The Sierra Schwinn – My First Bike

What do you remember about your first bicycle?

My first bike was a silver BMX bike that I rode to school when I was in fifth and sixth grade. My next door neighbor and best friend, Matt Bockal, had a matching bike and we thought we were pretty darn cool because we could jump off six inch street curbs.

When I entered my teens, my parents bought me a Giant mountain bicycle, but it never really grew on me. The bike felt  funny and I never really liked to ride it. It just didn’t feel like me.

Then, in 2001, when I began making plans for my first long-distance bike tour down the California coastline, I started thinking about the bike I would ride on my journey down the coast. The obvious answer would have been to ride my Giant, as it was really the only bike I had… and it was in near perfect condition.

But I didn’t end up using the Giant on my bike tour. Instead, I rode my fathers old mountain bike instead – a Sierra Schwinn.

For years my father had had this old black bicycle in the garage and I rarely ever saw him ride it. It has been just sitting their, collecting cobwebs for years and years, so I decided to fix up the old clunker and use it for my trip down the Pacific Coast.

The bike was a 1980’s Sierra Schwinn. I’m not exactly sure what year it is, but if you happen to know, please get in contact with me. I’d love to know what year this bike is actually from.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I fixed the old thing up, stuck a couple racks on it, and successfully pedaled the beast from Oregon to Mexico.

On the last day of that trip, upon reaching the Mexican border, I loaded the bike onto the front rack of my aunt’s VW camper-van and took off back to her home in Coronado. But when my aunt sped through a large dip in a major intersection, the front wheel of my bike was pushed into the pavement, ripped off of my aunt’s van, and immediately run over! Once my aunt had made it though the intersection, she stopped the van and I jumped out, practically in tears. The bike that I had just spent the last 30 days riding down the coast had been run-over by a two-ton vehicle and parts of it were now scattered about in a large San Diego intersection.

I jumped out of my aunt’s van and ran around the intersection for a few minutes, dodging cars and picking up the few pieces of my bike that I could find in the road. A day or two later, I made it back home with my twisted wreck of a bike. It wasn’t how I imagined returning home after my successful trip down the California Coastline.

In college now, I started to think about how I would spend my upcoming summer. My bike trip down the California coastline had been so great that I wanted to do it again… and this time I set my sights on riding over the Rocky Mountains – from Kansas to Wyoming. Now without a bike however, and still without much funds in my bank account, I decided it would be cheaper to simply repair my old Sierra Schwinn than to buy a new bicycle. So what did I do? I hammered out the frame of the Sierra Schwinn as best as I could, bought two new wheels, installed a new rear derailleur and off I went!

In the summer of 2002 I spent a month riding my Sierra Schwinn over the Rock Mountains. It squeaked and strained the entire time… and riding it made me extremely sore and uncomfortable. When I reached Rawlins, Wyoming, I knew I could go no further with the bike. It had reached it’s last leg… and so had I. I wanted to keep going, but my bike and my body were done. We had had enough. It was time to go home. So I boxed up the bike, boarded a Greyhound bus and rode for the next day or so with a tribe of Native American firefighters back to my home in Southern California.

The next year I bought a new bike for my touring exploits (a Fuji Touring Bike), but I kept the Schwinn around and have continued to ride it over the years.

Today, the Sierra Schwinn is my main commuter bike. I use it on a near daily basis to run errands, pick up groceries, take items that need to be mailed to the post office… and sometimes I even ride it to the ski resort with my skis in tow. I’ve fixed the bike up so many times, I now call it the “Resurrection 9000” because that’s how many times I’ve brought it back to life. The bike today is still incredibly hard to ride,  only a few of the gears work and you can’t put any pressure on the pedals when you are riding or the chain will fall off. The bike may be a piece of junk today, but it just keeps going… and I can’t stop riding it.

The Sierra Schwinn my father gave me ten years ago may not be the best bike in the world, and even though it may not technically be the first bike I ever owned, I will forever think of it as my first bike.

The following photos show my Sierra Schwinn as it is today:

What do you remember about your first bike?


10 thoughts on “The Sierra Schwinn – My First Bike

  1. monkeymartin says:

    Great article. This article shows its not about the bike or the gear. You don’t need a fancy bike to go on a long trip.

  2. Iain says:

    I had a similar experience. I got larger and larger kid bikes as I grew up, mostly Huffies from the thrift store. My first “real” bike was a Giant, which was alright, but when it broke I started riding my mom’s 80s road bike, until it was stolen. I will always remember that Univega Viva Sport fondly.

    Usually you can find a bike’s year by noting the serial number on the bottom bracket and looking it up online. Googling “schwinn serial numbers” turns up some promising results.

  3. jim katzin says:

    My first bike was a Triumph 3 speed that my sister still rides. The first bike that I toured on was a ca. 1963 Raleigh Blue Streak 10 speed that was given to me by a friend. That bike weighed over 35 pounds. I tore it down completely, respoked it, and changed the gearing from racing to something short of touring, but an improvement. I think the original crankset had 52 and 49 tooth gears, and the rear 5-speed freewheel was like 12-21. I rode it throughout Ohio and across Pennsylvania. That bike was stolen after my junior year of college. I replaced it with a Motobecane Grand Touring that I still ride today. It is a great loaded touring bike.

  4. Steve K says:

    Did you ever figure out the year of the bike? I just purchased a used Schwinn Sierra yesterday and it looks pretty much like the one you have in the pictures.
    I am looking to learn more about the bike and possibly find a manual for it as i don’t have all the details.

    I consider this bike my first real bike as well.

    • Jim Bishop says:

      The year is stamped on the head badge. four numbers the last one is the year and the first three indicate the day it was assembled The black sierra looks like its stamped 1988.

  5. Bicycle Touring Pro says:

    Steve, no, I never did figure out the exact year of my Sierra Schwinn. If you figure out the year of yours, let me know… and send me a picture of your bike! I’d love to see it.

  6. Ron says:

    I guess you could say I rode the classic bikes. Anyway, my first bike was a Schwinn with a bananna seat and Bendex brakes. It was the 70’s so I had these streamers coming out of the bar ends. I also had this thing you put on your spokes to make a “CLACKING” sound. At that time bikes were the “in thing” with kids, and we took pride in them. Well i still take pride in bikes.

  7. Tony says:

    Stumbled on your Sierra page while doing a search… If you still monitor your site after four years, for what it’s worth, your Sierra is a 1989 model. If you look at the head badge there’s a number stamped on it. Yours appears to read “3508” which means it was manufactured on the 350th day of the year 1988. Your paint scheme black & chrome, also matches the ’89 Schwinn catalog.

  8. Cab says:

    This article is 10yrs old.. but what the hell…

    Great story!
    I can barely remember my first 3 bikes… the first “real” bike was a purple banana seat “something or other” which i got new some time in ’71-72, when I was 6-7. The second was a used 27″ 10-speed, “American (something or other)” that I got some time when I was 9-10 and couldn’t ride until I was around 11-12 because it was too big. It fell apart while riding it a few miles from home around ’81.

    I did without a bike for a several years after that until I bought/paid for my first bike in ’86 from Montgomery Wards. I didn’t know anything about buying bikes — liked the color & the price — and rode it hard for the entire summer (20+ miles a day, 5 days a week). It fell apart at the end of the summer! LOL

    A couple years later, I was speaking with a co-worker who actually knew something about bikes. He owned a (’87??) High Sierra which I thought was about the coolest bike I’d ever seen! He brought me the Schwinn catalog and the next spring (’88) I bought my Sierra for ~$450 (the High Sierra was more than I was willing to pay at ~$700). The best ~$450 I’ve ever spent!

    32 years later and I still have it.. still ride it most spring/summer/fall days as long as weather is decent. I’ve never ridden it on a long trip (cause I’ve never done one). I ride around the city, mostly Chicago’s Lakefront, so usually no more than 15-20 miles at the longest.

    Today I gave it a good washing and hit the streets! Covid-19 has the lakefront locked out, so sparse side streets is all I have… but…. I GOTTA RIDE! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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