Creator Of Popular Schwinn 'Sting-Ray' Bike Dies

Al Fritz, creator of the "Sting-Ray" bike for Schwinn, died last Tuesday at 88 in Barrington, Ill. His bike had a banana seat and high handlebars that curved like longhorns. It was a huge hit for Schwinn in the 1970s.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally, this hour, we remember the man behind a famous bicycle design. Now, if you spent your childhood riding a bike with big handlebars and a banana seat, then you owe Al Fritz your thanks. The former executive for the bike company Schwinn died last week. In 1963, Fritz introduced the model known as the Sting-Ray, and it got a boost with ads on the TV show "Captain Kangaroo."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Captain will be back after these messages.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: It's Schwinn bike time again, boys and girls.

CORNISH: The Sting-Ray was born after Fritz traveled to California, where kids were modifying bikes to look like suped-up, chopper-style motorcycles. He returned to Schwinn's Chicago headquarters with the concept.

MIKE FRITZ: He brought the idea back, and the rest is history.

CORNISH: That's Mike Fritz, who joined his father at Schwinn in 1973.

FRITZ: He got universal disapproval for the idea. People thought it was a stupid idea. But at the time, my dad was vice president of engineering research and development; and he certainly had the clout to push through a concept, even if he was the only one that believed in it.

CORNISH: And that belief paid off. The Sting-Ray turned out to be one of the more successful products in Schwinn's history. It was soon copied by other bike manufacturers. Al Fritz had worked his way up at Schwinn, from welder to vice president for engineering, research and development. And his son says he was forever tinkering.

FRITZ: I was the envy of the neighborhood. I used to get the new bike ideas, the new bike prototypes, long before they ever saw it in the marketplace. One of the great ideas that he had at one time - that never really flew - he developed a windshield, sort of a Plexiglas windshield, that bolted to the high-rise handlebar. And it made it look that much more like a motorcycle. And he brought that home, and we tried it out. And I had the pleasure of going back and saying, Dad, when it's windy out, it makes the bike unstable.

CORNISH: Mike Fritz, also a bicycle engineer, remembering his father, Al Fritz, who died last week at age 88.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN SONG, "BICYCLE RACE")

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