- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

Men of a certain age who relish the memory of their old Schwinn “banana seat” bike may want to pull a wheelie: The company has reintroduced this two-wheeled icon of the 1960s.

Schwinn introduced the reinvented Sting-Ray bicycle in Madison, Wis., yesterday, billing it “The Rebirth of Cool.”

The bike is unabashedly a relic from the all-American playground.

“With its raked-out fork, knees-to-the-breeze seat position, a huge rear tire and enough bad-boy character to raise eyebrows, this is no ordinary bicycle,” Schwinn says.

Schwinn received design advice from Orange County Choppers, the New York-based custom motorcycle shop whose work has been inspired by the films “Easy Rider” and “The Wild One.”

The shop is busy working on a line of special edition Sting-Rays, complete with fancy logos and extreme features. There is also talk of adult-size Sting-Ray bikes as well, sure to cause a stir on the typical Sunday morning bike path.

“The new Sting-Ray is for the kid who wants a bike that offers the riding experience of a chopper,” said Schwinn spokesman Joe Werwie.

“Just like the original model, every kid can customize his Sting-Ray with cool accessories coming soon like custom wheels, high-back sissy bars, over-sized chain guards and more,” he said.

Ironically, the Sting-Ray, along with a few other youthful playtime icons, has lost its American roots.

Schwinn’s parent company, Pacific Cycle — which also owns Flexible Flyer sleds and Murray, Roadmaster, GT and Mongoose bikes — was sold to Montreal-based Dorel Industries in February.

Nevertheless, the newfangled Sting-Ray could inspire a little old-fashioned father-son bonding.

“You react to this style bike the way you do to a muscle car. And men who had a bike like this in the late 1960s and 1970s can share their enthusiasm with their own sons,” said Carl Burgwardt, curator of the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum in Orchard Park, N.Y.

The original Sting-Ray was introduced in 1963 when GTOs and Corvettes were the masculine cars of choice, though TV’s mild-mannered Captain Kangaroo became an official endorser three years later, pronouncing, “Schwinn bikes are the best.”

Schwinn sold about 1 million Sting-Rays a year until 1982, when young riders began answering the edgy siren call of mountain biking.

But nostalgia is part of the appeal of bikes. Everyone remembers what he or she rode as a child, creating an instant market for manufacturers who originally built a youthful dream machine.

“This isn’t Schwinn’s first repop, or reissue,” Mr. Burgwardt said. “They came out with a reissue of their old 1950s Black Phantom model. Columbia and Roadmaster also reissued some of their old models, too.”

But a reissue does not necessarily make a collectible for those who will shell out an average $2,000 for a 40-year-old child’s bike with original chrome, wheelie bar and a glitter seat.

“You don’t create a collectible bike. They just happen,” Mr. Burgwardt said.

The new Sting-Ray will be on sale in stores such as Wal-Mart and Toys R Us by April, with prices beginning at $180.

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