Readers’ Rides: Grant from Cowichan Cycles’ 1941 Schwinn Cruiser


Readers’ Rides: Grant from Cowichan Cycles’ 1941 Schwinn Cruiser

Inspired by the recent cruisers being posted here, Grant from Cowichan Cycles sent in his 1941 Schwinn Cruiser build, along with some stellar photos for this week’s Readers’ Rides. Check out more below!

The objective of this blog-style format is to open up conversations and have objective and casual discussions about what we use and why we use it. Hopefully, this comes across more like a genuine conversation with a friend over a coffee or beer than a sales pitch or corporate product launch. Yes, we sell bikes and components, but at the end of the day, we are all just bike enthusiasts that are on the hunt for products that speak to us. Not every bike is decision must be 100% performance based and we value charm and aesthetic just like we appreciate performance and reliability. This first “staff rides” piece should serve as a great Segway into the unique process that is bike building.

2020 saw one of the most unique years in bike industry history. When news first started looming of a global virus that was shutting down economies, the bike industry quickly began hunkering down for a famine. Shops canceled their orders and manufacturers scaled back on production. Everyone put on their strongest faces but there was an industry-wide uncertainty and a very real fear that this virus could bring widespread bankruptcy for smaller brands. However, it only took about two weeks time before it became apparent that things were going to go a different direction for the bike world. While gyms closed and travel became impossible, people turned to cycling like the industry has never seen before. Demand was at an all-time high, production was limited, and standard business logistics became vastly more complicated. Ultimately, this meant that demand far outweighed supply and both complete bikes and components were near impossible to source.

As a bike shop owner, much of the joy I get from cycling often comes from experimenting with new products. This becomes especially true the less I am able to ride. Our shop was so busy over the last year that I found myself with far less time and energy to get out on the trails. That, on top of product shortages, meant I have been itching to get my hands on some sort of bike-related project.

2020 also saw me spiral down the rabbit hole of custom frame building. There is something very appealing about a handmade bicycle and the way that these bespoke frames often break away from the norm with unique shapes and styling. It was during this hunt that I stumbled upon Mone Bikes. Mone builds some stunning handmade frames and components, but it was his rebuild of a 1962 Schwinn twin bar that tipped me over from a casual fan to completely obsessed. This thing was too cool, hacked up rear end for shorter stays, beautiful gold brass gobs of brazing at all the key joints, handmade parts galore, tan minions…I was in love.

My custom frame obsession veered into the world of Klunkers which in turn brought on a history lesson of the birth of mountain biking. When people first started riding off-road, there were no official bikes designed to do so. In the 1970’s, the pioneers of the sport (including Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze, and Gary Fisher—to name a few) started buying up classic cruisers from the 1940’s and modifying them with various moto parts and hacked together upgrades. They then took to the hills of Marin county where they bombed fire roads and all kinds of other shenanigans. These 1940’s klunker bikes became some of the first “mountain bikes” and under these legendary pilots, the MTB was born.

Too cool. A little custom bike obsession and some historical inspiration later, and I was browsing the Classic Antique Bicycle Enthusiasts (CABE) forum on the hunt for my ideal Klunker. After a month or two of looking, I found a 1941 Schwinn that looked the part. After some more investigation, it turns out the same model sits in the Marin Mountain Bike Museum as one of the original klunkers. I was sold. It is here that this bike check begins.

Frame: 1941 Schwinn. Made in Chicago. Original paint. 100% rad.

Fork: Basic rigid dirtjumper fork. I believe the brand is Dimension. To be honest, I was not too picky about the fork on this build. I wanted it to be a neutral aesthetic so as not to distract from the frame. I also like that it has a bit of a BMX vibe but otherwise, the exact model wasn’t very important to me. The real magic is in the headset.

Headset: The original fork/headset was a 1” threaded set up. Not overly common these days and I despise quill stems. I get it for classic road builds and appreciate the elegance and simplicity, but when you bring wide bars into the picture, the flex is just way too unsettling. They are also prone to slipping. I was very close to purchasing an S&M BMX quill stem that had an oversized handlebar interface and an extra long wedge at the base of the quill. It was only when Cjell at Mone mentioned that he had a 1 1/8th headset that was turned down on a lathe that I changed directions. The original fork sketched me out anyway, and it didn’t take any convincing to get me away from that terrible quill stem interface. Classic silver FSA headset turned down to fit with a 1 1/8” steer and I was in business!

Bars: I love the smooth joints on these old frames. This is produced by brazing as opposed to welding. For those that don’t know, welding is the process of melting two pieces of metal together so that they become one at the joint. Brazing is more like glue, where an additional material is introduced and melted into the cracks. In brazing, the original material is not actually melted, and it is just the filler material that melts around the joint. The addition of extra material with brazing makes for more curved joints. I wanted the handlebar to be brazed to match the frame. I am also a sucker for those beautiful gobs of brass. As Mone Bikes was a big portion of the inspiration for this project, it was only fitting that his “Meal Replacement” bar was bolted to the front of the bike.

Stem: Nothing exciting here. This was a Haro stem that we had sitting in a bin at the back of the shop. Part of me wanted something cooler but a big part of the klunker charm is using what you have. It is that chop-shop type mentality that makes these things so unique. Stem stays for now…

Grips: Super long Eclait BMX grips. This is the first pair of bars I’ve had that didn’t have anything mounted to them. I figured it made sense to try out extra massive BMX grips just because I could. The brown is the wrong shade which annoys me, but, once again, it’s a chop-shop klunker. The grips can stay until I shred them. Probably go classic black at that point.

Seatpost, seat and “dropper”: When Cjell at Mone was putting together my order, he also offered to make me a seatpost. These classic bikes run a tiny little seatpost and finding a seat clamp topper to fit them is near impossible. Cjell whipped me up one that fits the frame, has enough extension, and fits a standard seat clamp. Up top it had to be a Brooks seat. A used one to be exact. The Brooks B17 has been in production for around 100 years. It fits the period and looks the part. I bought this used because they were out of stock though our suppliers (surprise surprise). I actually like the fact that it has some battle scars. A fresh leather saddle would have probably been a distraction on this bike. Finally, I had to have a hiterite. This funny little coil behind the seat was the original dropper post. You still have to use the quick release, but it keeps the seat mostly straight and brings it back to the exact right height after raising it. The hiterite was also designed by Joe Breeze who was one of those original MTB pioneers back in Marin County. It seemed fitting to have one on this project. Unfortunately, this product was designed years after the guys were running these 1940’s bikes and it works best on a 27.2 seatpost. This meant the clamp was far to big for this pinner little guy. I tried to make a few shims but eventually found out that an old 27.2 seatpost cut off was the ideal shim. The outer diameter of course was 27.2 and fit the heightirite perfectly. I cut a vertical slit through it so that it could flex when clamped and the tolerances were close enough that it grabbed the seatpost tight enough to hold its position. Bingo.

Cranks: Another creative project was getting these cranks to work. I already knew that I needed an American to English threaded bb adapter, which was simple enough to source and install. The real project began when I decided I wanted to try and run an old set of Shimano XTR M952 cranks that were gifted to me by my friend Al at Berg Bikes. Al had given up on these cranks because the rings were worn out and they run a proprietary BCD with no replacements currently being manufactured. After a little research, I found out that the spider on these cranks is the same interface as the XT M750 cranks from the same generation, which run a common 104 BCD. $35 USD later and I had a beat down set on order from EBAY. I was able to swap the XT spider to the XTR cranks so that I could bolt up a 32t basic MRP single speed chainring that we had collecting dust in the shop, as it wasn’t up to today’s narrow wide standards.

Wheels: The wheels were the final piece to this puzzle and are a big part of the charm. The front rim is a 32h Sun Rims MTX. Classic, tough and removable decals for that stealthy look. It is laced to a beautiful made-in-USA Paul hub that I had purchased for another project. I wasn’t able to run it before, as I glanced over the fact that it had no disc brake mounts. No issue here, as this bike is coaster brake for life. This brings us to the rear wheel. 36h Sun Rims MTX but this time laced to another Mone masterpiece. The hub is based off a classic made-in-Japan Shimano CB-E110, but it has an upgraded chromoly axle, heat resistant grease, and a bunch of other internal tinkering for optimized klunking. The crown jewel however is Mone’s badass coaster cooler. Big old fins, lightning bolt cutaway’s, and unofficial entry into the nonexistent club of klunk elitism. I have no idea how much this helps with cooling, but it was another “must have” on my list for this bike; even if the only advantage is in style points. Yes, I am a sucker. Finally, the bike is running on Schwalbe Hans Dampf rubber. Ironically, this isn’t a tire we stock or sell much of in store, but it has a soft spot in my heart. The lugs are square and have nice hard edges front and rear which means they should dig in well when climbing under high torque single speed loads, as well as offer good braking edges for that near-zero modulation coaster brake. Finally, they have a very round profile which means they will break into a drift easily without loosing predictably as you continue to lean the bike over. Hopefully this will help me in achieving some of those epic 1970’s repack drifts.

In conclusion, it’s heavy, hard as hell to ride, but damn if it isn’t one of the coolest bikes in my fleet. The final step was to channel the essence of 1970’s bike hippy and get to skidding. I stole some old blue jeans from my dad, grabbed some leather boots and gloves and got to spraying dirt! Skids are for kids… And Klunkers.

Ps. Wear your helmet kids. This shoot was for historical re-enactment purposes and riding without a lid is for dummies. #dontfakethefunkonanastyklunk #klunkinainteasy.

Photos Provided by Rob Wilson Photography

We’d like to thank all of you who have submitted Readers Rides builds to be shared over here. The response has been incredible and we have so many to share over the next few months. Feel free to submit your bike, listing details, components, and other information. You can also include a portrait of yourself with your bike and your Instagram account! Please, shoot landscape-orientation photos, not portrait. Thanks!