Saturday, January 19, 2008

1977 Schwinn Suburban

Yes, another bike. That's three, for those keeping score. We found this one at a garage sale for $40. My wife has been looking for a bike since last June, and we found it about two blocks from our house--must have been fate. Anyway, as the title of the post suggests, it's a 1977 Schwinn Suburban. It's a ten speed--no Sturmey-Archer hub, unfortunately--and it is a seriously nice-looking bike. It has a sort of red/rust/brown color and the paint is in pretty good shape, with the usual dings and scratches. It also has the usual rust, dirt, and grime all over.

It seems to be mostly original, with the exception of newish cables and a newer seat that doesn't really match the old style of the bike very well. The tires are newish, and everything else seems to be in great shape.

Today we did the major cleaning: frame, chrome, derailers, and chain. The chain is soaking in oil overnight after two rounds of cleaning with Pedro's and a toothbrush. Tomorrow, I'll buff the rust off the rims with steel wool, make some brake adjustments, some seat post and handlebar adjustments, and it'll be good to ride. Cosmetically, we'll wipe it down again and apply a coat of Turtle Wax to bring out the color. Long term, I think the crank bearings are going to need re-packing soon, and I'd like to try to find a better looking seat for it. The brake shoes are going to need to be replaced soon as well, but I think that's it (assuming the tires hold air over night).

As with all of our bikes, the Suburban has (according to one website) "absolutely no value to collectors." But, of course, the point should be whether an old bike has value to its owner. This bike makes my wife happy, it's stylish as all get-out, and that's really what matters, isn't it?

36 comments:

  1. Can I Fed-Ex you my bike? Every time I throw my bike in the car, which sadly isn't a tank, I have to take off my front tire. And because of this, my front break no longer works at all. What did I done did? Oh, and my back break sounds like a flock of Canadian geese.

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  2. Just bang on it with a wrench for a few minutes and it should sort itself out. No, don't do that. Send me a photo of your front brakes, it might be cheaper than sending the whole bike, and maybe I can give my inexpert opinion. As for the back brakes, try taking the brake pads off, cleaning them, then roughing them up with some fine sandpaper (that's fine-*grain* sandpaper, not beautiful sandpaper). Also, check your rear wheel rim for scuffs, dirt, rust, etc. and clean it off. All together, that should silence the flock of geese, but if it doesn't, it might be time for some new brake pads. Unless you like the geese--they can be like an early warning system for approaching intersections.

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  3. I have the exact same bike, which used to belong to my mom. I remember when she bought it new. It needs lots of tlc (rust, etc.) but just this morning I was at a bike store talking about restoring it with the sales clerk. Please keep your restoration progress coming so I can follow along.

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  4. Sweet, it's a nice ride, my wife loves it. The next thing it's going to need is the headset bearings repacked (it squeeks when you turn the front wheel), so I'll be posting about that soon. At the moment, however, I've having a devil of a time figuring out how to get the flipping hand brakes off the handlebars. I sounds easy, but it's not--there must be a trick to it--I'll keep you posted. And hey, if you want, send me some before/after pics of the bike and I'll post 'em.

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  5. Yay! I have this bike in green and I love it more than anything else I own. This month I am trying not to use my car at all and only ride my suburban. Cheers for such a great find.

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  6. Hello Thom,

    I just found this (older) post of yours via a google search for "1977 Schwinn Suburban" -- I'm a bike novice trying to refurbish one myself. (Photos are here, if you're interested in taking a look. I'll be following your "old bike" adventures, and so wanted to introduce myself.

    Have a lovely day,
    Lissa

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  7. Love the pictures... Love the bike. I used to work at a bike shop while I was still in college, and I have a Mens Suburban that my Boss of the time sold to me so I could ride to/from work. Eventually, after getting a job that I could pay my student loans with upgraded the heck out of it with a modern Shimano internal gear hub and other such things.

    They're lovely, if heavy bicycles and I wouldn't hesitate to reccomend one to anyone looking for a good reliable ride.

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  8. Hi, last year I bought my girlfriend a 1977 emerald green schwinn suburban in great shape. Recently, during transporation, the front tire came off and was lost somewhere along a drive. What would be a good replacement tire for this bike that would match its old style?

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  9. Hello Niftic Swift,
    Do you mean the tire fell off, or the entire wheel? I only ask because it seems unlikely that the tire alone separated itself from the rim during transport.

    If it was the tire, you can find a replacement at any good bike store. I'm not sure what your other tire looks like, but a gumwall tire (tan color on the wall of the tire) is a classic for this type of bike (see the pics on this post, for example).

    If your wheel fell off, that's another story. It's hard to find a new steel rim these days, so you'll have to either haunt eBay, Craigslist, or other online venues for an old one, or ask around at your local bike shops--sometimes a good shop will keep a stock of old parts around, or know someone who does. The wheels on my wife's Schwinn are large (27"), I'm not sure if yours are the same, but you'll have to match the original size, or the wheel won't fit the fork or the brake calipers properly. Also, if you buy a used wheel, you should take it to a bike shop and have it checked for trueness. If you don't care too much about appearances, it's easier to find 27" rims in aluminum, although you won't have quite the same look as the original steel. Hope this helps.

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  10. PS--For the gumwall tire, if you've got a 27" wheel, you'll probably need a tire with dimensions 27" x 1 3/8". A little harder to come by at some bike stores, but a quality shop should have them on hand.

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  11. I just picked up a 5-speed just like this one... It's a beautiful bike, I agree. The one I picked up is black though, so it's not as nice as the color you have. But for $12, it's a great yard-sale find. My question is, how can you tell the year make on these things?

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  12. Brian, go to oldroads.com and look up the serial number on one of their very useful charts--they have one just for Schwinns. Sometimes the serial number can be found on the headbadge, other times on the left rear dropout. Just poke around 'til you find it, it's a good excuse to give the bike a thorough going-over, anyway.

    Thom

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  13. Nice find! I bought my girlfriend a '72 Suburban for her birthday a few months back and she loves it dearly. I got so jealous of her newfound style-points that I had to have one too, so I found a '73 in brown with a nice little rack in the back and I have trouble riding any of my other bikes now. They may be heavy and "worthless", but boy do they look pretty and ride nice. I look forward to see how your wife's bike comes along!

    @ Niftic Swift - Not sure what part of the world you are in, but Manny's Low Riders in Venice, CA has a really good selection or such wheels, as they are in the business of refurbishing/restoring old cruisers and such. If you're not around L.A, I might suggest finding a bike shop in your area that does restorations - they might not have what you're looking for, but they'll certainly be able to point you in the right direction.

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  14. i have a 1971 suburban. all original. lime green.Very nice condition.trying to find the value of it. 10 speed.

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  15. @ Anonymous: Assuming good to very good condition, you could probably sell on Craigslist for anywhere from $80 to $150, also depending on the market for old bikes in your area. In other words, not a collector's item. Schwinns of this vintage are so common, it's going to be a while before they really take on any value for collectors. Great machines, though, and very reliable.

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  16. Hi Thom!

    I found you today via CYLRAB! I have an early 70's green 10 speed suburban just like this one. it needs a little TLC and i've been thinking to myself lately that it's time to get dirty and have at it. I love it to death, and almost don't mind lugging it up a flight of stairs every night.

    I look forward to following you on here!

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  17. Hi
    Just stumbled across your blog. I am restoring the exact same bike for my college bound daughter. It is a green machine. Can someone tell me if this bike had Dia compe brakes or Weinmann? thanks
    Brad

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  18. @brad54: Cool! My wife's bike, pictured above, has Weinmann brakes, which I believe to be original. If you've photos to share, I'd love to see 'em!

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  19. Thanks. I send some pics as soon as I get it looking more like a bicycle. Right now it is missing the special Schwinn stuff. The front derailleur, the brakes, seat post, seat and clamp are missing. The bike also needs tube and tires. There are a lot of great bicycles that get disassembled because the sum of their parts is worth more then the bike as a whole. My daughter's bike was a case in point. A previous owner took off everything he could Ebay.

    The guy I bought a set of Dia Compe brakes from off Ebay, was parting out a really nice Schwinn Varsity. The frame paint looked almost new from the pics.

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  20. Got another Suburban. Yahoo! Was hoping to get the green Suburban fixed for my college bound daughter. While searching for the missing parts, I came to realize that some would be very difficult or expensive to obtain. I had hoped to find a wrecked parts bike, but no such luck. Yesterday was looking thru the Craig's list for my area and found a complete men's 1970 suburban. Fortunately it was right up the street and we went to look at it. The bike was almost like new. The rubber pedals have little wear, the bike shifts perfectly, the tires although old still have the nubs on them. There is a bit of rust, a few scrapes and the front fender support has a ding. The bike is black, has all the decals, plus the bike shop sticker is still present. Will send pics in a few days.

    The guy I bought the bike from also has a Hollywood celebrity bike. They purchased a Schwinn that had belonged to Robert Wagner. Not sure what model it was, but they obtained it from a friend of Wagners. It had been stored for many years. I believe it had the original Schwinn tires on it. The funny thing was the front fender was installed backwards.

    Anyone here know anything about the old Royce Unions? There was a guy in San Bernardino who has a very nice 50s looking RU. It was pretty nice and the chrome was in excellent shape. Red and silver, looked sharp. He wanted a $100.00 for it.

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  21. I just bought the same model bike, same color and everything from Salvation Army for $30.00. Mine is a little more rusty, but also came with a schwinn rack and two Wald colapsable baskets. It's a shame these things have "no value" to collectors. This bike has everything that people are looking for in bikes right now; swing back handle bars, a easy to step through frame and matching metal fenders. The good news is that this means I don't have to worry about keeping any of the original hardware because I think a nice Brooks saddle (mine may or may not be orginal), a better kick stand and new peddles would be nice.

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  22. I used bunchobikes.com to find the year for my Schwinn Suburban. I found that site a little easier to understand than the link provided earlier. http://www.bunchobikes.com/serialnumber2.htm

    My Suburban is a women's blue '78 that I got for $30 at a thrift store. I left the paint alone though it's rusty in some places. I de-rusted everything else the best I could with steel wool.

    Then I took it to the bike shop for new tires and a new rear shifter cable. It turned out that the original type of cable was not available or sold anymore (???), so I told them to just put on a new derailleur and a chain to fit.

    If I had known that punctured tires were all that were keeping the bike from riding like new, I wouldn't have left it on the porch for a year! I think that when I got it, everything was original (not sure about the tires) because the seat and handlebar grips say "Schwinn Approved."

    It's all shiny now and I'm not going to mess with the paint job because I want to leave the original paint and design on for as long as possible. Other than that, the only issue is that one of the fenders rattles. I'm usually so happy to ride the Suburban that I just tune out the noise. But I'd like to fix it eventually. Any suggestions?

    Also, I love reading refurb stories of bikes. Especially Schwinn Suburbans (since that's what I have). So thanks and keep them coming.

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  23. How do you tell the year of the bike? I just picked one up today for my wife at a lawn sale for 25.00. and spent a couple hours cleaning it up. It looks like it was sitting in a garage for the last 20 years. It is in excellent condition, original leather seat, brakes look original, hardley any wear on spockets or chain. It is a root beer brown color and paint is nice. It has a luggage rack and original old schwinn bell.
    Bob

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  24. I forgot to mention this bike is a 6 speed.
    Bob

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  25. Hi Bob, there should be a serial number on the head tube, below the head badge, or depending on age, on the badge itself. Failing that, try the left rear dropout or the bottom of the bottom bracket. Here's a site with all you should need once you've got the number:

    http://www.bunchobikes.com/serialnumber2.htm

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  26. PS--Bob, I'd love to see a photo, if you have one handy. You can send it as an email attachment by clicking the About/Contact Me at right.

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  27. Thanks Thom, I sent you a couple pics. The bike is a 74 and a 5 speed not 6 as mentioned above.
    Bob

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  28. Bob/ Thom,
    I would like to see those pictures as well if that's okay? I recently bought a 5-speed with a similar description. I think some parts have been changed with the one I got..the seat is made of white rubber that's made to look like sewn leather. It does have the Shimano Eagle rear derailleur which would make me think it is a bike from the 70's and not a repro. But not sure of exact model/year and make because there are no decals, I will check the dropout like you suggested later.

    I love this blog! Thanks! :)

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  29. I have a girl's Suburban bike which I bought at Aurora Cycle when I graduated from highschool in 1970. It was great for my college years and I rode it until I had babies to haul around (6). My husband cannibalized it for parts a few times and now almost 40 years later I decided to take it in for an overhaul. I spent $100 at a good bike shop for a "tuneup." However it does not stay in gear very well. Do you have any suggestions on what might need to be replaced?

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  30. Just got two Suburbans, tricked out and ready to ride at an estate sale for $50.00. Both a girls and boys bike with spring seats, front and rear lights, speedometer, and bell. They are awesome! The only thing I worry about is that I am 210 lbs and my husband is 260 lbs. When I look at those skinny tires, I get goose bumps. I am going to go through your website for more information. Thanks for making this website I'm sure it is going to really help us out.

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  31. I found a Mans Surburban think its a mid '70s. needs restoring, but tires will make it usable.

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  32. Where do you get tires for the Suburban? The two bikes I got at the estate sale, well, the tires shredded on the first outing. We had rubber dropping off as we peddled. LOL We were looking this weekend at the department and sporting goods stores for tires, but no luck. We are hesitant to go to a bike shop as the prices would probably be high. Any help would be appreciated.

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  33. Go to a bike shop. That's what they're for.

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  34. Thom I have the same bike, but mine has a light beetween the hanle bars. Same shape as when you fisrt got yours and my daughter, 14, wants me to refurbish it for her, but its a mens bike.

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  35. I have this bike! Only mine is blue. Got mine for $10 at an auction last summer, but had to replace all of the cables. Unfortunately, I removed the positron cable before realizing I needed a special cable for it (right hand side gear shifter). Would you mind taking and sending me some pictures of that cable...possibly even taking it apart and showing me what goes where? I have the right cable now, but...
    I tried to figure it out myself, ended up bending the cable too much, and broke it. Luckily, I had the backup from the old cable. I don't want to chance it on this one though--it's my last chance, and I don't want to have to buy another cable only to break yet another after another. I would greatly appreciate if you could send pics that might help me out to k.ann.hillmann@gmail.com if you still have this bike

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  36. Hi Thom, I just picked up two schwinn suburbans from a neighbor cleaning out his garage. I got a mens and a womens bike. They are both kind of a rootbeer brown. I checked the serials on them and determined the ladies bike is a 1970 and the mens is a 1973. These bikes have been carefully stored in the attic! I'm not sure if they're all original, but that would be my guess. I don't know if they'll need much more than tires. I'm looking forward to reading your blog. Thanks! ~Scott

    Here is a photo...

    http://img18.imageshack.us/i/photozif.jpg/

    Scott.Kirksey@gmail.com

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