For locally manufactured bikes, Mike Mitchell is the man to see. Schwinn shut down its Chicago factory in 1983, but Mitchell restores Chicago-made models from the 1960s and ’70s, taking them apart, cleaning them, and replacing any worn parts before putting them back together and reselling them for $250-$300 apiece at Randolph Street’s Chicago Antique Market or out of his garage in Oak Park.
Though he only retired from teaching school three years ago, Mitchell’s been rehabbing Schwinns for two decades. He’s been fascinated with the brand since childhood, when he wanted a Schwinn but his dad couldn’t afford one. At 14, he finally got a Varsity, and he’s been loyal ever since; he’ll still wax poetic about the real chrome, “excellent paint,” and high quality of the originals.
Mitchell doesn’t repaint or retouch the bikes he works on, preferring to find ones that never got scratched up to begin with. “Originality is the objective,” he says. Some come from garage sales, and dealers who know Mitchell sell him others. Vintage Schwinns are getting harder to find, though, he says. “Each year I’m starting to find that they’re more and more rare.” Still, he usually manages to have 25 to 30 bikes ready to sell at a time.