Few things are more Americana in the bike industry than a retro Schwinn. And few, if any, retro Schwinns were more popular than the Krate models. Originally released in 1968 and sold until 1973, the Krates are synonymous with childhood for many Americans.
As it says in Schwinn Bicycles, in 1962 one of Schwinn’s outside sales reps told Al Fritz—then part of Schwinn’s design department in Chicago—about a trend happening in Southern California. Kids were building “pig bikes” by adding longhorn handlebars and a polo seat (also known as a "banana seat") to a 20-inch frame.
Based on the account in No Hands, Fritz assembled his own pig bike in Chicago, then added a dash of styling inspired by Southern California’s car culture—including slick dragster-style tires—and named his creation “Sting-Ray.”
When Schwinn’s then-president, Frank V. Schwinn, laid eyes on Fritz’s prototype Sting-Ray, he was not impressed. Fritz, however, predicted it would sell 20,000 units that year (1963), which would make it the best-selling model in Schwinn’s line. The two men made a 20-dollar bet, and Frank Schwinn lost big: The company sold 45,000 Sting Rays in the last half of 1963 alone. The company could have sold more, but couldn’t make enough tires to keep up with demand. By 1968, Schwinn had sold two million Sting Rays.
Schwinn would go on to build many variations of the Sting Ray, but the Krates, produced from 1968 to 1973, are some of the most beloved.
The Krates were the boldest Sting Rays, styled after funny cars, with a wide, slick rear tire; a smaller (16-inch) front wheel with narrower tire; and features like a five-speed drivetrain with stick shift, springer suspension fork, suspended saddle, front drum brake, rear rim brake, bright paint, and clever names.