MUni is the shizzle. Go for it!
DM sold his unicycles with a lifetime guarantee. That was before the days when people started doing silly things like riding offroad and jumping off walls, but even so the Ringmasters were built like tanks. Their strength and build quality made them the unicycle of choice for street entertainers - and, as it happened, the friends that I asked for advice when choosing my first unicycle were street entertainers.
And yes, I’m a competent cycle mechanic and take good care of my machines.
To quote Terry Pratchett on writing, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
I have a Schwinn giraffe that comes out on occasion. Not sure as to exactly when it was made but definitely in the '50s. It belonged to a friend of my grandfathers. I believe only his daughters rode it and they were half a generation ahead of me. I borrowed it for a while and learned to ride it when I was a kid. I can’t remember if he gave it to me before he passed away or if his wife did after but I do remember riding it around their driveway the day it was given to me. Regardless of if he was there when I was given it I know he still smiles whenever it gets ridden.
Do you happen to know if David Mariner is still out there somewhere?
Lol, sounds like you’re talking about a Silver Spirit 1 from 1965
Awesome! I think you got me beat!
I am totally that way too. I have a hobby / addiction of buying unicycles, stripping them down, cleaning them up, painting them, and making them mine. I bought a really craptacular Chinese unicycle so I could review it and ended up painting the frame metallic purple and going nuts buying a bunch of parts so I could make it totally custom. I bought a whole bicycle from Walmart because I liked the purple-and-black tires with the purple rims and the whole bike in-store was cheaper than ordering the same rim and tire alone online.
I wanted to make the most polished turd in the world, yet the hub was too wide and it currently sits in a pile of parts in a chest.
At this point my only other options are custom fabricating it or getting a Nimbus Eclipse hub, which I’m about 82% sure will fit.
Cool! Nice video review.
I just bought a cheap unicycle from Craiglist and spent more than I paid for it getting a Nimbus Gel saddle, a double bolt seat clamp and a new seat post. I was thinking it was a bit like putting $5000 rims on a $500 car, but the welds are pretty darn good (nothing like the ones you showed in your video review), the hub is decent, and while the pedals are plastic, they seem well made, and I think they look cool. Glad I’m not the only one polishing crap. When you put that in your post, not sure if you were thinking of Myth Busters, but it reminded me of one of their funnier episodes: https://youtu.be/yiJ9fy1qSFI They did a pretty nice job of making crap look good, literally!
Definitely! I look for things all the time to buy and cannibalize rather than spending even more money and just getting the raw building materials, and it seems, just like you found out, that you have more options and variety than just buying the individual components.
I’m not sure if I’m happy or not to have seen your pictures. If course what you’ve done is way cool with that craptacular Chinese job, but now I’ve got all kinds of ideas in my head about an old unicycle I have. I had convinced myself that the old girl wasn’t worth it, and I’ve got way more important things I need to be doing, but now…
I haven’t heard any news of him for a long time. From a quick Google search, this is the most recent news I could find:
Probably not, though you’re both taking your time machines too far back for Schwinn. The 20" and 24" Schwinns came out in 1967. The Giraffe followed about 10 years later, though I’m not sure if it was exactly 1977 or not. Don’t believe eBay sellers, who are just taking wild guesses as to the age of “old” unicycles.
It’s hard to tell the age of Schwinns, as they didn’t change much between '67 and 1980, when they changed to cotterless (square taper) hubs & cranks. Then again in 1986, when they were re-introduced with lots of changes.
For the Giraffe, there are only two major changes I know about for sure. Early models had a Track-style hub, with a lock ring holding on the bottom sprocket. But these can come loose, which is a dangerous situation on a unicycle, so in late '79 (or so) they went to a 3-bolt design down there. And toward the end of their run, which I think was 1983, they changed the “Giraffe” sticker. Early ones featured a yellow giraffe, which looked like Geoffrey the Giraffe from Toys R Us. The later design had no giraffe (thanks to Toys R Us lawyers).
The oldest unicycle I ride “regularly” (not very much these days) is my very first one, a 1979 Schwinn Giraffe which I bought in February 1980. It’s the last one I would ever part with. In the early 80s I had all the non-chrome parts on it chromed (cranks, chain tighteners, seat post and all the little bits), so it’s shinier than a regular Giraffe. For many years, it’s had a double layer of seat covers, with a white, Semcycle-era cover over an old Schwinn one. Also it has a quick-release seat post clamp, which was used in shows for raising the seat from lowest to highest setting before getting on it.
My oldest unicycle is a Loyd, which probably dates from the early 60s. I don’t know exactly what year. Loyd Wicker Smith designed the split fork frame of the Schwinns. Schwinn bought the design from him and took them mainstream. I found my Loyd on eBay. It still has it’s original equipment leather bicycle saddle, which I’m sure is a major crotch-hurter. It has a short seat post, and I don’t think I’ve actually ridden it. The tire is probably not original.
In the early 80s Al Hemminger, the first unicycle collector I ever heard of, found an antique, handmade unicycle that was very sturdily built, of unknown age. I doubt it was from a decade later than the 1920s. He had my picture taken with it at one of those old-tyme photo shops, where I wore 1890s clothing and pretended to be from that era. I don’t have that one scanned.
Other oldies I still ride (sometimes):
- My 1982 Tom Miller 45" big wheel (wheel has been reubilt a couple of times, but still has its original cottered hub)
- A late 70's Schwinn 20" that was used to win the Pairs Freestyle event at Unicon I
- A 20" Columbia that's probably from the early 70s
- My P.O.S. Troxel (tricycle technology) unicycle from the mid 70s
- A 1985 Semcycle 20" (first model year) with radial spokes
- An Oxford (Japanese) from the 70s, from the garage of Bill Jenack
1 & 2 are Univegas. Miyatas in all senses except the stickers
3 is the Oxford
4 is the Loyd, with it’s seat of torture
5 is “OGK” from Japan, which came with a built-in kickstand
6 is a “Pro”, also from Japan; apparently a relative of the Oxford
John, I don’t know if a comprehensive history of unicycling has been written, but I think you should seriously consider writing it. Just sayin’…
Interesting! Very good post. Thanks for all the info and history details. This has certainly turned into an interesting thread! I bought the Schwinn in question back around 1991 from a garage sale for $25 to replace one I had bought in 1986, which was certainly newer than this, but as you said, the basic design didn’t change much. The seller wan an AA pilot I knew from church, and he apparently rode it (or at least owned it) as a kid. He never made any claims as to its age; I was just guessing based on patent info, his age, and some other stuff I found online, which apparently was off by at least 5 years.
As far as the age of Universe’s giraffe, maybe it’s like the unicycle mentioned in ERIC P/saskatchewanian’s post (parts from various sources), or maybe it’s something like Shmolagin mentioned regarding the Irish axe that’s been in the family for 500 years? Regardless, it’s a priceless family air loom, and he should be proud to own it.
One thing I do kind of like about this old Schwinn is the split fork design. I’m sure I’ll get all kinds of lectures over saying this, but I like it. I’m guessing it’s more complicated to build and service the captive bearings than a more modern design, but since it has no welds, it seems like it would be very hard to break, and I like the way the seat post attaches. It all seems very structurally sound. I also love the whitewalls on the old tire. Very retro!
Here’s a few pics for reference. You can see the patent number, the split fork design, original tire (last three pics), and the original seat. Maybe someone familiar with these might have a better clue as to the approx age.
I still have and ride my 1972 20" Pro Cycle. It’s had 5 tires, 4 seats and 6 sets of peddles but it’s the same one. It’s also the one I loan out to people that want to learn.
Just want to say I am loving this thread… I can’t really contribute anything in terms of old… I’m working on making mine look that way with still learning to ride though!
I do love those old whitewall tires. And they could clean up with a little bleach/water solution, unlike most tires that followed.
The detailed pictures show the main identifying feature of older Schwinns; cottered cranks. Those went up to about 1979. Also I think the older Schwinns came with some funny-looking pedals, thick and kind of tapered, but I don’t know years, or if they were indeed original equipment.
The split fork is indeed a sturdy design, and it’s also much, much simpler to manufacture than a tubular frame with lugs, welds, etc. But it has two major faults and some other minor ones:
I didn’t think about the frame being twisty, but that makes a lot of sense.
The reason I like the way the seat post attaches and has holes at 1" increments is because it gives me two benefits, both involving slight OCD when it comes to adjustments:
It’s virtually impossible for me to get the saddle misaligned. With a standard seat post clamp, I never feel 100% sure that is aligned, and with both bikes and unis the saddle can come loose and twist on you, and again, I’m always ocd about checking the alignment on those. With this thing, I never give it a second thought. If it were out of alignment, there’s little I could do anyways.
I like the fact that there’s not infinite different saddle heights to adjust for. With having an almost infinite number of seat height adjustments with a standard clamp, that drives me nuts. I always wonder if I might just move the saddle slightly up or slightly down. With this thing, there’s really only one hole that comes close. I can install it and forget it. Plus, who’s going to ride a 20" old Schwinn for miles and miles? It’s pretty much for casual use only.
I have a newer unicycle that I ride regularly, and it has a standard seat clamp with double bolts. It’s sturdy and not likely to come loose, and I ride that unicycle for long distances and do need to adjust it as accurately as I can. Still, it drives me nuts always wondering if it could be adjusted a little better.
There was a really neat Ted Talks that I watched the other day where the speaker, Barry Schwartz, talked about how too many choises cause depression in modern society. It’s called the Paradox of Choice. Check it out -> here
At about 12 minutes in, he uses an analogy of his experience buying jeans that really drives the point home. If you don’t want to watch all of it, at least check that part out. You can also view the transcript if you don’t want to watch the video, and it’s time indexed as well.
It really spoke to me. It seems like we all go through this when trying to buy just about anything these days, including unicycles!
I just found out one of the flaws in the Schwinn design. This past weekend I was riding with a guy who was riding an old Schwinn. The main bearings are apparently pressed into the frame legs, and after about a mile one of the pressed-in bearings worked its way out. I carry a pretty good tool kit in my pack, but with that he was pretty much dead in the water and walking back to the car. So I would have to say the older Schwinns are mainly for historical value (they are pretty cool) and maybe riding around the block. But not something you want to rely on.
Well, that really sucks!
Agreed. I think at the time they made these, it was adequate for what we were doing with them back then. When I starting riding it again after many years in storage, I realized almost immediately that I needed something better if I was going to do any serious riding. The bearings in it have also gotten a little loose, and as you said, it looks like they’re pressed in there, and I’m not sure I would want to mess with it. (Of course, it would give me a good excuse to buy that press I’ve had my eye on at Harbor Freight!)
The bearings are held in by a snap ring on each side. One of them was probably missing, and may have stayed in place for a long time without it, but eventually worked its way loose.
Those were also fairly simple to take out and put back; just wear eye protection as they tended to go SPINNNG!! and fly across the room when popping them off…
I agree. It should also be an encyclopedia of unicycles. I would buy that book.
Thanks for that info, John. I just went by the appearance, and should have studied the other side before making that judgement. I guess it’s easier to repair than I thought. (Assuming one can get the appropriate size snap ring.)