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Friday, September 1, 2017

It's not just me: This bicycle is an 'English Racer'

What do you call this variety of bicycle?
Departing from Royal Enfield motorcycles for a moment, allow me to make a point of possible interest to the Dictionary of American-Speak.

The battered Schwinn lady's bicycle shown here is what I grew up calling an "English Racer."

I've since learned that the English call this sort of bicycle nothing of the sort.

The Wikipedia entry on "Roadster" bicycles archly insists that the proper term for this bicycle — if it were not the Ladies' Model — would be "Sports Roadster."

"It was these bikes that were wrongly called 'English racer' in the United States," Wiki writes.

Indeed, when I was a boy in the United States in the 1950s and '60s, anything with skinny tires and a three-speed hub gear change was an English Racer.

We knew they weren't for racing per se. But they were lighter than the thick-tired American Schwinns we rode.

Schwinn called it a "Racer." I agree.
This unusual Schwinn is labeled a "Racer" on the chain guard, perhaps to compete with the bicycles being imported from Britain at the time. In fact, it would not have surprised me to learn that this bike was in fact made in England and badged as a Schwinn for sale in the U.S.

But no! After this item appeared, reader Bob Slovey wrote this surprising Comment:

David,

The bike pictured was Schwinn's version of the English Racer. It was made at the Schwinn factory, 1856 N. Kostner Ave., Chicago, Ill. It was made during a time when any bike with skinny tires and three speeds was automatically called an English racer. Regardless of what it was called in the UK.

My Dad was a franchised Schwinn dealer. The shop (which is now out of business) was named S&S Cycle, in Blue Island, Ill. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Schwinn Factory Service School as a young boy and still have the credentials. There was another S&S Cycle in town that opened about a year after my Dad opened his shop. You may have heard of them. They are still in business today making Harley Davidson clone motors.

Thanks, Bob. I see your note and the original "Racer" label on the chain guard as confirmation that my personal nomenclature was in fact in popular use at the time in the U.S.

The bike is for sale on CraigsList in Los Angeles. The seller says it is a 1957 model, and it has a license on it from 1961. That puts this bike right in the day I was pedaling my Schwinn and wishing, all the time, that I had an "English Racer."

Just not the girls' model, please.

2 comments:

  1. David,
    The bike pictured was Schwinn's version of the English Racer. It was made at the Schwinn factory, 1856 N. Kostner Ave, Chicago, ILL. It was made during a time when any bike with skinny tires and 3 speeds was automatically called an english racer. Regardless of what it was called in the UK.

    My Dad was a Franchised Schwinn Dealer. The shop (which is now out of business) was named S&S Cycle, in Blue Island, IL. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Schwinn Factory Service School as a young boy and still have the credentials. There was another S&S Cycle in town that opened about a year after my Dad opened his shop. You may have heard of them. They are still in business today making Harley Davidson clone motors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fantastic information, Bob. I will add it to the article.

      Delete

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