Goodbye Paramount, It’s Been Steel

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Schwinn Paramount

Today it’s time to say goodbye to an old friend — my beloved Schwinn Paramount. My Schwinn Paramount was the first real racing bike I ever owned. It was also my first custom made bicycle. I ordered the Paramount in the summer of 1989 while working in sales at the Schwinn bicycle company in Chicago between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I had joined the Purdue cycling team my freshman year and quickly realized that I needed a more serious setup than the entry level bike I had been riding, a Schwinn Aluminum model 754. I really liked the look of my Schwinn aluminum bike, a white frame with simple black decals, so when I ordered the custom Paramount I requested the same color scheme.

I still recall the looks of awe from my fellow Schwinn employees the day the frame arrived from Waterford, Wisconsin, the location of the old Schwinn Paramount factory. “It looks…fast. It looks fast standing still. It’s so clean. Amazing.” My manager at the time, Al Gapinski, wouldn’t let me take the frame home insisting that he hang it on the wall for customers to see before the parts arrived the following week when we would build it into a complete bike. It was indeed one of the best looking Paramount frames any of us had ever seen. I also recall the mix of complements and looks of envy from my Purdue teammates when I showed up the first week of practice with the new bike sophomore year. At that point I felt like a real cyclist. The bike seemed to ride as fast as it looked and my cycling improved dramatically that year.

I enjoyed the bike so much that I continued to ride it long after lighter and more high-tech bikes entered the market. After fifteen seasons of great riding, about ten years longer than any light steel racing frame should last, the frame finally broke during the bike leg of the Sentinel Triathlon in Santa Cruz, California. Notice the near complete tear in the downtube three letter spaces from the last “N” in Schwinn.

At that point I purchased a current flyweight carbon fiber bike but I held on to the Paramount frame thinking that just maybe I could take advantage of Schwinn’s old lifetime warranty. I knew it was highly unlikely since the Schwinn company has changed hands several times since 1989 and the “Paramount” name only exists as a Schwinn trademark at this point; Schwinn no longer makes custom handmade bicycles or anything close to the old Paramounts. Real Schwinn Paramounts were some of the highest quality bikes ever made and for decades were manufactured at at Schwinn factory in Chicago, then a newer factory in Waterford, Wisconsin. Schwinn bikes have a race pedigree dating back to 1895 including the first six-day races held in the United States before baseball became the new national pastime. The first Schwinn Paramount was introduced in 1938. On the other end, my frame is a few years away from being one of the last Schwinn Paramounts ever manufactured. When Schwinn was acquired by the Scott company, Schwinn was moved to Boulder, Colorado and the Paramount factory was sold to Richard Schwinn and was renamed Waterford Precision Cycles.

After a bit of spring cleaning, I finally decided that it was time to do something with the Paramount. I looked up the Waterford website, picked up the phone, and asked for Richard Schwinn, one of the modern day Schwinn’s. I was surprised that it was Richard who answered. I said, “Hi Richard, it’s Brian McNitt. I…”. Richard cut me off right away saying that he knew that name. I explained that I used to work at Schwinn long ago and he began to remember me (or at the very least pretended to) which made me feel good. I took a tour of the Waterford factory in 1989 before ordering my frame; amazing that he would remember that. We talked for awhile about bikes. how I made the leap from the bicycle industry to web technology a number of years ago and other things. Richard was super nice. He explained that, of course, the current Schwinn company no longer honors the lifetime warranty on the old Paramounts, something Richard has no control over, but he did offer to replace my Paramount with a new Waterford frame at a very very good price.

I honestly don’t think I need a new steel bike at this point but it was great to bring some closure to the experience of owning the Paramount — the freedom, health and joy that bike brought me for so many years. Today, the frame goes to the curb, or a perhaps friend who has the space and interest in preserving it for historical reasons. In Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, you get the sense that Lance has owned hundreds of bikes. Interestingly, the only bike he actually names and remembers fondly is his Schwinn Paramount. Perhaps it too will be my Rosebud. Goodbye, old friend.