A tale of two bicycles—Vintage Schwinn 5-speed comparison with possible E-bike conversion—Part 3—Drive train

Shifter on the World Tourist

Shifter on the Collegiate

          Drive train

          Ok, you have seen the bikes, and gotten a general feel for them.   You have already figured out that we are talking about 5-speed bikes.   What exactly does that mean?   Many people don’t need an explanation, but I will try to expand on this anyway.   Like a motorcycle or car, you need to be able to use the speed of the input power to turn the drive wheel.   To take advantage of the torque available, we will need different gearing at different speeds.   When starting out from a stop, we need a low gear to make a effortless take-off.   These lower gears are also needed when climbing a hill.   At higher speeds, your legs would be pedaling too fast and you would not speed up.   So higher gears allow your legs to maintain a higher speed at a comfortable cadence.   Thus, 5-speeds.   Bikes can come in a wide variety of gear choices.   Anything from a single speed stingray or cruiser, to a 30-speed road bike.   The gear changes can be made at the front (at the pedals) gear, the rear gear (at the wheel hub), or both.

With no front derailleur, there is only one front gear sprocket.   This makes it simpler and allows the use of a chain guard to keep grease away from your clothes.   The gear shifting is done at the rear with the combination of a free wheel (gear cluster), and a derailleur (that moves the chain to the different gears).   These bikes have 5 gears on the cluster, which gives you the choice of 5 different gear ratios.   The way you shift and the way the shifter works is one of the more interesting parts of a vintage bike.   I will cover that last.

Front sprocket

          There is only one front sprocket on these bikes.   It is driven by your legs and feet by the pedals and crank.   The sprocket is connected to the crank which rides on ball bearings.   The cranks are not the same on each bike.   The Collegiate uses a one-piece forged crank.   This is a heavy-duty part that also adds a lot of weight to the bike.   It has been used for many years, but the World Tourist has a newer style 3-piece set-up.   It too rides on ball bearings, but has a steel shaft that the crank arms attach to.   Those crank arms are made of aluminum that is very light and strong.   It appears that the gear sprocket is aluminum too.   More savings on the heft of the bike.   Both types work well and each has it’s good and bad points.


          The chain is a standard size for bikes of this vintage.   There are different (link) sizes in the world of chains, so when a replacement is needed, the size needs to match the original.   Also, the length of the chain will considered at that time.   The chain should be cleaned and lubed at certain intervals.   This depends on amount of use and the conditions it is used in.   I prefer a dry lube for my chains.

The chain is what transfers the power from your legs (front sprocket) to the rear wheel.   It is a roller chain.   That means it can smoothly contour itself to the size of the gear it is driving or being driven by.   That is pretty standard stuff.


          This is the part that guides the chain to the desired gear and is controlled by the shifter.   When the shifter is moved, it pulls on the shift cable, that is hooked to the derailleur.   That forces the derailleur to change position, and guide the chain on the gear cluster.   It moves in a parallelogram fashion.   With internal springs and stop points, it is the heart of the shifting system.   Each bike uses a different derailleur.   They work the same, but are made by different manufacturers.

The Collegiate has a Schwinn Approved piece.   This means it was not made by Schwinn, but under their contract to their specifications.   Possibly made in Japan, I will correct this if I am wrong.   It is a well made part that has withstood 40 years of use with no problems.   The World Tourist has a derailleur that is made by Suntour.   This is a Japanese manufacturer.   The Suntour part appears lighter and looks a little bit different.   Once again, no problems after years of use.

They both have rollers that the chain rides on.   The derailleurs have adjustment parameters that will need to be deal with.   They need to be cleaned and lubed.  All this will be covered in the maintenance chapter.


Nether bike has modern click (index) shifting.   I like this.   It allows the shifters to be quite simple.   The only adjustment is a drag setting that keeps the springs in the derailleur from moving it on its own.   This adjustment also controls how hard it is to move it while shifting.   The Collegiate has a nicely chromed lever that is attached near the handlebar stem.   It has a good feel and is in a fairly convenient spot.   The World Tourist has a small lever that is on the handlebars, near the hand grip.   Also good, but in is in the spot where I like to mount my bell.   Yes, you read that right, bells are great for warning pedestrian traffic that you might need more room, or for them not to step in front of you when passing.


          This is some of the fun on old bikes.   You might already know that when you shift, you need to keep the pedals moving, but not have any pressure on them.   It won’t shift if the pedals aren’t moving, and if you don’t relive the pressure, the chain will make a big noise during the shift.   That noise is wear and possible breakage you want to avoid.   

          When you move the shifter, you need to move it a little farther than the final position for that gear you have selected.   After the shift, you will find the correct spot by moving it back a little until there is no noise from the derailleur.   This takes a bit of getting used to.   It is not that easy to explain, but once you have the feel for it, it will become natural.   

          Modern bikes with their click or paddle shifters just don’t give you the satisfaction that you will get with a quiet, smoothly made shift on one of these bikes.   Once again, hard to explain, but a pure joy when you have mastered it.

          Gearing and E-bike consideration

          The overall gearing is not the same.   The World Tourist has a lower low gear ratio and a higher high gear ratio.   And the ratios are spread out a little more.   It has a taller tire size that also affects the gearing.   Both bikes are very nicely geared, but the World Tourist is better on hills.   This is a moot point, as I will get off and push if the going gets too rough.   I see no need to overdo it on hills.   For an E-bike, a wider range of gears would be nice, but my E-Zipp electric bike has a similar set-up.   It has 7 gears, but that is mostly in the spacing between gears and not in the overall ratios.   Once again, this category gives a thumbs up to a E-bike conversion.

          More coming up, Turbo Bob.

          “Like dogs, bicycles are social catalysts that attract a superior category of people.”—-Chip Brown, A Bike and a Prayer

                                          E-bikes and conversion kits from the experts


About Turbo Bob's Bicycle Blog

E-bike Enthusiast Vintage Bike Enthusiast
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