The final product — a 50th anniversary edition Schwinn Paramount with its trademark gold-plated front fork.
A week before I talked to Kevin Eccles of Wauwatosa earlier this year, the former bike racer and race organizer had taken possession of a very special bike. The bike, prized among fellow collectors and eerily resembling one he raced in his youth, took two years to build up. But for Eccles, the selection of builder was as special as the steel frame and the unique groupset that went into the final product — a 50th anniversary edition Schwinn Paramount with its trademark gold-plated front fork.
Given Schwinn’s more recent reputation as the maker of affordable bikes for the average consumer (a chapter that predates the company’s 1992 bankruptcy, resulting in Madison-based Pacific Cycle buying the brand), it’s easy to forget the company dominated the market for decades. And the Schwinn Paramount was the high-end bike of choice for many U.S. pro racers and teams through the 1980s.
Eccles, in fact, started racing as a 14-year old in 1984 on a Schwinn Prologue. Growing up in Oshkosh, he first raced for Bikeland and then Fond du Lac Cyclery, teams run by bike shop owner John Bartow. It was the Prologue that Eccles took to Belgium the summer after his junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Acting on the suggestion of a cycling coach, he and a friend flew to Gent.
“We just got off the plane, went downtown and found a hotel to stay at for a couple hundred bucks for a month,” Eccles recalled. They immediately started entering races.
“The first week was ride until you get dropped. Then we’d do intervals all the way home and try to get in shape. And the next week we’d try to last a little longer [in the field before getting dropped.] Then we started making it into some breakaways and started placing and doing OK in some by the end of the month,” he said.
By then, Eccles noticed a crack near one of the lugs on his bike. So he called the Fond du Lac bike shop to ask for another frame to be ready for him upon his return to the states. “I didn’t think, boy, I should really get an Eddy Merckx bike while I’m here in Belgium,” he said. “Maybe I wasn’t the smartest guy.”
Waiting for him back home was a Schwinn Paramount, a bike he raced as a newly minted Cat 2 competitor in the Superweek series that summer. He would go on to race on Treks, but it was the Paramount he took to France for a junior year abroad spent racing.
Eccles said he became aware of the 50th anniversary Schwinn Paramounts — only about 600 of which were manufactured at a plant in Waterford, Wisconsin — right around when they were issued in 1988. “I remember it was really cool but really ugly with that gold fork,” he said. “All the guys on the team were a little frothy over that.”
The Paramount Eccles owned was not one of those. “But it was definitely same era, similar ergonometry, similar setup,” he said.
Eccles would continue to race until 1996, a couple years into his 8-year tenure managing race events for Tom Schuler’s Team Sports Inc., including the mountain biking events 24 Hours of Nine Mile, 24 Hours of Telemark and the NORBA National at Alpine Valley. Schuler, who by then was managing professional cycling teams, was an original member of the American 7-Eleven Cycling Team founded by Olympian Jim Ochowicz, another member of Wisconsin’s cycling royalty. Schuler was the 1981 U.S. criterium champion and the 1987 USPRO national road champion.
“The unique part was the serial number was [on the Shimano groupset] 1987, the year Tom won the USPRO championship,” Eccles said. The group was a gift to Schuler from Wayne Stetina, an American Olympian cyclist and long-time executive at Shimano. “Wayne made sure to hand select it for Tom,” Eccles said. “I remember we were all looking at it going, wow, that’s cool. [We told] Tom, you need to get a Schwinn Paramount anniversary bike to put this on, which was produced 10 years before this group came out.”
Fast forward to 2019 when Eccles happened to see a post on a Facebook page for enthusiasts of the Schwinn Paramount. The post listed for sale a 50th anniversary Paramount frame in Eccles’ size.
“I don’t know about the angles and such, but the positioning should be almost identical” to the one he rode as a younger man. “So I decided to go after it and get the bike.”
Soon thereafter, Eccles remembered Shuler’s Dura Ace groupset. He contacted his former boss and learned that Schuler had never made use of it. Eccles said he wasn’t surprised.
“Tom isn’t that much of a bike geek for as much as people are bike geeky about him,” Eccles said. “If you asked Tom what bike he wished he had that he doesn’t have, it’s the 7-Eleven Eddy Merckx that he rode.” And not a replica.
Last summer Schuler found the “1987” Dura Ace group and sold it to Eccles. A business development executive, Eccles declined to say how much he spent on the bike and build.
What are Eccles’ plans for the bike? “I have no idea,” he said. “Maybe I’ll ride 50 miles on it for the 50th anniversary, I don’t know. I’m not sure, I haven’t decided yet.
“Maybe it’s a bike to be on display in a [bike] shop. It’s definitely not going to be on display in my house, my wife told me,” he said.