What is a Cruiser Bike?
A cruiser bicycle, also known as a beach cruiser or (formerly) motobike, is a bicycle that usually combines balloon tires, an upright seating posture, a single-speed drivetrain, and straightforward steel construction with expressive styling. Cruisers are popular among casual bicyclists and vacationers because they are very stable and easy to ride, but their heavy weight and balloon tires tend to make them rather slow. They are designed for use primarily on paved roads, moderate speeds/distances, and are included in the non-racing/non-touring class and heavyweight or middleweight styles of the road bicycle type.
Schwinn was one of many manufacturers who contributed to the development of the cruiser at a time when U.S. bicycle sales had declined sharply due to the Great Depression; adults purchased few bicycles, which were seen as luxury products intended largely for sport or recreation. In response to other manufacturers’ innovations, Schwinn conceived their own sturdy, affordable bicycle designed for the more resilient youth market—originally marketing the Schwinn B-10E Motorbike—which resembled a motorcycle but carried no motor—in 1933. Mr. Schwinn adapted features from the Henderson and Excelsior motorcycles that his (formerly purchased) bankrupt company had built during the 1920s, including a heavy “cantilevered” frame with two top tubes and 2.125-inch-wide (54.0 mm) “balloon” tires from Germany. Schwinn, like others, copied what they saw going on in Europe. Both Sears and Montgomery Ward had bicycles in 1932 that had balloon tires in the USA, a full year before Schwinn. And the streamline movement in bicycles was really pioneered by Sears and Huffman. The resulting bicycles could endure abuse that could damage other bikes.
Crusier Bikes Today
Cruisers’ comfort, style, and affordability (compared to mountain and racing bikes) have led to renewed popularity in recent years In late 1979, Schwinn produced the “Schwinn Cruiser” model. In the 1980s Huffy built the “Good Vibrations” beach cruiser, and Murray built the “Monterey” beach cruiser, both using product names, like beaches, with an association to the west coast of California. Then in the early to mid-1990s, Schwinn produced a series of cruiser models, including the “Cruiser Deluxe” (which featured a Phantom-style tank with horn, chrome fenders, white-wall balloon tires, rear rack, a springer fork, and two-tone blue or green frames). The cruiser resurgence continued in 1995, when Schwinn reissued the Black Phantom to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday. During that same time frame, similar offerings appeared from Columbia (a limited reissue of the classic 1950’s 5-Star was produced in the early 1990s), and Roadmaster. Harley-Davidson even licensed a cruiser bike with their logo and trademark styling. These helped stir up interest in cruisers, which brought them to the attention of aging Baby Boomers, who remembered the originals from their youth and now were reaching an age where a comfortable bike was more exciting than a fast bike, and who also had the money to buy whatever they wanted. The classic “retro” looks, reliable mechanical performance, comfortable ride, and relatively low price of cruisers (compared to mountain bikes or road racers) also appealed to young Gen Xers. Nearly every major bike manufacturer now offers at least one cruiser model, if not an entire line. Some notable contemporary manufactures include Electra Bicycle Company and Felt Bicycles. Cruiser sales have continued to rise over the past decade and today many towns have clubs sponsoring regular cruiser rides as a way to promote the low-tech, high fun aspect of cycling.
Three other contemporary bike trends are related to cruisers. For decades, Latino car enthusiasts have been lowering the suspension on older American cars to build “lowriders”. Their younger siblings have begun building their own custom “lowrider bikes”. Lowrider bicycles are usually built on old Schwinn Sting-Ray or other “muscle bike” frames, but the entire lowrider look of “old school” accessories such as springer forks and bullet headlights is in the cruiser tradition. Lowrider bike magazines and catalogs also feature cruisers and are a great source of accessories for cruiser owners. A similar trend is the sudden appearance of “chopper” bicycles over the past couple of years, in response to the surge of interest in custom motorcycles. Several manufacturers offer “chopper” style bikes in their cruiser range. These bikes usually feature a lower center of gravity, suspension forks, hot rod paint jobs, and large rear tires.
Finally, manufacturers have also introduced the “comfort bike” category, to combine the soft ride and upright posture of cruisers with a more conventionally styled bike. Comfort bikes have such features as fenders, suspension seatposts and forks, and large padded saddles with giant springs. All of these features are copied from cruisers, but redesigned to look more like regular road or hybrid bikes.