Bicycles You Should Know- The Schwinn Sting-Ray Krates

1968-Schwinn-krate-bike-catalogue-page Most of us didn’t start our passion for speed behind the wheel of a car, or handlebars of a motorcycle. For many of us, that first intoxicating taste of speed and freedom came at the pedals of a bicycle. If you are of a certain age then your bike of choice during those formative years was the banana saddle Schwinn known as a Sting Ray. It was the Miata of kids’ bikes. The coolest – and most technologically advanced of the Sting-Rays – was the Krate, a bike that even today is remarkable for its feature set.  1963-stingray-adSchwinn introduced the original Sting-Ray in 1963 after the company discovered that California kids (it’s always us) were customizing their bikes to look like contemporary motorcycles, fitting them with 20″ wheels, elongated saddles held up by ‘sissy bars’ in back, and butterfly-style handlebars. Schwinn’s director of research and development, Al Fritz saw these custom bikes and proposed to management the Sting-Ray as way to replicate that motorcycle look. Priced at $49,95 the Sting-Ray became the best selling bike in Schwinn’s history. It also became, much like the wood-clad station wagon, an instant suburban icon of the sixties. The bikes were simple in the extreme, featuring a coaster brake on the fat back wheel and wide-stance handlebars that were perfect for popping wheelies. The connection of the bike’s name with that of the then new Corvette didn’t hurt either. By 1965 the Sting-Ray models had swelled to include a version – for $10 over the base edition – with caliper-style font brake, and two-speed gearing. Color options had expanded as well, and presaging the style of car makers in the late sixties and early seventies, the colors had their own cool names like Flamboyant Lime, Radiant Coppertone, and Sky Blue. Schwinn described the two-wheelers as the ‘Sports Car’ bike. 1969-krate The best was yet to come however, and in 1968 Schwinn introduced what is likely the most ambitious (and expensive) edition of the Sting-Ray line to date, the Krates. These bikes had features that were not just advanced for the banana saddle set, but for bicycles in general, and perhaps even motorcycles and cars of the era. Those features included front and rear suspension via articulating forks in front and a spring-loaded sissy bar for a ‘floating saddle’ out back. Stopping was accomplished via a drum-style front brake, while a mechanical disc brake did slowing service in the rear. There was plenty of bling too as the bikes were dressed up at the both ends with chrome fenders, as well s bright front forks and butterfly bars. 1970-krateJust like the other Sting Rays, the Krates came in a collection of cool colors each anointed with a clever name – Apple Krate (red); Lemon Peeler (yellow); Orange Krate (orange, duh) and – new in 1969 – Pea Picker (green). In 1970, the company came out with a white Krate with what was perhaps an unfortunate choice of name- the Cotton Picker. The bikes featured Schwinn’s 3-speed gear set which was actuated by an automobile-like shifter mounted to the top frame bar, a design that  precariously positioned it to take out your gentleman’s tackle in the case of running into something. The Krates were the ultimate expression of Schwinn’s by then iconic Sting-Ray line, and they took the top spot in that line’s pricing as well. The starting price for a Krate was $86.95, a $20 premium over the 3-speed equipped standard Sting Ray. In today’s dollars that would be something like $595.00. In fact, the Krates are seen as so desirable to collectors today that nice examples can go for as much as four times that much in the classifieds. The Sting-Ray continued on into the early Eighties, however the Krate line ended in 1973. Before then it would gain two more gears for its precariously positioned shifter, and become even more expensive ($119,95) as inflation took its toll. 1973-krate You either grew up with these kinds of bikes, or if you’re too young to have done so, you should at least know about them as they are an important part of the Boomer generation’s formative years. For many of us, they were the impetus for a lifetime seeking speed and a love for all things mechanical. Schwinn’s Sting-Ray Krates were the top of the heap back then, and if you can find one for cheap today, I suggest you grab it and see what the fuss is all about. Images: SchwinnCruisers          

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