It might still be called a Paramount if the world spun a little differently back in the early 90’s. Richard Schwinn and a couple of partners, including Marc Muller, director of the Waterford based Paramount factory from its inception, purchased the factory as the original Schwinn Trust sold off the remainder of its fading assets. Richard was the last Schwinn standing in the bike business.
The distinguished Paramount name didn’t come with the factory. That was retained by the company that bought the Schwinn name, Zell-Chilmark. (Schwinn is now owned by Dorel Industries.) If you want to learn more history on the vaunted Paramount go to the Waterford web site.
The Paramount Design Group was reborn with a new three-part name that represents its location, its attention to detail, and its products: Waterford Precision Cycles. The word precision is often attached to watches, or surgical instruments. I think they’re telling us something here.
Through a good part of the last century, the Schwinn name was probably best associated with the term sturdy, but that also meant they didn’t cut many corners. Their bikes were built to last. The owners of Waterford also believe in building something that will last, tossing in a high level of craftsmanship as well. They might not sell millions of bikes to the masses, but this line has developed a devoted following for those who like quality. You’re basically buying an state-of-the-art Paramount with a new moniker.
When deciding on a hand-crafted bike, Marc Ngo decided that the Waterford met his own exacting standards. He once had a stable of bikes. That’s been pared down considerably. Now he just wants the essentials and he wants them to be steel. The Schwinn name still rings his chimes from childhood memories of Schwinns past.
He wanted this bike to do many things, including paved road riding, dirt road riding, and perhaps even longer touring (He pedaled across the country as a young lad). He wanted an all-around bike that performed well in all of these conditions. The bike he chose was a TIG-welded Waterford 14 Series. There are two other Series that Waterford sells. The 22 Series is their lugged line. The 33 Series is the lightweight racer line. He’s not a racer, and the extra cost and weight of a lugged bike didn’t interest him. He liked the lines, value and reasonable weight offered by the 14 Series.
Why not go with a less costly bike built by Waterford, the Gunnar? Gunnar uses many of the same materials as the Waterford line and they’re TIG-welded, but its frames come in stock sizes. If you want a custom frame size you need to go Waterford. There’s an upcharge, of course. The stock Gunnar Crosshairs frame, for instance, is currently $900. The stock 14 Series frame starts at $1500. From there you can get as crazy with your money as you want. So, you get a lot for your money with a Gunnar, but it won’t be custom.
If you look at Marc’s bike, you’ll see a big difference compared to stock. The headstock looks like a giraffe neck band, and the top tube is proportionally shorter than nearly anything you can buy stock. Jess Bratus, the head bike fitter at Two-Wheel Tango, worked carefully with him to get just the right fit. Marc has long legs for his height and a short torso and short arm reach.
Marc likes the quick response of a stiff frame when he rises out of the saddle to crank uphill. Steel does not have a reputation for stiffness. But that has less to do with materials than with the desires of the purchaser and the skills of the builder. This bike, Marc says, is very stiff, more so than a lot of people would prefer, but also very light. He puts it at a bit over 20 lbs.
He also wanted to go as American on everything as possible. That’s not easy these days. He succeeded in many areas, except the component group, which is Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra. The pedals are Scott Keo. He likes the platform on these.
The Waterford has a 35mm downtube and a 31.8mm top tube, expanding the standard 28.6mm main triangle on Schwinns of old. That’s apparently the meaning of OS2. (OS = Over Size. OS, on the original Paramounts, took the tube diameter to 31.8mm all around. ) This variation in tube size allows the builders to play with wall thicknesses. “These thin-wall tubes help us lighten up our frames while achieving the same torsional rigidity of the OS tubing we’ve used for years.” (–from the Gunnar website).
The tubing on Marc’s bike is True Temper OX Platinum. It’s painted a rich Burnt Orange. Overall, this is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship from one of the few relatively large producers of steel bikes left in the world. If the Schwinn name brings back memories of childhood riding steel bikes built with integrity, this is about as close as you’ll get these days. Add personalized attention to detail, and your dream bike is waiting to be made in Waterford, Wisconsin.
Weight: 20+ lbs
Frame: TIG-welded steel, True Temper OX Platinum
Fork: Butted Chromoly, 50mm
Component Group: Mix of Ultegra and Dura Ace
Crankset: Ultegra, 52/39
Rear Cogs: 10-speed
Headset: 1 1/8″ Chris King
Pedals: Scott Keo
Rims: Velocity A-23, front=28 hole, rear=32 hole, Sapim race spokes
Hubs: White Industries
Tires: Kenda Small Block 8