For years now I’ve been searching for a Murray Wildcat.

You may remember Murray-Ohio. The company built cheap bicycles from the 1930s to the 1990s, the kind other companies stamped with their name for resale. When I was a kid, that bike of yours from Sears or Western Auto probably came from Murray’s giant factory in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. – my hometown.

The factory is still there. About 43 acres under a single roof, it’s roughly the size of 30 football fields. I remember as a kid being told it was the world’s largest bicycle factory. Now it’s a big, mostly empty building. Locked gates keep out people who don’t want inside, who watched helplessly as their factory strangled on cheap Asian imports.

This is not some self-indulgent, fuzzy-headed reminiscence of a small southern town that will never be the same. Okay, maybe it is. A little. My search for a Wildcat is probably a metaphor for my search for that same small town. More on that later.

What I’d really like, though, is that bike. It was so cool. I delivered newspapers on icy Tennessee mornings on the thing, hung out with friends the rest of the day while straddling its banana seat. I lived on that bike. Heck, I loved that bike.wildcatjpg

So what’s a Murray Wildcat look like?  To the right is an advertisement from the 1960s, found thanks to the magic of Google. Doubt I’d find one for that price today, but I’ll happily write a check if someone’s selling.

Back to the metaphor, the search for the bike and my hometown. Neither of my parents worked at Murray but it seemed nearly everyone else did on my street and in town.  Bicycle production at the factory slowly faded away, replaced for a while by lawn mowers, but fewer and fewer people worked there. Today L’burg seems to have two chief industries: neon-lit fast food joints to fatten people up, and pharmacies on every corner to deal with the caloric consequences.

So for me, a Murray Wildcat reminds me of the town I grew up in, not the town I visit today.

I’ve tried the usual searches: the obnoxious eBay, the bizarre Craigslist, even a guy in L’burg who rebuilds old bicycles. No luck, at least not in finding one that looks something like my original with a single speed and plenty of memories. Below you’ll see a rusty beat-up version that looks a little like my old best friend. Heck, it might even be my old bike, or what’s left of it. If so, I apologize old friend for what’s become of you.

My bike got sold decades ago. At age 14 I’d moved on to a bigger paper route and bought a motorcycle (yes, you could get a license back then in Tennessee if you knew how to fudge a cycle’s horsepower). At 16 I got a Honda 175 and later a car, and with each purchase my newspaper route got bigger, the hours longer, and the money better. My poor old Wildcat gathered dust in the shed. One day a guy looked at the bike and made my dad an offer he couldn’t refuse.

A fixer-upper Wildcat
A fixer-upper Wildcat

When he told me, I just shrugged. I was 20. In other words, stupid.

There are worse midlife crises to have. I could want to replace one of my three motorcycles I owned in my youth or even a big, thumping Harley. But all I want, for a reasonable price, is that Murray Wildcat probably too small for me to easily ride. With it I might recapture a bit of that small southern town — where people made things.

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Barry Hollander

Barry Hollander

Former hack at daily newspapers, now hack journalism professor at the University of Georgia, number cruncher and longtime Net user, caffeine addict, writer of weird fiction, and a semi-retired god in an online fantasy world where godhood suits him quite well, thank you very much. He also blogs at http://www.whatpeopleknow.com

31 Comments
  1. Kip Burke

    Thanks for your memories, Barry, they gave me a few fuzzy-headed self-indulgent moments recalling my most awesome bike, a Schwinn Stingray with the same banana seat and ape-hanger bars as yours, but with a fat, drag-slick back tire and even a wheelie bar. It was bright Corvette metalflake blue with chrome fenders, and I knew I looked bad as hell ripping down the hills south of Birmingham on it.

    And, like you, I cast it aside when cooler wheels came along. As the philosopher Bob Seger sang, “Wish I didn’t know now, what I didn’t know then…”

  2. Jim Warren

    Thanks for the great story. I too had a Murray bike…gold metal flake, single speed, banana seat and butterfly handlebars. Rode that thing forever and was my favorite bike by far. It held up to such punishment. Kids today don’t know what they missed. Once you had a bike, the world was yours.

    BTW, self-indulgent memories of childhood/hometowns are one of the many ways I keep perspective in this adult life. Most all my writings incorporate some joy, lesson learned, heartache, or thrill from childhood that has helped me through adult times.

    So please, self indulge for us some more.

  3. Barry Hollander

    What’s missing in this world: bikes with banana seats and metal-flake paint jobs. A colleague read this and sent me two links of bikes for sale. Between the two of them, he says, we could recreate my old bike. Nah, we could never recreate that old bike.

  4. My girlfriend and I rode all over Meridian, Mississippi on our bikes. We delivered fish sandwhiches for our church fundraisers and stayed too long at our friends houses. It was one of the few real freedoms for girls in the 1960’s. A Schwinn repaired by my father’s distant cousin saw more road time than the newer bike my folks got me from Sears. One time we stayed so long at a house across town that dark set in and my father came and picked us and our bikes up in his truck!

  5. I have one of these sitting in my garage. Black with silver chainguard, CW style bars, spring seat, knobby tires. I’m not sure of the year email me for pics if interested. [email protected]

  6. Hi, i have a murray wildcat exactly like in the picture, and am willing to sell it for $1500 obo.

    1. r u really looking for a wildcat murray? i have a super wildcat x 17. if you are interested in a conversation, let me know. thanks, jp. 215 313 5 800. cell#

    2. WE CAN MAKE A FAIR DEAL. THE 1 I HAVE IS GOLD, IN GOOD CONDITION, WITH BANANA SEAT IN GREAT CONDITION, U GIVE ME A PRICE THAT U THINK IS FAIR AND WE WILL GO FROM THERE. 815 219 5825

  7. I rode that same Murry Wildcat. Back in the Northwest around 1969. My bike was purple with a softer metal flake seat than the Schwinn Stingray. I remember a race against three of four Schwinns at my friends birthday party. We started at the top of my Street…35th Avenue. We finished on 25th at the home of birthday boy. My best friend had the same Wildcat. In the end, those two Wildcats reigned supreme. As we raced down Chestnut Avenue, the heavy tree-lined street was our race track. It was close, the Murray’s prevailed and the Schwinn’s were second rate. To this day, I don’t know if our Murrays were better than the Schwinns, but we let our race friends know who had the faster bikes every time we peddled together.

  8. Barry Hollander

    I agree, Gary. The Murray would fly and I think was a lot tougher — or at least mine took more abuse — than other bikes. Then again, in L’burg as the home of Murray, riding any other bike would get you hounded out of the neighborhood.

    Glad to hear you beat the competition and they were Gone with the Schwinn (to steal shamelessly from Kermit the Frog in one of the Muppet movies).

    It’s funny. The other stuff I’ve written for the Dew seems to quickly slip away into irrelevance, but this story keeps on going, at least in terms of comments. Proving again the power of the Murray Wildcat (which was named that, I firmly believe, because the nickname of Lawrence County High School is The Wildcats).

  9. Friends, can you help me? A mate of mine is thinking about getting themselves a new CBR 1000 as their first bike! Never rode much of anything else before! I said this is definitely not a good idea for the first one, but they are adamant and wont change their mind! What do you rekon, is this ok and would u maybe then just recommend good training lessons?

  10. Still Lookin?
    i got a green one all there needs paint years of abuse

  11. Does anyone have any parts for one of these? A little girl through the fence always sees me working on my bikes and asked if I would fix hers. Head badge missing, front fender, seat (has Schwinn banana now). Just want to make as original as possible. Her mother rescued from under old brush pile at an uncles farm. Appears to be dark blue. Is that a factory color? Seat should be sparkly?
    Chris in California Central Valley

  12. I have a 1965 Girls Murray Wildcat.

  13. I HAVE A WILDCAT 3 I BOUGHT YRS AGO ITS TWO TONE GREEN I REPLACED THE ROTTED TIRES WITH NOS ONES ITS A THREE SPEED ALSO COMPLETE NEVER PAINTED IF INTERESTED E MAIL ME [email protected] BILL ILL SEND SOME PICS

  14. selling wildcat 1 speed cell 504 339 -2235

  15. I bought a murry wildcat click stick. at an auction this weekend I felt a absolute connection to the bike even though im only 40 . im up in the air about the bike i plan on shinning it up a bit but not too much i want to keep the original character to it im up to selling it but not necessarily for the money but as for the sharing with someone who see’s what i see in it and the fealing i got when i seen it money is deffinatlt not the issue.i hope to here from you. the bike is blue

  16. My aunt bought me a Murray Wildcat back in the early 70’s. In my opinion, it was so cool, it was black and yellow. The black transitioned into yellow from the head stock back with the majority of the body being yellow. I loved that bike, it was so rugged and it took alot of abuse. I had it from the summer after 1st grade thru 5th grade.

    It is so funny, I was reminising about that bike and my aunt (God rest her soul)last week and I got online today to see if I could find a picture of the Wildcat when I came across this article, which really struck a cord with me. It is good to know that there are many others out there with similar childhood memories of a better time and place in this country.

  17. i also have fond memeories of my murray banana bike. it was a red and yellow gasser 2.
    i saw one sold on ebay about a year ago. would like to find one. if any one has one available email me at [email protected]
    thanks!!! pizza jim

  18. I have just returned from my trip to New York with, maybe, you old friend. We were at my uncles house and going down to the local market to get some food for our dinner when out of know where I see this rust, dirt, and spray paint covered beauty. I pull off to the side and buy it off the man for $25. I then forget the trip to the store and race to his house with the bike. I call down my dad to the basement and we begin. It has a long way to go before I can get it on the plane. We carefully start to take it apart piece by piece. After 4 hours of cleaning and disassembly we have it packed and ready for the trip. Two days later we are on the plane back to the Golden State. Yes, thats right. I bought a bike in New York just to take it all the way across the country. I have now started the process of taking the paint off and am going to get both my car and my “new” bike professionally painted. If there was a way to post a picture I would do so that way all of you could see the transformation take place. And to some of you who think that kids don’t see how amazing your old bikes were I am 16 and my friends think its “bitchin”.

  19. Man, Thank you Barry! I too had a Wildcat and all my friends (with the exception of my brother) had Schwinns. I loved that thing. I am color blind but mine was either blue or purple. I beat the hell out of that bike but it just kept going. After the Wildcat I had a Murray 5 speed cruiser. Not near as cool but it was a way comfortable ride. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  20. My brother and I also had Wildcats… I got mine from “Santa” one Christmas and a year or so later my brother got his for his birthday. I later learned that both were “purchased” by my folks using S&H Green Stamps when we lived in So. California. Both bikes were gold metal-flake… my brother’s bike had a traditional polo shaped seat in a leopard print. My bike had what a different style seat- flatter overall and wider in the middle with no padding at all… it was a black/white checker board pattern on the front half and solid white on the back. Like others have noted, those bikes were tough… we frequently had to change the hand grips, tires (especially the back from “laying skids”) and pedals but they just kept going. That bike took me fishing (with a metal basket on the front for a tacklebox and a lunch), took us to the ballfield (glove hung on the handlebars) and flying thru the woods… long before mountain bikes came along. The seat was big enough that a buddy could hitch a ride and on more than one occasion a third friend would sit on the handlebars… 3 of us on 1 bike! No wonder I developed such strong legs! Alas I don’t recall what ever happened to that old bike… I know it was put aside when I finally saved enough money to buy a 10-speed… but for about 7 or 8 years that Murray Wildcat was my trusty do everything, go everywhere bike.

  21. […] Wanted: Murray Wildcat by Barry Hollander | LikeTheDew.comThe Wildcat Epic 100 is a 2-day mountain biking experience that will take place on the 13th and 14th of August, 2011 in the Shawangunk Mountains. Again this … […]

  22. i have your bike, i did some work for a guy in town who was selling his parents house since they had past on well it turned out mom and dad never got rid of thing that they worked hard to give the kids the wildcat was in the basement and a girls murray senator in a shed out back perfectly persevered through time. the boy bike is red with a silver metallic seat, the girls senator all so made by murray is pinkish purple with the high sissy bar in the back. I myself am forty-seven but with the seat raised in the back and front the ape hanger leaned up away i cruise i just get this awesome feeling as i cruise and look around as the guy in their big truck, an family cars drive by.When i see the looks on their faces, the stairs the glairs then their that look in their face like they just got a present on that special day, I know exactly what going on in their head. I look strait back at them, point nod an smile cuss we both go their that special place thats been lockup for so long. me at my age i have no problems riding it and nether will you. so if this sounds like your ride give me a call 509-469-4514

  23. I HAVE A WILDCAT BIKE FOR SALE. THE SAME MODEL THAT IS IN THE AD ABOVE. VERY VERY GOOD CONDITION STILL RIDEABLE AND EVERYTHING. I CAN BE REACHED AT 815 219 5825. MY WIFE DIDNT KNOW WHAT IT WAS AND WAS ABOUT TO TAKE IT TO THE TRASH, BUT I CAUGHT HER JUST IN TIME

  24. i will sell my murray wild cat for 250 its a girls bike its rideable dont need eny work its green and its very clean txt me 724 396 5951 and ask about it u must pick it up

  25. I have a 1960s Murray stingray butterfly handlebar ,shocks 3speed small front tire for sale

  26. Barry Hollander

    Wow, this story is the gift that keeps on giving. Published eight years ago and I still get emails from folks asking if I want to buy their Wildcat. I’m afraid my bike-riding days are long gone.

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