Schwinn Sting-Ray guide and history

The Sting-Ray is the best-selling bike that Schwinn has ever offered.  The style of bike started in California with kids modifying their bikes to look like motorcycles with 20-inch wheels, long seats, and ape hanger handlebars.  It didn’t make the 1963 catalog, but it started with a sales ad in 1963 and is referred to as a 1963 ½ model.

1963 Schwinn Sting-Ray Ad

The first Sting-Rays had a 20” steel cantilever frame with 20” wheels, banana seat, coaster brake, and butterfly style handlebars.  A really unique looking bike for most people when they saw it the first time. Schwinn called it a bike with a sports car look.  The short wheelbase and small tires gave it a quick turning radius.  Despite the small wheels, it is still a full-size bicycle.  Original colors were flamboyant lime (green), red, and Radiant Coppertone.

Model J38 suggested retail price of $49.95

Original years made: 1963-1982

The colors and speed options change throughout the years:

Colors

1963: flamboyant lime, red, and radiant coppertone

1964: flamboyant lime, red, radiant coppertone, sky blue and violet.

1964 Schwinn Sting-Ray Catalog Image

1965: flamboyant lime, radiant coppertone, sky blue and violet.

1966-67: coppertone, sky blue, and violet.

1968: campus green, coppertone and sky blue.

1969-70: campus green, red, and sky blue.

1970 Schwinn Sting-Ray Catalog Image

1971: lemon, sky blue and campus green.

1972: kool lemon, campus green and flamboyant red.

1973: kool lemon and flamboyant red.

1974-75: kool lemon and opaque red.

1974 Schwinn Sting-Ray Catalog Image

1976: flamboyant red, yellow, sky blue and white.

1977: flamboyant red, sky blue and sunset orange.

1978: flamboyant red and sky blue.

1978 Schwinn Sting-Ray Catalog Image

1979: golden yellow, cardinal red, sky blue and emerald green.

1980: cardinal red/golden yellow, sky blue/frosty silver, and emerald green/golden yellow.

1981-82: cardinal red and sky blue.

1982 Schwinn Sting-Ray Catalog image

1982 was the last year for the original Sting-Ray.  It went out like it came in with just a coaster brake option.  The price was $127.95.

Speeds

Single speed coaster brake J38-6: 1963-1982

Single speed coaster brake, spring fork, SLIK tires J33-6: 1965

2-speed coaster brake J38-1: 1965-1970

2-speed coaster brake, spring fork, SLIK tires J33-1: 1965

3-speed J38-4: 1965-1967, 1976

3-speed stik-shift J38-3: 1967-1972

3-speed coaster brake J38-8: 1977-1980

5-speed derailler stik-shift J38-9: 1968-1978

Models

J33-1 2-speed

J33-6 single speed coaster brake

J38-6 single speed coaster brake

J38-4 3-speed bar shift

J38-1 2-speed overdrive

J38-3 3-speed stik shift

J38-8 3-speed coaster brake

J38-9 5-speed stik shift

Specs

Caliper brakes (hand brakes)

Several of the standard models had caliper brakes (hand brakes).

J38-1 2-speed, only front caliper brake

J38-3 3-speed stik, front and rear caliper brakes

J38-4 3-speed handlebar control, front and rear caliper brakes

J38-8 3-speed coaster brake, front caliper brake

J38-9 5-speed stik, front and rear caliper brakes

Fenders

1975-78: all models had chrome fenders standard.

Fork

Strong, drop-forged blade fork.

1965 J33 models had a spring fork.

Rims

Schwinn tubular rims.

Saddle

All models had what is commonly called a banana seat. Their description did change through the years.

1963-64: Solo-polo saddle with truss rods

1965: Sting-Ray saddle with truss rods

1966-67: Silver glow saddle with chrome brace rods

1968-70: Bucket style Sting-Ray saddle with chrome brace rods

1971-78: Bucket saddle

1979-82: Sting-Ray saddle

Sprocket

1963-1968 – Lucky 7 sprocket. Has seven holes.

1969-1982 – MAG sprocket.

Stem

These bikes use a Schwinn gooseneck style quill stem.

Tires

The tires went through a number of changes through the years:

1963-1964: studded rear tire, standard front tire

1965-1973: black SLIK rear tire, standard front tire

1974-1982: Sting-Ray studded rear tire, standard front tire

Weight

Most of the Sting-Ray models weigh around 36lbs. Here are some model specific weights:

J38-6 35lbs

J38-1 36.5lbs

J38-4 36.5lbs

J38-3 37.5lbs

Serial Numbers

Every original Chicago bike will have a serial number on the frame. From 1963-1970 the number should be located on the left rear fork end. From 1971-1982 they are located on the head tube. The numbers are 8 digits long and start with two letters followed by numbers. The first letter tells the month of production, and the codes are as follows:

A is January, B is February, C is March, D is April, E is May, F is June, G is July, H is August, J is September, K is October, L is November, and M is December.

The second letter is the year, and the codes are as follows:

A is 1965, B is 1966, C is 1967, D is 1968, E is 1969, F is 1970, G is 1971, H is 1972, J is 1973, K is 1974, L is 1975, M is 1976, N is 1977, P is 1978, Q is 1979, R is 1980, S is 1981, T is 1982.

Examples:

GH504362 is July 1972

KR123456 is October 1980

1963-1964 numbers are a letter followed by 5 digits. The letter represents the month, and the first letter is the year. The codes are as follows:

A3 is Jan 1963, B3 is Feb 1963, C3 is Mar 1963, D3 is Apr 1963, E3 is May 1963, F3 is Jun 1963, G3 is Jul 1963, H3 is Aug 1963, J3 is Sept 1963, K3 is Oct 1963, L3 is Nov 1963, M3 is Dec 1963, A4 is Jan 1964, B4 is Feb 1964, C4 is Mar 1964, D4 is Apr 1964, E4 is May 1964, F4 is Jun 1964, G4 is Jul 1964, H4 is Aug 1964, J4 is Sep 1964, K4 is Oct 1964, L4 is Nov 1964, M4 is Dec 1964, and N4 is Dec 1964 models built late in the year.

Example: D41234 is April 1964

Stingray Serial Number location

Why did they stop making the Stingray?

Popularity of the Sting-Ray declined as the popularity of BMX bikes increased. Tastes changed and these fun bikes lost their market. They had a fantastic run and are now very valuable.

Value

Original Chicago made Stingrays sell for really good money. I’ve been casually looking to pick one up and it’s hard to find one for cheap. $4-500 is pretty typical for the basic men’s single-speed coaster brake models in decent condition. $300 for ones in rough shape or not original condition. Ladies’ versions can often be had for much cheaper depending on condition. The rare bikes like Krates I often see listed for over $1,000. I’ve seen listings for several thousand dollars, but those must be super rare bikes.

Sting-Ray versions

Through the years there were many other models in addition to the standard:

Deluxe

Made from 1964-1974.  This was the standard Sting-Ray, but with chrome fenders and whitewall tires.  Chrome fenders became standard in 1975 when they stopped making the deluxe.

1967 Sting-Ray Deluxe Catalog Image

Deluxe Colors

Flamboyant Lime, Red, Radiant Coppertone, Sky Blue, Violet, Campus Green, Flamboyant Red, Kool Lemon, Opaque Red

Deluxe Models

J39-6 coaster brake 1964-74

J39-4 3-speed caliper brakes 1965-66

J39-1 2-speed coaster brake with front caliper brake 1965-68

J39-3 3-speed Stik Shift caliper brakes 1967-71

J39-2 2-speed coaster brake 1969

Fair Lady

Made from 1964-1981.  A deluxe Sting-Ray for ladies.  Featured a step-through style frame with fenders and a flower trimmed basket.

1967 Stingray Fair Lady Catalog Image

Super Deluxe

Made briefly from 1965-1966.  This was basically a deluxe model, but with a front spring fork. J36 models have black SLIK rear tire and J37 have a studded whitewall rear tire.

1965 Super Deluxe Sting-Ray

Super Deluxe Colors

Flamboyant Lime, Radiant Coppertone, Sky Blue, and Violet

Super Deluxe Models

J36-6 Coaster Brake 1965

J36-1 Automatic 2-speed Coaster 1965

J37-6 Coaster Brake 1965-66

J37-1 Automatic 2-speed Coaster 1965-66

Slik Chik

Made from 1965-1971.  Another ladies version, this one featured a whitewall Slik rear tire.  Also had a step-through style frame with chrome fenders and whitewall front tire.

1971 Slik Chik Catalog Image

Junior

Made from 1965-1978.  This model was for boys ages 5 to 7.  Featured short-rise junior handlebars, chrome fenders, and built-in kickstand.

1973 Sting-Ray Junior Catalog Image

Fastback

Made from 1966-1976.  These have a lighter style frame with a curved top bar. 

1973 Sting-Ray Fastback Catalog Image

Ram’s Horn Fastback

Made from 1967-1968.  A fastback with ram’s horn style handlebars.  Also had a 5-speed stik-shift, front and rear handbrakes, and chrome fenders.

1967 Ram’s Horn Fastback Catalog Image

Midget

Made from 1967-1972.  This version was for younger riders(ages 4 to 6) and featured smaller 16” wheels, junior saddle, and a smaller frame. 

1968 Midget Sting-Ray Catalog Image

Deluxe Midget

Made only in 1968.  A midget with chrome fenders and whitewall tires.

1968 Deluxe Midget Sting-Ray Catalog Image

Krates

One of the most popular versions, these are offered from 1968-1973.  Started with the Orange Krate, Lemon Peeler, and Apple Krate.  These have a 5-speed Stik-Shift, handbrakes, 16” front tire, 20” rear tire, and a front spring fork.

1968 Sting-Ray Krate Catalog Image

Stardust

Made from 1969-1972.  Girls lightweight Sting-Ray.  Features a chrome-plated basket carrier with quick release clamp allowing the basket to be quickly removed.  Also has chrome fenders and chrome trimmed chain guard.

1970 Sting-Ray Stardust Catalog Image

Sting-Ray Pixie

Made from 1969-1975 and 1979-1980.  Convertible bike, the top tube can be removed turning it into a step through style frame.  16” wheels and training wheels. 

1970 Sting-Ray Pixie Catalog Image

Sting-Ray Pixie II

Made from 1977-1978.  Mixtie frame design with 16” wheels.

1978 Sting-Ray Pixie II Cataog Image

Sting-Ray II

Made in 1979 and 1980.  A Sting-Ray for smaller riders with medium rise handlebars and 20” wheels.

1979 Sting-Ray II Catalog Image

Manta-Ray

Made in 1971 and 1972.  A Sting-Ray with 24” wheels.  Also features 5-speeds with a stik shifter, medium-rise handlebars and handbrakes.

1971 Manta-Ray Catalog Image

Mini Sting-Ray

Made from 1979-1980.  For younger riders with coaster brake and 16” wheels.

1980 Mini Sting-Ray catalog image

Replica years

Schwinn has brought back the Sting-Ray multiple times in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006,  2007, 2008, 2011, and you can currently buy a new Orange Krate Sting-Ray! They even made an Orange Country Chopper Stingray which looks very unique. In recent years there has also been a very basic Stingray available at Walmart and Amazon for a very reasonable price. I don’t see any in stock now, but maybe they will be back.

Sting-Ray Facts

Who made the first muscle bike?

Huffy was the first to come out with a Sting-Ray style bicycle.  It was called the Penguin and didn’t get very popular.

Who at Schwinn pushed to make the Stingray?

Al Fritz the director of research and development at Schwinn pushed for the Sting-Ray to be made.

How many Chicago Sting-Rays were made?

There doesn’t seem to be any production numbers for individual Schwinn models, but here is some info I found: In an article I found about Al Fritz after his death it says they sold almost 2 million in the first 5 years. That is 400,000 per year and they made them for 18 years. So, a guess at how many were made in Chicago is about 7.2 million. I also found an article about reintroducing Krates, and it said Schwinn says they sold 150,000 Krates a year with the initial run.

Stingray or Sting-Ray?

While Stingray is used a lot, according to the old catalogs it is Sting-Ray.

What kids show promoted the Sting-Ray?

The Sting-Ray was promoted for years on the kids show Captain Kangaroo.

What are the rarest Sting-Rays?

The more expensive models are going to be the rarest models. The 1971 Grey Ghost Krate may be the rarest of Rays. It was only made for the one year. The 1965 J33 spring fork models were also only made for one year and are certainly rare. The Super Deluxe models should also be mentioned as they were only made in 1965 and 66.

Other Muscle/Chopper Bikes

Schwinn wasn’t the only one making this style of bike. Here are some others:

AMF Renegade

Firestone GTO Flame

Huffy Cheater/Slick Modified

Huffy Dragster

Huffy Wrangler

Murray Ram Rod

Raleigh Chopper

Ross Apollo

Ross Barracuda

Sears Gremlin

Gallery of J-38 Sting-Rays

1965 Schwinn Sting-Ray Sky Blue J-38 – Owned by Chris Terry

1965 Schwinn Stingray Sky Blue

Many thanks to Chris for his unrelenting decades long search of these original examples of
”Unrestored Survivor Stingrays”. Check out his beautiful flamboyant lime below.

1965 Schwinn Sting-Ray Flamboyant Lime J-38 – Owned by Chris Terry

1965 Schwinn Stingray Flamboyant Lime

More info coming soon…

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