Vintage Velo: Muscle Bikes

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Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #29, published in June 2014. Words and photos by Jeff Archer.


Schwinn introduced the first Stingray model in 1963. Starting with a 20-inch-wheeled version of their cantilever frame, they tossed on a banana seat and high-rise handlebars in place of the cruiser seat and flat handlebars. You could then accessorize your Stingray with a slick rear tire, 3- or 5-speed Stik Shifter, chrome duck tail fenders, white letter tires and even a front shock absorbing fork.

These styling cues were meant to mimic the high performance automobiles that every 10-year-old wanted but couldn’t (legally) drive for at least six more years (if ever!). Advertisements often showed the bikes lined up with a dragster at the strip, hence the generic term of “muscle bikes” for the genre. As often happens, other manufacturers kept an eye on the Stingray sales before making their own version. When it became obvious the Stingray was a success, other manufacturers cranked up the R&D (ripoff and duplicate) department. Each bike maker tried to come up with a unique feature or two to set theirs bike apart from the others.

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Sears chose to team up with Murray and offer up the Screamer series. The wedge shaped frames use a 20 inch rear wheel, with a slick tire, teamed up with a 16 inch front wheel. The frame was painted a candy red to candy gold fade with butterfly style handlebars. The internal 3-speed hub was shitfted by a top tube mounted stick shifter, with wood grain! One interesting feature was the double rear brakes mounted to a common bracket.

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The Stelber bicycle company chose to use the celebrity designer to punch up their Iverson line of muscle bikes. George Barris was a car customizer who built movie and TV cars such as the original Batmobile. He was looking to bring some of these custom car cues into the bicycle market. The Drag Stripper was one of his designs and even the name was car related. The extended top tube formed an exhaust pipe and the chain guard resembled a car grille. In addition to these unique features, the Drag Stripper also featured the top tube mounted stick shifter and slick rear tire.

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The Ross Apollo used the common wedge shaped frame but with twin rectangular down tubes that intersected the seat tube midway. One interesting component was the Shimano Front Freewheeling System (FFS) that moved the freewheel mechanism to the crank from the rear gear cluster. This allowed the bike to be shifted while coasting. Slightly more unusual was the choice of a stem mounted shifter and knobby rear tire.

Just a couple examples of “imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.”

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These bikes can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at mombat.org.

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