Schwinn Sting-Ray Story

Revisit The Magic

From the mid 1960's and well into the 70's, just about every suburban child had a banana-seat bike. There was the extremely popular original Schwinn Sting-Ray followed by many knock-offs like the Sears Screamer, the Murry Muscle Bike and the Montgomery Ward Hawthorne Bike. 

Schwinn pioneered these bikes thanks to the foresight of Schwinn's designer, Al Fritz, who in 1963 heard that kids in L.A. were rebuilding their bikes to look like motorcycles, customizing them with high-rise, ape hanger handlebars and low-rider banana seats so the rider was lower to the ground. 

Inspired, he designed his own lowrider prototype for the youth market called Project J-38 and rode it around the Schwinn warehouse. At first, his colleagues laughed at him, but soon his co-workers were taking it for a spin only to find that this odd contraption was actually fun to ride. The era of the muscle bike had begun. 

Sales were initially slow, as many parents desiring a bicycle for their children did not find the Sting-Ray appealing in the least. However, after a few appeared on America's streets and in their neighborhoods, many young riders would accept nothing less than a genuine Sting-Ray. Sales took off and within a year, 70 percent of all bikes being sold in the U.S. were Sting-Rays. Schwinn began shooting all promotional material on location in Disneyland. Young Al was onto something big!

Schwinn Sting-Rays were on the market from 1963 to 1979 at the height of the muscle-car craze. There were essentially four models: The basic Sting-Ray; Sting-Ray Deluxe (that added chrome fenders and white wall tires); Sting-Ray Super-Deluxe (that added a springer fork); and the Krate series (that added a five-speed "Stik Shift," shock struts on the rear seat and the 16" front tire and 20" rear tire).


1970 Apple Krate
The highly sought after Krate, first introduced in 1968, was the ultimate Sting-Ray muscle bike. It was equipped with a stick shift, springer forks, and shock absorbers. With its 16" front tire and 20"rear tire with drum brakes, the Krate looked super tough, borrowing the best features from motorcycles and dragsters. (How cool is that?) 

The Krates were individualized by their unusual names, Lemon Peeler, Orange Krate and Apple Krate, and the series’ Kool-aid colors: Kool Lemon, Kool Orange, and Kool Red. Each year Schwinn introduced a new model adding the Cotton Picker, Pea Picker, and Gray Ghost to the mix. 

In 1974, the C.P.S.C. (Consumer Product Safety Commission) outlawed stick shifts on bikes.(How uncool is that?) While popping wheelies, kids were supposedly getting impaled in the groin. The Krates were deemed too dangerous, so Schwinn decided to discontinue the series. 

Other Models

Other models that emerged from the Sting-Ray line were the lightweight Fastback, the Mini-Twinn Tandem, and the Manta-Ray (an over-sized Sting-Ray with a wide banana seat). The Manta-Ray didn't quite catch on and was only manufactured for two years. The company then anticipated a sneaker trend and introduced the Sneaker Sting-Ray. The bike had a banana seat that laced up like a sneaker. It was the biggest bomb. 

Girls Sting-Rays

Although Sting-Rays were primarily for boys, there were Sting-Rays for girls also. There was the Fairlady, Slik Chic, and Lil’ Chic. These bikes featured floral seats, feminine baskets and the signature rear slik tires. Now the girls in the neighborhood could skid on a dime if they wanted to. 

Welcome to the treasure house!

Bob Keeshan from the ever popular children's TV show, Captain Kangaroo, had become Schwinn’s new lead spokesperson. Schwinn's partnership with Bob Keeshan and Captain Kangaroo proved to be very successful and lasted for more than 20 years.


In the mid 1970s, the BMX craze hit as the Sting-Rays were becaming less popular. Inspired by motocross, kids’ bikes started to look lighter and slimmer. Schwinn was caught off guard and lost a big share of the bicycle market. 

   One Year Wonder
1978 Schwinn Sting-Ray BX
In 1978 Schwinn came out with the Sting-Ray BX(a hybrid with a Sting-Ray frame and a BMX seat), but it never really took off. The original Sting-Ray had been a phenomenon, but the age of the muscle bike had passed. Just a few years later, if you were sighted on your Orange Krate, kids just laughed.

OCC Sting-Ray

It all started in a little chop shop near Madison, Wisconsin. A couple of Schwinn engineers had a vision for a revolutionary bike that would take its cues from the great American chopper. Schwinn had joined forces with Orange County Choppers, the company that has garnered worldwide recognition for building custom motorcycles and was featured on the popular Discovery Channel show "American Chopper." In January 2004 the new Schwinn OCC Sting-Raychopper bike was introduced. 

The new Sting-Ray sported a contemporary design that copied features from great American motorcycles. It had a 24" front tire, a 20" Big Boa Rear Tire and signature V-back Handlebars. Although it looked awesome, it was kind of awkward to ride and became less popular after the first year. Production stopped after 2006.  


The coolest bike I personally ever owned was a Stingray knockoff (dad got it at Montgomery Ward's) in 1967 or 68 when I was 11 or 12 years old. This bad boy was green, my favorite color, and had  a 36" sissy bar with a top cover, high-rise handlebars, and a green cheater slick. I could do some awesome jumps on that bike and serious long skids. But that long sissy bar discouraged me from riding wheelies. I really miss that bike....(If I ever find the low-life piece of garbage who stole that bike, I'll....well nevermind) I'm okay-just had to get that out of my system. Anyway, back to the post.

I remember my earliest bike customizations. They involved clothespins and baseball cards, some of which would have been very valuable had I put them away somewhere for safe keeping. Well, clipping the card with the clothespin to the frame so the spokes would rub against it made my bike sound like a motorcycle. (What can I say-I was ten.) Well it was cool then.

There is a bewildering array of accessories you can put on your bike to trick it up. I always liked the klaxon-bugle style bike horn with the twist in it. That made for a deeper honk than the bells from the 50's. Then there are the streamers. The streamerswould look best dangling from a set of high-rise handlebars. The trick was to make them go perfectly parallel to the ground as you zipped along as fast as you could go.

You could also put a speedometer on your bike if you wanted to know your speed or just to resemble the guages on a muscle-car. For added safety at night, a headlight and wheel reflectors might be affixed to your trusty banana-seater. The light would either be powered by a couple of d-cell batteries, or by a generator turned by your wheel. The power unit would goof itself up in short order, by the rubber stripping off the wheel that contacted your rim, or by simply locking up. Even if you managed to get a better-quality unit that would last longer, it still added a noticeable drag to your bike, very bad when there was a need for speed. With that said, maybe the battery powered is the better choice.

One of the funkiest customizations you could perform on your bike was installing a steering wheel. These were pretty popular in the 70's. The wheel was smaller than a car's steering wheel and lightweight. They were adept for spinning your front wheel around rapidly while riding a wheelie, very impressive. The less talented could hold their front wheel up while standing stationary and do the same thing.(Not as impressive, but I liked it.)

You could also wrap metallic tape around your frame or attach a basket (Yeah, right! Only if you were a girl or wanted to get beaten up). Customizing your bike could take many forms indeed. The important thing was that you did something to set it apart from the rest of the bikes that had their front wheel stuck in the stand at school.

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