garage and started to collect dust never to rise to it’s glory days again…bummer.

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