Schwinn Stingray Inventor Al Fritz—An Appreciation

Stingrays

Al Fritz, the Schwinn employee who invented the Stringray, has died. It was Fritz who noticed in the early 1960s the rise of the muscle-car culture and how that began to bleed into bicycling with kids customizing their bikes. The Stingray was less a bike than a hot rod with two wheels and pedals. And for kids like me who were born in the 1950s and ’60s, the Stringray was one of the first status symbols we ever encountered. It wasn’t just a toy. No, the Stingray was rolling style. It was Beach Boys-hip and as indestructible as a Chevy Bel Air, that is, until you took it off a five-brick-high ramp (in my neighborhood we measured ramp height by the number of bricks we stacked at the high end). Turns out, nothing could stand up to that.

To say that Fritz was the inventor of the Stringray isn’t overstating his achievement. Prior to the Stringray, kids’ bikes had all the flash and style of a turnip. With the Stingray, Fritz gave kids a chance to reflect their personality with a production product. Ask anyone involved in branding and marketing today and they’ll tell you that only the truly transcendent products do that.

Al FritzAl Fritz, from Schwinn archives

How influential was Fritz? Here’s one way to measure it: Who didn’t want a Stingray? Hell, I still want one. The Orange Krate was the first product I can recall coveting, of seeing someone else with something that I actively, passionately wanted. My mom, being the closeted hippy that she was, bought me a Raleigh Chopper. Thought it was Union Jack cool, it was poison oak on an open wound. Yeah, it was orange, but still … so close and yet…. The Orange Krate taught me the value of the feature. It wasn’t just a Stingray. No, it had a five-speed gear shifter, hand brakes and the banana seat sat on shock absorbers—shock absorbers! Those gears, those brakes, that suspension—the machine was the very expression of aspiration. I’d look at one and dream of all the riding I could do, if only.

The effect Fritz had on me and so many other people—Schwinn sold more than a million Stingrays—was to plant the seed of making the bike itself cool. Here at RKP we like to say that cycling isn’t just one hobby, it’s at least four or five of them. That love of the thing itself, of the synergy that arises from our appreciation of both what the bicycle can do and our fascination with a machine made beautiful can keep cycling exciting even when we’re unable to ride. Fritz wasn’t the first to make the bike beautiful, not by a longshot. What made the Stringray different was that he captured so many of us when we were blank canvases to passion. There came a point for most of us when we gave up the bike for a while. Those of us who found our way back to the sport owe him a debt. Turns out, the Stingray was as durable as a dream.

Those childhood loves are rarely shaken. Thank God.

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18 comments

  1. Adam

    Your last paragraph almost brought me to tears. Beautisimo! This industry and all cyclists owe a debt to Mr. Fritz. He is majorly responsible for the globalization of this industry that I have devoted my life to. I hope heaven has sissy-bars. Rest in peace, Al.

  2. Tina Micheal Ruse

    Mine was purple,Silver-flake banana seat,White wicker basket-with flowers.My trike and my first two bikes were Schwinn’s.I quit at twelve,came back at forty.Thanks Al,RIP

  3. Don Byrd

    Yes , I am fifty-five years old and still have three stingrays hanging in my garage . The goods one from 1965- 1967 . I smile at them just as much the very expensive carbon road bikes in there too. Thanks Al !

  4. sterling

    my stingray, handed down to me from my uncle, was stolen when I was in the 4th grade. My parents really couldn’t afford a bike shop schwinn so they got me a sears “look a like”. even back then I knew the quality wasn’t the same, hence putting me on the road towards being a bike mechanic. God Bless those indestuctable tanks!

  5. Rob

    My first stingray was sparkle blue with a sparkle blue seat and a sissy bar.
    When it was stolen I was devistated. My father drove around the neighborhood for weeks looking for the bike until he spotted it and brought it home. It was in miserable condition, bars bent and decals scratched up. One trip to the local Schwinn dealer and it looked like new. I sold this bike to buy a 10 speed after starting high school. Ten years ago I found a similar bike and restored it with my boys as a father and son project. Stingrays are a symbol of both my childhood and parenthood.
    Thanks for reminding me!

  6. david worthington

    Great Tribute to Al Fritz. Thank You Patrick Brady…aka “Hat-Trick”. As a child of 10 in 1972 Corvallis Oregon…we were fond in “modifying” trikes and bikes…reversing the forks and adding baseball cards to the spokes…. Of course, the Stingray, replete with the purple-glitter banana seat and silver sissy bar, required none. It was roll-off-the-store-floor cool.

  7. Rick

    I bought a new ’65 Stingray as a 10 year old from paper route earnings. I woukdn’t even begin to guess how many miles I put on that bike roaming all over the central California coastal town I grew up in. I don’t remember what happened to it, but sure wish I still owned it!

  8. Hautacam

    Loved my Stingray (70s version with a 3-speed sturmey-archer shifter on the handlebar). Rode it all over the place. It was a great dark blue sparkle color.

    Loved it.

    Thanks RKP.

    Godspeed and eternal tailwinds, Mr. Fritz.

  9. RedRoadRider

    Thanks, Padraig. Great piece that stirred my memories, and my heart. I will never forget my 9th birthday, and Dad wheeling out the candy-apple red Stingray with the white banana seat-my first bike that was mine, not a hand-me down. The freedom that bike brought me, exploring as far as I thought I could get away with without Mom getting mad. Ours was a Schwinn family, and I would own two more-a Typhoon purchased with lawn mowing money, and a Continental(when what I truly lusted for was a Paramount, but bagging groceries would not afford me). Then came a drivers license, cars, girls…12 years later I finally rediscovered cycling, the joy, the freedom, the bike lust. Now, at 56 years old, I still get that same feeling the Stingray gave me whenever I straddle one of my four bikes. Oh, and I still lust for a Paramount, but my IF Crown Jewel eases my pain.

  10. Bill Webster

    My youngest brother was lucky and got a green Stringray for his birthday. And being the oldest in my family, I’m still a little jealous…

    RIP Al Fritz.

    Nice article Padraig, thanks.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for the kind words. What I really love is reading all these reminiscences. The universal themes of Christmas gifts, hand-me-down bikes, stolen bikes and first jobs are painting a really lovely tapestry of the lives we all shared. Keep ‘em coming!

  11. Ron

    I was a kid during the late 80s and early 90s. My first bicycle was a hand-me-down maroon Schwinn. Not beautiful, but I learned to ride on that bike.

    When I got a bit older I had a GT Dyno in chrome, a freestyle bike. The silly thing is that I still can’t do a wheelie. Thank god I dropped freestyle bikes for road bikes.

    The cool thing about that bike was that around 2003 I wasn’t riding bikes much at all. Then I saw a chrome Bianchi Pista. I knew nothing about fixed gear bicycles, but I saw a Pista and it reminded me of how much I loved my Dyno as a kid. Chrome with white paint, outlined black.

    I picked up a Pista in 2003, then a used Cannondale road bike. Now it’s 2013 and I ride road or cx bikes a few hours a day. Pretty cool how my first new bike as a kid led me to a track bike, then to a new lifetime sport. Awesome, at least in my book!

    And instead of a sad tale of a fixster hacking the RD hanger off a nice road bike, I picked up a track bike and then got into road bikes, and now both road and cx bikes. Nice!

  12. Full Monte

    Christmas morning days, my brother and I would get up early and huddle at the top of the stairs, waiting as the dark gave way to ever lightening shades of winter gray. Wiggling, fidgeting, hoping, praying our parents would get up soon so we could dash down those stairs to see what Santa (well, Mom and Dad, we knew because she confessed their role from the beginning) had brought us.

    The morning I ran downstairs when I was aged seven, there waited for me by the fireplace a red Schwinn 5-speed, banana seat, chrome fenders, rear racing slick, long-throw shifter, ape hanger bars.

    It’s not often a child needs to be reminded to breathe, yet I stood, breathless, speechless, at the sight of the coolest thing ever created by human hands. Maybe Santa was real, and magic elves made this wonder. Maybe it came from God Hissownself.

    There’s a photo in the family album, I’m in my pajamas astride my red Schwinn, looking up at Mom with a 7-year-old’s toothless grin.

    The sight of that red bike in the photo above actually sent a little jolt through me. Bottle that feeling. Sip from it now and then. It’s when a thing transcends its physical self and becomes emotion. The joy of Christmas, family, childhood, and a gleaming red bike. A Stingray.

    What a great way to start a morning! Running into a dear, long-lost friend.

  13. Ben Martin

    I remember going to a stranger’s house and my father buying for me a used Schwinn Stingray, blue. I think I was 10 or 11. That stick-shift was so cool! I crashed hard on that bike going down a steep hill, road rash down my whole side, and in retrospect I may have had a concussion. But I got back on it (not right away – it took awhile to be able to bend my knee without breaking open the skin!). But that bike was stolen – chained up in a stairwell of my apartment building, which had locks on the doors. I was devastated. I still think of that bike. I live not too far from the Bicycle Museum of America, and seeing one in person a few years back brought back the joy and the sadness.

  14. Don Hobbs

    Got my first paper route in 1964, age 11. 2 cents per paper, 86 papers, 2 days a week. Within a year I had saved enough money to buy a Sting Ray. Blue metallic, chrome fenders, padded banana seat, sissy bar, knobby rear, whitewalls. This was before the Orange Krate. Rode that bike everywhere, we would do wheelies and count pedal strokes. Over 10 you were getting it. Over 50 you rocked. I’m thinking about getting another one.

  15. Mike Fritz

    Thank you everyone for your kind words. My Dad’s legacy will live forever in the hearts and minds of those of you that continue to appreciate his work and his achievements. But the Al Fritz that you don’t know was an incredible father, mentor and best friend. The outpouring of grief and condolences that we are receiving from all over the world is bittersweet. In one sense, it affirms our awareness of just how great a man he was. On the other hand, it compounds our sense of the magnitude of our loss. Nevertheless, thank you again for your kind words. Sincerely, Mike Fritz


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Mike: We’re so sorry for your loss. Your father did us all a wonderful service; it would have been nice to know him as a person. Rarely does one leave such an enormous professional legacy without also leaving a similar personal legacy. Our best to your family.

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