A year ago I started out with a 1963 Schwinn Typhoon cantilever frame, the envy of paper boys across the country in the 1950s and 1960s. (Yes, boys used to deliver newspapers on bicycles.) Made with real Chicago steel. Indestructible. I learned about these unique frames from a Sheldon Brown article.
I was going to turn it into a rat rod cruiser but it turned out to be something very different. I’ve wanted a fixed gear for many years and, with a little googling, it turned out these Schwinn cantilever frames are actually nice riding frames suitable for fixed gear. My first Mark I version was a budget build but it turned out so well that I decided to do some upgrading and planned to do the Seattle to Portland ride (STP) this past July.
I started the year 70 years old, overweight, and out of shape having been off bikes for 11 years. At the start of the STP I was still 70 years old and overweight but I had ridden 2,400 miles getting ready for it. I completed the STP (206 miles in two days) on July 11 and 12. I was number 1144. (They limit the ride to the first 10,000 to register.) I have upgraded the Schwinn to the Mark III version since then and it no longer looks quite like this. I want to document the version I rode this summer.
I think the Schwinn cantilever frame is a beautiful design with all the swoopy curves. It’s been copied many times but I think the original is still the most beautiful. It is a bit heavy but the bike came out to 32 pounds which is entirely reasonable. I rode racing bikes and commuted on bikes with racing geometry for 35 years. I rode clipped in all that time. Building this bike was a chance to look at riding in different ways. I’m too old to ride drop bars. I don’t bend that way anymore so I went upright. It turns out you can see the world around you a lot better that way. Who knew! This bike turned out to be the most fun to ride of any bike I’ve had.
I had started out with the original Schwinn one piece crank but that didn’t work very well fixed so I put on a bottom bracket adapter that allowed a modern bottom bracket and track crank with ⅛” chain. I started off with a 42 tooth chainring for early training and ended up with a 46 tooth chainring for the STP.
This is the fixed gear part of the bike that made it possible for me to ride something like the STP fixed gear. I had my local bike shop build a set of wheels with 26” Rhyno Lite rims and Origin8 track hubs with the rear hub being double fixed.The cogs are threaded directly onto the hub. There is no coasting. If you pedal backwards the wheel goes backwards. There is a 17 tooth cog on one side and a 23 tooth cog on the other. I got the idea from reading about the early Tour de France riders. Prior to 1938 they rode the Tour de France with two fixed gears like this. At the bottom of a hill they would stop, get off, and flip the wheel to the large cog and reverse the process at the top of the hill. The guy who started the Tour de France felt that bikes with derailleurs were for sissies. He was right.
The 23 tooth cog. The two gears gave me 66 inch wheel and 49 inch wheel gearing. It worked just fine for the STP.
Another change in my riding was to ride free. No toe clips or clipless pedals. The spikes do a good job of keeping your shoe on the pedal.
No more skinny racing saddle. I went for the classic Brooks B66 leather saddle with springs!
A small Sackville SaddleSack from Rivendell for tools, extra water, lights, tire pump, food, etc.
A Mirrycle mirror, Ergon BioKork grips, Origin8 bell, Kleen Kanteens for water and Skratch Labs exercise hydration mix, and a Garmin Edge 500. Having the water bottles on the handlebar is so civilized.
Only one brake, on the front, with a Tektro FL750 brake lever. By applying back pressure on the pedals I can brake the rear wheel with my legs. Not as much as a real brake but it is something. These cantilever frames had coaster brakes so there is no provision for mounting a caliper brake on the rear. I think these levers are the best looking. Simple and strong.
A Dia Compe MX-1000 caliper brake on the front. The tire is a 26 x 1.3” Continental Contact Sport.
I cut one end of off one of my Gordy Camera Straps neck straps for a wheel stabilizer. (Gordy’s Camera Straps is my day job.) It’s absolutely needed for flipping the rear wheel to change gears. Otherwise the front wheel flops over and the front end wants to move from side to side.
When done it wraps around the frame.
I tend to put Obey Giant stickers on everything. The obey sticker is appropriate for a fixed gear bike. You will obey the pedals!
My daughter, Jenny, gave this pin to me. I owned a VW bus of that vintage. Building and riding this bike has been a journey. I’ve enjoyed it all.