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 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.