After the successful commercialization of the automobile, bicycles became recreational vehicles. These were expensive and occupied a comparable market to the modern road bike. During the depression, demand for an inexpensive and practical bike came into view. This evolved into the cruiser bike, a single speed bike with large tires, stylized after the motorcycle.
During their peak, cruisers were valued for their simplicity and utility. Eventually, they evolved and were largely superseded by mountain bikes and BMX bikes. Cruisers have made a comeback however, and ironically for exactly the opposite reasons that generated their initial success.
Because mountain and hybrid bikes occupy the “practical bike” market, the cruiser has achieved “retro” status. No longer selected for functionality, they are extremely heavy by modern bike standards, and often feature swooping curves in the frames, wide metal fenders, gas tank arches and white walled tires. These characteristics recall a day when bicycle design was directly inspired by motorcycles.
From this emphasis on style at the expense of speed, subcultures emerged. One such subculture is the “slow bike movement,” which calls for an end to the current market trend of race inspired bicycles and riding styles. By identifying with a bike which cannot go fast, “slow bikers” make a counter-cultural stand against the light weight, fast handling geometries and aerodynamics that define the modern bicycle. The insistence here is that performance riding detracts from other joys of riding, such as scenery and not being sweaty. The antiquated cruiser is as such a symbol of this culture.
Another subculture is the “bike party” or “booze cruise” sub culture. Here, the impractical design elements are taken to an extreme. Cruiser bikes are burdened further with faux fur, lights, speakers and cup-holders. The brains of the riders are encumbered with copious amounts of alcohol, and these bikes are used to create a crawling, mobile party across a town. Prime examples are Denver Cruisers and Happy Thursday Bike Ride. There is extensive demographic overlap with these groups and the “burners” of Burning Man. As such, many of these bikes become dynamic works of art.