Rise of the Cruisers

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum

A few weeks back, I had a meeting at the University of Southern California's campus. It was a moderately nice day by Los Angeles standards, which in other parts of the country would equate to the best day of the year weather-wise. As I walked among the brick buildings, I was impressed by the number of bicycles parked willy-nilly around the grounds.

Cruiser bikes on the USC Campus.

What impressed me even more as I kept walking was that these weren't just any bicycles, but a particular kind of bicycle: cruisers. Everywhere I looked, brightly-colored cruiser bikes were locked to poles, laying on the grass, or carrying their passenger to their next class. 

If you're not a cyclist, the obvious question here is, "What's a cruiser, and what difference does it make?" A "cruiser" is a classic bike style that is designed more for comfort than speed. The cyclist need not hunch uncomfortably over the handlebars, craning his or her neck up to see the way ahead. Big cushy seats and an upright posture make for more wind resistance, but a more pleasant ride. Cruisers are only really good for short commutes, but are also good haulers with baskets and racks for saddlebags on many models (full disclosure: I ride a cruiser myself on my 4-mile commute to work).

For the last few decades, the cruiser all but disappeared as bikes became big business. Road bikes claimed the market, and you rarely saw someone biking who wasn't in full spandex. A revival of the cruiser began in the mid-90s as people began to reconsider biking as a transportation mode. 

More cruisers 

Which makes the explosion of bikes on campus an excellent omen. Cruisers are bicycles for everyday people who need to get from here to there, and don't see it as an aerobic activity or preparation for a triathalon. Granted, a college campus is always going to reflect different demographics and uses than your average work commuter. But if this many students are using cruisers to get around, I think we can expect a much wider acceptance in the near future of the bike as a way of getting from place to place. Cities are woefully underprepared, and need to seriously consider gearing up for the growing bike share in our communities.

Tim Halbur is communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).



Mike Lydon's picture

great post.

The revival of the cruiser, and the rise of the cycle chic movement in general, are a very positive sign.

Hooray for bikes, and bicyclists of all types!


Cruisers in Vancouver

I live near all the bike rental places in Vancouver (BC), near Stanley Park. Over hte last few years the types of bike they rent has definitely shifted from mountain bikes to mainly cruisers. These bikes rae well suited to city use and although the current trend is bright colours etc, the basic design can be seen in most of the bikes I have seen dominating European cities such as Brugge, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Tim Barton

A Better Bicycle Choice

Cruisers unfortunately are clunky and heavy, and require more effort than needed.

A better choice would be a lighter weight bike, with some sort of internal gear hub, like the English 3 speed bikes, which became quite popular in this country in the 1950s.

Another good choice might be a hybrid bike, which is based on a mountain bike design, but with wheels, tires, etc that are more suitable for paved roads.

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum


Ken- yes, to be specific, I ride a hybrid.

I was generalizing about cruisers, but even if they are clunky and heavy, I would say that "more effort than needed" is relative. If you're only going a few blocks or a mile or so on flat roads, than why not get an inexpensive, heavy bike? Lightness and gears add expense, and I believe the rise of cruisers can be tied to their relative cheapness and comfort for people who don't have to go long distances.

Not heavy enough, yet!

I'm still looking for the type of bike we used to ride in India, one that would comfortably hold a second big American quite gracefully on the rack. Next up: bike pooling!

Cruising Trend

I was a student at USC a few years ago, and definitely noticed the trend of the cruisers. In particular, it seemed that many of the sorority and fraternity kids chose those types of bikes to travel the several blocks from The Row to campus. As much as I support cycling as a means of sustainable transportation, seeing this trend gave me a negative impression of the cruiser bike. Today I wouldn't be caught riding one, as I'd feel too much like a sorority girl looking for attention.

I also agree with the above comments about the cruiser being rather heavy. I think the direction that the commuter bike is heading is towards lighter, compact, even foldable models that can be stored in urban living spaces and carried onto trains. If cost of individual ownership is an issue, then we should take more seriously the proposals for bike share systems (a la Paris, Montreal, Boston, and countless other cities.)


Cruisers are sexy!

This is a positive sign which I have noticed as well. Cruisers are sexy and stylish. This is an important typing point for cycling as it becomes more main stream and accepted as actual transportation. People now want to be seen on a nice set of wheels; the cruiser is slowly becoming a fashion accessory. Cruisers are well suited for areas which have flat terrain and where travel distances are short (<2miles). Long live the cruiser!

Felipe Azenha

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