Remembering Al Fritz – Inventor of the Sting Ray Bicycle
Al Fritz passed away on May 7 2013 from complications related to a stroke he suffered several weeks ago. He was 88.
Mr Fritz was the inventor of the iconic Stingray bicycle produced by Schwinn between 1963 and 1983.
He got the idea when a friend from California had contacted him about a fad out there where kids were putting low rider seats and ape hanger bars on their bikes. That Trip in 1962 planted the seed and led to the production of the first commercially available Stingray in 1963. Priced at $49.95, Schwinn sold over 40,000 Sting-Rays in 1963 alone. They would have sold more if the company hadn’t run out of 20-inch tires.
These “Hot Rod” bikes were designed to give young peddlers a similar experience as their older peers who were customizing their cars and motorcycles.
The Stingray and the Krate lines over the years offered so many options: Cool colors, a gear shifter, shock absorbers, drum brakes, chopper styling. A kid could find themselves in this bike it was an extension of who they were. And with available accessories each kid could make their bike a one-of-a-kind.
I don’t think kids today have the same attachment that me and friends felt. A bike meant so many things back then. It was freedom, it was status, for many of us it was a way of life. Starting out early in the morning we would get on our bikes and ride all over town (and a few towns over) until it was time for dinner. We rode bikes, we cleaned and polished them, we built ramps to jump them, and we learned to fix them.
I think that is one of the things that made my Coppertone Stingray so special. I had a role in making it mine. I NEEDED a bike. My old bike’s head tube cracked coming off a homemade jump. My grandfather had this Stingray on the porch. The wheels were rusted, it had a banana seat and high rise ape hangers but I immediately saw the potential for this bike. I replaced the seat with a nylon bmx style seat. The rear wheel just needed some Brillo, elbow grease, and a little truing. The front wheel was replaced and each wheel got a new knobby tire. The handlebars and stem were swapped out for yellow anodized bars and a bmx style stem. I added some pads to the handlebars, stem and top tube and I had my first bmx racer. Turns out I wasn’t the only one converting the Stingray into a bmx bike because in 2010 Al was inducted into the bmx hall of fame for his contribution.
Every BMX bike on today`s track and trails can trace its roots directly to that first Sting-Ray, built by Al Fritz in the winter of 1963. – USA BMX
Al’s contributions didn’t end with the Stingray.
Fritz served as executive vice president of Schwinn Bicycles and also was president and general manager of Schwinn’s Excelsior Fitness Equipment division. Besides the Sting-Ray, he was instrumental in developing Schwinn’s ten-speeds and the Air Dyne exercise machine, and in offering Schwinn bike dealers an off-season product line of fitness products.
His son Michael had this to say:
“Dad is one of the most respected and admired men in the bicycle industry. He was an even better father and mentor. Our family is now trying to cope with this incredible loss”
Our condolences and appreciation go out to the Fritz family.