An Introduction to Cruiser Bikes
If you’ve been on the beachfront and seen cyclists cruising along on bicycles that look like the one above, then chances are you’ve seen a cruiser bike!
In this short guide, I’ll teach you everything there is to know about cruiser bikes and answer all of your questions including what is a cruiser bike? what are the benefits of riding a cruiser bike? and who are cruiser bikes suitable for?
Ready to become a cruiser bike expert? Let’s get into it.
What is a Cruiser Bike?
A cruiser bike, often referred to as a beach cruiser, is a popular style of bike designed specifically for recreational and comfortable cycling. One of the notable features that defines a cruiser bike, causing it to stand out against other bikes, is the relaxed riding position the frame’s geometry provides.
Elements contributing to cruisers increased comfort include a low extra-large saddle, wide raised handlebars and a long wheelbase.
The wide and durable balloon-style tyres cruiser bikes use also make for a more stable and enjoyable ride.
Cruiser bikes maintain a fairly simple design that does not require any complex parts or equipment. They boast strong frames, a pleasant aesthetic, and most utilize a single-speed drivetrain with a coaster brake.
Over the years as cruisers have reemerged, the range available has expanded with some cruisers now featuring brake levers and gear systems.
What Is a Cruiser Bike Used For?
Cruiser bikes are designed to be used solely for recreational cycling. As their nickname “beach cruiser” suggests, the cruiser bike is noteworthy as an excellent option to ride along the beach.
Their durable and balanced nature can withstand the unsteady surfaces of beautiful sandy beaches and trails, provided that the ground is relatively flat and without many large hills.
The terrains of beach boardwalks, sidewalks, and paved roads are also optimal for cruisers. Cruiser bikes are used for easy and short-distance daily commuting and leisurely cruising.
If you like cycling at a slow pace and soaking up the sun, a cruiser would serve you well.
Recap - What Is a Cruiser Bike?
A cruiser bike, also referred to as a motobike or a beach cruiser is a bicycle that promotes an upright riding position thanks to the geometry of its frame.
Cruiser bikes utilise wide, flared handlebars, fat ‘balloon tyres’, single-speed drivetrains, large padded saddles and coaster brakes. Combined, these features make riding a cruiser a comfortable, stress-free experience.
The History of Cruiser Bikes
Cruiser bikes have been around for decades and made their first appearance in the 1930s, during the Great Depression era of the United States.
Frank W. Schwinn was one of the pioneers who helped shape the cruiser bikes we ride today. Schwinn was inspired to create a bicycle that was more durable and affordable than existing bikes on the market, this would allow him to open up a new portion of the market and compete with industry competitors.
Due to the economic downfall of the Great Depression, the early Schwinn cruisers were a success and became a popular choice for individuals that required cheap, yet efficient transportation methods.
Throughout their tortuous lifetime in the biking world, the cruiser bike’s popularity has fluctuated significantly. The 1950s decade was perhaps one of the most renowned eras for the cruiser bike’s popularity.
As more competitor bike companies manufactured the cruiser model, these stylish bikes were developed to be more and more adept for beach riding. This contributed to their popularity as a staple for tourists and beach enthusiasts alike.
How Have Cruiser Bikes Progressed Over the Years?
Although there was a decline in usage in the 1960s after more lightweight bikes reached and became more popular within the marketplace ranks, cruiser bikes have been steadily resurfacing in popularity since the 1970s .
In the present day, inexperienced cyclists immediately find cruisers enjoyable, due to their ease of use and lack of complex parts. Many older cyclists return to cruiser bikes to reminisce of the stylish bicycles from their childhood and to enjoy the more relaxed riding position they offer!
Cruiser Bike Anatomy & Components
The frame of a cruiser bike is instantly recognisable due to its sloping, curved tubes which make it comparable to a classic 50’s Schwinn bicycle.
Unlike most bikes which use a triangular frame, most cruisers have a curved top tube which travels downwards from the head tube and joins the top or middle of the seat tube, which is often shorter than normal.
The short seat tube means the saddle is low down compared to the handlebars, which seats the rider a comfortable, upright position when cycling.
Some cruiser bikes also feature an additional tube which normally runs along from the middle of the seat tube to the headtube. This provides extra strength for the frame, and increases the usable lifespan of the bike.
Until recently steel was the most commonly used material to build cruiser bike frames with, which is why old classic cruisers are exceptionally heavy!
More recently, aluminium-framed cruisers have entered the market and have become increasingly popular due to their lower cost and decreased weight.
Who Should Use a Cruiser Bike?
Ultimately, cruiser bikes are suitable for any cyclist looking to enjoy a slower-paced, comfortable, enjoyable bike ride!
If you’re a cyclist that likes to roll around town and enjoy the sights or roll along the beachfront, a cruiser bike will be a great choice!
Their extra padded saddles and wider flared handlebars make cruisers suitable for those who are looking to promote good posture and core strength.
Due to their relaxed riding position cruiser bikes are also suitable for older riders or those with injuries which cause discomfort with traditional upright cycling.
Smaller cruiser bikes are also available for younger children, make sure they wear a helmet!
Who Shouldn't Use a Cruiser Bike?
While nearly anyone embarking on a relaxing ride would enjoy a cruiser bike, they are not the ideal bike for every type of cyclist.
Cruiser bikes are not suitable for long-distance cyclists looking for a bike to take them on an intense ride.
Whilst they’re quite durable, cruiser bikes do not perform optimally on undulating terrain due to the majority of them having one gear. Without multiple gear setting options, challenging uphill rides can become very tiresome and the geometry of a cruiser simply isn’t designed for hill climbs or descents.
Any competitive cyclist looking for an effective workout is best left with a more versatile bike such as a road bike or gravel bike.
Whilst cruiser bikes might offer individuals light exercise benefits, their design is mainly for enjoyment and not as suitable for intense exercise or competitive sport!
Different Types of Cruiser Bike
Whilst cruiser bikes are typically very similar, there are several different cruiser sub-types available.
The main difference between the types of cruiser listed below is their frame geometry. A difference in frame shape and size changes the feel and comfort of a bike whilst riding, so picking the right one is important!
Classic/Beach Cruiser Bikes
Classic/Beach Cruisers are the most common type of cruiser bike. The classic cruiser sits its rider in an upright position with the saddle being positioned above the pedals.
Classic cruisers bikes have a similar geometry to hybrid bicycles but provide thicker ‘balloon tyres’ for increased comfort.
If you want to commute to work on your cruiser a classic cruiser is your best bet. These offer more space than other cruiser variants for pannier racks and bikebags.
Low Rider Cruiser Bikes
Like other cruiser sub-types, low rider cruisers take inspiration from early Schwinn Stingray bicycles. Their frames hover just above the ground, which means the saddle is normally positioned very low down, hence the name!
These bikes accentuate the features of a cruiser bike and are built for looks and comfort. On a low rider, the saddle (often banana shape) is situated between the wheels rather than above (as with classic cruisers), this means the pedals are positioned in front of the rider similar to a recumbent bike.
Low rider cruiser bikes are similar to stretch cruisers but provide slightly less clearance beneath the crank arms.
The majority of low riders also use long, vertically rising handlebars which are similar to the bars a chopper uses. Low rider bars can range from 9″ to 25″ in height, shorter bars being suitable for smaller framed bicycles.
Whilst this is still a cruiser bike, some riders may find the riding position less comfortable than a classic beach cruiser.
Stretch Cruiser Bikes
Stretch cruisers are very similar in geometry to low rider cruisers, which can often lead people to get confused between the two.
The main difference between the two is the exaggerated length of a stretch cruiser. These bikes have a longer wheelbase which provides increased stability when handling corners and sharp turns.
The stretched frame leads to a slight increase in handlebar reach which, demanding a more flexible rider than a classic cruiser.
Chopper Cruiser Bikes
Chopper cruisers imitate the design of chopper motorcycle and are therefore a popular choice amongst children who are aspiring motorcyclists.
Chopper cruisers sometimes feature ape hanger handlebars which elevate the rider’s arms much higher than with stretch and low ride cruisers.
The saddle of a chopper cruiser bicycle is often found above or just in front of the rear wheel, which means a rider’s legs will reach forwards rather than downwards with a classic cruiser.
What's the Difference Between Men's and Women's Cruiser Bikes?
As with the majority of men’s and women’s bicycles, the main difference you’ll find with gender orientated cruiser bikes is the frame geometry.
Typically women’s cruiser bikes have a lower top tube, whilst some have none at all. This lower top tube provides a ‘step-through’ frame, which was traditionally designed to allow women to wear a longer skirt or dress whilst cycling.
The removal or reduction in height of the top tube does impact the overall strength of the frame on a women’s bike, but it also makes them slightly more comfortable to ride as you won’t have to lift your leg as high to mount the saddle.
Men’s cruiser bikes tend to have a top tube which slopes upwards from the top/middle of the seat-tube towards the top of the headtube. This increases the strength of the frame, but makes mounting the bike slightly more difficult.
Whilst bike frames are traditionally gender orientated, riders can choose to ride either. A ‘step-through’ frame is very practical for less athletic and less flexible cyclists.
Cruiser Bike vs Hybrid Bike
Whilst cruiser bikes and hybrid bikes do have some similarities, there are several factors which makes these bikes suitable for completely different cycling disciplines.
As I’ve established, the majority of cruiser bicycles use a single speed gear system, which means tackling hills on cruisers can be challenging.
Hybird bikes tend to have multi speed gear systems which traditionally offer 7 to 27 (sometimes more) speeds. This makes them more suitable for a variety of cycling pursuits and more capable of reaching a higher speed.
Because cruisers tend to be heavier, they’re only really suitable for flat ground, where as a hybrid takes the majority of its inspiration from road and mountain bikes, so is capable of tackling a much wider range of terrains
If you commute to work by bike, a hybrid will probably be the more suitable choice, regardless of the route you take. Hybrids have decent off-roading capabilities thanks to their strong frames and tyres with increased tread, but can also cope well on the tarmac too!
What Competitions/Events are Cruiser Bikes Used In?
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of a cruiser bike is that it is not used in any competitive landscape.
The only place you’d race a cruiser is along the beachfront with your friends. Whilst you could eventually build up a reasonable speed, the overall design doesn’t work well for racing or stunts.
If you enjoy cycling at a leisurely pace along flat roads or bike paths, then a cruiser will serve you well. Otherwise, if you’re looking for speed and adrenaline, a BMX or a gravel bike will be a better choice!
Benefits of Cruiser Bikes
The popularity of the cruiser bike is easily understood, as they offer many benefits to their riders.
Cruiser bikes are a subtype of comfort bikes. With a single-gear option, you won’t have to fiddle around with gears and they and won’t require advanced maintenance.
When used as designed, on flatter terrain, riders do not have to worry about exerting a significant cardiovascular output.
Cruiser bikes can be picked up at a very reasonable price thanks to their reduced number of components. This will also save you money in the long run as having a cruiser bike serviced will normally be cheaper than your average conventional bicycle!
Riders of cruiser bikes often choose to customise their ride with colourful components such as handlebar streamers. This gives your cruiser bike unique style and personality, which would also help to make it easier to find if your bike were stolen!
Risks Associated with Cruiser Bikes
Fortunately, cruiser bikes do not come with a long list of risks as they are relatively safe bikes suited for all ages and fitness levels.
Because these bikes are so sturdy, they tend to be heavier and slightly bulky, this means you won’t normally be travelling at high speeds, reducing the risks of injury if an accident occurred.
One hazard that cruiser bikes pose is the challenge of coaster brakes. Coaster brakes require the rider to pedal backward to stop the bike, a design many riders may be unfamiliar with if they are already accustomed to other bike styles.
To prevent this being an issue, make sure you learn to use the coaster break before taking your cruiser bike onto busy roads or paths.
Otherwise, adding a break leaver to your cruiser can be a good additional safety feature.
Whilst these bikes could be used to commute, they are hard to accelerate on so bear this in mind and don’t put yourself into challenging situations when mixing with traffic!
Environmental Impact of Using a Cruiser Bike
Riding a cruiser bike helps alleviate traffic in densely populated cities, which in turn reduces smog production and reliance on fossil fuels.
If your commute does not include steep hills or uneven terrain, a cruiser bike can be an excellent alternative to a motorized vehicle.
The ability to add a basket or saddlebag storage to a cruiser bike allows riders to carry belongings, even further promoting its use as a mode of transportation.
Does A Cruiser Bike Require Anything to Keep Functioning?
One of the benefits of cruiser bikes is that they do not generally require a great deal of maintenance.
These bikes need little beyond regular maintenance, such as oiling the chain and replacing the tyres when the tread has worn down.
As I already covered, if you don’t know how to maintain a bike yourself, a local bike shop will be happy to assist for a reasonable price!
Does the Cruiser Bike Require a Special Area to be Ridden?
Cruiser bikes are simple bikes, not meant for rough or challenging terrain. To properly enjoy a cruiser bike, you’ll want to stick to the flattest, smoothest trails.
Beach riding, boardwalks, pavement, or flat dirt roads are most accessible to cruiser bikes.
What to Wear When Riding a Cruiser Bike
Considering cruiser bikes are primarily found on beaches and simple riding commutes, the clothing options are open to interpretation.
Any loose-fitting and comfortable clothing you would already be wearing on a beachy vacation or weekend outing will suffice.
Otherwise, if you’re commuting on a cruiser, wear whatever you fancy!
I always advise the use of a helmet, especially if you choose to ride a cruiser bike model with coasting brakes and a single-gear.
What Accessories are Recommended When Using a Cruiser Bike?
The brilliant thing about cruiser bikes is that they have many exciting options for accessories and added features.
Many people are familiar with a beach cruiser’s iconic image adorned with a straw basket and handlebar streamers. Decorations are commonly added to give cruiser bikes a beachy aesthetic.
A few of the popular cruiser bike accessories include a bell, basket and handlebar grips. Commuters have been known to add saddlebags to carry belongings or groceries.
Gears are a more complex accessory but can be installed on a cruiser bike if desired. This feature will allow for adjustments in effort and resistance, permitting the rider to travel up hills or uneven terrain more easily.
Installation by a professional is typically recommended as gear systems are a complex component.
A cruiser cyclist can easily add front or rear hand brakes to their bike for additional safety and ease of use.
These supplemental brakes involve a hand lever on the handlebar, which controls a calliper on the tyre, causing it to slow down. Hand brakes can be installed by the bike owner or with the help of a professional.
Conclusion - What Is a Cruiser Bike?
So there you have it, a complete guide to cruiser bikes. Hopefully, I’ve answered all of your cruiser related questions, but if not feel free to leave a comment below!
You should now understand who cruiser bikes are suitable for and the benefits they offer for their riders.
If you’re considering buying a new cruiser bike, don’t forget to get yourself a good quality bike lock to go with it!
If you’re on a tighter budget I’ve reviewed the best budget bike locks here.
Thanks for reading, as always, lock it or lose it!
Ciao for now