What was your first impression of this bike when you opened up your browser or inbox? Bikes can be polarising objects. With only a cursory glance, this Schwinn Typhoon might look to be a discrepant rat rod, but closer inspection will reveal a level of quality that some modern bikes can only dream of.
Gordon Coale is a photographer from Whidbey Island, Washington, Maybe you’ve heard of Gordy’s Camera Straps: a simple, yet beautiful, handmade leather mechanism for attaching one’s camera to one’s wrist. Gordy has been a cyclist for most of his life — club racing and commuting — with a decade-long break between 2004 and 2014.
When he decided to start riding again last year, Gordy had been reading through Sheldon Brown’s website, the online bible of home bicycle mechanics, when he came across a page on Chicago-built Schwinns. The history of Schwinn is an epic tale in itself, but the Chicago chapter is the highlight.
The Schwinn factory in Chicago produced the brand’s bicycles for over 80 years, of which the Typhoon was an important part of their catalog. Constructed using ‘electro-forged’ (welded) construction, the head tubes were filed to look as if they were fillet brazed. The Typhoon was a descendant of the original Aerocycle, the ultimate ‘paperboy’ bike.
The Typhoon was built from Chicago steel, and Sheldon Brown even describes them as “among the most bomb-resistant bikes ever built”. A graceful frame, it had curved top tubes, seat stays and down tube. Gordy found himself a model from 1963, converted it to a fixed gear and, last July, rode the two-day, 206-mile Seattle to Portland ride — at age 70.
Gordy had modified and updated his Typhoon extensively: installing a bottom bracket adapter to accept a modern unit, and track cranks to replace the original one-piece set. After training with a 42-tooth chainring, a 46-tooth ring was used for the STP ride. On the flip-flop rear hub, there’s a 17-tooth cog on one side and a 23-tooth cog on the other.
The inspiration was the early Tour de France racers, who rode a fixed gear with the harder ratio to the foot of a col or alp, then stopped and flipped the rear wheel to the ‘easy’ gear to ascend the summit. One of Gordy’s camera straps keeps the front wheel stationary while the change is made, preventing it from tipping to the side.
There are few modern luxuries on Gordy’s long-distance Typhoon, but everything is considered in terms of performance and function. The handlebars were swapped with more upright BMX-style bars. “I’m too old to ride drop bars,” Gordy says, “I don’t bend that way anymore so I went upright. It turns out you can see the world around you a lot better that way. Who knew? This bike turned out to be the most fun to ride of any bike I’ve had.”
Even clipless pedals were eschewed for spiked platform pedals. They worked for Gordy, the spikes did a fine job of keeping his shoes adhered to the bike, and gave him enough purchase to use his legs and the fixed gear to slow his momentum. A sprung Brooks B66 saddle is the height of comfort for any long-distance enthusiast.
Attached to the Sackville SaddleSack from Rivendell is a pin that reads: Enjoy The Journey, which was given to him by his daughter, Jenny. Gordy used to own a VW Kombi of the pin’s vintage, so the message is especially relevant. The Obey Giant sticker is also significant for a fixed-gear bike, Gordy says, “You will obey the pedals!”
It’s refreshing to encounter a rider with such passion for the machine, and for riding, as Gordy, after all of the high-end and finely crafted bikes seen on The Spoken. It’s a pleasant reminder of why we ride, and how simple and wonderful the bicycle can be. If we can be riding with Gordy’s vigor when we’re the same vintage, we’ll be doing well.
Read more on Gordy’s blog.