Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mid 70's Schwinn Varisty (June 2011)

Make: Schwinn

Model: Varsity

Year:  1975ish

Obtained: Late 2009

Found: Via Craigslist

Paid: $25

The first bike boom Ten Speed I rebuilt was, appropriately enough, a mid 70's Chicago built Schwinn Varsity in "Sky Blue".  My best guess is that it's a 1977 model based on the color choice.  As I recall I bought this bike in 2009 for about $25 off Craigslist and it came with a dissembled rear brake and no tires or tubes.  Unfortunately I don't have any "before" pictures but the frame decals were in such bad shape that they were unreadable so I used a plastic scraper to take them off the frame. 

This bike basically sat around for two years which in retrospect was a good idea because in the meantime I built a single speed out of a neglected Azuki 10 speed and also built up a newer Schwinn Fastback frame-set with a modern Campagnolo Veloce 10 speed gruppo, and both projects taught me a lot.  Its been awhile since I did this rebuild and I don't recall the full process I put it through but here is what I remember.

Schwinn is the only bike boom era company I know of that used the one piece "Ashtabula" crank-set on an adult bike.  Usually this technology is only found on kids bikes and it contributes to the hefty 36+ pound weight of the Varsity. Its actually pretty easy to work on and really only requires a steady hand, a hammer and a large slotted screw driver.  If I were to work on another Varsity I would follow the lead of my friend Hugh over at Hugh's bike blog and convert this boat anchor of a crank to a more traditional  three piece set up.

In the case of any rebuild I replace as a matter of course; tires, tubes, rim strips, chain, cables/housing, brake pads, bar tape and all grease.  And then anything else as needed.

The biggest issues, beyond the standard replacements, I had with this particular rebuild were:
A) the rear brake supplied with the bike didn't have a long enough threaded stud to work with the brake bridge, odd but true.
B) the rear derailleur was kaput
C) a worn out saddle clamp meant any test ride as an adventure and
D) the rear freewheel was worn-out and sounded like a dryer with shot bearings when you got it spinning.

I was able to replace A and B with period correct parts from a local shop, Recycled Cycles, that sells both new and used parts and took care of  C and D new via Amazon.  I wish I had done a better job at the time of taking pictures of the problem parts but here is a shot of the new cassette and rear derailleur.
It's always amazing to me how much new handle bar tape spruces up an old bike.  Here is a shot of the updated cockpit of the Varsity:
Having been through a number of builds since doing this one I am not sure I would be totally satisfied with the final product today but at the time I thought it turned out all right.

The thrill I got from doing this rebuild was the lady who bought the bike was probably in her early 40s and after test riding she came back with a big grin on her face and said "that was like being 13 again!".  That was all the incentive I needed to keep looking for old 10 speeds to resurrect.



  1. Hey! Glad I checked in before stopping for the night. Do you find that your customers are already looking for a drop bar bike or do you do a little selling? Most of the people I speak to are looking for a mountain bike, mainly due to the more upright position and fat tires. But I think there would be a market for mountain bike conversions, as in city bike bars with a little rise and nice juicy road tires. The used mountain bikes I see are almost exclusively from you-know-where and beyond much help. Lots of cruisers, this being a beach town.

    After re-doing my Schwinn, I am hard pressed to see how there is much to be made after parts, forget about labor. But I would still like to give it a go.


  2. I haven't found anyone I had to really sell on a Road bike, nobody has mentioned drop bars as a deal breaker. I have this idea of converting a Varsity into a cool townie I am going to try one of these days.

    On the subject of making any scratch I think it starts with finding bikes for the right price. I have am fortunate to have a couple good sources where I can get a quality bike boom 10 speed for $35 or less. I know Hugh has some "pickin'" spots he frequents to find a bike for free or at least a good starting point. I think all you would need to sell someone on a bike you had rebuilt was to tell them your Wally World experience with a "new" bike.