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No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, an American Institution Hardcover – November, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (November 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805035532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805035537
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Crown and Coleman, journalists with Crain's Chicago Business, report how Schwinn, America's premier manufacturer of bicycles, developed, flourished, coasted, and finally flew from its seat headfirst into bankruptcy in 1992. The company's heyday was in the 1950s, when its lovingly crafted, chrome-bedecked monsters were a kid's dream. But the company ignored a shift that occurred in the 1970s--kids of the '50s, by then young adults, had taken to cycling, a sport that demanded lighter frames. When management finally realized the trend, they discovered that Schwinn's underfinanced, antiquated Chicago plant could not produce the welding on the new, thinner tube frames, forcing them to outsource the work to Taiwan's Giant Bicycles. Giant was then tiny, but--thanks to Schwinn--it soon fulfilled the promise of its name to become the biggest bicycle manufacturer in the world. A salutary tale of "no hands" management.

From Publishers Weekly

This involving saga of the rise and fall of an American icon, the Schwinn Bicycle Company, combines a colorful social history of bicycling with a cautionary tale on the many forces that can bring down a family-run enterprise. Founded in 1895 in Chicago by headstrong German immigrant Ignaz Schwinn, the firm saw its market eclipsed by the automobile age, until Schwinn's son Frank led the bicycle industry out of the Depression with diverse styles and a youth-oriented image. Business boomed in the 1950s, but imported bikes splintered the market, and third- and fourth-generation Schwinns, clinging to old formulas, fell behind. The closing of the Chicago factory in 1983, a Pyrrhic victory over the union, left Schwinn essentially an importer. Parts shortages and lack of investment in new equipment were further burdens. Crown and Coleman, reporter and deputy managing editor, respectively, at Crain's Chicago Business, maintain that Ed Schwinn Jr., who became president in 1979, soured key relationships with dealers, employees and suppliers through his arrogance, managerial blunders and a series of joint ventures that sapped the company's limited resources. After filing for bankruptcy in 1992, Schwinn Bicycle was bought by Chicago investors Sam Zell and David Schulte, who moved the streamlined enterprise to Boulder, Colo. Photos. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 13 customer reviews
Highly recommended if you can find it!
The Schwinn company was built by an immigrant with a knowledge of mechanics and a fierce dedication to quality.
Cranky Reviewer
He simply did what needed to be done and that was it.
E. Binkley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By KC on July 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Since hubby and I are both avid cyclists and also work at a bike shop (myself part time, him full time) this book interested me. It is at once a history of the bicycle in general, and about Schwinn in particular. Ms. Crown and Mr. Coleman relate in vivid detail the creation of the Schwinn bike by Ignaz Schwinn, and how subsequent generations of the family (who owned the company up until the 1990's) developed new products, but later let opportunities (such as the development of the BMX and mountain bike -which was created with old Schwinn parts) slip through their fingers. By the 70's the controlling family members appeared to have little or no interest in bicycles -- only in their annual incomes from their family trust -- and failed to realize that they were letting down the family name and reputation for quality.The book also touches on other bike manufacturers, such as Specialized, Gary Fisher and Trek, and how these companies profited by Schwinn's 'falling asleep at the wheel' old boys' club-type school of thought. Apparently, Schwinn never realized until it was far too late that there was/is a vast adult market out there! This book is compelling reading for anyone interested in bicycle history, or just American business in general. Highly recommended if you can find it!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cranky Reviewer on March 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is the often rather grim story of the fall of a great empire. The Schwinn company was built by an immigrant with a knowledge of mechanics and a fierce dedication to quality. Over several generations, the company gradually fell apart, as subsequent, born-privileged Schwinns took less interest in the company product, focusing on marketing at the expense of manufacturing, and arrogantly believing that the prestige of their name brand would endure over their stubborn reluctance to innovate or modernize. Along the way we get informative and interesting glances into the beginning of BMX and mountain biking, fascinating portraits of the personalities involved, and a strange sense of the interconnectedness of all the big names in the bike industry, as Schwinn's errors lead to the rise of Trek and Giant, and effect many other familiar bike companies. Definitely worth a read.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By E. Binkley on December 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have given the book five stars yet I have not read the book. I just now found out of its existence but it is definitely on my list of books to read and I'll tell you why that is.

My father, Walter J. Binkley, was the manager of the Special Parts Department at Schwinn until he retired in 1968. I remember visiting him on many occasions at the factory at 1750 N. Kildare Av. and him showing me all the latest things they were working on for the next years models.

My dad was frustrated over the lack of knowledge of the new engineers entering the company and suggested to Frank Schwinn that he let my dad put them to work for six months or so working with the machines they were designing parts to be manufactured by. That way they would learn the limitations of those machines and not try to engineer something the machines dad had that could not even come close to producing. Frank Schwinn disagreed with my dad but he did throw him a bone of sort. He could have them for a week and show them the ropes, so to speak. It wasn't much but it was a start and dad was smart enough to take what he could get and then try to get more.

Schwinn, at that time, manufactured most all of their own parts from frames to peddle cranks, nuts, fenders, everything and anything you can think of and dad made it right there. Dad and his foreman and right hand man Ed Sherlock were quite a team and had been together for many years including through World War II when Schwinn stopped manufacturing bikes and produce munitions instead. Specifically 20mm and 40mm projectiles for air to air and ground to air weapons.

Those same Conomatic six and eight spindle screw machines that made those projectiles were now employed making parts for bicycles.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Skor on December 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Statistically only a small percentage of family owned businesses survive past the third generation, and this book demonstrates why.

The Schwinn family practiced a form of of the company passed to the first born male of each subsequent generation, with the other family members sharing in the profits. The company was founded by a talented and driven man, but as the company came under control of spoiled brats, named Schwinn, with an entitlement mentality, the fatal rot set in. The other family members not directly involved in management cared nothing about bicycles and were only interested in their profit sharing checks.

The saddest thing about the demise of the Schwinn company is that they helped to create, and then failed to capitalize, on the very trends that put them out of business.


Schwinn was the first American bike company to mass market derailleur bikes...the Varsity and Continental models....heavy bikes targeting the teen boy demographic. When derailleur bikes caught on with adult cyclists, who demanded lighter and more refined bikes, Schwinn refused to produce them! As one Schwinn manager dismissively told a Schwinn dealer who requested light-weight derailleur bikes, "What do these people want to do with them? Ride them or carry them?". That dealer soon stopped being a Schwinn dealer.

The first BMX bikes were custom affairs that were produced in Southern California using Schwinn Stingray frames. When the Schwinn suits back in Chicago heard about this, they sent someone to check it out. Their conclusions: A minor fad that will peter out very quickly. By the time Schwinn executives realized it was not a minor fad, other bike companies controlled the bulk of the BMX market.
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