“Sting-Ray” designerAl Fritz

An engineer, Fritz was the research and development director at Schwinn Bicycle Company. In 1962, he went to Los Angeles after a company salesman told him, “something goofy is happening in California” — kids were building a new kind of bike out of parts to look like “chopper” motorcycles. He liked what they were coming up with, including the tall handlebars and longer seats, and headed back to Chicago and got work on a mass-produced version. “The people who looked at his prototypes thought it was a stupid idea,” says his son, Michael, who also works in the industry, “but he pushed it on through. There were 60 different permutations on the theme and each was more successful than the last.” It was the “Sting-Ray” bicycle, and it didn’t just sell well, the “wheelie bike” (to use the more generic term) became the most popular bicycle style in the country, with millions sold. The style led to the BMX craze, and Fritz was inducted into the BMX Hall of Fame in 2010. Fritz also designed 10-speed bicycles when the “touring bike” craze hit, and he designed the Airdyne exercise bicycle. “It helped bike dealers who had only a seasonal business to stay open year round,” says John Barous, the editor of Bicycle Dealer magazine. “It carried these guys through many a winter.” Fritz retired from Schwinn in 1985, and died on May 7 in Barrington, Ill., after suffering a stroke. He was 88.

From This is True for 12 May 2013