The Chicago Pedigree of My New Schwinn

A bike nerd post about stumbling on an obscure piece of local bike manufacturing history: the fillet-brazed lightweight Schwinn.

So a friend of mine moved and passed along his bike to me. Not knowing that much about the finer details of bike history, I thought it looked at first glance like a respectable beater with a nice Brooks saddle, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Schwinn Sports Tourer

But it turns out that the Schwinn Sports Tourer of a certain vintage is a relatively sought-after set of wheels, thanks to the highly skilled manufacturers of the old Chicago Schwinn factory, in which a time-consuming, now-rare process called fillet-brazing was used to build the not-quite-top-of-the-line* Sports Tourers. As Mike Rother writes in his history of fillet-brazed Schwinns, the company moved from its focus on heavy kids’ bikes thanks to the success of lightweight European bikes:

Brazing is a joining process employing a filler metal, like brass, that melts below the melting temperature of the parent metal workpiece. Fillet brazing involves building up brass filler metal in a smooth “fillet” around joints.

In this method of bicycle frame construction, “mitering” or cutting the tube ends so that they fit together precisely is critical so that capillary action will draw the molten filler into gaps for a strong joint. The extra thickness of the fillet also provides strength, and its smooth contour distributes stresses evenly. (For additional strength Schwinn also brazed steel sleeves into the interior of its frame tubes at the joints.)

Fillet-brazed bicycle frames are strong and have a neat and clean appearance, but they are uncommon because of the additional craftsmanship required. Lugged bicycle frames, for example, are now manufactured by automated machines. Custom framebuilders still provide fillet-brazed construction, and tandem framesets were often fillet-brazed when lugs to fit their frame angles were not available.

The company cut corners with heavy parts, and, Rother argues, failed to adequately advertise the fillet-brazing method, so it passed into obscurity for all but hardcore bike connoisseurs. They weren’t cheap then—mine would have cost the equivalent of about $750 in the early 1970s—but today fillet-brazed frames will run you a couple thousand dollars.

I couldn’t find my wrench last night, so I don’t know yet whether it’s too big. I hope not, because I like having a historical connection to the old Chicago Schwinn handbuild shop.

* The top-of-the-line Schwinn was the Paramount, developed by Belgian immigrant Emil Wastyn and founder of what’s now Oscar Wastyn Cycles on Fullerton.

 

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2 years ago
Posted by RetiredCop

I purchased a 1971 Kool Yellow Sports Tourer, as a self paid high school greaduation present to myself, in late 1970. My Sports Tourer had a 26" frame (I'm 6-3) and was beautiful, ran great, and I took it everywhere, short and long distance trips, rode it all the time. I hired on with my local PD and was injured, retiring out and when I moved to LA for a job in organized crime investigations in a task force in '83, and of course went with me.
Shortly after moving to Sherman Oaks, LA, I met a girl whose brother was on the national BMX Motocross team, very much a bike enthusiast, who loved my bike (I was riding it when I met Kathy, his sister)and he begged me to let him upgrade my bike. He had access to any and all new parts and accessories and I let him go ahead.
When he finished, he had converted the shifters to the ends of the handlebar tubes, all Italian high end derailures, front and rear, went from a ten speed to a 27 speed with 3 sprockets on the front, and other minor things. The finished bike was great. My roommate had a party one weekend night while I was working and as it was raining, he let them stay in the open garage and of course the bike was gone when I went to ride it and I never saw it again. I'm sure the valets, or just one, called a buddy with a van or truck to stop by, load them up and leave, and claim innocence later.
As God is my witness, if I ever find the sonofabitch (then valet) that stole my bike, I would kill him slowly, on the spot, in the most painful way imagineable. I'm dead serious. 30 years in Law Enforcement notwithstanding, I'd do it and enjoy every minute of his pain. And then I'd bury the body, of course.
That bike was a part of me and I've felt the loss every day since. I did have the LAPD investigate and they interviewed the suspects, but couldn't break them, and wouldn't let me get involved, because of my LE status and being the victim. But they dropped it after a while. I wonder if the names are still in the file.
HMMMMMMMMMMM. where's my shovel.

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