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Al Fritz, 88; designed iconic Sting-Ray bikes in 1960s

A classic 1968 Schwinn (left), next to an updated model.

Schwinn Bike Company

A classic 1968 Schwinn (left), next to an updated model.

NEW YORK — Al Fritz created stylish roadsters yearned for by young hot-rodders in the 1960s and ’70s. But his rolled on two wheels, not four.

Mr. Fritz, who died May 7 at age 88 in Barrington, Ill., of complications from a stroke, designed the Sting-Ray, the rugged, compact bicycle instantly recognizable by its banana seat and high handlebars that curved like longhorns. Schwinn sold more than 2 million of them, initially to baby boomers increasingly obsessed with souped-up vehicles of all kinds.

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Mr. Fritz was Schwinn’s vice president for engineering, research, and development in 1962 when he flew to Southern California to investigate an interesting fad: Children were refitting used 20-inch bicycle frames with long handlebars and banana seats.

Mr. Fritz recognized the design’s appeal and built a mass-market prototype. Many Schwinn employees were skeptical, but Mr. Fritz prevailed, and the first run of Sting-Rays was produced in 1963.

The Sting-Ray was a child’s chopper, available in brilliant colors like Flamboyant Lime and Radiant Coppertone. The low-slung cruisers gave the unlicensed access to a children’s version of 1960s car culture: Some bicycles came equipped with automobile accents like stick shifts and drum brakes.

More than 25 versions were made, including the Krate, which was styled like a dragster with a smaller front wheel, and the Slik Chik, a girl’s model. The bikes were promoted for years on ‘‘Captain Kangaroo,’’ and other bicycle manufacturers, including Huffy and Raleigh, released similar models.

Sting-Ray frames were often modified into precursors of modern BMX racing bikes. (Mr. Fritz was inducted into the BMX Hall of Fame in 2010 for his unintended contribution to the sport.) The model was discontinued in the late 1970s, and vintage models now sell for thousands of dollars.

Albert John Fritz was born in Chicago. He attended stenography school after graduating from eighth grade and planned to become a court reporter.

He served on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines during World War II. He returned to Chicago after he was discharged and began working at Schwinn in 1945, as a grinder and then as a welder.

He met Mary Monks on the factory floor. They married on May 7, 1949. She died last year.

Mr. Fritz’s stenographic skills landed him a job as Frank W. Schwinn’s secretary, and he quickly climbed the ranks.

He helped develop Schwinn’s global supply chain, forming a close relationship with Japanese component manufacturer Shimano.

He also helped commercialize the Airdyne, a stationary bike that turns a fan and has moving handlebars like an ­elliptical machine, in 1978.

The Sting-Ray has returned to production several times. A new version will be released soon.

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