Rise of the Cruisers

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.

2 minute read

March 2, 2010, 4:37 PM PST

By Tim Halbur


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

Tim Halbur is communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions. He was managing editor of Planetizen from 2008 to 2011.

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