Paramount was once one of the brands to have and Schwinn hope to capitalise on some of that storied heritage with a 70th anniversary edition of their elite nameplate. Boasting one of the most advanced steel tubesets on the planet, there is much to love about this limited edition creation.
Normally we prefer to evaluate a bicycle solely – or at least primarily – on its performance: how well it rides, climbs, descends and handles, and how much it weighs. But in the case of the Schwinn Paramount 70th Anniversary, the aesthetics are such an inherent and key part of the appeal that it’s impossible not to give them equal billing.
Put it outside and the metallic paint and chromed rear triangle and head tube lugs glimmer in the sunshine. The artful lugs cleverly integrate Schwinn’s trademark four-pointed star and the pierced seatstay caps are wondrous creations of metalwork.
Classic bicycle aficionados will notice the short-point bottom bracket lug with its neatly integrated chainstay bridge and the open-architecture rear dropouts. During our photo shoot, the bike drew a small crowd of admirers, and you simply can’t help but stare for a moment. Only this is no ‘classic’ bike and that’s not chrome – it’s polish.
Each 70th Anniversary frame is handbuilt by Waterford Precision Cycles – a Paramount producer back in the 1980s and one of today's premier small-batch steel builders – using the latest Reynolds 953 stainless super steel and a set of stainless steel lugs designed just for Schwinn. The look is old school but the materials used are decidedly new, and the craftsmanship is unmatched by mass manufacturing.
Though not nearly as light as modern carbon, our 56cm test frame still weighed just 1,720g (3.79lb) and the complete bike as tested with matching Reynolds UL carbon fork, Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 and Mavic R-SYS wheels was a thoroughly competitive 7.5kg (16.66lb). Not bad for a material supposedly past its prime.
The metallic paint and chromed rear triangle and head tube lugs glimmer in the sunshine
Drop dead gorgeous looks, killer ride
Bicycle journalists speak often of a bike’s ‘liveliness', ‘springiness’ or ‘snap’, yet as close as some carbon frames come to the ideal, this Schwinn Paramount epitomises the gold standard of how a bike should feel and communicate to its rider and establishes a mark for which others should strive. On smooth roads it’s firm and direct, yet even nasty washboard dirt tracks that would normally detach your retinas are uncannily smoothed out as if you were following behind a turbocharged steamroller.
The steel pipes admittedly don’t dampen vibrations in the same way as carbon does but buzz transmits through in such melodious harmony that you almost begin to actually like it and there is sufficient flex in the frame to take the sting out of harsh potholes, too. Even so, we were happy to have a painted-to-match version of Reynolds’ superb UL carbon fork up front. Though steel makes for one of the finest riding frames around, we’ve yet to find a ferrous fork that can beat a top-notch carbon prong. In this case, the UL’s feel complements the rest of the bike nicely and its 330g weight shaves a bunch of mass, too.
Best of all, the 70th Anniversary is alive beneath you with that characteristically resilient personality that high-end steel exhibits almost exclusively. It’s nearly impossible to convey the sensation in words alone. Those who are familiar with it will know exactly what we’re talking about and those who aren’t… well, let’s just say your bicycle quiver isn’t quite full yet.
Much as we love the Paramount’s ride quality, though, carbon fibre’s anisotropic material properties (ie. its stiffness varies with the loading direction) still give it a clear upper hand in terms of overall performance and tuning potential.
The difference is most obvious up front. Remember that springy feel we enjoyed on washboard and broken pavement? Unfortunately the front triangle is equally springy in torsion, which manifests in a bit more twist than usual when sprinting out of the saddle and some flex in hard cornering. It still feels better than the equal amount of movement in a carbon frame but can be a bit distracting at times, especially coming off of something stiffer. Shaping the tubes would help but for now, Reynolds only offers 953 in round cross-sections.
The disparity is subtler out back, though still noticeable. The beautiful rear triangle is admirably rigid under power but just doesn’t quite deliver that immediate surge of speed that full-on carbon race bikes now provide. You can still get up to the same speed but the build-up is more deliberate (think lots of horsepower but not so much torque). In essence, there’s a bigger reward from remaining seated and winding things up than by getting out of the saddle and muscling the bike around.
However, if your primary purpose in cycling is just getting out and clipping off some enjoyable miles, rather than screaming off the front at your local criterium, there are few better ways to do so than on one of these.
The beautiful rear triangle is admirably rigid, but not up there with a full-on carbon race bike
(Almost) as you wish
Buyers have a range of options should they decide to pull the trigger on one of these. However, the list isn’t as long or open-ended as you'd get if you bought something similar direct from a small builder (be it Waterford or otherwise).
As the lugs are fully custom creations, Waterford can accommodate nearly any geometry so you can make the handling as edgy or sedate as you wish. Waterford can also select tube wall thicknesses based on your particular circumstances, though the still-limited availability of 953 means there is no choice in tube diameter. Buyers can choose from any colour imaginable – as long as it’s ‘New Flam Red’ with white decals along with a polished rear end and head tube lugs. Yup, sorry, no freedom there.
Braze-on options are more open and range from water bottle locations (as long as it’s just two of them) and fender eyelets to more traditional items such as a chain hanger and pump peg, though the latter two bits aren’t yet available in stainless. Likewise, we would have preferred derailleur housing stops on the head tube instead of the old-tech down tube adapters but stainless ones apparently aren’t offered there, either. Customers can, however, opt for a stainless braze-on front derailleur mount.
Oh, and what about the price? Perhaps you should sit down. Retail price for the frame and fork – as in no components – is US$7000 (about £4,870). Add in a suitable build and you’re looking at well, well north of US$10,000 (£7,000).
Now that you’ve regained consciousness, Waterford’s Richard Schwinn (and yes, he is a relation) offers this explanation: “Schwinn told me the range was $6K-$7K. It's definitely on the high side, but the lugs are each individually designed [with] none of the angle constraints we live with on our regular bikes. Add in the 953 (which starts at $3,300) plus those cool details like the seatstay treatment and it's not out of line. We don't do a lot of these, but they certainly won't be the most expensive framesets we'll sell this year. Just don't order one of these to save money!”
Considering the price, we expect utter perfection and were slightly let down. For example, there was a bit of paint chipping around the seat binder and edges of the bottom bracket shell, and the ‘S’ in the ‘Schwinn – Paramount’ down tube logo is obscured by the large chainring. We were initially put off by the tacky stick-on chromed plastic head tube badge but consumer models will be equipped with a proper brass piece. Phew.
The short-point bottom bracket lug includes a built in chainstay bridge
So who’s it for?
It goes without saying that only the (very) well-heeled need apply here, but even then, the range of potential buyers is likely to be limited to those with a strong soft spot for the Paramount nameplate and who can appreciate something of this calibre. Schwinn will limit availability to just 70 framesets (no word on how many have sold so far) so Paramount 70th Anniversary owners will be in decidedly rare company, and if the brand’s past popularity is any indication, there are a lot of fans out there in their prime earning years.
Even so, that same amount of money would net you a greater range of customisation if you were to go directly to a qualified 953 builder instead of buying something commissioned specifically for Schwinn – meaning you would potentially have a true one-of-a-kind ride, not number 13/70. But then it wouldn’t say ‘Paramount’ on the down tube and that means something to the right audience. Alternatively, you could also spend a lot less for the same tubeset – and get a similar ride quality – by forgoing the fancy custom lugset or just going with TIG welds.
For those in the target audience, your chariot awaits – try not to strain yourselves hastily pulling out the checkbook. For the rest of you… well, cachet and nostalgia surrounding a particular brand is hard to quantify and you either get it or you don’t. If you don’t, then you probably stopped reading quite a while ago.
Pictures don't do the fully custom stainless steel lugs justice – they're polished, not chromed