Introduced in 1963, the original Schwinn Sting-Ray changed the world of bikes forever. By 1968, its design dominated bike sales. In that year alone, 70% of all bikes sold in America were either Sting-Rays or Sting-Ray knock-offs.
Like most great product ideas, the original Sting-Ray was born from the streets. In the early '60s, muscle cars and motorbikes were all the rage. Kids on the West Coast picked up on this trend, building their own "wheels" from used bike frames retrofitted with customized parts. West Coast kids were especially into dragster embellishments like "Ape Hanger" handlebars and low-rider banana seats.
In 1962, a young Schwinn engineer named Al Fritz got wind of this growing trend. On a tip from a friend, he decided to journey to California to see these crazy, tricked-out bikes for himself. Inspired by what he saw, he set out to create a bike that not only looked like the newest West Coast creations, but also lent itself to customization, enabling kids to trick out their wheels just as older kids were customizing their hot rods and choppers. After scanning the dictionary for just the right name, he christened his new bike the Sting-Ray, after the winged creature of the sea.
The first Schwinn Sting-Ray (code named the J-38) went on sale in 1963 -- and received a very mixed response. The bike drew resistance from adults who thought the design was "weird" or "ugly." But the true connoisseurs of cool -- the kids -- couldn't get enough of the new customized creations. Priced at a hefty $49.95, Schwinn sold over 40,000 Sting-Rays in 1963 alone. They would have sold more if the company hadn't run out of 20-inch tires.
For more than a decade the Schwinn Sting-Ray dominated the streets and alleys of America. Every year, new colors and styles were introduced. The first girl's Sting-Ray, the famous Fair Lady model, was released in 1964. With its pastel paint job and signature floral basket, the Fair Lady was an instant hit -- so much so that Seinfeld paid homage to it in an episode over three decades later.
Perhaps the most famous model of Sting-Ray was, and is, the Krate. Distinguished by its hot rod colors, small 16-inch front wheel, fat rear tire, rear shock, springer front end, and infamous Stik-Shift, the Krate series was by far the most tricked-out Sting-Ray ever created. It hit the market in 1968, priced between $86.95 and $129.95. Between 1968 and 1970, Schwinn sold over one million Krates, transforming it into a pop culture icon. Then in 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the Krate's signature Stik-Shift, essentially ending the life of the bike.
While the Sting-Ray era may have ended with the birth of BMX, the popularity of the classic Sting-Ray has never faded. If you happen to have an Orange Krate, Apple Krate, Pea Picker or Grey Ghost in the garage, you are probably sitting on a small fortune. Krates in mint condition are commonly sold for upwards of $2,000.