During my 1970s kidhood, Schwinn was the ultimate bike. Especially the 20-inch Sting-Ray: banana seat, chopper-style handlebars, chrome fenders, bright colors. All the boys in my neighborhood wanted one, especially if it came with the 5-speed Stik-Shift on the crossbar or the “slik” treadless rear tire. My first bike was an old, battered 20-inch Schwinn with a slik. Since its previous owner had removed its model-identifying chain guard, I never knew whether it was a Sting-Ray. I always imagined it was so I could feel cool.
As we kids outgrew our small bikes, brand loyalty drew us toward the bigger Schwinns. I saved my allowance for years, a five-speed 26-inch Schwinn in my sights. I hadn’t saved enough when my old 20-inch bike in no way fit me anymore. Desperate, I bought what I could afford: a maroon 3-speed made by, horrors, AMF. Yet I rode that bike more than any other I’ve ever owned. I figure I put 10,000 miles on it. I wish I still had it. But childhood dreams can eventually come true: a friend recently gave me the 5-speed Schwinn of his teen years, in Sierra Brown. I had it mechanically restored, and from time to time I take it out for a cruise.