Bikes, Schwinn Collectors, Pure Americana

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There was a time when, as kids, your bicycle defined you! It wasn’t just who had the most bells & whistles, like the best handlebars or coolest seat, but who owned the prettiest color or prime brand. You were near the top of the heap if yours was a Schwinn, the king of bikes in The Golden Era of the 1970s and 80s. The Sand Paper met with a couple of guys recently with more than a little expertise in Schwinn bikes, Don Hutchinson and Michael Holm.

“Schwinn made so many different styles and designs,” explained bicycle collector Don Hutchinson, who is a much-noted Fort Myers Beach photographer and nature guide as well. “The cool part is they never wasted anything in manufacturing, so they used parts in different ways on various models. You looked forward to the changes each year.”

A few classic Schwinn ads. Photos provided by Don Hutchinson.

Another area collector has Schwinn roots to his youth. “We have been doing this in Fort Myers for 21 years,” says Michael Holm, owner of Fort Myers Schwinn Cyclery, “and I have been in the business for 45 years, but really for my entire life!” Mike’s family is a legend in the Schwinn family: “My Dad built the largest Schwinn shop in the nation, in Sarasota in 1969, along with a unique accomplishment.”

Mike recalled first falling in love with Schwinn: “I got my first one in 1964 and was hooked,” he said with a nostalgic smile. “I then bought a 10-speed in 1968; I was in middle school and was the only kid with one. I would ride by and hear kids say, ‘WOOOOO – what is that!?’ Sadly, children today do not share that same romanticism over their bikes. Baby Boomers still get that way, even now, but only once-in-a-while for this generation – certainly not like it used to be.”

Unfortunately, neither Mike nor Don have happy endings to their first bikes! “Mine was stolen in a fit of revenge,” said Mike. “To make matters worse, I received a note ten years later saying my Paramount was at the bottom of a canal, so it was personal!” Don had a similar sad story: “Robbers took my first Schwinn when they cleaned out our entire neighborhood. No one locked their garages then, so one morning we all woke up to find our bikes gone! We kids just stood outside, looking at one-another, and were all crushed!”

The Holy Grail!

The guys gushed over Mike’s 1972 Schwinn Sting Ray “Cotton Picker” – “The Holy Grail of Bikes,” emphasized Don! The “Cotton Picker” is all metal, and you have no doubt of that when you try to lift its nearly 50-pound weight, as opposed to triathlon models that weigh less than 14 pounds that you can literally pick up with one finger. In addition to its solid construction, it has a stick shift, disc brakes, front and rear lights and shock absorbers to cushion the ride. “If you owned a ‘Cotton Picker,’” Don said with stars still in his eyes, “you were the unquestioned king of the neighborhood bicycle pack! This is the one every collector wants.” “Bikes back then were built to last,” agreed Mike, “with a ton of charm! The back wheel of the ‘Cotton Picker’ weighs more than an entire modern bike.”

Mike explained that the bicycle business changed over the decades. “The boom was in the 1970s, when business was crazy and every kid had a 10-speed. We are nowhere near those numbers today, but bikes are still an important transportation element in our society, and it is still fun to bicycle. Almost everyone who comes into our shop is looking for fun, and they usually leave with a big smile on their face, and after all these years, that remains what it is all about, and we are all about helping them to have that fun.”

Mike and his family, however, are more than just Schwinn dealers, but innovative designers. “Sarasota is known as ‘Circus City’ and we had this circus school that had over 100 unicycles in their little fleet, and they did acts with kids from all the area elementary schools and a few other places, so we made them a six-foot-tall unicycle. One day we received a visit from the Vice President of Schwinn, who thought it was great. Soon there was a big Schwinn sales meeting in Atlanta, and the Vice President told everyone they were about to launch a new product, and in front of hundreds of people, unexpectedly brought out our unicycle. He said, in that huge Marriott ballroom, that ‘the designer, Mike Holm, will demonstrate how to ride it,’ and I thought, ‘oh yeah,’ as I was wearing a three-piece suit, but fortunately I had just enough alcohol in my system to pull it off!”

Search, Hunt, Find, & Discovery

Mike Holm of Fort Myers Schwinn Cyclery with a 6-foot tall unicycle that he designed for Schwinn.

For Don, the romance of being a Schwinn collector is not about having the most bikes or restoring every acquisition, but “it is the search, the hunt, the find, the discovery, because once you do all that, you not only acquire a bicycle but the background that goes with it, as every bike has a story. That is the best part of collecting, to talk with people and learn the history, as I am a history nut at heart.” It is almost hypnotic to watch Don walk down his long lines of bikes, touching each one, and then telling you exactly where it came from, who previously owned it, and what makes it unique. “When someone sells their bike, it is literally like letting go of their first child!”

Don said that one of the prime reasons why people especially like to collect and refurbish Schwinn’s are because “they are made with such quality material. If you find a standard bike with rust on the handlebars, you might just as well replace them because by the time you sand it down, you will ruin it. But with a Schwinn, you can clean and polish it all up, and it will look as pretty as the day it was brand-new. Schwinn’s clean up like no other bikes out there.”

In addition to the hunt and the backstories, colors are crucial to Don. “To collectors, getting every color of a bike is like having every color in your crayon box – it is not complete if you are missing even one. Schwinn colors are amazing, are really beautiful, absolutely stand out and are a big part of the attraction, so they are cool.” Another important collecting component are the dealer stickers. “They show that bikes come from everywhere – Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Indiana – and I have several from West Caldwell, the shop nearest my hometown.”

If you would like to discuss selling or buying a classic Schwinn with Don, call him at 267-733-2243 or email at blueturtlegalleries@gmail.com. To see the new models, visit Mike at Fort Myers Schwinn Cyclery at 3630 Cleveland Avenue, 33901, call 239-939-2899, or see fortmyersbikeshop.com. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

All Don needs for his collection – other than a “Cotton Picker” – is “to find time to work on them all, so I can share my bikes with a lot of people. They will keep in my climate-controlled storage area for a long time, until life finally presents me with enough time to restore them!”

 

Gary Mooney