Thursday, December 12, 2013

75th Anniversary Paramount

Since the 1930s, the Schwinn Paramount represented the top of the heap in American lightweight racing bicycles. In the 60s and 70s, they were considered one of the few American bikes that could compete head-to-head with the great racing bikes being imported from Europe at the time. For many people, the bikes from those decades, with their Reynolds 531 tubing and (usually chromed) Nervex lugs pretty much define the image of a "classic" bike.

While the Paramount line was for many years built in the big Chicago Schwinn factory -- in a special corner of the factory known as "the cage" -- in the 1980s, the Paramount production was moved to Waterford, Wisconsin under the leadership of Marc Muller. After Schwinn went bankrupt in '92, Muller and Richard Schwinn bought the Paramount factory and continued operating under the Waterford name in 1993.

The re-organized Schwinn company went bankrupt again in 2001, and the name is now owned by Pacific Cycles. In general, it is only a shadow of its former self, mostly selling cheap mass-market bikes -- many of which are now sold through department stores. Too bad. And for the most part, the Pacific Cycles version of Schwinn has little or nothing to do with Paramount. 

Stainless steel lugs recall the look of the
chromed Nervex lugs of the great bikes from the
60s and 70s. Note the port under the downtube
for electronic shifting wires (sigh). 
However, this year Pacific/Schwinn has joined up with Waterford to produce a 75th Anniversary Paramount that borrows a lot from the past, but also gives a nod to the present. There is a limited edition run of only 25 of these bikes -- all built to order.

For us traditionalists, you can see from the pictures that the frame is lugged steel and has a traditional level top tube. While the lugs have some of the elegance of the classic Nervex lugs of the 60s and 70s, they are a completely new and unique design with a somewhat simpler or cleaner look than the vintage lugs. Also, instead of being chromed, in this new version, they are rendered in polished stainless steel.

Buyers ordering one of these frames have a few options for the build. One option is tubing. It can be built with air-hardening steel tubing throughout ($3800 -- frame only), or air-hardening main triangle with stainless rear triangle ($4750 shown below), or with stainless tubing throughout ($5350) -- which would probably mimic the look of the old all-chrome Paramounts of the past. Unfortunately, they are all a bit too rich for my blood. Waterford-built steel forks range from $375 - $575, or there are carbon fork options as well.

According to the Paramount Anniversary website, this is
frame #1 of 25, and it is built to accommodate the latest in
electronic shifting (blah). Note the brazed-on attachment
points for the battery pack near the bottom bracket, and the
ports for electronic wires on the downtube and chainstay.
In another nod to the Paramount history, the styling and graphics created for the anniversary bike recall the great bikes of the 60s. The bikes can be ordered in any color from the Waterford palette, but they also have three vintage "themes" available for the bikes -- Candy Red, Pearl White (shown), or Coppertone. The new headbadge, while it looks very much like the vintage version, is made from stainless steel.

In making this new Paramount a "modern" bike, besides the stainless steel and air-hardening tubing, the design uses updated tubing dimensions (slightly larger than the classic era) and calls for a 1-1/8 in. steerer. As already mentioned, there are carbon fiber fork options although the thought of a carbon fork on a beautiful, traditional-looking steel frame just appalls me. I'm afraid there will be more than a few equipped that way, though (see below).

Electronic shifting and a carbon fork. Blasphemy.
Not only that, but the new Paramount also has provisions for electronic shifting systems -- at least as an option. This consists of bosses for the battery pack, and internal-routing ports for the wires. OK, that part just kind of made me shudder. All of these electronic wiring provisions are finished off with little diamond-shaped reinforcements.

Overall, this looks to me like a nice bike, but for me, exactly how nice would depend a lot on how it was built and equipped. No carbon forks and electronic ports for me, thank you. Totally out of my league, price-wise anyhow -- but for a lucky 25 people, this could be a pretty special bike that artfully blends the past and the present: a modern version of a classic bicycling icon.

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