The Original Two-Wheel 1980s Wraith
The Schwinn Stingray was the ride of choice in the United States Ghettos
Do kids even want bikes anymore?
Because for us, that was the first status symbol. We ain’t care about clothes. We ain’t care about shoes. What was important to us, the way we stood out was having a nice bike.
The paint job, the rims, how you funked it up, all of those things were how you set yourself a part. Some people bought em. Some people stole em. However we got em, the bicycle was the first ghetto currency.
There were all kinds of bikes…but the Schwinn Stingray…that was the first status symbol.
This is actually where it started.
The Green Machine was the ride that every kindergartener wanted. The Big Wheel was first, no doubt. I had one. But once we saw the commercial for The Green Machine no other ride would do.
I don’t know if it was the focus on the levers or the fact that the commercial made it look like a legitimate race between kids riding Green Machines…no…it’s the spin out, the half drift, skid technique. That’s what sold us.
But every child must grow up — grow beyond the age of tricycle equivalents and make their way to a true bicycle — one with training wheels, but a bicycle nonetheless.
I don’t remember the first bike I had.
I do remember getting the training wheels taken off while visiting my grandparents in Edgefield, SC and riding directly into a table in the back of the house, stirring up the family chickens and being the laughing stock of my older cousins.
I also remember the bike that my older brother Ade got. He got him a yellow Schwinn Stingray — sparkle paint job, banana seat dopeness — we just ain’t know it was cool. We were also naive.
Growing up on an Air Force Base means you always feel safe. Hell, you need ID just to get into the barb wired area, it’s self-contained, and everyone is there for the same reason. It was nothing for us to leave our bicycles outside the house overnight.
Man, we tried that shit when we moved to Park Hill, the first night we left them jawns in the garage, they were gone (Fontaine Swann, our resident hood guide, told us years later that they stole em, took em for a joy ride, and ditched them on the side of the highway).
Ade never got another bicycle and I ain’t get one for another five years — which is twenty years in kid time — but we saw all types of kids riding bikes like Ade’s, most notably, Aiyetoro KMT.
Aiyetoro’s Schwinn exemplified the Stingray culture in our and other hoods and his was the nicest on our block. If Ade had the base model Schwinn, Aiyetoro had the options-packed version.
This is what that equaled:
Reflectors. Not one. Not two. Eight a wheel. Either multiple colors — like blue and red — or all one color like a solid block of eight white reflectors.
Mirrors. Again, one wouldn’t do. Two was the minimum. But if you get two on each handle bar, that was ideal.
Flags. Everyone ain’t do it. But it was cool when we saw that long flag, often orange, flying back off that banana seat…yeah that was fly.
Caps. The standard bicycle valve cap is black. But one of the first petty crimes that were committed changed that. We recognized that some cars had chrome caps and felt that it would look best on our bikes.
Every detail mattered.
We used to think that when folk had that small front wheel that was customization too. I ain’t learn that was a separate model until recently…like an hour ago.
We knew people by their bike. You could look a half a block away and based on color of bike and reflectors, we could say, “there go Demetrius” who would likely be setting neighborhood wheelie records or we know which blocks had the closest competition for Aiyetoro.
Even as dirt bikes became the wave, were chromed out, got mags, got pegs, and Diamondback/Mongoose/BMX rose up in the community as name brands, the Schwinn held on to its place. As late as 86, I recall rolling with Aiyetoro to get some accessories for his Stingray.
When we mentioned here that people would hook up homemade stereo systems to their bike, they were doing so to their Schwinn Stingrays.
Bicycle culture was like every other culture for us at that time — it was totally hands on. Flipping the bike over to its handle bars and seat, the first step. We fixed our flats, adjusted our seats, changed the pedals, whatever needed to be done, we did it. No adults showed us how.
No one determined that the Schwinn Stingray would be the bike of choice. We did. But there was no stock in standardization, only originality.
The great thing about growing up in that era was that the things that we desired were attainable and, as we got older, if we did some type of chore or took some type of neighborhood job, we could earn that money ourselves. I bought a dirtbike, a Huffy, with money from doing characters and people’s name in graf (to be air brushed on their sweats or jackets), fixing cassettes, and saved lunch money.
Even as we matured to adulthood the cars that we wanted: the Escorts, Jettas, Wranglers, and Samurais, they were all affordable. Price isn’t what determined if something was good or not.
And that’s why the Schwinn was our Wraith, the most desired, most respected ride that a pre-teen could have.
Some would call this waxing nostalgic. I call it waxing realistic, waxing practical. Ain’t nothing wrong with a seven year old knowing the ends and outs of a $300,000 dollar car and having posters on the wall of said car, but if he or she doesn’t still have a culture that exists in a world that is specific to their age group…it’s a problem.
But it’s not a problem that we had.