What gave JC Higgins bikes such a bad rap back in the 50"s???



Feb 9, 2011
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Just curious because the Murray built Higgins bikes from the 50's are my all time favorite tank bike design, all the lines just flowed. I've read online that they were basically the generic bike of the 50's, even the one I picked up yesterday, the old guy I bought it from who got it new back in 58 said his dad spray painted over the word JC Higgins on the chain guard, I cleaned it off but these things were built like a tank. Were the other branded bikes built by Murray of this same style also considered junk? If so why? I also have one of those that is the exact same tank bike as the one I picked up yesterday only Western Flyer badged. This red one I picked up yesterday has a super nice Komet Super rear hub that I cleaned and repacked that works smoother then any Shimano I've ever ridden. These are awesome bikes.



Here's my Western Flyer.

 
Feb 19, 2011
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Guessing here, but JCHiggins was the Sears&Roebuck brand, and Sears was like the department store for the hicks and poor ppl, kinda like the WalMart of it's day-- in terms of cachet, or lack thereof.

Speaking of cachet, Murray was all about being a price-leader, and contract-built bikes to a thin nickel for a number of other firms. According to modern-day Wikipedia:
After the war, Murray became known as a manufacturer of low-cost bicycles, and placed its own brand on some products. Since the 1930s, Murray had been producing bicycles that, while stylistically different, imitated designs by other U.S. manufacturers, including Schwinn and AMF. This occasionally brought Murray into legal conflict with competitors, as when Schwinn filed against Murray for duplicating a Schwinn knurling and machining process on its rims.
If this is to be believed, then i guess it could be argued that Murray was known as a maker of discount-priced knock-offs. As in, Murray's bikes were kinda like the BoBo sneakers of the cycling world.

Now, i'm speculating on why these attitudes may have existed, and why folks BITD may have painted over the JCHiggins name on their bikes. Personally, i think Sears is prretty good, and the Murray-built bikes of that era were something i admire greatly, especially Spaceliners. And obviously, ppl must've liked'm b/c they sold so many and the quality was there b/c many survive today. But, i can see how ppl might've felt they were chintzy, b/c they were low-cost, commonplace, and they often featured derivative styling. Those factors can certainly cheapen a brand's image.
 
Sep 29, 2008
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My cousin got a new Schwinn Tornado and I got a new Flightliner, around '60 or '62. I was so bummed out I didn't get a Schwinn I probably cried.:( Rode the Flightliner until it fell apart. Got my first Schwinn, a StingRay, about 5 yrs. later and I was so happy. So yeah, for me J.C.Higgins was junk. Not because it was a bad bike, but because it wasn't a Schwinn.:acute: Gary
 
Jan 21, 2009
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I started riding in the early 60's. There was Schwinn, and everything else was not as good. Just about all the low end bikes back then were quality, compared to the low end bikes of the 70's and later, which were pretty poor. I started out on an Evans, then got a 26" bike later, a Murray. In 1969, I got a J C Penny bike, a piece of cheap junk, my first new bike. I came across a J C Higgins in ND and just cleaned and greased it, then waxed it a couple times. I figured it was a late 50's standard model. It is similar to your 58.
 
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Jun 22, 2014
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I personally like the odd bikes such as those badged western flyer. I find them more interesting and it doesn't hurt that people will general sell them at a more reasonable price & the quality is still superior to many later bikes (70s & later)

I always laugh when somebody bashes on Murray bikes when they have talked about wanting a spaceliner.
 
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Feb 19, 2011
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I know Schwinn sued Murray over knurled rims. I'm thinking that ppl looked at the adoption of canti frames, musclebikes, etc as following in Schwinn's footsteps, but really, didn't all the big players do the same things, knurled rims aside? Seems like most of the manufacturers came out with their take on the canti frame, and their version of a musclebike....

I will say that all the Schreckengost designs were pretty awesome; i think the Spaceliner is one of the coolest frame designs ever. He also did much to revolutionize cycling manufacturing; he was in charge of the biggest plant, and came up with ways to make building cheaper/faster, like single-step frame welding. But, TBH, a lot of Murray-builts are pretty anonymous bikes... although there are notable exceptions. I think Gary B607 hit the nail on the head; in many ppl's eyes back then, there were Schwinns, and then there was the "rest of'm"... Murray fell into the latter category. Funny that Murray would go on to build many frames for Schwinn after Chicago closed down.
 
Jul 20, 2010
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Calling a JC Higgins "junk" seems strange now, but at one time all of the classic cars we love today were considered "junk" used cars. Nostalgia changes all that, along with an upcoming generation of collectors in their 20s and 30s, who have no pre-inclinations to such things and see these bikes as an easy way into the classic bike/car realm.

I'm 21, if you ask me or any other car guy my age about the Edsel or '58 Chevy, we'd likely all agree they are beautiful, striking cars. But to a Baby Boomer...they were junk 50 years ago and are junk today.

It's a matter of perception!
 
Feb 19, 2011
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That's rad, to live so close to the Factory and all. I don't live terribly far from Allentown, PA--close enough to browse their Craigslist-- and i see plenty of ads for Ross bikes, complete with phrases like "made in Allentown" added as a selling point. FWIW, I lived in TN for a minute, and there were soooooo many 720 and D21 Nissan pickups down there, and even though we were probably 200miles from the Smyrna factory, some old-timers explained to me that the Nissan pickups were popular in NE TN due to the fact they were built in TN... And the local dealer had plenty of brand-new Frontiers on the lot, many of them being painted Orange. I believe it was a factory color that year ('99-2000).

I gotta say, I don't necessarily feel like Murrays were knock-offs, but I can see how some might perceive it that way. A monterrey looks a lot like the typical Schwinn canti, but as you point out, Monterreys showed up pretty late on the scene; I guess late 60s/early 70s....

It would be interesting to see a side by side comparison of a Murray built bike prior to 1970 that closely resembled its contemporary model by Schwinn. With the exception of Murray's basic cantilever muscle bike frames, I can't think of any examples. The closest thing I can think of is how a '61/'62 Schwinn Tornado double straight bar frame somewhat resembles a '53-'57 Western Flyer X-53 frame.
Keep in mind that I live in "Murray country", just a little over an hour away from their now closed Lawrenceburg, TN factory. Around here the majority of bikes on the road were Murray built, with the only Schwinns or "brand X" coming in from some new kid to the neighborhood.
The ONLY place to buy a bike back in the day here was Sears, Western Auto or K Mart. All options were made by Murray.....
 
Jan 21, 2011
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I love mine, it's one of my favorite rats! But, when I was a kid the Schwinn Stingray was the bike to own. I finally got one in 1964. Before that I had a Murray 20" that I put apes & a banana seat on. Couldn't hardly keep the front wheel on the ground.

 
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Feb 9, 2011
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Thanks, good info fellas. I'm only 38 but have always liked Murray bikes above any other, my very first bmx bike was a red murray 20" around 1980 or 81. To me Schwinn has always been to popular of a top 40 brand with very little appeal, even my Murray canti frames ride better and track straighter then my Schwinn's, I much prefer them, to me the Murray bikes just seemed to be a more all American bike from the first one I ever owned. Sure wish the Union didn't force all the American made bike company's to close up or sell there soul to china.
 
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Dec 14, 2013
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I can't speak as to the JC Higgins era, but when I was growing up in the late 70's, we did regard Murray's as being junk. Come that time though it had nothing to do with them not being Schwinns. The brands we wanted were GT, Race Inc., Hutch and the like. Murray made BMX bikes, but they were heavy, hi-ten steel BMX bikes. Except for the goose necks on them, I imagine they were tough as nails. They typically had either steel, triple rims or some sort of Tuff Wheel knock off, a heavy steel frame, steel handlebars and well, lots of steel everything on them.
 
Feb 9, 2011
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I can understand about the bmx scene but back in the 50's and earlier bikes were pretty much on a level playing field. Steel is real : )
 
Aug 23, 2013
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some old bmx bikes like kent & murry were made cheap & tend to brake if you rode them off rode or jumped them, not gt& some mongooses, redline were better bikes sellin for mor money back in the 90s early to mid 90s
 
Feb 21, 2015
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I'm new to the club, but would like to weigh in on this thread. I own what I believe to be around a 1958 Sears/Murray and a 1962 Schwinn Typhoon double straight bar. As everybody knows of these earlier bikes, the Schwinn's were superior in quality when compared to the Murray bikes. Though the Schwinn is a better made bike, I have to say that I enjoy my Murray more. It feels lighter to ride than the Schwinn and it just rides better. I can also say that the Murray has had a harder life than the Schwinn, but it's older and it still survived, thus it's a pretty tough old bike, for being what was once considered junk. I would sell my Schwinn before I would let my Murray go.
 
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