Car Culture-Muscle Bikes!

No, I’m not talking about fitness machines. When muscle cars and hot rods gained in popularity in the mid sixties, those of us kids that couldn’t drive were stuck watching these cool rides cruise down the streets, filled with envy. Well, it didn’t take long for the Schwinn bicycle company to cash in on our craving! Schwinn designers had always been hip with their brand.

Evel Knievel bicycle1970’s Evel Knievel bicycle personally signed for a lucky kid named Wyatt. These bikes were produced by the AMF Corporation which, for a time, owned Harley Davidson.

In the early sixties they had produced bicycles with the names ‘Corvette’, ‘Jaguar’, and ‘Racer’. In 1968, the innovation of Schwinn designer Al Fritz’s ‘Stingray’ was taken to a new level with the ‘Krate’ series: Apple Krate, Orange Krate, Pea Picker, Cotton Picker, Lemon Peeler, and Grey Ghost. Their design came right from the drag strip. The bikes featured a fat, slick rear tire with raised white letters. They had a smaller rim and front tire, copying the dragster look, and featured highrise handlebars and a stick shift, just like what was in our big brother’s car. Add a Schwinn-approved rear view mirror and speedometer, and we were ready to cruise with the best of them!

1999 Dyno GT “Mooneyes” Cruiser

1999 Dyno GT “Mooneyes” Cruiser with factory mooneyes wheel discs.

It didn’t take long before other manufacturers copied Schwinn’s success. The Raleigh Bicycle Company of England did it best with their ‘chopper’. The Iverson Company produced a muscle bike designed by customizer George Barris – yes, the same guy who designed and built the ‘Batmobile’. The Huffy Company produced a bicycle with a high sissy bar like Peter Fonda in ‘Easy Rider’. They also got rid of the handlebars and actually replaced them with a steering wheel. Sears produced many muscle bikes that had a very cool appeal, including bikes inspired by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. The popularity of muscle bikes declined after 1973, when Ralph Nader banned the ‘stick shift’ because many young men were singing soprano after crashes involving the shifter. Once the cool was gone, so was the popularity!

Restored 1969 Schwinn custom “Grape Krate.”

Restored 1969 Schwinn custom “Grape Krate.”

Bicycle Motocross arrived in the late 1970’s. Many of these cool bikes were stripped of their nonessential parts and converted into bicycles that could be ridden off road. Few of these vintage bikes remain today. A resurgence of the muscle bike has occurred in the last few years. Companies like Nirve and GT Dyno have produced cool, full-size bikes with automotive themes.

2004 Electra Rat Fink’ bicycle

This ‘2004 Electra Rat Fink’ bicycle pays homage to the genius of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s “Rat Fink.”

1964 Sears Spaceliner

1964 “Sears Spaceliner”. Built by the Murphy Company for Sears, this deluxe model came with a chrome frame and springer forks. Notice the influence of the 60’s space-race in the design of this bike.