Phantom Dreaming: The Schwinn Phantom

It was sleek and sensual. Chrome fenders. Swooping black frame trimmed in red with white pinstripes. It had a tear drop light, wide white wall tires and a wrap-around reflector on the rear package tray. A horn was mounted inside the frame tank and it featured cantilevered suspension by a chrome, spring-mounted front fork. It was beauty on wheels, that Schwinn Phantom.

I’ve always been attracted to things with wheels, toy cars and trucks, motorcycles, trains (models and real ones), pickup trucks and bicycles. Not just every wheeled thing, however. They must be uniquely designed with eye catching lines, flowing and liquid. The first Mustang and T-bird, for example. The Zephyr passenger train (see below). The first BMW R100 RS motorcycle (also below). The PT Cruiser.

But the Schwinn Phantom was more than an attraction, it inspired a love affair. The bicycle was classic. It was to bicycles what the Burlington Zephyr was to passenger trains, the culmination of design with function. A work of art.

I got my Phantom as a hand-me-down from my cousin. But used or new, I reveled in the beauty of the machine. In truth, I doubt my eleven year old sense of esthetics amounted to little more than, “Wow, that’s neat! Look at that chrome.”

What I lacked in sophistication, however, I made up for in pure, intense emotion. I loved that bike.

In fact, the Phantom was too tall for my short legs. It was tough to pedal a too-big bike. I was glad the roads around our house had just been paved. Before this, one roadbed was rocks and the other was sand on hard clay. Neither were bike friendly. But on pavement I could glide. That I had to sling my small body from one side to the other didn’t matter, it was beautiful and it was mine. I reveled in my great fortune. Life was good.

We lived in a small town in a shotgun house on a corner. It stood out like a sore thumb, every side visible to a street or alley. So there was no place to hide anything, no garage or outbuilding. I parked the Phantom behind the house and, alas, after a few days it was stolen. I was heart-broken. I experienced grief for the first time. I remember being unable to concentrate in school, and asking over and over why anyone would steal from another, and why this happened to me? I learned the hard lesson to not fall too deeply in love with things for they can disappear in the dark of night. And I learned there is evil in the world. People do bad things to other people.

I got over it, of course, but I pined for the Phantom. Occasionally I rehearsed the story of the lost bike to my wife, reminisced and left it at that. Years later, I saw one in a bicycle shop in Seattle and rushed in to discover a restored Phantom in pristine condition sold for, gulp, $2,500. Too rich for my budget no matter how warm the memory.

That was years ago, a lifetime, in fact. Last week I came home from a trip to find in the hallway, a Phantom! I let out a yelp and immediately dropped my suitcase and sat on the bike. Sharon and Jinny had ordered a reproduction. It’s green and white but never the less it’s the same classic styling. It’s also got multiple gears, which the original, to my recollection, didn’t have. (But a “mature” Boomer needs that extra help.) It has the same tear drop headlight, horn in the tank and sweeping lines. It, too, is a work of art.

So I immediately took the bike out for a spin. It was pure joy. My heart pumped and it wasn’t from lack of exercise.

When I returned, I brought the bike back inside the house. Sharon looked slightly puzzled and a bit surprised. Wary, she asked, “Where are you going to keep it?”

To which I replied, “In the bedroom, of course.”

6 Responses to “Phantom Dreaming: The Schwinn Phantom”

  1. gerard castaneda December 2, 2009 at 10:56 pm #

    Great story sir! I’ve had my bike stolen too when I was a kid and had the same emotions as you but I recovered the bike on the same afternoon because the thief ran and left the bike when some cops did their round so lucky me 🙂 The phantom is one hell of a good looking bike and congratulations to you for getting a repro 🙂

    • Larry December 4, 2009 at 8:53 pm #

      Glad you got your bike back. Thanks for the comment. Phantom is a fun bike. I recently saw an original female Phantom, Back with red trim and chrome fenders. Great styling and fun memories.

  2. NOEL D. UNSON November 4, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    FOR SO MANY YEARS NOW I’VE BEEN I LOVE WITH THE BLACK PHANTOM. I HAVE CONCEDED THAT I WILL NEVER OWN ONE BECAUSE OF THEIR RARITY AND MY LACK OF FINANCIAL CAPABILITY TO ACQUIRE ONE. I SAID I CAN ONLY DREAM OF IT. BUT BECAUSE OF THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF MY GIRLFRIEND I REALIZED I SHALL BE OWNING ONE SOON. SHE SUBSIDIZED HALF OF THE PRICE ( THE OTHER HALF I WILL EKE OUT FROM MY MEAGER WAGE) FOR MY BIRTHDAY.. AGAIN RARITY AND THE FINANCIAL MATTERS SLOWS ME DOWN FROM COMPLETING IT AND (WITH A SAD HEART)GET TO A POINT OF ACCEPTANCE THAT I HAVE TO BE CONTENTED WITH SOME “REPLICATED” OR “REPRODUCED” PARTS TO BE HAND-CRAFTED BY MY RESTORER.. (HE’S AWESOMELY GOOD).. WHEN MY BIKE WILL BE COMPLETED (HOPEFULLY BEFORE MY BIRTHDAY 6 WEEKS FROM NOW) IT WILL BE ON A RUNNING CONDITION BUT I WILL STILL WORK ON THE PAINTING JOB AND SOME DETAILS.. IF GOD ALLOWS AND I WILL HAVE THE CHANCE, I WILL FIND ORIGINAL PARTS AND ACCESSORIES ONE BY ONE UNTIL I COMPLETE IT.. PLEASE HELP ME REALIZE THIS SMALL DREAM OF MINE EVEN WITH SOME WORDS OF INSPIRATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT. BY THE WAY I WILL NAME MY BLACK PHANTOM “ABELARDO” …. “BARRY” FOR SHORT.

  3. Dave Benton January 9, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    In my college days, I had a beat-up old Schwinn Black Phantom that I used as campus transportation. Dubbed “Wonder Wheels”, I rode it because it was cheap, and so ugly that no one else would be caught dead on it. It provided me with hours of entertainment participating in Friday afternoon games of bicycle polo, a sport that we thought we had invented. While I was teaching in Michigan, a friend of mine helped me clean it up and painted it. At the time he was painting an old Chevy pickup, so we painted it the in the same orange/beige scheme as the truck. When we moved back to the West Coast in 1986, we were running out of room in the truck, and I was pondering what to leave behind, when my buddy volunteered that he’d always kind of had a thing for Wonder Wheels. I told him he could keep her, but if he ever got tired of her, I wanted her back. Well, today the UPS guy pulled up the driveway and delivered a large box stuffed with discarded Christmas wrapping paper… and Wonder Wheels. After 27+ years, Wonder Wheels is home again. I know it’s just an old bike, and it may not have any value other than sentimental, but I’m still grinning.

    • LHollon January 9, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Dave,
      I’m grinning with you. Thanks for the note.
      Larry

  4. Dominic January 19, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    I know what it was like to have the feeling for a Schwinn Phantom. I however, missed it when the first came out. I was a child of the 80’s to 90’s.
    I found my first phantom in 1992. It was a 1952 schwinn phantom. I saved up all summer and bought it for $600 dollars of my dads friend. This was back before the reproduction parts. The restored ones sold for five grand to the wealthy collectors. It needed fenders re chromed and new inner tubes. I loved that bike and rode the crap out of it. Had to sell it to a shop owner who still has it today in his private collection.

    I have been slowly buying and amassing original parts and finally bought an original 1955 frame to finish my project. I am painstakingly preserving and restoring the original finish. The parts are all being re chromed and or painted to factory spec. Um using my spare time and labor in my Automotive restoration shop to do this. Keeps costs way down.
    I should be ready for final assembly in two weeks or so…… I can hardly wait for that first ride again.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image