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Schwinn Quality

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Schwinn wanted to be the first quality. They used better steal and electric welding. They added 40 patents to their collection during the depression. The Schwinn brand began to stand for something in an industry where the manufacturers rarely got to put their own name on the bike. Customers began asking for Schwinns. And those that couldn't afford the high end models picked the more affordable Schwinns over competitive offerings because of the Schwinn name. The Schwinn brand carried weight that the department stores like Sears and Montgomery Wards could not give to their "toys."

Distributors were forbidden to sell to mass merchant department stores, but Schwinn never said it wouldn't do so directly. Schwinn had a good relationship with B.F. Goodrich for many years even though the auto parts retailer often sold the bikes at a loss in order to drive customer traffic into their stores.

In the late 1930s Schwinn took virtual control of one of its distributors who was going through a financial crisis. Schwinn streamlined the operation and got all of the distributor's bicycle dealers in order. By the time all of the issues had been worked out, Schwinn was reticent to let go of the arrangement. Dealing direct with retailers allowed Schwinn to cut prices while earning them (both) higher margins, but most important, it gave Schwinn a finger on the pulse of bicycling in America. Schwinn began to take every retailer that wanted to peddle bikes, even the ones that were still selling lawn mowers. When there was a problem, Schwinn quickly found out about it and corrected it. When the market shifted, the retailers demanded new products and Schwinn got them there first. Schwinn moved that much closer to the customer and it made all the difference.

Schwinn designed bikes that people would want to ride. There were fast followers to be sure. Huffman (Huffy) and Columbia were quick to jump on the balloon tire bandwagon, but the imitators were copying bikes that seemed to be selling well. Schwinn knew why their innovations were selling well and consequently Schwinn was better at promoting their bikes. Possibly the most important demonstration of Schwinn's commitment to customers was the 1939 introduction of the lifetime guarantee (industry standard was a single year). This move, more than any other, made retailers want to show off the Schwinn name. A bicycle with a Schwinn head badge sold better than the same bike with the retailer's own head badge.

In the midst of the 1930s, Frank W., enjoying the impressive success of his balloon tire bikes for kids, decided that he could get adults back on bicycles too. He employed famed bicycle racing mechanic Emil Wastyn and his son Oscar to design the ultimate racing bike. Sparing no expense, the Wastyns used the best materials and the best components to bring into being the Schwinn Paramount. Schwinn put the Paramount to work on the racetrack in 1938 and it quickly rose to the top of the sport. Frank W. released a number of other lightweights hoping to follow the path of his father, Ignaz, who had successfully sold bicycles through the promotion of racing.

Schwinn Paramounts won many races. On May 17, 1941, Alfred Letourneur went 108.92 miles per hour on a Schwinn. The bicycles were everything that Frank W. could have hoped for, but the touring craze was not to be. The Paramount was never a very profitable product and touring did not catch on the way it had in the gay 90s of the last century. Just as Schwinn was getting going, World War II put heavy strains on steel and rubber construction. Also, the automobile continued to take up more and more space in the garage. Americans just weren't ready to get back on a two-wheeler.

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