04 April 2008

Bike Makeover #3: Flamingo Floozie - Fair Lady

pink Schwinn Suburban bike
I was very happy to receive a perfect story from a modern-day 'Henry Higgins' about a beautiful ladies' bike:

First-off, you'll need to remind yourself about the basic story plot of MY FAIR LADY.

I am a retired guy in Davenport, Iowa with a hobby of refurbishing old Chicago-built Schwinn bikes (only interested in the Chicago-built mass-production models, the ones with the vertical-oval S-C-H-W-I-N-N headbadges). I find them at thrift stores and clean em up/fix em up. I don't do any paint touch up, preferring to allow them to show the usage and character marks. If a bike is too bad I parts it out and scrap the frame.

pink Schwinn Suburban bicycle drivetrainIn December I found a pink 1977 Schwinn ladies SUBURBAN. That bike was grimy-filthy. I mean grimy as in black oily. Like it might have been stored in a factory atmosphere or the like. FILTHY. I let her follow me home and quickly named her FLAMINGO FLOOZY. Flamingo is the name of the Schwinn color and I learned that the color was only used for half a model-year. Must have been a poor seller. Schwinn never used it again. So I had a bike of a rare color.

She brought to mind the neighborhood old-maids of my 1940s childhood in Chicago. Every city block had one, the slightly eccentric middle-aged to older maiden lady. She'd wear gaudy dresses with bright colors and loud patterns. She'd use facial make-up to extreme; heavy on the rouge and very heavy on the lipstick. Lots of heavy jewelry from the Woolworth or Kresge dime stores. Funny like a clown to us kids, but now as a senior adult I feel a tinge of embarrassment and certainly empathy. So that's how I was thinking about this pink ladies Schwinn last December; Flamingo Floozie. Garishly gauche.

Pink Schwinn Suburban bikeAs I disassembled her and began the cleanup and mechanical work I began to really like this girl. I always put heart and soul into a refurb but this lady took on a different relationship. I began thinking CLASS. Audrey Hepburn and her MY FAIR LADY character Eliza Doolittle came to mind and once that association was made the bike took on a personality.

I fitted her with an old Schwinn/Shimano 5-spd FrontFreewheel System and POSITRON II derailer, whitewall tires, white cable sheathing, a vintage Schwinn bell taken from another oldie, and a black leather saddlebag. Well, actually the saddlebag is a ladies purse that I modified with attached straps to hang on the back of the saddle. After all, a common saddlebag just wouldn't do! The purse came from a Salvation Army thrift store and seemed like a perfect final touch of class for the new lady Eliza Doolittle.
Eliza Doolittle, the street flower vendor who transformed herself into a lady of class. As you can tell I had fun with this particular project bike!

purse remade as saddlebag pink Schwinn suburban bikeI then contacted a young lady here in Davenport who'd bought a snazzy almost-mint Cardinal Red Schwinn from me last fall and asked if she'd help me sell this one. Coincidentally, she was in Chicago when I called her (aren't cell phones wonderful?) with a friend who'd just asked her to buy a bike sight-unseen from me. Long story shortened, the lady in Chicago bought Eliza Doolittle on our mutual friend's word and two cell-phone photos. The Chicago buyer is apparently a young woman approaching thirty I'd guess, a professional, and apparently lives well into the inner city because she's very excited about riding Eliza along The Lakefront every evening.

My Comments:
This seems like a made-for-movies perfect bike story!
There is a good chance that both Eliza and this very lucky young lady are the same age - I was born in 1977. Additionally, Eliza has now gone home - made in Chicago, living in Chicago. After her beautiful makeover, could there be a happier ending?


James said...

What a nice refurb and a great story.

Lauren Levato said...

Hi there,

Well, as luck would have it, I'm the buyer of said bike. And, for better or worse, I do wear colorful and wildly patterned clothing and some funky/big jewelry.

I was also born in 1977, so that is just perfect - it made me even more sure this is the right bike for me.

We just moved from Chicago to south Evanston, right on the lake.

I'm thrilled as can be, the bike will be here in a week - just in time for good weather in Chicagoland.


chic cyclist said...

Lauren - What luck and fun!

You have a beautiful bike with a great story. It's pouring in Boston at the moment, but the good weather will be here for us both any day now. Happy trails to you and 'Eliza'!


Brian Miller said...

Love the bike. Love your mission. And love the name - my daughter is named Eliza, after Ms. Doolittle. Her great-grandfather (my wife's grandpa) wrote that play/movie, so the fact that the legacy and name lives on in this way is very touching. Keep riding and thanks for the blogging.

Amy Hammes said...

Wow! I am from Davenport, Iowa originally and received that exact bike as a birthday present when I was 11....in 1977. My parents bought it at Jerry and Sparky's and I HATED the color! This was back when having a boys 10 speed (like the Varsity) was much cooler than a fuschia girls five speed!

Now that I am older and live in a cruiser friendly community, I have told everyone about that bike and how much I would love to find! Seems my parents were way ahead of their time!

Lauren, if you ever decide to sell it, please let me know.

Amy Hammes
Venice, CA

Cricket24 said...

Great story. And that's a lovely shade of pink.

I have one of models you're talking about. I bought a women's Schwinn Suburban from a thrift store last year, and just got around to cleaning it up.

I scrubbed most of the rust off with steel wool, and I gave it a good clean to get the dust, dirt, and cobwebs off. There was nothing I could (or wanted to) do about the paint. It had rusted through in a few spots and the letters were barely legible because they were peeling so badly. But it's a beautiful blue color that I like too much to try to repaint.

Overall, the bike was in pretty good condition since all it needed was new tires, a new derailleur (and chain to fit) and lots of scrubbing. It looks so nice with all the rust scrubbed off. Even with the less-than-mint-condition paint, it looks great to me.

I'd love to read more refurb stories.

Kristin said...

I am pretty sure this is the same bike I just bought through craigslist today.

I think it is SO beautiful!

I am 31, so one year younger than the bike, and this is the first bike I have owned since I was about 12.

Mine needs some love and clean-up, but it just makes me happy knowing it is sitting in my garage. I don't know much of anything about bikes, but hope to learn as I give my own Flamingo some TLC.

Thanks for this great post.

Lauren said...

I have this exact same bike. It's in nearly perfect condition, purchased in 2010 through craigslist in St. Louis MO. I had no idea that the color was so rare until finding this story. Just picked up new tires for it today!