Bikes – they’re fun, human-powered, affordable, and available in a wide range of styles, sizes, colors and configurations. Too many people hear the word “bicycle” and immediately think of options designed for kids, or perhaps BMX bikes and off-road bikes. While those are definitely popular, there’s much more to the world of modern bikes.
The Evolution of Bikes
While it’s impossible to pinpoint a single inventor, bicycles have been with us since the early 1800s, although very early models were not all that similar to what we use today. In 1817, the steerable front wheel was invented by the Baron von Drais. He was given a patent for his invention, and he created what would become the velocipede. That name faded away in the late 1800s as the term “bicycle” gained prominence.
It was not until the 1860s that Americans began to appreciate bicycle riding – it took the invention of pedals, brakes and new style developments for that to occur. In the late 1800s, a number of different bike styles came to the market, including the iconic racing design featuring a giant front wheel and a tiny rear wheel.
By the end of the 1870s, bikes had gained brakes and chain drives, with the first rear-wheel driven bike debuting in 1879. Pneumatic (air-filled) tires came to the market in 1888, followed by the pedal-back brake in 1889. Bicycles continued to evolve over the decades, and in 1933, the first cruiser bike debuted, built and sold by Schwinn.
The World of Modern Bicycles
Today, there are bikes for just about any need, from fitness to handling the daily commute to pleasure riding. In fact, there are just as many styles designed for adults as there are for children to ride, and you’re not limited to mountain bikes or multi-speed racing-inspired models.
Riding can be an exhilarating, enjoyable activity, but the right bike style is vital. For most adults, that means considering a cruiser bike, rather than a 10, 12, 14, or 20-speed model, or one designed for major off-roading. Why a cruiser, though? What benefits does this style of bike offer that cannot be found with something else?
What Makes a Cruiser Bike Different from Other Bikes?
There are quite a few distinguishing factors that separate cruiser bikes from other types on the market. However, perhaps the most important thing is this:
Cruiser bikes are designed for those who just want to enjoy a simple ride and the pleasure of biking.
Where other bikes might be designed for off-road capabilities, or to handle hard jouncing down a mountainside, or to get you up to near automobile speeds, that’s not the case with a cruiser. These bikes are about comfort, enjoyment, and taking life slow enough that you can have fun with it and the design proves this. They do work well as beach cruisers in most cases.
To really illustrate the differences, let’s take a closer look at the hardware and features found on cruiser bikes and how they compare to standard bikes.
- Frame: Beach cruiser bike frames differ significantly from BMX, mountain bikes, and other styles on the market. The frame is usually more elaborate, with deeper curves, as well as a third support bar. While some bikes might use aluminum for lightness, cruisers usually use full steel frames for durability and support.
- Pedals: You’ll find that unlike many other styles of bike on the market, cruiser bikes have very plain pedals. They’re usually made from plastic, and are flat. Most of them lack the teeth found on other pedal styles designed to enhance grip.
- Tires: The tires on beach cruiser bikes are very wide, particularly in comparison with bikes designed for speed riding. They’re also rather tall, usually ranging between 24 inches and 29 inches, and most of them have very defined whitewalls. Those are usually mounted on conventional wire spoke rims that lack brake pad mounting brackets.
- Handlebars: The handlebars on most cruisers are designed to foster a more comfortable sitting position while still maintaining excellent control over the bike. The handlebars extend back farther than many styles and feature a very deep U- shape as compared to other styles.
- Seat/Saddle: As mentioned previously, one of the defining characteristics of a cruiser bike is the wide seat/saddle. Often, they are twice the width of standard street bike seats, and they are supported by springs in the back, rather than having rigid mounts. This provides more cushion and shock absorption while riding.
- Braking: In most cases, cruiser bikes use the back-pedal braking method, rather than having hand brakes installed on the handlebars. With that being said, you will find some models on the market that do have front and rear hand brakes if you are concerned about stopping capabilities.
- Drive Style: When it comes to driving methods, most cruiser bikes use a single gear chain drive, although there are three, seven-speed and even 21-speed systems on the market.
Why Consider Cruising?
Why should you consider owning a beach cruiser bike? Actually, there are as many reasons as there are cruiser bike owners, but some of the most common reasons include the following:
- Comfort: One of the most common reasons to own a cruiser rather than some other style of bike is for the pure comfort offered by the ride. These bikes feature much wider seats than other bikes, with springs making you more comfortable while you ride down the sidewalk or bike lane. Comfort is the rule for your riding position, too. You don’t sit hunched over. Instead, you can sit fully upright and pedal comfortably.
- Plush Ride: You can think of a cruiser bike in a similar way to a town car – they’re about plush comfort and refinement. They tell the world that you’re comfortable with who you are, and that you want to live your life in a mindful way. These bikes say that the journey is more important than the destination when you ride.
- Style: There’s no denying the fact that cruiser bikes are incredibly stylish. You’ll find a host of individual model options out there, each with their own signature look. However, all cruiser bikes have a few similarities. They’re generally larger than other bike models, with wider seats, larger handlebars, fenders over the wheels and wider, more comfortable tires.
- Carrying Capacity: Many people choose to purchase a cruiser bike for the carrying capacity offered. Most cruisers can mount a basket on the front and a platform over the rear wheel, which gives you a place to carry anything from a picnic basket to a toolbox or other parts. If you’re looking for a daily driver that can help you get from home to work to the grocery store and back, and carry stuff while you’re at it, cruisers are great options.
- Enjoyment: Perhaps the single most common reason for someone to buy a cruiser bike is for the pure enjoyment of riding. That’s what these bikes are all about, after all – hitting the sidewalk, the road, or even the beach and enjoying the feel of the sun on your skin and the wind on your face.
Limitations of Cruiser Bikes
Before we get too deep into our discussion, it’s important to realize up front that there are a few drawbacks to beach cruiser bikes. That is, they do have their limitations. While these are great bikes for those who want a laidback means of getting around town, getting exercise, or even tackling the daily commute, they are not well suited to specific activities.
- They do not handle off-road conditions well.
- They are not well suited to high-speed riding.
- They are not designed for tricks or stunts.
- They do not ride well on loose-packed gravel roads, but do well enough on sand at the beach.
If you need off-road capabilities, high-speed capabilities, want the ability to perform stunts and tricks, or you regularly ride on loose gravel, there are other bikes better suited to your needs. However, if you want a laidback, comfortable, elegant way to get around, a cruiser bike might be the ideal solution.
What to Know about Cruiser Bike Styles on the Market
When you hear the term “cruiser” bike, chances are good that you have a specific style in mind. You might see a bike with a wide seat and a large front basket, for instance. While that might be the stereotypical image of cruisers, there’s actually a lot more on the market today. There are excellent beach cruiser options for men and women. In order to understand your options, we’ll need to explore some of the more prevalent styles and their unique characteristics.
This is the quintessential beach cruiser bike, with tall handlebars, a wide seat, a basket on the front, and wide tires. The frame is longer than with many bikes, but not as long as others. The frame is made from steel, and the tires measure 24 or 26 inches. If you want a “beach” cruiser, a “standard” cruiser, a “classic” cruiser, or a “basic” cruiser, this is the model you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a showy bike that still offers the ability to cruise in style, then the low rider is for you. These bikes have custom frames that drop very low in comparison with standard cruisers, and they often have taller handlebars, mimicking the “ape hangers” of chopper-style motorcycles. You’ll find that the riding position for a low rider is usually more reclined than with a classic style, too. And, while they are more than capable of being ridden like a regular cruiser, they may have difficulty over some terrain due to the reduced height of the frame off the ground.
Stretch cruisers are longer than standard cruiser bikes, and may have one, two or even three seats in some instances. Most stretch cruisers are custom made, and some of the longer versions are only available as rentals, and cannot be purchased unless you work with a bike fabrication shop. The stretch style allows more than one rider to propel the bike, but single-seater models offer a different riding experience and a unique style. However, these bikes can suffer from reduced handling, particularly around curves and corners.
Most cruisers are single-speed affairs, like the old-school bikes from your youth. However, that is not true for all of them. You’ll find that some cruisers have several different gears that offer the ability to change your riding style to suit your environment. Note that multiple gears are not all that necessary for riding conditions that are mostly flat. However, if you regularly ride in hilly areas then a three or even seven-speed model might be a good choice for your needs, allowing you to handle those hills with ease.
Chopper Style Cruisers
If you are a fan of chopper-style motorcycles, or someone you love is, then a chopper style cruiser might be a great choice. These share quite a few visual cues with chopper-style motorcycles, including the raked handle bars, the reclined seat, the steeply angled front fork, and more. Some models have a larger rear wheel and a smaller front wheel, but this is not universal. Note that a chopper-style bike almost completely eliminates the benefits found with the classic style, and the ride comfort is not the same.
What to Look for When Buying a Cruiser Bike?
If you’re thinking about shopping around and comparing the best cruiser bikes, you’ll need to know what to look for in order to ensure that you can make an informed decision. We’ll run through what to look for when buying a cruiser bike below. Many of these considerations are the same as with any other bike, but some are specific to cruisers.
Size: Size is the single most important consideration. If you do not purchase the right size bike, then no matter the style, no matter the brake type, and no matter the gearing, you will not have an enjoyable riding experience. You should be able to mount the bike without difficulty. However, understand that there are fewer size options with cruisers than there are with other bikes. The most common sizes are 24, 26, 28 and 29 inches (measured by wheel size). Note that there are children’s cruisers on the market, too. They are usually 20 inches or 16 inches.
Style: The single most common style on the market is the classic cruiser. You may find these marketed as beach cruisers, basic cruisers, or just “cruisers”, and they may have any number of accessories, but they all boil down to the same thing. However, if there are other styles that you found interesting from our discussion above, it’s best to find a model in person so you can see firsthand how it feels to ride before you make a purchase decision. Interestingly, you’ll even find cruiser trike models available today.
Brake Type: You’ll need to choose the right brake type for your needs. Back-pedal brakes are the most common, and are highly effective, particularly with the laidback style of riding that cruisers are designed for. However, you may be more comfortable with hand brakes.
Gearing: Most cruisers feature a single gear chain drive, but you may want to consider a multi-gear drivetrain if you regularly ride over lots of hills. You might only need one gear for a beach cruiser, for example. Always check the number of gears to ensure it’s what you want from the products.
Tire Type: You’ll find that the most common type of tires here are wide, balloon-style tires. They provide comfort for riding, and offer excellent traction and stability. You may be able to choose from tires with different sidewall colors, though.
Available Extras and Additions: When choosing between the best cruiser bikes, it’s important to consider the available accessories. Not all bikes will come with all accessories, and some bikes may not have the same range of options as others. Some of the most common accessories and parts to consider include the following:
Rear platform/luggage rack
Lights (front or front and rear)
Seat cover color, texture and style
The Main Difference Between Cruiser Bikes for Men and Women
One of the questions that are often asked regarding beach cruiser bikes is what the differences between them are and how to tell them apart. You will find that for the most part, these bikes are very similar. There are some differences between bikes for men and women, but they tend to be minor.
On a men’s beach cruiser bike, you will typically find that the frames are going to be somewhat larger. Also, the men’s bikes will often have a tube that runs across the top part of the frame. In some cases, the colors or the graphics on the bike might be what is traditionally associated with men, but this is more a matter of your preference and the colors you would like.
With women’s cruiser bikes, the women’s frame tends to be smaller, and the top tube curves downward rather than straight across, as you would find with the men’s cruisers. The frames may also have more of a streamlined look than what you would find with those typically ridden by men. The shape of the saddle may be different, as well.
What Brake Type Should You Choose? Coaster Brakes or Hand Brakes
There is often a debate as to what types of brake are going to be a better option for your coaster bike. Are the hand brakes or the coaster brakes going to be a better fit for you? It’s important to look at each of these types of brakes to get a better understanding of how they work and what they can offer before you make your decision.
Coaster brakes are a very common option found on many cruiser bikes. They are very simple to use, and they don’t have any moving parts. To engage these types of brakes, the only thing you need to do is push your pedal backward instead of forward. This will cause the chain to lock up, which makes the rear wheel slow or stop. The greater the pressure you are using to push the pedal backward the greater the stopping power.
Quite a few riders are probably familiar with this type of braking because it is so common. They may have had bikes in their childhood that had coaster brakes. Of course, if you have never used these types of brakes before, it can be a bit jarring to acclimate. You need to understand the different levels of pressure that you will have to apply on different types of surfaces and grades, for example.
You will also find that thanks to the simplicity of the coaster brakes, you will not have to worry about changing out pads or problems with the brake lines. This means you will have less maintenance with your cruiser bike.
However, if you prefer to have more control over your brakes, you may want to choose a coaster bike that has hand brakes. This allows you to control the braking of the bike using your hands, so you don’t have to worry about your feet being in the right position to brake properly and safely. These types of brakes are often considered to be more effective and safer, and they can be a good option if you are using your cruiser bike in areas that have a lot of hills that you have to traverse. If you have chosen a multi-speed cruiser bike, you will find that they have these types of hand brakes on them. Again, the multi-speed bikes will be a good option if you have a hilly area where you ride with your cruiser bike.
Once you get the bike, whether you have chosen coaster brakes or hand brakes, make sure that you take some time to practice in safe areas to get accustomed to exactly how they work.
How to Choose Your Bike Accessories
One of the best parts about getting a cruiser bike is the fact that there are so many different types of accessories that you can get with the bike, as mentioned earlier in the article. However, before you start outfitting the bike with all of these various additions, check to see if they have any accessories already includes. Some, such as the Schwinn Meridian Adult Bike, already have a large basket on the rear of the bike.
Having a basket on the front or the rear of the cruiser bike helps to add more versatility to your ride. It means that you can take it with you down to the local market to pick up some groceries, or to carry a picnic basket with you to the park or the beach.
You might also want to consider getting some lights for the bike. Having lights on the bike will make it easier for you to ride at dusk and in the evening. It also ensures that you and your cruiser bike are visible to pedestrians and to vehicles that are on the road. Another safety feature that you might want to include with your bike is a horn. This can be a functional accessory that is also aesthetically pleasing and provides the bike with more of a traditional feel.
When you are outfitting your bike with accessories, think about the various functions that you want, as well as the overall look that you want for your cruiser bike. There are plenty of options out there for you to consider, so you can create a unique bike that suits you.
Choose What Makes You Happy
There are many options available for cruiser bikes that are on the market today, including those mentioned above. Take the time to think about what it is you want and need from the bike, where you will be riding, and the features that you need. You also want to think about the style and the color. People often like to outfit their cruiser bikes to help showcase their personality. Find the cruiser bike that’s perfect for your needs, whatever they might be whether you are looking for a beach cruiser for men or women.