Famous last words

I’m a little fascinated by the mystique surrounding the Schwinn Paramount. One of my favorite riders is a 1989 Waterford built Paramount bike, which I absolutely love. But the truly “desirable” frames – certainly those that one tends to think of when describing a “classic” Paramount – are those built prior to the mid-70’s.

Coincidentally I’ve acquired two such bikes in recent months, the 1966 about which I’ve previously written in this column, and a 1972. The latter came to me in trade for a mid-range Follis frame (I’m so over French sizing at the moment!), some wheels, and a little green stuff. The frame size is on the small end of my acceptable fit range, however I took a chance that I’d be able to build it to meet my riding needs. (I’m quite happy to say that with components on hand, all the critical measurements – such as reach and drop and pedal-to-saddle distance – are spot on for me.)

Clearly the frame was a beater. With large areas of bare steel showing, I felt torn: do I embrace the patina and simply clear coat over the metal to prevent corrosion, and ride it as is? Or do I attempt to match the color and do a gentle retouch to keep the tubing protected from the elements? I decided upon this latter approach and began to search for an off-the-shelf automobile color match.

This, as it turns out, wound up proving to be elusive… but more about that later.

While I was researching paint options I began to look at the Paramount decals. Very nice reproduction graphics are available from VeloCals for what I consider to be a reasonable price, and in a variety of media choices to boot. And really, the graphics on the bike looked OK, I was just going to retouch the frame, right? So there really would be no point in recreating the artwork other than as some sort of purely personal academic challenge, right?

Famous last words, of course.

Things had suddenly turned cold and it was raining. My living room was warm and cozy and I was bored, so I began to look a little more closely at the decals on the ’72 Paramount. I’m somewhat compulsive by nature and thought it might be a good idea to document the graphics for size and location. You know, just in case that information might be handy sometime in the future.

Examining size and position led me to thinking about the typeface used on the down tube. Until I moved over to education I’d been a designer and typographer for my entire career. It’s impossible for me to turn off decades of daily typographic design, and so it proved impossible for me to not think about which fonts most closely resembled the customized lettering used by Schwinn. “With a little modification here and a bit of a flourish there,” I thought, “I could come up with a pretty close match.”

I’m uncertain at what point I began to actually re-create the artwork. The first sign that I’d moved from a state of mental game to some sort of action is in my recollection of  perusing the stacks of type sample catalogs I’ve collected over the years, in search of  the “right” font to be modified.

Working in Adobe Illustrator, I compared proportions and placement of my rough artwork to actual graphics, adjusting and fine tuning the thickness of characters and adjusting the relative letter spacing.  This is detailed work and often involves zooming in very tightly to adjust some of the most minute of details. The typographic designer needs to also think holistically, and not only consider individual letter forms and spacing, but also the overall arrangement of each element within a unit or design. One must observe both the forest and the trees, so to speak.

Color matching was relatively easy as it appears the production process relied upon pure mixes of the basic transparent process colors, or the silk screened versions of colors built from magenta, cyan, black, and process yellow.

I printed black and white laser copies, wrapped them around the tube to see if they fit, and if they matched the original graphics. I noticed that the lettering seemed thicker than the originals, and that it had lost some of the inherent elegance of the original characters, so I went back to my first version of the artwork (left)  and thinned down each stroke (right).

But this was all academic, right? Simply an artistic challenge on a rainy afternoon? I mean what the hell, it’s not like I was going to visit my printer and have these produced, right? Not like I was planning for a complete repaint or anything – this frame was going to be my classy beater, right?

(Not that a repaint and new graphics would be all that difficult, mind you.)

And I was eyeing a can of etching primer as these thoughts bounced through my head.

To be continued.

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4 thoughts on “Famous last words

  1. Ahh typography. Back in my days production work at different marketing agencies I used to watch the designers kern and stroke all day long. Their headphones strapped on tight as they furiously clicked away. Their double 27″ Mac screens zoomed in ungodly close, yet they still leaned, mere inches from the screen. I always was a tourist in their world and it is a world I always wished I had more talent in. Luckily, I’ve seen what they produced, what it did for a piece and most importantly, how they do it, so I have an appreciation for the art.

    As you play with the possible decal replication I wonder just how far down the rabbit hole of restoration you’ll be taking this Paramount.

    Something tells me, you already know.

    Famous last words, indeed!

  2. Chap in London did something similar for fifties style Ellis Briggs transfers which are now available from Nick at Lloyd´s. Your Paramount work also looks great, and you also might consider approaching Nick, or someone who is in his line of business, to make your work available to a larger audience.

    • Thing is, I’m only doing this because I can. I spent two and a half decades creating designs for commerce; it was a good career but I’m happy those days are behind me. When I recreate artwork of this nature today, I post it up for any and all to share. It’s not my original design to register as copyright either, so my investment is “sweat equity”, and for the satisfaction of having done it. As a matter of fact, I maintain a Yahoo! group where I’ve posted reproduction graphics for others to make use of, and where I invite designers of similar mind to contribute high quality cycling graphics. For anyone interested in accessing those designs, or making their own contributions (in Adobe Illustrator only, please!), direct your browser to http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/bicycle_decals/

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