Sting-Ray bike creator dies at 88

RIP Al Fritz, inventor of the Schwinn Sting-Ray.

For much of the 1960s and the early 1970s, no suburban streetscape would have been complete without them: A squadron of kids clutching sky-high handlebars on low-slung bikes in eye-popping, hot-rod colors.

Equipped with a curved banana seat, the Schwinn Sting-Ray was America's most popular bicycle. Its godfather, Schwinn executive Al Fritz, became known as an industry visionary for transforming a Southern California street fad into a national phenomenon.

"It looked incredibly sporty," said his son Mike Fritz, a bicycle industry consultant who lives in Newbury Park. "It gave kids too young to have a driver's license the opportunity to have the Corvette of bicycles."

Fritz, the Chicago-based Schwinn manager who heeded a salesman's tip that "something goofy is happening in California," died Tuesday in Barrington, Ill., of complications caused by a stroke, family members said. He was 88.

Al Fritz dies at 88; Schwinn exec developed the Sting-Ray bike (Thanks, Bob!)


        1. That model in your picture is the Schwinn Fastback Sting-Ray. I don’t remember any of them being called  “bomber”. My friend had a blue fastback and it just said “Fastback” on the chain guard.

  1. I had a Sears knock-off of the Sting Ray. It was unusual for me, owning something vaguely cool.

    I got some pretty good use out of it. Then the malignant dickhead who lived across the street threw a stick through the wheel and busted three of the spokes. I never had it fixed, and it rusted away on the side of the house.

  2. “It looked incredibly sporty”

    How the hell did the least aerodynamic, slowest posture possible on a bike become associated with sport?  What sport are we talking about here?

    1. The sport of bicycle riding for KIDS, not olympic riders. Coolest bike ever. (The Chopper as well) I remember finding one in the town dump in the early 80s when i was a kidling (best dumpster diving prize evah!). Rode the hell out of it for years.

      1.  My best dumpster prize was a complete Old Town Canoe with a big hole in it.  All it needed was a little TLC, Kevlar, and epoxy. 

    2. +1 ‘sporty’ is a diametrically wrong choice of adjective.

      A bike can’t be actually sporty unless the bars are lower than the seat.

  3. Where I grew up I think the only ‘cool’ kind of bike you could get was a Raleigh Chopper. So this is like Raleigh’s knock-off of the Sting-Ray?:

    1.  Yup. I actually had a Schwinn, and got picked on for not having the Chopper. Go figure…

      1. The adults in my life were determined that I should have a bicycle. I wanted a blender instead.

  4. I did mandatory road safety training for cycling at primary school. The owners of these kinds of bikes, and the truly awful British Raleigh Chopper knock-off basically all got failed because the testers hated them, and set up the traffic cone slalom tight enough they couldn’t do it.

  5. It never occurred to me until just now that the name of Huffy’s ‘Thunder Road’ bike from 1977 was probably inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s 1976 song.

  6. I remember riding mine wrapped in red-white-n-blue crepe paper in our little town’s 1976 parade…  (I’m sure that mine was a knock-off)

  7. I had one of those. Got in in 1965 if I recall correctly. I learned to ride on it and crashed it into the side of the elementary school when I realized my Dad wasn’t holding on any more.

  8. I got the knock-off Mustang that was definitely not a genuine Schwinn. It has scarred me for life. That would have been around 1965.

    It is funny to think this was a response to the benign tough guy image of motorcycles of the time. The cool kids extended the forks to make choppers and eventually the manufacturer and after market people came out with accessories to chop your bike including the high back rest. It really took another generation for the changes to be more than decorative.

    1. Chopping a Stingray took three steps: extend the front forks; lower the banana seat on its back mount to make a sissy bar; tilt the handlebars back so you could reach them from the lowered seat. I don’t remember consciously wanting to emulate the Hell’s Angels as a little kid, yet that’s what we were all doing. I can only wonder how many weekend Harley hoggers got their start this way. Or what our parents thought of it all.

      1. Compared to the depiction of any violence at all today. The Angels of 1960s movies and TV were pretty tame. That is what I meant.

  9. Does he also get credit for creating the direct ancestor of BMX bikes ? Because that’s a bigger cultural achievement than the bike itself. 

    Those old Schwinn lug frames were tough!

    “………BMX began in the early 1970s when children began racing their bicycles on dirt tracks in southern California, inspired by the motocross stars of the time. The size and availability of the Schwinn Sting-Ray and other wheelie bikes
    made them the natural bike of choice for these races, since they were
    easily customized for better handling and performance. BMX racing was a
    phenomenon by the mid-1970s……”

  10. How about A squadron of kids clutching their nuts after sliding off those slick banana seats and hitting those shift levers with their family jewels?

    /always wanted one
    //had to ride a practical paperboy bike instead

  11. I still miss my sting ray.  Royal blue metal flake and patriotic streamers off the handlebars because it was 1976 when I got it (almost identical to the one in this picture).  I didn’t have another bike that I really liked until 1995 when I bought the Gary Fischer that I still have.

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