1973 Schwinn Varsity Road Bike - Orange

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - side view
If the wall falls, orange crush

It's not hard for me to recognize a vintage bicycle's potential beneath a 30-year crust of dirt, dust, cobwebs, oxidation and rust. And this gorgeous orange 1973 Schwinn Varsity road bike was a perfect example of beauty under filth.

But mine is the eye of an experienced bike hunter, and not everybody shares my enthusiasm for the obvious evidence of a bike's "life experience". So I knew that in order to send the Varsity on its way, I needed to bring it out of its garage-fresh state and give it some visual appeal.


(Be sure to check compatibility before ordering parts for your vintage road bike.)
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - dirty - distant side view
SOmeone needs to do some "repointing"

First I had to see what I was working with. The 1973 Schwinn Varsity is a heavy road bike, built in Chicago. It has a steel frame, fork, stem, handlebars, rims, cranks, sprockets and seat post. Most of the parts are "Schwinn Approved": the Comfort Form vinyl saddle, high-flange alloy hubs, front and rear derailleurs, alloy brake levers, and type LS 2.4 brakes all bear the Schwinn Approved mark.

It also came from the factory with bright orange paint and matching orange vinyl handlebar tape. The paint was scratched and worn perfectly, and the tape showed just enough tears to add character.

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - dirty - side view
Unclean machine

The Varsity had the usual little touches that made it stand out. A chrome cap on the fork crown. Classic Schwinn flat-blade forks with pinstriping on the fork legs. Headset-mounted tall "S" stem shifters. Big chrome pie plates on the front and rear sprockets.

Time and poor storage had given this Schwinn Varsity a thick layer of grime and surface rust. I thought it looked fantastic. Most buyers wouldn't. The tires were worn out, the chain was rusted stiff, and the brake and derailleur cables were old and rusty.

Regardless of my aesthetic sensibilities, these parts needed to be replaced. I don't find it cost-effective to install new parts myself, so I usually leave that stuff up to the new owner. But there wasn't going to be a new owner until this Schwinn got a makeover.

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - dirty - front angle view
I like it like this

And so began the process of turning this forgotten fruit into a juicy orange, which started with the removal of everything I couldn't salvage. First, the rusted-solid chain. When a chain is this old, you can cut the link plates with wire cutters, but I have a Park professional chain tool, so I used it.

The heavily pitted front pie plate was next to go. The sprocket bolts hold the pie plate, and it's not a great idea to take out all of the bolts at once. So I removed one bolt, bent the pie plate away from the bolt hole, then reinstalled the bolt. Four bolts later, the pie plate was history, and the sprocket never knew the difference.

Finally, a 9/16" wrench (or socket?) on the seat post clamp nut let me pull the seat and post out of the frame and get rid of that old chain and lock. I probably kept the chain. I like chain.

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - dirty - front view
Wash hands and change pants after riding

With the useless parts out of the way, it was time for a bath, so I pulled out my hose and bucket and got to work. First I sprayed citrus cleaner on the brakes, sprockets, derailleurs, headset and bottom bracket, let it soak for a while, and hosed it off with high pressure water. This was good enough to remove all but the most stubborn grease.

Next I used a sponge to clean the seat, frame, fork and handlebars, a stiff nylon brush on the rims and tires, and a brass brush for the heavier rust and grime on the sprockets, stem and derailleurs. Finally I used the hose to rinse the Schwinn thoroughly, and an old towel to dry the major parts.

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - front angle view
Sunkist ain't got nothing on this Varsity

The finished product? A clean 1973 Schwinn Varsity. It still showed its age. The paint was still scratched, the handlebar tape was still torn, and the worn parts still needed to be replaced. The chrome was pitted, and I missed a few spots of rust.

In other words, this Schwinn maintained its character, but with its shiny chrome, glowing orange paint, grime-free handlebar tape and a clean vinyl saddle that wouldn't mar even the whitest pair of Levi's, it finally looked good enough to sell.

Scroll down for more "after" photos.

1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - front end
No need for hand sanitizer now

(Be sure to check compatibility before ordering parts for your vintage road bike.)
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - head tube and handlebar tape
Torn tape adds character
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - side handlebar view
Orange, orange, orange
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - seat - rear view
You could eat off of this thing
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - stem and shifters
At least the bricks are in focus
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - seat - side view
Classic Schwinn seat stay junction
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - frame decals
Schwinn Varsity

(Be sure to check compatibility before ordering parts for your vintage road bike.)
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - front brake and fork crown
Schwinn Approved type LS 2.4 brakes
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - seat tube
Wilson's Cycle(ry?), probably defunct
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - front hub
Schwinn Approved high-flange front hub
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - front derailleur
Oops...I missed some rust
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - crank and sprockets
Pie plate? What pie plate?
1973 schwinn varsity road bike - orange - rear derailleur
Chain? What chain?