Friday, July 31, 2015

Throwback Thursday - On a Friday: Vintage Schwinn Ads

I've always had sort of a soft spot for Schwinns. I know a lot of Retrogrouch fans do, too. My first really nice bike was a Super Le Tour, and while I would go on to own nicer bikes over the years, that one really helped me catch the bug.

One thing unique about Schwinn was that they always had a strong commitment to adult cycling - long before it became popular during the Bike Boom of the early '70s, and during a time when there couldn't have been much financial incentive to do so. Sure, they had their ads for Sting Rays and other kids bikes in magazines like Boys Life - as well as all those television ads with Captain Kangaroo -- but they also ran tons of full-page ads for adult bikes throughout the '60s and '70s featuring adult riders, usually in "normal" clothing - out enjoying a ride for fitness and fun - or with the whole family. Maybe for that reason, when the Bike Boom hit, sales of bikes like Schwinn's Varsity and Continental went through the roof.

I just went through some of my old Bicycling and American Cyclist (that was Bicycling, before the name was changed) magazines from that era and found a bunch of old Schwinn ads - usually taking up the entire back cover of the magazines. Take a look - and enjoy!

Here's an old one - 1963, I believe. Notice that it's still "Arnold Schwinn" - the company would drop the "Arnold" name a couple of years later. Adolph Arnold was a Chicago meatpacker who provided the financial backing for Ignaz Schwinn. I'm not sure when Arnold got out of the business, but Schwinn kept the name for some time after.

From 1968. The slogan "For the Young in Heart" would be used again and again through the late '60s and early '70s.

Also from 1968. "His and Hers" bicycles are a common thing in the ads from this time, and I'm betting a lot of couples bought them exactly that way. I had an aunt and uncle who owned matching "his & hers" Schwinns from about the same time.

Another "His & Hers" ad - from '72.

From '78. I adore the women in these old Schwinn ads. Totally middle America - kind of wholesome - but a little sassy at the same time. Yeah - those are some short shorts - but in their defense, the men are often shown with basically the same shorts.

From '78. Another wholesome middle-America model, outpacing her man. Funny thing - the tagline is "You may never buy another bike." That was probably true, but not for the reason they're implying. Sad fact of American cycling is that people bought these wonderful, durable, reliable bikes with excellent intentions -- then the bikes sat in basements and garages virtually unridden for the next couple of decades. Now, they make great finds at garage sales and estate sales.

1978. His & Hers matching bikes - and outfits! See what I mean about the shorts? 

One of the things that's so great about these ads is that bicycling is shown to be as normal and American as apple pie -- with regular people, men and women, out having fun, wearing "normal" clothes - and just enjoying themselves on a bike. Look through a magazine like Bicycling today, and see how many ads send that message. Instead of coming up with increasingly smaller marketing segments (gravel bikes, all-road bikes, bike-packing bikes, etc. etc.) in order to sell more bikes to the same people who already have bikes, maybe the industry should be looking at ways to make cycling more appealing to all those people who think about riding but don't do it because they're afraid they have to dress like a super hero to do it.


  1. This post sure does brings back memories. The large colorful Schwinn catalogs in the 1970's were what dreams were made of for me. I still frequently ride a '76 Super Le Tour 12.2. Of course, the only thing original is the frame and the odd sized stem. I agree, advertising needs to reach out to the potential cycling crowd, but I don't think that will happen. Thank goodness men's short length has changed, at least in the United States!

    1. Funny thing about the shorts on men - the shorts were short, and the socks were tall. Now it's the opposite - the shorts come down to the knee, and the socks barely come over the ankle. Funny stuff.

  2. What happened to cycling ads on tv? I seem to remember them being around during my pre teen years. I feel that back then the companies projected images to sell a product. Now the companies project a product to sell an image. I had no idea there was a woman's version of the Paramount. I wonder how difficult it would be to find one. I'm a step thru kinda of guy, sort of.

    Brings me to an odd question, are there any legit old school woman's mountain bikes to not be missed? I've been debating to buy a few versions from eBay.

    1. The only time I see bicycle ads on TV now is during bike racing - and they are the typical "high-performance"-themed testosterone fests that we've come to be familiar with.

      About old-school step-through mountain bikes - they are out there. For example, in the mid 80s, I know Miyata made some of their mountain bikes in step-through versions. They had lugged frames and slack angles that were typical of MTBs at the time. Look for models like the Street Runner. The step-through models don't appear in the catalogs ( ) but I've seen them. I fixed one up for a friend once, and I've seen them come up on eBay on occasion. Miyata wasn't the only one who made them, either.

    2. Don't forget the softer then feather print ads that show up in commuter magazines. They portray often that you need a flower dress or linen pants. Completely the opposite of those of us from the city would be. I feel those images and magazines push many people away mentality. I recently picked up a magazine I'd ever heard of and instantly sat it down, because the first 7 pages were ads of the softer side of riding a bicycle. I've only seen people dressed that way or riding terribly cute cycles on the internet.

      I've been checking out the old Nishiki and Diamondback step thru mtb models.

  3. In the very early 70's, my parents had matching Continentals in the root beer brown color. I don't even want to ponder the shorts they were wearing...

    I remember the ads in Boys' Life when I was a kid. Every kid wanted a Sting Ray.


  4. I remember the sixties Schwinn catalogs, and one image in particular remains in my brain: an attractive twenty something couple standing over their bikes talking in the sunshine, next to a similarly attractive swimming pool. I thought "There's the life I want to live."