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 Eventually, they evolved and were largely superseded by mountain bikes and BMX bikes.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.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Andre Szlendak
    January 26, 2016 8:18 am

    The history gave some really great perspective and understanding on the development. I love bikes and think you did a great job of discerning the specific notes of cruisers and how they can intend to be heavier and an antithesis to the “performance” raw speed culture that has developed. I think a lot of people can argue that maybe this culture or aesthetic can be categorized otherwise but you recognize and explain the relationship between something just counter-culture or leisure life, as a synthesis of many. Pictures would have been fun and given further reference to the feel (what constitutes curvy? what is a dropout or top-tube?)

    Reply
  • Sreyas Krishnan
    January 23, 2016 4:18 pm

    Awesome. Seems like bikes are getting popular again as a means of transportation, especially in our state, but there’s nothing like a good ol’ “bike party.” epic: http://cdn2-b.examiner.com/sites/default/files/styles/image_content_width/hash/43/bb/43bb0e211808d0748ff39d0f441c0dd9.jpg?itok=K26mTBF4

    Reply
  • I had no idea that the aesthetic of cruiser bikes was so old, and especially not that they came before mountain bikes. It is also neat to get the perspective of of the slow-biker movement and of those who specifically want to associate these bikes as dynamic works of art.
    I would love to see some pictures next time too!

    Reply

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