Cruiser bikes, also known as beach cruisers, are a type of bicycle designed for casual riding. With their laidback, upright riding position and wide tires, cruiser bikes are known for providing a comfortable and relaxing cycling experience.
Cruiser bikes first emerged in the 1930s on the beaches of California as a nostalgic throwback to “High Wheel” bikes. Since then, they have evolved with modern features while retaining their iconic classic styling.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of cruiser bikes – their history, features, types, sizing, how to choose the right one, and tips for riding and maintaining them.
A Brief History of Cruiser Bikes
The cruiser bike story begins in the 1930s in Southern California. Young people wanted bicycles reminiscent of the old “high wheel” bikes ridden in the late 1800s, leading to the development of bikes with balloon tires, easy step-through frames, upright handlebars, and sweeping curves. These early beach cruisers were ideal for casual riding along the sand.
Schwinn was the first mass producer of cruiser bikes, releasing their own take on the laidback design in the 1930s. Their streamlined production made cruiser bikes affordable to the public for leisure activities.
Throughout the following decades, cruiser bikes maintained steady popularity for beach rides, bike path jaunts, and neighborhood cruising. But by the 1970s and 80s, road and mountain bikes overshadowed cruisers.
The cruiser resurgence arrived in the 90s as people rediscovered their appeal. Bike makers added modern updates like lightweight alloy frames and a wide array of colors and accessories while retaining the classic cruiser design.
Today, beach cruisers remain popular for their style and comfort – modern icons of classic cool and nostalgic style.
Key Features and Parts of a Cruiser Bike
Cruiser bikes have several distinguishing features that set them apart from other bicycles:
- Upright riding position – Cruiser bikes have high rise handlebars and a seat positioned further back to allow an upright, comfortable riding position. This reduces strain on the back and shoulders.
- Wide tires – Extra wide balloon tires, usually over 2 inches, provide more stability and cushioning on bumpy terrain. Wider tires also allow lower tire pressure for a softer ride.
- Frame – Most cruiser bikes have a curved steel or aluminum alloy frame. The most iconic frame style features a looping top tube that dips lower in the middle to accommodate easy mounting.
- Coaster brakes – Many cruisers stop using coaster brakes activated by pedaling backward. This allows backpedaling to brake without hand levers. Hand brakes are also common.
- Gears – Most beach cruisers are single speed, ideal for flat terrain. Some modern cruisers have multiple speeds with 3-7 gears to handle hills and longer distances more easily.
- Comfort features – Plush saddles, wide handlebars, suspension, and cushioned grips add to the cruiser’s relaxed ride feel. Custom accessories are popular like baskets, horns, and chrome fenders.
Types of Cruiser Bikes
There are a few distinct types and sub-categories of cruiser bikes:
The original vintage-inspired cruisers made for relaxed riding in oceanfront towns and communities. Classic features include:
- Curved top tubes
- Upright position
- Coaster brakes
- Wide balloon tires
- Steel frames, though aluminum variants exist
- Single speed or 3 speeds
- Standard wheel size of 26 inches
- Bright, flashy color options
Beach cruisers prioritize style, comfort, and casual short rides.
With extra comfort features and technology, these are designed for accessibility, commuting, and recreational fitness riding. They have features like:
- Upright position with backrest option
- Wider tires – up to 4 inches width
- 5-7 speed gearing
- Lighter aluminum alloy frames
- Front and rear handbrakes
- Suspension fork and seat post
- Large cushy seats and grips
Comfort cruisers add features for greater comfort over longer distances.
Inspired by California’s lowrider car culture, these feature custom styling like:
- Vibrant, flashy paintjobs with metal flake and custom graphics
- Oversize bumper-shaped racks, lights, and fenders
- Banana seats
- Chrome accents throughout
- Lowered center of gravity
Lowrider bikes express cruiser style taken to an artistic extreme.
Extra-long cruiser frames allow space to add more people. They come as:
- Double cruiser bikes built for two riders
- Triple cruiser bikes with room for three
- Family cruiser bikes with multiple seats and wheels
Stretched cruisers accommodate riding with friends, family, or kids.
For added speed and ease, cruiser bikes can be fitted with electric bike motors and lithium batteries. Features include:
- Concealed battery integration
- Rear hub motor up to 750w power
- Twist throttle acceleration control
- Pedal assist and throttle operation
- Charging port and controller display
Motorized cruisers provide electric pedal assist for longer rides with less fatigue.
Three-wheel cruiser trikes offer added stability, with wider frames supporting:
- Dual rear wheels
- Low center of gravity
- Front wheel steering
- Rear cargo platform and basket options
Cruiser trikes combine cruiser style with tricycle stability – great for kids and seniors.
How to Choose the Right Cruiser Bike
When shopping for a cruiser bike, keep these tips in mind:
- Consider your riding style – longer casual rides or just short neighborhood jaunts? Frequent mounting/dismounting? Cruising with kids? Add-on features should suit your needs.
- Review the bike size chart – cruisers come in standard men’s/women’s frame sizes. Make sure to get the right fit for safe comfortable riding.
- Assess the terrain – flat beach paths or potholed streets? Hills or strictly flatland? This will impact your ideal gearing, wheel size, tire width, and suspension.
- Decide on styling – classic vintage or modern updates? Custom accessories? Choose a model and colors reflecting your personal flair.
- Compare component quality for the price – durable steel frames withstand weight better while aluminum is lightweight. Higher quality parts mean greater reliability and less maintenance.
- Ask about aftermarket features – most cruiser sellers offer custom add-ons like baskets, LED lights, horns, tassels, etc. Build your perfect ride.
Tips for Riding Cruiser Bikes
Here are some helpful cruiser bike riding tips for beginners:
- Start slow and build momentum gradually – the single speed gears require rhythmic pedaling from stops.
- Coaster brakes engage with backward pedaling pressure – don’t try to stop suddenly. Plan ahead.
- Sit upright naturally and keep your body loose to absorb bumps – avoid clenching handlebars tightly.
- For bumpy ground, stand up off the seat periodically to allow your legs to act as shock absorbers.
- Lean into turns slightly but avoid sharp turns at high speeds – wider tires resist tipping but do not corner tightly.
- Watch for hazards like storm drains, wet leaves, or railroad tracks that can catch wide tires – cross at angles.
- Pedal steadily to climb gradual hills – excessively hard pedaling can spin out the rear wheel on steep inclines.
- Add front and rear lights for visibility if riding at night – reflectors alone are harder for drivers to see.
- Bring tools/supplies on longer rides in case of flats or other issues. Most cruiser seats have room below for storage.
Maintaining Your Cruiser Bike
Perform regular cruiser bike maintenance to ensure safe function and extend its life. Essential upkeep tasks include:
- Tire pressure – use a hand pressure gauge to check. Inflate balloon tires to around 30-40 psi for proper cushioning and grip.
- Chain lubrication – lube the chain periodically to prevent rust, reduce friction, and silence squeaks. Wipe excess lube off chain when done.
- Break adjustment – test coaster brake function regularly. Adjust brake pads as needed to regain proper stopping power.
- Bolt tightness – check that all nuts, bolts, and fasteners are snugged properly. Tighten or replace any that are loose with the right tools.
- Frame and rim polish – use bike polish/cleaner and a soft rag to keep painted, chrome, and alloy surfaces shining and prevent corrosion. Avoid abrasive scrubbing.
- Wheel truing – wheels taking hits from curbs can get bent – have a bike shop true the wheel to restore roundness.
- Rust prevention – wipe down bicycle with a dry cloth after beach rides to remove saltwater and sand that can cause rust if left.
- Squeak elimination – lubricate kickstand and pedal joints if they begin to squeak.
With basic TLC, a cruiser bike will offer carefree riding fun for years. Seek bike shop assistance for any complicated repairs or maintenance needs beyond your skills/tools.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cruiser Bikes
What is the most comfortable cruiser bike?
Comfort cruisers aim to provide the most relaxed cruiser experience. Features like suspension, wide springy saddles, backrests, and cushioned grips make casual riding smooth and easy.
Where are cruiser bikes made?
China produces many cruiser bikes today using North American or European designs. Well-known bike companies like Schwinn, Huffy, and Firmstrong rely heavily on Chinese manufacturing partners to build affordable cruisers.
How fast do cruiser bikes go?
On flat ground, cruiser speeds typically range from 10-20 mph, depending on pedaling effort and single/multi-speed gearing. Strong pedalers can reach 25+ mph on flat surfaces. Downhill speeds pick up faster but cruiser brakes are not ideal for steep descents.
Can cruiser bikes go uphill?
Basic single speed cruisers struggle on hills, but models with 5+ gears handle gradual to moderate slopes efficiently. Standing up to pedal and building momentum helps overcome inclines. Very steep hills remain challenging for most cruiser bikes.
Are cruiser bikes good for exercise?
Cruisers can definitely provide light to moderate exercise. The upright position engages core muscles while pedaling works the legs and glutes. Setting goals for time or distance ridden encourages fitness. But road and mountain bikes are generally better for rigorous cardio workouts.
Cruising in Style and Comfort
Cruiser bikes offer one of cycling’s most enjoyable, relaxed rides. Their vintage style and cushy mechanics make short trips or long rides an easygoing delight. Cruisers inspire nostalgia while fitting seamlessly into modern life. With charming classy design and customization options, riders can create their perfect cruiser matched to personal taste. From laidback weekend pedaling to commuter convenience, cruiser bikes cruise on as a cherished bike tradition.