A recent obituary sparked memories of the most unforgettable gift I ever received: a brand-new, gleaming, too cool, 1965 Schwinn Sting-Ray.
It had a white banana seat, “Opalescent Violet” paint, a “high loop” sissy bar, a “Slik” rear tire and those totally bad, high-rise “ape-hanger” handlebars that every boy wanted. I got it in June or July of 1965, shortly after my 11th birthday. It seemed to be a present straight from God.
I had been riding a junky little Huffy, but I had outgrown it. We were on a vacation in Jeffersonville, Ind., when I spotted a used, adult-sized English three-speed in a bike shop. The price was $18; I had $10 and asked Dad to loan me the rest.
When he saw the funereal black three-speed, he looked at the sporty purple Sting-Ray and said, “Wouldn’t you rather have one like that?”
It was $49.95 — big money then — but I greedily said “YES!” Then, inexplicably, Dad proceeded to buy it for me. I couldn’t believe it. Replacing the Huffy with a Schwinn Sting-Ray was like going from a rusty Corvair to a new Corvette. I instantly became the envy of my friends. I let a selected few take my new bike for a spin and pop modest wheelies.
I thought of all that when I read that Al Fritz died May 7 at age 88. He was the Schwinn executive who fathered the immortal ‘Ray. It was introduced in late 1963; by 1968, Schwinn sold nearly 2 million of them. Production ended in 1979.
Fritz didn’t invent the bike — kids in Southern California did that by adding bicycle polo seats and high-rise, long-horn handlebars to their little 20-inch bicycles. The result was a souped-up, Rat Fink, Big Daddy Roth, Kustom Kulture, hot-rod, drag-racer, muscle car, chopper-style kid’s bicycle that was insane to look at, incredibly fun to ride and easy to do tricks with.