Rebuilding a Schwinn Varsity

Monday, Aug 24. 2009  –  Category: Musings

Ever since getting a 2009 Schwinn Fastback roadbike for a new recreational hobby, I’ve been wanting to learn more about the mechanics of bikes.. mostly so I can learn how to work on one myself to better do some of my own maintenance.

Working with software for so long made me forget the joy of simple pleasures like turning a wrench and getting your hands dirty.

Anyway, rather than destroy my brand new bike, I decided to destroy and old bike instead… a neighbour of mine had an old 1971 Schwinn Varsity sitting out (who knows for how long) who was kind enough to donate it to the cause.

Originally this came as a Kool Lemon 10 speed. I took a bunch of before photos. All the components on it were stock.. and rusty.

In the weeks since I’ve stripped everything off its frame.. with the goal of rebuilding it into a single-speed commute bike to ride to work on. (Mostly because I don’t want to deal with the complexity of a geared bike as my first rebuild). I bought new wheels, tires, tubes, hub, crankset, bottom bracket, chain, pedals, toeclips, saddle, seatpost, stem, bars, and brakes…in other words, every thing except the frame, fork and headset.

I picked up some random no name black race wheels off of eBay, with tires, tubes, and a flip/flop single-speed/fixed hub and cog set. This past weekend I threw the old one piece crank on (stripped down to just the original inner 39t chainring), with the original chain but with the new wheels to see how it rode as a single speed (albeit with no brakes, which made things…. interesting).

Here’s some photos of how it looks as a single-speed with the new rims.

Finding new parts for this has been an interesting challenge. Many of the sizes/specs used by Schwinn 38 years ago are different now. Also, the bike originally was a 37 pound beast. I’ve been attempting to strip and replace many of the heavier parts.

Finding a quill stem has been the most difficult. The original was a 21.1mm steel monstrosity that’s heavy enough to do some serious damage as a weapon. I ended up finding an equally old (mid-70′s) Schwinn Continental stem which had the exact same diameter, and dive angle – but made of aluminum for some considerable weight savings.

Taking off the kickstand saved 1.1 pounds. !!! Seriously.

The cranks + bottom bracket was also interesting… the bike originally had an old BMX style bottom bracket size with an old school one piece crank. I had a helluva time finding a bottom bracket adapter to convert it to the new Euro style 68mm bottom bracket, but ended up finding one after about a week and a half of searching. It’s awaiting a new Pake 44t + 165m crankset slated to arrive next week.

The rest of the components should be arriving this week or next week, I’m really looking forward to getting it all together and riding it for its first real ride. My test ride yesterday worked well, but stopping with no brakes on a hill involved me running into my empty garbage cans which worked but isn’t really a scalable solution.. :)

Can’t wait to get this puppy all together..

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16 Comments to “Rebuilding a Schwinn Varsity”

  1. Scott Beardsley Says:

    FYI, your seat post hardware is on backwards. It makes your seat look a bit strange.

  2. Stephen Lau Says:

    Yeah – the whole seat itself is a mess. The saddle is all fubar’d, and the clamp is rusted shut… I’m not even bothering with it since the new seatpost + clamp + saddle are arriving this week :)

  3. Owen Says:

    Those seatposts are such a pain to find :( I’ve been working on my varsity for a few months now on and off. I’m hoping to get a new crankset and such soon. Looks good, have fun :D

  4. Eric Says:

    Back in Feb. I bought a 72 Varsity at Goodwill for $25. I overhauled the wheels, gave the ship new rubber and cables, cleaned/lubed the chain and derailleurs and have got myself a sweet machine. I commute a total of 21 miles 5 days per week on it, and rode 65 miles one fin day in July for the Tour De Cure (benefitting diabetes). Recently I scored some original chrome varsity fenders off craigslist, which is good because this is the rainy season.

    Next time you lay your hands on a sweet old 10-speed, keep the gears. These old units are not hard to work on, it is only these crazy modern ‘indexed’ shifters that are difficult.

  5. kc Says:

    did you guys buy new aluminum rims? what about the seat post isn’t it a diff size then the older one? curious what parts you used/found…i’m playing with my varsity and having trouble. tks

  6. Alex Says:

    Hey, I was looking into that same wheelset. I found it for 130 on a different site than ebay. How much did you pay for it? Also, if you don’t mind me asking, how much did you pay total for all those parts? Would you say this is a worthwhile conversion?

  7. Stephen Lau Says:

    @Alex: I believe mine was $99 + shipping… came out to around $115 or $120 total.

  8. Alex Says:

    Is that wheelset nice? I’m considering buying it.

  9. Stephen Lau Says:

    @Alex: Yup, I only use it as a commute wheelset, so can’t speak to its worth for serious road-riding. Dunno how durable the tires/tubes are (the rubber is Chaoyang), but it’s seemed to hold up on my commute ride so far.

  10. JOHN Says:

    Just got two Schwinn Varsity ten speeds for free.How do you know what year they are?

  11. Jacob Says:

    What size are those wheels, the s-6 thing is really confusing me and i want to get new ones

  12. Stephen Lau Says:

    They’re 700C wheels.

  13. matt Says:

    Also curious about where you found the new seatpost.

    Did you purchase a new stem/handlebars?

  14. Stephen Lau Says:

    @matt: I found an old Schwinn Continental stem which fit the non-standard 21.1mm size quill required. Got a pair of bullhorn bars which fit it nicely.

    I got a Wald 13/16 seatpost off of Amazon pretty cheap which worked nicely with my Brooks B17 saddle.

  15. matt Says:

    thank you for the reply and measurements.

  16. Rafael Says:

    Updated pics??? Did yours come with a leather fuji saddle? I just picked up a 71 varsity and found a fuji leather saddle under a rubber schwinn seat cover I’m wondering if this is standard

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