Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Humble Schwinn Le Tour

The Schwinn Le Tour: The Original Touring Bike




Touring bicycles have been around long before the Schwinn Le Tour. The name "Le Tour" is a dead giveaway that this bike was inspired by it's predecessors from across the pond.  This bike however, was the first mass produced touring bicycle to enter the U.S market by a U.S owned company.

According to history, the mid 1970's oil crisis and a national interest in all things European at the time brought about the bike boom and most notably, the "touring" bicycle or ten speed as it was once called. Before then bicycles in the United States mainly consisted of cruiser-style single speed bikes with balloon tires, also known as paper boy bikes. These more common bicycles featured tanks, horns, fenders and many of them weighed in excess of fifty pounds. The concept of lightweight racing bicycles was a foreign one to most people at the time. This perception changed during the 70's, when a fuel shortage, a new environmentally conscious generation and an unpopular war paved the way for a bicycle revolution. Belgium and the Netherlands rolled with the movement and are now the most bicycle friendly countries in the world. The momentum in the U.S ended abruptly around the late 80's when the economy improved and technology rapidly advanced. From the 80's onward, bicycles have turned from a practical means of transportation to a form of exercise and recreation. Out of that bike boom era there arose a people's champion, a working man's fare, the Model T of touring bikes and a well made product forged in a Chicago factory. The humble but reliable Schwinn Le Tour.





Over the years I have owned several Schwinn Le Tours. The yellow Schwinn featured in the title heading of this bike blog was my first restoration. It has now left my possession as I have given it to my mom, who rides it regularly. Unlike their French counterparts at the time, these bicycles were all steel with metal shifters and derailleurs, making them reliable and durable. The strong metal used for the frames could take a sustained load without making the bicycle ride slower. The early Le Tours had almost all factory made components with all parts stamped "Schwinn Approved". Finding the date on an early Schwinn is as easy as looking at the head badge and hubs of the wheels.


The following two bikes are examples of an early Schwinn Le Tour model and one of the last Schwinn Le Tours that came out of the Chicago factory. Both have features of what was popular for bicycles at the time of their production. With a stronger focus on touring, comfort and practicality, the 1980 Schwinn Le Tour on the right was equipped with stem mounted shifters, steel rims, ergonomic handlebars with shallow drops and center pull brakes. The late 80's Schwinn on the left was made much more sportier, reflecting the shift from practical use to recreative use. The 1988 Schwinn features downtube shifters, side pull caliper brakes and alloy rims. Like the earlier model it came with a strong steel frame and eyelets for mounting racks on, heralding back to it's original purpose of touring. Both bikes can be equipped as touring bikes and in this regard no one bike is superior than the other. 

A 1980's Schwinn Logo

A 1980 Schwinn Le Tour with a logo design reminiscent of earlier models.


By the late 80's lighter steel such as true temper was being used for the Schwinn Le Tour


1020 Tubing is not light by modern day standards, however the bicycle rides like a lightweight bike due to it's road dampening qualities.



Early Schwinns featured stem mounted shifters, steel rims, "suicide" brake levers and lots of chrome


Although the later Schwinn model was designed to be faster than the earlier version, the early Schwinn can be a serious contender with alloy rims and some minor upgrades. As shown in this video, this bike is no wimp when it comes to speed. The video shows me whipping past carbon fiber roadies in their $3000 Wiliers and triathlon machines on my 79' yellow Schwinn.



These bikes can be found all day long on the online classifieds, at a good price too if someone is a shrewd buyer. The 1980 Schwinn cost me $40 and zero dollars in investment to get it in it's current condition. I bought the 88' Schwinn to help out a friend and it cost me twice as much.  These bikes can and do usually bring anywhere from $150 to $300 at resale. I personally have a hard time letting go of Schwinn Le Tours. They are such well built bikes and such a bargain for the money that I will usually hold onto them while usually getting rid of my more expensive bicycles. Having restored one from the ground up, I know firsthand the quality of their build and what this bicycle is capable of. For some reason unknown to me, these bicycles are usually passed up by collectors while inferior models like the Varsity and Stingray get all the attention. The Stingrays, Lemon Peelers and Fastbacks which sell in the thousands of dollars can barely be ridden by grown men while a good Schwinn Le Tour that is capable of beating the socks off of a modern day road bike doesn't even get an offer over $100 most of the time. 

One day when the Puerto Rican Schwinn club switches from vintage cruisers to vintage road bikes (I'm Puerto Rican, I can say that...) or when hipsters start to covet Schwinn bikes for their fixed gear fallacies, the collector's value on a Schwinn Le Tour will probably rise. When it does, just remember that I was riding Schwinn Le Tours before it was cool, before hipsters discovered it and before having knowledge of a Puerto Rican Schwinn club, of which I am probably now regarded as an honorary member. Even though my stable of bikes boasts the best of French, Italian and British imported vintage steel, I will always remember my roots and the bike that got me into restoring bikes in the first place. I can always make room for a humble Schwinn Le Tour.


43 comments:

  1. Johnny,
    I think y'all did things not because they were cool, but because you really enjoyed doing them - that's perfect. I had a Schwinn, but I can't remember if it was a Le Tour. I paid $20 for it and sold it, two years later, for about $25 and a 2 Liter bottle of Mountain Dew (yes, guilty). Great bike! Your bikes are a lovely color too.

    Peace :)

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  2. Bought a Le Tour in 1983 and cost me $230 then. Rode it pretty regular for a few years then it sat in the garage for years. Got it back out this summer and have been putting about 80 miles a week on it. The Huret Cyclometer that has been on since day one shows 5,400 miles. Don't see any reason to buy a new bike.

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  3. I'm glad to hear you are still enjoying yours. I'm putting mine to work riding this summer riding 13 miles to the gym each day.

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    1. Hi Johnny! Thanks for writing this article. Sadly I lost my latour recently due to a hungry Audi. I am trying to find out what kind I have and what it's worth. Would you please help me with this? I can be reached at "alastdance4me2@gmail" Thank you!

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  4. I miss my old orange Schwinn Le Tour. I miss it badly. They just don't make bikes like that anymore. I think it was 1975 when I bought it new from our local bike shop, which sadly, is no more. I'm not an athlete but I do love the feeling I get when riding a bike, leisurely, coasting down hill is especially pleasant., exhilarating actually. I've never driven a car. In the seventies I used to ride my bike to work, a window factory in the town that I live in. It was very unusual at that time, to see a woman riding a bike around town. Now, today, almost 40 years later, I want another Le Tour, if it can be orange, all the better. I came upon your blog accidentally while searching on line for a new Schwinn that would be comparable to the LeTour. I couldn't find anything that appealed to me, aesthetically or economically. At that point, it occurred to me that maybe I could find an actual Le Tour from the seventies, maybe even an orange one. Your wonderful blog post here has motivated me to continue searching in that direction.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your touching story with me. I hope you find your orange Schwinn Le Tour again. I see Le Tours being posted on craigslist regularly. If you haven't checked out Craigslist, it's an online classified where people sell all sorts of things. I would search there at possibly go garage sale shopping on the weekends. It won't take long to find your bike again. I wish you the best-Johnny.

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  5. I had a LeTour hanging up on the garage rafters for the past 7 or 8 years. Prior to that I road it often. I had picked it up at a garage sale a few years earlier...and it was like new then. I had hand surgery on both hands and decided to get a mountain style bike with more comfortable handle bars because of the surgeries. Well, this year I finally decided to pull it down to give it a spin. Of course I first took it into a bike shop for a complete tune-up. At first I was going to get the tune-up, and new tires and tubes. But after taking it in, decided to get new brakes, new cables, and new, more expensive gel handle bar wrap. All in all, it ran about $250. My brother asked why I didn't just get a new bike...LOL. When I compared it to an ol' classic car, he understood. Yesterday I went on a 30 mile ride...without a struggle. On the other mountain bike, it would have been more difficult. The LeTour rides so smoothly and with such ease. I absolutely love it, however still a bit hard on my hands. Thanks for your post. Mary in Niles, IL

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    1. Thank you for sharing Mary. I love all the positive feedback I'm getting from this article. One thing that might help with the wrist and hand pain would be changing the tires down the road. I just switched out the tires on my 88' Schwinn to Panaracer Paselas. They ride really plush and absorb a lot of the road noise. I would also recommend wearing riding gloves for a little while until your hands can get accustomed to the feel of the bike. Way to go on your 30 miles and keep up the riding!-Johnny.

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  6. Agreed, I think this has been one of the most under rated early 10-speed touring bikes. I am getting ready to get back on my mine after a tune and some minor updates. I have three LeTours; all 21 inch frames. One silver ladies frame, ex-wife's, ridden twice and has been hanging from rafters for at least 20 years. Two yellow men's frames. One I gave to my Mom and I got back when she passed away a few years ago. I will be trying to sell ladies and one yellow men's frame soon here in Denver, Colorado

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  7. I had a crazy notion that the Le Tour was named, at least in part, for Alfred LeTourner who had some unbelievable speed record on a Schwinn.

    I bought one in college many years ago and still have the red beauty. A Beautiful bike.

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    1. You might be right about this. I'm too young to go that far back to know that myself. You definitely gave me something to research though.

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  8. Wow. Your post and the comments bring back many recollections and emotion about my Le Tour. I grew up in Chicago, fairly near the Schwinn factory. Of course we knew the treasures that they made in there, but, sadly, we couldn't afford new bikes in a family with 5 kids. We always had second hand or discarded bikes that we would make ride worthy - at least for the Chicago streets, alleys and parks like Humboldt park or Garfield Park.

    Fast forward: we'd scrimped to pay for college on our own and when I graduated my wife surprised me with a new, red Schwinn Le Tour. Unbeknownst to me, she had 'saved her lunch money' to pay for the bike. I rehabbed my used Varsity for her and we were off. We rode all over ... from the west side to downtown & the lakefront beaches, to Wrigley and Comiskey, to grad school in Hyde Park ... for years. We hauled the bikes on the TR's bike rack to Lake Geneva, Louisville and Mackinac Island.

    Life moves on and we did too. To MN, NY, NY. To London, Singapore, then Buenos Aires. The LeTour always made the move till it was stolen in BA. End of an era.

    I have a nice new bike. But I'm nostalgic for the old red Schwinn. Time to scour CL and ebay for a Le Tour to create new memories.

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  9. Great article I'm in love with this bike that I discoverd through my pops who has one he bought AGS ago. Found my own and I hope to eventually fix up a few more!

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  10. Well, I am riding a 1974 yellow Schwinn Le Tour! It is my main bike. I got it as a frame and fork in a trade for a green Varsity. After rebuilding it with original parts I love its ride. Because of my age, (63) I have upgraded a few things on it. A longer stem with cruiser handlebars is better on my back and hands. I didn't realize the amount of miles add up quick! So, maintenance is critical for these old bikes as well as upgraded parts from time to time. My old bike needs a new paint job now! I already have the decals for it.

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  11. I have a 1988 Le Tour that is 100% original and in great and rideable condition. I'd rather not sell it but I'm a little hard up right now. Let me know if your interested.

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    1. Hi there John,

      Thanks for the offer. I actually have a 1988 Le Tour in the red color scheme. I'm not looking for another one at this time unless it's another color and a 56cm (22.5 inch length seat tube, center of crank to top) frame. If your bike is the white and blue one with the fade away paint job, I might be able to entertain you an offer.

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  12. Just took my '86 red LeTour out for a ride. I've had this bike since I graduated college 25 years ago. Still an awesome bike.

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  13. I just "inherited" (I don't know what other word to use) a 1981 Schwinn Le Tour and find everything in this blog post from 2014 to be accurate. It's a great bike and if you need a reliable, inexpensive ride I highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for one. And now seems to be the time because I'm not finding any Le Tours on Craigslist at the $40 price this blogger paid. You can probably find one for around $100 even, but 150 and up is seeming more the norm. It seems people are catching on to their durability and quality.

    I just took mine out for an extended spin of 26 miles and it was an incredible ride. Maybe I'm just being a bit sentimental, but my first bike was a Schwinn...so that might be affecting my judgment. It's the first one I've had since I was 5 and I couldn't be happier.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. The $40 bargains are usually found in garage sales or unspecific ads on craigslist like "bike for sale". I agree that as more people find out that what they have is more valuable they will raise the prices and because of that bargains are getting hard to come by. Bike swaps, garage sales and word of mouth have been where I scored my best deals.

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  14. I see one listed by a used bike dealer, 1982 model, 25" frame like I have. He is asking $175, looks to be in good shape. I bought a 1982 Le Tour Tourist model for my wife last summer, got it for $80. on Craigslist. I think he got it cheap at a garage sale and made a few bucks. Can't complain too much, not a bad bike for $80.

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  15. I loved my 1983 Schwiin Le Tour. It was such an awesome bike. When all of my friends were transitioning from their banged up, abused Huffy bikes to nice Diamondback chrome-molly bmx style bikes, I was the first to switch to a 10 speed.

    My Le Tour was my first personal bike purchase with my own money. I was lucky to have a great local bike shop experience. They guided me towards the Le Tour...and at first I was highly resistant. I wanted to ride a bmx style bike like my friends. I'm so glad I went with the Le Tour. I've been on many different types of bikes since then, but nothing rode as smooth as that Le Tour.

    I wish I hadn't sold it because I've come full circle back to a steel framed touring bike as my main ride. I had a carbon frame Specialized Tarmac that rode like a rocket, but I missed that smooth, comfortable steel framed ride.


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    1. Thanks for your comment. It reminds me of the BMX craze going around when I was growing up in the late 90's. A lot of kids bought "trick bikes" and most of them never got into cycling later in life as adults. I was riding an adult size mountain bike at the height of BMX popularity back then. Till this day I still ride because I got into it in a sensible way instead of doing it because it was cool.

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  16. I bought a Schwinn Traveler back in 82 because it was a little cheaper than the Le Tour, but I did look @ the Le Tour with envy. My bike was a lightweight one, I had an odometer and a little flip type fender on the back to prevent the mud from hitting my rear. I loved that bike. If I am able to find a Lightweight Le Tour that is in great shape, I will be in heaven.

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  17. I have a 1974 LT5 (25" frame) Le Tour, yellow, look much like your with a bit of 41 year old patina. Been a great bike but now retired and not sure whether to keep for my grandson or sell and get something that rides a bit smoother since my wife now wants to start riding again. I remember making the comparison between a Peugot and the Le Tour when I bought this one (lot of money, still in college) I still made the best choice.

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  18. Bought mine from a buddy my senior year in H.S, 1977. I used it a bit in college and then it went to the garage because I'm more of a runner than a rider. Marriage, 4 kids later, and a new job it Texas it was still there. In 2010 I decided that if I was ever going to try a triathlon now was the time. So out came the Le Tour, it's performed well in about 30 triathlons since then.
    Sure I could upgrade and buy a $3000 bike, but I paid $60 in 1977 so it's a bit hard to justify the upgrade!

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    1. Right on! As long as it works for you that is all that matters. I'm glad that it is still seeing some use.

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  19. Great article. I saw a Le Tour on the street today and thought about how cool it would be to restore one. One question: do you have any idea where to get paint that looks like the semi-metallic blue or green that Schwinn used in the 60s-80s? I don't see those colors anymore.

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    1. Hi Ron, some powdercoating shops will carry the metallic red and blue finish, although it may not be an exact match to the original paint job. I use a guy that has a near identical cherry red metallic finish and I have restored a few bikes using his services. Powdercoating is the way to go if you are in the market for repainting your bicycle.

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  20. i have a 2007 Schwinn Le Tour and i AGREE with most This is a GREAT bike to ride !!

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  21. i remember outracing biker fags with their faggoty rich kid import aluminum racing bikes that were 5 to 10 times more expensive than my schwinn costed. they wouldn't let me be in their snobby bike club back in school because i had a schwinn. I laughed at them and claimed they couldnt even keep up with me and my super heavy tank schwinn so i publicly challenged their fastest rider with his then priced 2500.00 bike and i beat his ass...then they definatly wouldnt let me join after the humiliation they suffered from that....but they sure beat me in the pretty bike pants department with their matching girly neon import spandex colors and fancy racing shoes that cost more than my whole bike did...i just wore blue jeans and a hanes t shirt! that bike took any beating except when raced it stright up into this tight bichez twat and bent my frame!!! true story. gunna buy another on line and jamm it up some other skanks snatch too. gotta relive history.

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    1. This has to be the coolest and funniest comment I've read. Money can't buy passion or talent or the will and dedication to ride a bike everyday and get strong. Even still my Dad and others tell me that Schwinn bikes were some of the best bikes you could buy back in the 70's and 80's. Those must have been some really spoiled kids.

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    2. I just got a le tour at the bike recycle ship for free. I was stoked to read more info and this thread has been great, but what a f'd up comment and poster. "faggoty" etc. etc. shut up.

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  22. I still ride my red womans Schwinn LeTour I got in junior high in 1975. I've tried newer lighter bikes and they don't fit and are harder to ride. Just rode my LeTour biking and camping through the Florida keys. Key largo to key west and back. Next trip will be an organized tour in downeast Maine.

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  23. Just found your blog- great stuff. So, my Dad has a yellow one just like the one in the photos. I don't live near him, but would guess it is a '75 or '76. I think I'm going to restore it when I go home to visit this summer.
    For those who have dissected one recently, did you have difficulty finding a bottom bracket/head set to fit these old frames?
    I had a blue Le Tour in middle school- loved it!

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    1. The bottom bracket is a standard 68mm English threaded that can fit any modern threaded bottom bracket. The headset will have to be replaced to accommodate a standard 22.mm quill stem, as Schwinn used their own proprietary headset and stem.

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  24. Just ran across this blog; I've had an old yellow LeTour (1975-76) sitting in my garage for many years. I got it as a birthday gift when I was a teen and had several people tell me to hang onto it. Now, it needs some serious TLC--I've had the urge to ride again lately. I'm not sure how much I would cost to have it fixed up, but this article has been encouraging!

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  25. Thanks for this article. I just (an hour ago) picked up an all original, silver, 1976 Le Tour for $20. It's a little rusty in spots, but everything works perfectly. I'm gonna love riding it.

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  26. I feel so justified... finally!!! I've been riding my LeTour since I was in high school in the last 70's. Its the only bike I've ever owned! I've done three week road trips with panniers. I'm still riding that bike hundreds of miles a week. I love it and I refuse to give it up. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has told me I should get a new bike since I ride so much. There have been times when I've wondered if they're right so I've demo'ed other bikes that cost thousands of dollars. I'm not even tempted anymore. They just convince me that I am riding the best already. Why would I ever switch!! Thanks for the confirmation!

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  27. i just found a June 1974 tossed in the garbage - i bought 2 new tires and handle bar grips - cleaned - greased and waxed it and it now rides as smooth as a new Rolls Royce ... what a SWEET bike !

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  28. My 1972 steel Le Tour was made in Japan as was a generation of lighter alloy frame Le Tours made shortly after that. All bear the "Schwinn Approved" badge.

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  29. Bought my blue Le Tour at a garage sale in Buffalo in 1995 for $100 - still a daily rider 21 years later. Yes, it's nothing like a carbon Cervelo, but it runs strong!

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  30. Due to increasing and formidable lumbar pain, I stopped riding my '88-89 Le Tour several years ago in my mid-50's. I was finally ordered to a pain clinic to face my pain this spring and after multiple risotomies my spine is pain free and I am back on the bike. I spent a few dollars on lockin pedals and 1" kevlar reinforced tires to save a little more weight and rolling resistance. I ride twice a week (yes, on my venerable Le Tour) and am aiming to be able to ride my age (now +60) before it gets cold here in November or so.

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  31. Just picked up a 1977 LeTour II in orange with the original generator talight and headlight. It looks to completely original and is in excellent shape. I will be selling it on CL here in Phoenix shortly

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