Restoring a Vintage 1983 Schwinn Le Tour - Doug Barnes

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Restoring a Vintage 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

I sometimes scour the neighborhood garage sales for bikes. One Sunday I go out to look over some possible new arrivals. At one stop amidst the Wal-Mart and K-Mart kids bikes, I see a vintage champaign-colored Schwinn Le Tour covered with dirt and cobwebs. Under the dirt, this Made-in-America Schwinn road bike is in great condition. I surmise it had been ridden a few years during the bicycle boom and then stored in a garage. After inspecting the Le Tour, I also see that it has all its original parts. I know a bit of the history behind this bicycle, and I decide it's worth the time to restore the Le Tour to its original condition. Despite Schwinn’s reputation as a purveyor of sturdy children’s bikes, this Schwinn Le Tour was a high-quality road bike for its time.

A Short History of the Schwinn Le Tour

The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour was a symbolic turning point for Schwinn. The story starts with the introduction of a made-in-Japan Schwinn Le Tour in 1973. The “Schwinn approved” Le Tour first showed up as a new offering in the company’s 1974 catalog. Schwinn decided to give in to the stiff competition from Japan and Europe for producing high-quality road bikes. With the exception of the Schwinn Paramount, the company had limited capacity to build high-quality frames. The Schwinn Paramount was built in a small section of the Chicago factory up until 1983. After 1983 the Paramount was made in a small factory in Waterford, Wisconsin.

In the 1970s the Chicago factory was hampered by years of a lack of capital investment in new machinery. As a result in 1973 Schwinn hauled up the white flag and outsourced many of its bicycles to Taiwan and Japan. This included the new Le Tour. For about 5 or 6 years the “Schwinn approved” Le Tour was manufactured by Japanese bicycle makers such as Panasonic or Bridgestone. The reason was that Schwinn’s factory in Chicago had become outmoded and was incapable of producing a large number of high-quality chrome-moly frames (strong steel formally called chromium molybdenum) common among its Japanese and European competitors.

Eventually, Schwinn with the 1979 model returned the manufacture of the Le Tour to a small section in its Chicago factory. In the 1978 catalog, the Le Tour is still "Schwinn Approved," which means it was made in Japan or Taiwan. In 1979 the catalog description of the Le Tour refers to a "Made in USA torched brazed lug frame." These Le Tours were likely made in Chicago. However, the factory in Chicago was shuttered in December 1983, so it is doubtful that the 1883 Le Tours were made in Chicago.

In the early 1980s, Schwinn made the decision to start a new factory in Greenville Mississippi. The factory opened in 1981. The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour I found leaning against the bicycle shed no doubt was among the first Le Tours to be produced in that factory. The design and components of the bicycle are very similar to those that had been imported during previous years. This was a period in which Schwinn was attempting to reestablish its manufacturing identity by returning some frame production to the United States. However, the experiment failed and in 1991 the Greenville factory closed. Bankruptcy was soon to follow. With a Chicago head badge, the 1973 Le Tour could have been made in Chicago, but it's quite unlikely. All indications are that the 1983 Le Tour was manufactured in the new Greenville factory and affixed with a Schwinn Chicago head badge.

Head Badge with Schwinn and Made in Chicago written on it.
Schwinn Le Tour Head Badge, 1983

The 1983 Le Tour Specifications

The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour is a nicely built bicycle with excellent balance. The 1983 model represents Schwinn's attempt to build a high-quality road bicycle in the United States. The bicycle has a mix of Japanese and European components specified by Schwinn engineers. The components range from Shimano shifters to Maillard hubs (table 1). The majority of the components are Japanese, a nod towards the origins of the Schwinn Le Tour as a Schwinn-approved bicycle made in Japan. This model represented Schwinn's attempt to reclaim its industrial "made in USA" past.
Table 1. 1983 Schwinn Le Tour Specifications
(Source: Doug Barnes)

The Frame

The frame is made in the USA from 4130 chrome-moly tubing. To my knowledge, this frame is not double-butted (thinner in the middle and thicker on the ends). The frame is fairly light as the bicycle weighs in at 26 pounds. Since I refinished this bike, I have ridden it for about 100 miles.

The feel of the bike on the road is smooth, stable, and strong. It is definitely designed as a touring bike that can carry the weight of camping gear. The rear stays and front fork have threaded holes, ready-made settings for attaching racks. The frame of the pictured bike is the largest size made at 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) as measured from the center of the bottom bracket spindle to the top of the seat tube. This means that the bike is best sized for someone that is about 6’ 2” (1.88 meters) and above.

On the rear dropout, there are some clues as to the date of the bicycle. Stamped on the dropout is the serial number SF303719. 

Schwinn Le Tour Rear Dropout Stamped with Frame Serial Number
(Image: Doug Barnes)

According to Schwinn, models made in Japan usually have a J as the first character in the serial number. This model was made in the USA. The Schwinn Le Tour starts with a letter (S=Le Tour and some other models) followed by the production month (F=June) and then the year (3=83). This means the frame was produced in June of 1983 with no indication of the factory location. For more information on this confusing serial numbering system, see the official publication Schwinn Information Bulletin No. 23.

Picture of Schwinn Le Tour Bicycle leaning against a fence
Full Frame View of Schwinn Le Tour

Sticker on bicycle naming the tubing material (Chrome-Moly)
Chrome-Moly Sticker, Schwinn Le Tour

Yellow sticker on bicycle saying wet rims increase stopping distance
Braking Sticker Common on 1970s and 1980s Bicycles

Schwinn Le Tour sticker on tope tube of bicycle
Top Tube and Schwinn Sticker, 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

The Seat and Seatpost

The seat is in remarkable condition and looks like it has barely been used. It has a plastic undercarriage that is covered with foam and then a cover. The silver and black Schwinn nameplate sits on the back of the black seat. It is very comfortable to ride, although it’s a bit wide. The color of the frame is officially called sandpiper. The original post slides into the seat tube and requires shims to make it fit. The seat clamp acts as the holder for the cable connecting to the center pull brakes and has the Schwinn S imprinted on the seat bolt. Schwinn liked to brand all the parts on their bicycle. A clear signal that Schwinn did not make a component is the designation “Schwinn Approved.”
Schwinn bicycle seat clamp against chain fence.
Seat Clamp with Schwinn S, 1983 Le Tour

Black Bicycle Seat with Schwinn Nameplate on Schwinn Le Tour
Schwinn Approved Padded Seat, 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

The Shifter Group

The derailleur set is Shimano Altus. At the time the Altus was a low- to mid-level derailleur for road bikes. This particular Altus was sold just before Shimano began to sell indexed shifters in 1985. I have no idea when it was introduced, but it must have been in the 1970s. Today the Altus is still a name in Shimano’s line of derailleurs, but it quite different and is marketed for mountain bikes.
Reara bicycle Derailleur with chain fence backdrop
Shimano Altus Rear Derailleur, Le Tour 1983

Stem mounted bicycle shift levers against black chain link fence.
Altus Stem Shifter, Le Tour 1983

Rear Freewheel and Axle

Both the rear freewheel and hub are made in France. The freewheel is a six-speed Maillard Atom 77 and the hub also is Maillard quick release. These parts were fairly common for bicycles constructed in 1973, but they were on their way out being replaced by parts made in Japan. The alloy Araya rims are 27/¼” and are made in Japan.
Shiny bicycle hub with background of grass
Maillard Small Flange Hub, Le Tour 1983

Rear 5 speed freewheel on bicycle with grass in backgound
Rear Atom Six Speed Freewheel, Le Tour 1983

Shiny Araya rim with Araya name with backdrop of grass
Araya Rim 27/1/4, 1983 Le Tour

Brakes, Handlebars, and Stem

The brakes, handlebars, and stem are all made in Japan. The brake levers are Schwinn Approved, but I have an identical set of brakes on another bike (without the levers) and they are made by Dia Compe. The quick-release mechanism is so that the brakes widen for the removal of wheels. The stem and handlebars are made by Sakae in Japan. The handlebars are Sakae Custom Road Champion. These parts were common on good-quality bicycles in the early 1970s.

Front view of bicycle handlebars and stem
Sakae Custom Road Champion Handlebars and Stem, Le Tour 1983

Close-up view of quick release brakes on a bicycle
Dia Compe "Schwinn Approved" Brake Levers, Le Tour 1983

Ready for the Road

This Schwinn Le Tour is a classic road bike ideal for touring and recreation. The model was so popular that Schwinn made many different variations of the basic Le Tour, including such models as Le Tour Luxe, Super Le Tour, and others. This bike has a smooth stable ride and takes corners very well. The only irritation on my test rides was the old kickstand kept bouncing up and down over bumps. I solved this problem by simply removing it. However, the bike does have a nice built-in platform for a kickstand.

Overall, this is a great bike and a turning point for Schwinn and the bicycle industry. Selling the earlier Japanese Le Tours, Schwinn was acknowledging that the company did not have the capacity to compete with the Japanese manufacturers. In 1983 the company made an attempt to return production to the USA by opening a factory in Greenville, Mississippi. Unfortunately, the move was too little and too late. Due to poor business decisions, the company declared bankruptcy in 1992 and was eventually sold to the Zell/Chilmark Fund in 1993. Today the company is owned by a branch of Dorel Industries in Canada called Pacific Cycle. Pacific Cycles markets Schwinn, Mongoose, and Iron Horse brands of bicycles.

For those interested, I have done similar restoration in the past, and one was my own old 1971 Raleigh Record bicycle. Today I use that bike for riding in my neighborhood and down to the corner store. Due to a stiff back, I recently have installed a longer stem and new Shimano brakes and the restored bike rides like new.

Because of all the box store bikes on the road, I think the high-quality 1970s and 1980s bicycles have a better ride than 90 or perhaps even 95 percent of the bikes on the road today. People often shy away from them because of the drop handlebars, skinny tires, and lack of suspension. With a few small changes such as a higher stem and thicker tires, these bikes can provide quality transportation at a reasonable price. As evidence, check out any crowded downtown bicycle racks and you’ll always find some of these old-timers still providing reliable transport. How many cars do you see today that are older than 40 years and still smoothing rolling down the road?


Crown, Judith and Glenn Coleman. 1996. No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, An American Institution. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Note: All pictures in this article are by Doug Barnes 2017.


  1. Just bought a 1983 Super Le Tour. Great info and good to know where this bike may have been made

  2. Thanks for the post. Bought mine in 1984 and after all these years the tube markings are gone. Everything else still there though! Same handlebar, chrome-moly sticker, etc... (#SC300132) Wish I could pin down the model for certain, I think it was a Le Tour.

    1. According to your serial number (presume it is SC300132) this would be either a Le Tour or Super Le Tour (S) produced in the month of March (C) in 1983 (3). The rest of the numbers are unique. As above the frame is probably produced in Mississippi.

  3. Thanks for the article Douglas. Great information and pictures!
    I'm hoping to be the proud owner of a one owner 1983 Le Tour tomorrow. It appears to be all original except for the pedals and rear brakes.
    I would like to replace the pedals with the originals. Are they fairly easy to find? Any idea if the Le Tour had it's own style of pedal?

    Thanks, Mike

  4. I bought a 1984 Le Tour at a garage sale and have been slowly working on it. I really like the bike. What do you know about the service of the bearings and freewheel? Everything is running great, I just want to be proactive in keeping it that way! This is my first road bike and first vintage bike.

    1. This just depends on how much the bike has been ridden. The bearing grease is surely dried up by now and should be regreased (wheels and bottom bracket at least). If the tires and tubes have not been changed in years, you may want to replace them. Otherwise, you will get flats. This is a nuisiance during rides. The rubber degrades over time. But if they are less than 10 years old, they are probably okay.

  5. I just pulled my 1982 LeTour out of the basement. Great shape and I loved riding it. Loved learning about the history of Schwinn and this bike. As I’m “getting up there,” I may sell it.

    1. I gave this reconditioned Le Tour to my son and he uses it for commuting to work. He loves it and gets all kinds of positive comments. I still ride my old Raleigh that is another post, but I modified it significantly so it was comfortable for me to ride. I may to an article on the changes.

  6. I'm working on a customer's Schwinn. It was recovered from being stolen and hired me to restore the bike. It is definitely a Schwinn but the model is scraped up. It has chrome chain/seat stays and forks. Serial number 1A000699 and the badge shows 3100 / MIJ. I have searched the googles and can't narrow down make and year.
    The Crank is a Super Maxy with a date code of J-8 which should bring it to 1990. But this looks like a 1970's era paramount with downtube shifters..

    1. You might look at the following website. It has some components and pictures. Many are not in original condition.

      Some 1980s Paramounts were made in Japan.

      What are the other components. Sometimes you can review the Schwinn catalogs and pinpoint the model. Waterford Bikes (formerly the factory producing Paramount models) has a good listing of images from all the catalogues.

    2. You're the first person with similar serial number my la tour starting with a number 2A01245 1983 did you find any more info. Great bike ride about 500 miles allready this year.

    3. According to the Schwinn Information Bulletin on serial numbers your Le Tour serial number should start with an S. Are you sure the 2 is not an S. If the 2 is an S, then your bike was made in January 1980. This is a really nice riding classic bike.

    4. greeting Douglas
      i was doing research on my Le Tour that i recently purchased and it also has a serial number on that starts with a 2F02803
      I also thought my bike was mfg. in June 1980..
      no mistake it is clearly a number. "2"

    5. The F is somewhat unusual. Usually the LeTours are S, J or G depending on the country of production. Could it be a J. This would mean built in Japan. Another way to define the year you can look at the catalogs and identify the component groups that are identical to your bike. I hope this helps.

    6. Thanks for responding to my post. I have looked over the serial numbers and yes starts with 2 followed by F.
      the components seem to be consistent with a 1980s bike front and rear derailleur down tube shifters all marked Shimano Altus.
      front hub is a approved Schwinn and rear hub Shimano, but for some reason the rims are alloy Weinmann and brakes are also Weinmann side pulls. the reason i purchased was the color it is in the sandpiper color like the one you have with brown Schwinn lettering on the down tube very attractive bike.

    7. If you could send some images of the components, I might be able to date the bike. From the components you have listed it seems to be 1980s. Email is

  7. Thank you for your reply and recommendations. I’m at a loss since I have went thru all the photos and information.
    The other components are
    SR Road Champion Japan handlebars
    Double butted 4130 sticker
    Red/chrome lined stickers wrapped around the chain stay/ seat stay/ seat tube
    SR seat post
    Dia-compe brakes with quick release
    Round reflectors
    Shimano Altus Downtube shifters(friction)
    SR Stem
    Red/Gold lined Schwinn logo on downtube. No logo on top tube

  8. Well I found it. 1980 Schwinn Voyageur 11.8.

    1. Great! Glad you found it.

      Believe it or not I am working on a 1988 Voyageur right now so the components sounded really familiar. I will have a posting up in about a month. Nice bikes!

  9. I just bought a yellow Le Tour on ebay for $71.00. It definitely was made in Japan and in my research I think it was made in 1974. The chrome was in great shape but the front forks bearly turned and the wheels would spin slow. I pulled the forks and crank and the grease was like gum. Also did front and rear bearings and replaced all cables. Put new black tape on the handlebars and bought a buffer/polisher for my drill and polished all the chrome. I'm 61 years old and I feel like I'm 15 in high school again. Up every morning knocking out 6+ miles. Great COVID project.

    1. Riding a bike is about as safe as it gets during the COVID crisis. The Le Tours are not the lightest bike of the era, but they are really designed well for riding. My son has the one I refinished and loves it. Thanks for the great comment.

  10. Hi Doug, My bike collection is starting to mirror yours, as I just picked up a Schwinn LeTour, S/N SC211040, and a 1988 Schwinn Tempo, as a Father/Son combo sale for $120.00 My LeTour has the older style decals and chromed steel rims made by UKARIM. the kickstand is non-descript, except for the "Japan" cast into it. I am glad that I had 2 extra gumwall tires from last year, as prices are through the roof, now.I also have a 1972 Raleigh Record and a 1950 Raleigh Tourist, among others. I did get a few extra 26X1-3/8 Michelin's from Chain Reaction Cycle for $6.77 for blackwalls.

    1. According to your serial number, this is probably a 1982 Schwinn Le Tour built in March. It was probably made in USA. In fact, it may have been among the first to be made in the new factory in Greenville, but Chicago is also a possibility. The rims have me puzzled, as most of the Le Tours had alloy rims. Perhaps they are after market.

  11. Muy linda bicicleta! Tengo un Le Tour 3 completamente original como saliĆ³ de fabrica! Saludos!

  12. Doug
    I read you talk about the Letour being made in Japan the in the Chicago Plant until 1983. I have a lugged Schwinn Mountain bike frame that has a serial number BS367823 that by the Schwinn serial code is February 1981 but by the Asian Serial number Guide is taken as 1983. This has been taken by a fellow T-Mar as being a serial number system used for frames made in Japan.
    From what I have seen another ASNG format refers to the Letour SyMnnnn but of course this did carry on to frames made in the Chicago plant in the late 1970`s.
    The discussion I have had with others comes to saying the frame I have is a 1983 manufacture. T-Mar does state he has no idea of what USA manufacturers used as SN formats.
    I see also Paramount manufactured at Chicago as well.
    A direct discussion we could have via email before we go to a public posting.
    I trust you are well and keeping sake,
    Kind regards
    Les Cook

    1. Yes. Please contact me if you like. My email is in the about me page. I don't think Schwinn made "mountain" bikes until 1983. Send pictures if you like.

      See this link for 1983 Sierra which is lugged.

  13. Hello Doug,
    I also have a Schwinn Le Tour. The SN is SH303873, so it seems it was made in Aug 1983. I bought it used, was riding for a while but for the last 20 years it was sitting in my basement because I have a mountain bike. I'm planning to use this road bike for a 18-mile triathlon distance, so I want to replace tires and tubes myself and then bring it for a tune up to a shop. But I don't know the size of tires I need. My measurement of the wheel diameter gave me 25.5". Please give me your advice. Thank you!

    1. Please check the last image on my article. You will see my bike has Araya Rims that are 27X 1 1/4. You will need a 27X 1 1/4 tire (700s will not work) which are available on Amazon but you have to search a bit. The tubes can be standard 700c size as they will fit any similar sized rim. But check your rim as sometimes the wheels have been replaced. A stamp will also be on the existing tire (assuming there is still one one the bike). it's a great riding bike and you will enjoy it once you have it fixed up. The Super Le Tour had 27X 1 1/8 inch tires, but the 27X 1 1/4 should fit. 27 is the rim size and the 1/4 or 1/8 is the tire width.

  14. Hello Doug,
    I also have a Schwinn Le Tour. The SN is SH303873, so it seems it was made in Aug 1983. I bought it used, was riding for a while but for the last 20 years it was sitting in my basement because I have a mountain bike. I'm planning to use this road bike for a 18-mile triathlon distance, so I want to replace tires and tubes myself and then bring it for a tune up to a shop. But I don't know the size of tires I need. My measurement of the wheel diameter gave me 25.5". Please give me your advice. Thank you!

  15. Hi Doug,

    I have had an antique Schwinn Sakae Custom Champion 4130 Chromoly that looks to be a 1973. Serial number is F736448 and model looks to be 1737. I realize this is a hard to find bike. It was in my storage building until recently. It is now in my livingroom to keep it dry. In good condition and mint green. The paint original. Just wondering if you have an ideal of it's value. I used to ride but currently on disability and would be frightened to try now with all my physical problems. Your post with the catalog was so informative. I greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks so much, Linda

    1. Your bike is a 1977.

    2. This is a 1983. The 1977s had only 5 gears and this one has 6. All the other components also match the 1983 version that is in the Schwinn catalog. As I said, it was likely produced in Mississippi.

  16. I would consider the fact when the chicago plant was shutting down, parts that were left over might have been used to build bikes just to use up inventory, meaning there could be different varations of the 83 la tour based on parts on hand (food for thought) I a 1983 thats different then what everybody describes

    1. This is very true. They did ship a bunch of parts to Mississippi. This included stickers so they may also be a bit different.

    2. There is a lot of information on Schwinn bikes on, and on Schwinn serial numbers are confusing. The guy with the F73xxx serial number has a June 1977 frame. To the lady thinking she may have a valuable old Le Tour, sorry, but likely worth $100 +|- depending on condition. The Le Tours were made in Japan 73-78 then brought back to Chicago, but built with 1020 steel, not 4130 cro-moly. When production moved to Greenville in 1983, the Le Tours were again made with 4130 cro-moly steel.