What is a Cruiser Bike?

Knowing the ins and outs of a cruiser bike will help you save money and time. We’ll make things easy for you, so we’ll walk you through all the information you need to know before buying a cruiser bike.

A cruiser bike, also known as a beach cruiser bike, is similar to a hybrid bike because they’re both designed for casual riding. However, this upright-style bike is generally stronger and more comfortable.

This is just an overview of beach cruiser bikes. Let’s go deeper into this topic and talk about the following:

  • The history and basic features of a beach cruiser bike
  • The advantages and disadvantages of owning one
  • Buying considerations

What is a Cruiser Bike?

History

Larry McNeely was the one who coined the term “beach cruiser.” He later used that term as a trademark for the modern beach cruiser bike.

Back in the ‘70s, he and his father sold antique bikes to collectors after they restore them. It was after restoring a few Schwinn balloon-tire bicycles (1940s and 1950s models) that he saw a good opportunity to design a vintage-style bicycle that has fat tires and allows riders to sit upright and keep low to the ground as they ride.

McNeely got the inspiration for this bicycle from the people living near beaches, like the Huntington Beach community and Newport. He noticed that they only travel on their bicycles for short distances.

His beach cruiser bike was an instant hit. Fortunately, he got “California Beach Cruiser” trademarked a year before Schwinn came up with their own cruiser bike.

McNeely’s beach cruiser bikes were the most popular types of bikes from 1930 to 1960. Then, it became popular again throughout the 1990s.

Basic Features

A cruiser bike is ideal for short-distance commutes and leisure rides. Because of its tough tires, it can easily manage most city roads, light dirt trails, and gravel roads. It’s also a suitable option for people who want to get a low-impact cardio workout by cycling.

So, what does a cruiser bike look like? What makes it different?

Frame

The frame design of a beach cruiser bike is different for men and women. A beachcomber bike frame for women has a low, step-through design, so it’s easier for them to swing their leg to mount on the bike.

Meanwhile, most men’s cruiser bikes feature a 17.5-inch frame with a square construction. They’re built for more rigorous use and meant to withstand rough landings.

Modern beach cruiser bike frames are typically made from aluminum, carbon fiber, steel, and titanium. Most cruisers are made of durable steel, which naturally makes them heavier. It’s common to find a cruiser bike weighing between 30 and 40 pounds. However, you can always choose frames made of a lighter material, like aluminum.

Number of Gears

Aside from its nostalgic vintage look, one of the distinctive characteristics of a traditional cruiser bike is it only has one gear. The lack of multiple gears offers many benefits, like fewer parts to maintain.

A single-speed won’t be enough if you’re going to cycle uphill most of the time. Fortunately, there are some cruisers that have 3, 7, or even 21 speeds, which give you more freedom to tackle different terrains.

Brakes

Most cruiser bikes aren’t equipped with a hand brake. Instead, they have a coaster brake since it’s simpler to maintain. This means that the only way to stop the bike is to pedal backwards.

But, can you put hand brakes on them if you want? Definitely! Other manufacturers give you two other braking options: rim brakes and disc brakes.

Pedals

It’s not unusual for a cruiser bike to have no pedals when you buy them. Of course, that depends if you bought it already assembled or had one customized to your needs.

The upside of a pedal-less cruiser bike is you have the choice to fit them with pedals that best suit your preferences. The common types of pedals that you can use for this type of bike are clipless pedals, cage pedals, and the regular pedals.

On the other hand, you can try “beach cruiser pedals.” These pedals are heavy, thick, and made of resin.

Other cruisers have “barefoot” pedals. These pedals have a flat and smooth surface, so they’re comfortable to use, even if you’re not wearing any shoes or sandals.

Seat

Since a cruiser bike is comfort-oriented, you can expect the seat to baby your bottom and keep you in an upright position. The padding of most cruiser seats is generous, which means instant comfort from the get-go.

All of the seats are wide, with a more pronounced back and a narrower nose. The design provides proper back support and allows riders of any size to distribute their weight on the bike.

Cruiser seats are covered in breathable materials. But, it’s not uncommon for them to have a covering made from black, brown, tan, or white leather.

Potholes and bumpy roads are not a problem. Most cruiser seats have dual springs to dampen a good amount of road vibrations. As a result, you can enjoy a longer ride every single time.

The downside to this type of bike seat is it may feel a bit bouncy. That can be bothersome if you’re cycling at higher speeds.

Tires

Traditional cruiser bikes have balloon tires, which refer to tires that are low pressure, large volume, and wide. The standard tire size for most adult cruisers is 26 inches (26 x 2.125, 26 x 2.35, and 26 x3), while kids cruiser bikes would typically have 20-inch tires.

Can you put other types of tires on a beach cruiser bike?

You can! While the design and components of a cruiser aren’t optimal for off-road riding, it’s quite common for other people to use mountain bike tires and fat tires on vintage frames. This practice is called “klunking.”

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Cruiser Bike

Now that you know more about cruiser bikes, you might be wondering if they’re right for you. If you are, we’ve outlined nine advantages and four disadvantages of owning a beach cruiser bike.

Reasons to Get One

Made to Last

Probably one of the biggest reasons people prefer a cruiser bike is because of its durability. It’s generally built to last—thanks to its chunky and thick tires, heavy-duty frame, and single-speed drivetrain.

Most of these bikes are made of steel, which can last a long time if cared for properly. Steel bike frames are still functional, even if they get dented or scratched.

Some beach cruiser bikes are also resistant to the weather elements. For instance, the Priority Coast is virtually immune to the damaging effects of salt, sand, and water. Its frame and fork are made of aluminum, while the belt drive is made of carbon fiber. Water or sand can’t sneak into its bearings and cause damage because they’re completely sealed.

Highly Versatile

A cruiser bike isn’t just for leisurely riding around your favorite seaside town. You can use it for other purposes, like going downtown to grab a bite or doing short-distance errands. Depending on whether you have the single-speed or multiple-geared version, you can use it to conquer inclined roads.

Single-speeds have their limitations. But, if you’re riding mostly on flat, paved roads, they’re more than enough. Plus, they’re great for you if you want to strengthen your legs and get a good cardio workout. If you have more difficult things to do—like riding on a tricky terrain—you could always choose cruisers with more gears.

Comfort-Oriented

Every part of a cruiser bike is built for comfort, from its handles to its seat and down to its tires. That’s why, aside from hybrid bicycles, it’s a great way to go on lazy rides and spend more time outdoors to refresh your mind.

Cruiser handlebars allow two types of riding positions:

  • The City Bike: In this position, your upper body is slightly leaning forward (around 60 to 70 degrees to the ground), giving you a good view of the traffic. The downside is it could result to hand pain and cramped shoulders.
  • The Classic (Dutch): In this position, your upper body is upright (around 90 degrees to the ground) and the handlebars are very close to your body. This is generally a comfortable riding position.

Of course, let’s not forget about the padded seat with springs for shock absorption. The padding of most cruisers are made of thick polyurethane that typically offers a soft cushion. Other seats are made of memory foam, which is best known for its ability to prevent pressure points.

Cruiser seats tend to be wide, which offers good support and comfort on your rides. The downside to wide seats is they could cause chaffing, especially if you do a lot of pedaling or decide to go on longer rides.

Low Maintenance

As what they say, “less gears, less problems.” If you agree, a single-speed beach cruiser bike is a great option for you. It allows you to fully focus on the joy of riding a bicycle rather than worrying about gear shifting. And, without fancy gears to break, maintenance is a breeze.

Sometimes, a single-speed cruiser bike might not be enough. But, even if you choose a 3-speed beach cruiser bike, you can still worry less about maintenance. A 3-speed cruiser bike is great for you if your usual route has a lot of hills.

The number of times a bicycle needs servicing will greatly depend on how often you ride it and its present condition. A beach cruiser bike, or any single-speed bicycle, would probably need tune ups once or twice a year—that is, if you use it daily. Others recommend once every three to four months.

Beginner-Friendly

Easy to operate, a comfortable seat, low maintenance—a beach cruiser bike definitely has the features of a beginner-friendly commuter bike. Although, if you’re used to hand brakes, you might need some time to make it second nature to pedal backwards to stop the bike.

A professional can do the repairs and routine maintenance, but if you’re willing to do them, we don’t see why you can’t. The most basic thing you can do to keep this single-speed bike running smoothly is to remove and clean the chain using a diluted degreaser and a rag. If it’s really muddy or sandy, you can use a sponge and soapy water.

Practical

There are many reasons a cruiser bike is practical. It’s affordable, low maintenance, and versatile. You can customize it by adding other hardware components, such as a front basket and a rear rack, making it a great option for quick errands.

Reasonable Price

Like most types of commuter bikes, cruiser bikes are available in different price ranges. You can even buy the multiple-geared models (3-speed or 5-speed) for $400 or less.

Here are the average retail prices of cruiser bikes from three popular brands:

  • Priority: $549.00
  • Schwinn: $269.99-$1,699.99
  • Sixthreezero single-speeds: $249.99-$749.99

Not all beach cruiser bikes are meant to be simple or affordable. Some of the state-of-the-art cruisers, like the electric cruiser bikes, could cost up to $10,000.

Stable While Riding

Another upside of riding a beach cruiser bike is it remains stable at moderate speed. That’s why it’s perfect for admiring the outdoor scenery and exploring your favorite beaches.

And because of its excellent stability and ability to carry big loads, it’s widely used by bike messengers and paperboys. A standard beach cruiser can handle heavy loads weighing around 300 pounds.

Reasons Not to Get One

Too Heavy

Cruiser bikes are highly comfortable and beginner friendly, but their heavy weight is their biggest drawback. The chunky and wide tires, heavy-duty frame, and bigger size all contribute to their weight.

In the bicycle world, people already consider 30 pounds as medium weight. So, any bike that weighs between 40 and 60 pounds is already heavy. As we stated earlier, majority of cruisers would weigh between 35 and 40 pounds.

Since they’re heavy, it’s really tiring to lug them around for long distances. You might also find it a bit difficult to handle them, especially when you’re going up hills or maneuvering the twists and turns of narrow city lanes.

Doesn’t Go Fast

That’s just how cruiser bikes are designed. The speed of these bikes would normally range from 3 to 15 miles per hour, or perhaps a little more. Compared to cruisers, road bikes could reach speeds ranging from 25 to 40 miles per hour.

There are many factors that affect bicycle speed. In the case of a cruiser bike, one reason is the upright riding position, which doesn’t reduce aerodynamic drag (biggest obstacle to speed) and prevents you from generating enough power from pedaling.

Cruiser bikes with frames made from heavy materials, like steel, can also be another reason. Steel bicycle frames aren’t only heavy, but they also have the worse aerodynamics.

There’s also the ongoing belief that wider tires can slow you down because they’re heavy and have more rolling resistance. However, others believe that wider bicycle tires are no slower than skinny bicycle tires.

Heavy bikes make descending a hill an easy task. The problem lies when you’re trying to ascend steep roads. You need more power to accelerate slightly faster and tackle steep hills efficiently.

Counterintuitive Brakes

Coaster brakes, also called as back pedal brakes, are relatively easy to learn. There’s just one problem: they could be dangerous. Since a bicycle with a coaster brake lacks front brakes, there’s a possibility that the rear wheel could lock up. This could cause a bike to skid dangerously, especially when you panic and apply too much force to the pedals while stopping.

If you want to, you can add hand brakes to a cruiser bike. You can take it to your local bike shop to install the brakes. But if you want to do it yourself, you can. Just make sure there are mounting holes on the fork of your bike.

Not for Long-Distance Trips

Most cruiser bikes, especially the single-speed and 3-speed models, are ideal for short-distance commuting on fairly flat roads. That, plus their infamously heavy and large frame make it hard for anyone to use them for riding uphill or for prolonged periods.

Also, the non-aerodynamic riding position on a beach cruiser bike isn’t ideal for longer rides. This makes a lot of difference than most people think. The most aerodynamically efficient position on a bicycle is the one that allows you to crouch down low and bend your elbows with your forearms parallel to the ground.

Cruiser Bike Buyer’s Guide

What should I look for in a cruiser bike? How many gears do I need? How do I spot good-quality cruisers from cheap ones? If these questions keep bubbling in your mind, we’ve got the answers for you (and more).

Number of Gears

Do you really need more than one gear on your beach cruiser?

The answer: it depends.

If, for instance, you usually go for a ride on the boardwalks and some city roads, a single-speed is all you need. But if you want to tackle more challenging terrains, choose a beach cruiser bike with multiple gears.

A cruiser bike is typically available as a single-speed, 3-speed, 7-speed, or 21-speed. Let’s explore each one of them:

1-Speed (Single-Speed)

The affordability of a single-speed bike—both the upfront cost and maintenance cost—is one of its main advantages over a multi-geared bike. Unlike multi-geared bikes, the overall maintenance cost is cheaper because it doesn’t have many parts to fix or replace. For instance, you don’t need to replace a damaged rear derailleur because it doesn’t have one.

One of the major downsides of a single-speed cruiser bike is it lacks alternative gearing ratios. Thus, it’s less versatile since the gear ratio is fixed.

Although this is only true for single-speed cruiser bikes. There are plenty of multi-geared cruiser bikes that you can check out. There are even electric versions of these bikes, which could help you get to your destination faster and in better shape.

3-Speed

If you want more versatility but without worrying too much about how and when to change gears, a cruiser bike with a 3-speed drivetrain is a good option. The different gear ratios offer enough versatility for you to tackle hills and regular flat roads, without exerting too much energy.

Depending on your riding needs, a 3-speed cruiser bike isn’t better than an 8-speed or 10-speed bike. You would have a difficult time ascending hills if you’re carrying heavy loads, or if you’re planning to tackle harsher terrains. That’s because of the closer gear ratio of a 3-speed bike, which in turn limits its overall range in potential gearing choices.

7-Speed

A 7-speed cruiser bike is an ideal option for riders who constantly rides on difficult terrains. On this type of cruiser bike, you can shift into the higher gears for downhills and flat roads. Shifting into the lower gears makes the bike climb easier.

The great thing about a 7-speed cruiser bike is it consists of properly spaced chainrings and  distinct-sized cogs. You see, if the chainrings are too far out or too far in from the frame, the bike’s front derailleur can’t shift correctly.

Probably one of the most serious (and costly) disadvantages of a 7-speed cruiser bike is it might require regular mechanical repairs. And if ever one of its cogs become faulty, you’ll most likely need to bring the whole bike to your local bike repair shop to get work done.

21-Speed

With a higher number of gears, a 21-speed beach cruiser makes it easier (or harder, if you want) to pedal at various speeds across different terrains. It’s suitable for anyone who wants a more effortless ride, while enjoying the scenery from the saddle.

But, do you really need a 21-speed cruiser bike?

Not really. If you love speed, then you might like it. If you’re going to ride mostly on difficult terrains, you’re better off with a 7-speed cruiser bike. You might also not like the effort required to thoroughly clean the drivetrain of a 21-speed cruiser bike.

Spotting Good Beach Cruiser Bikes

It’s not always the extra features or expensive price tag that separates a good cruiser bike from cheap ones. It’s the quality of how it was made.

The simplest way to know if you’re buying a low-quality cruiser bike is to check its frame. The frame is probably the most important part of a bike. It doesn’t only hold together all of a bike’s components, but it also attests to the craftsmanship of the manufacturer, as well as the quality of the materials they used.

Since the frame is the largest part of a bike, it’s easy to spot defects. It’s virtually impossible to hide these defects, especially for a person who has a keen eye for details.

Things to ask yourself when checking the quality of a beach cruiser bike frame:

  • Is it uniform in shape?
  • How thick is the tubing?
  • Does it have a uniform weld beads?
  • What materials did the manufacturer used?
  • Does it have quality paint job, or is it thin and fragile?
  • What about the smoothness of the frame? Does it have jagged edges?

Know Your Usual Bike Route

Knowing where you plan to ride doesn’t only help you determine the features of the cruiser bike that’s right for you. It’ll also help you choose among the different types of cruiser bikes. There are many of them, but we’ll only discuss four of the most common types here.

  1. The Traditional Beach Cruiser Bike − The traditional cruiser bike has a single-speed drivetrain with a chain guard, a coaster brake, a heavy frame with a unisex top tube design, a padded and wide sprung saddle, a fender, cruiser handlebars (also known as upright handlebars), and balloon-style tires (usually 26 inches or 29 inches).
  2. Commuter Cruiser Bike − Unlike the traditional cruiser bike, a commuter cruiser bike has a cable-activated brake (also called a caliper brake) and gears (3-speed or 7-speed) on the back. It’s also common for this type to have a front basket.
  3. Electric-Assisted Cruiser Bike − Like what the name suggests, this type of cruiser bike has a motor that kicks in whenever you’re pedaling. This helps you pedal easier at your desired speed.
  4. Stretch Cruiser Bike − A stretch cruiser bike is like the “limousine” version of the classic cruiser. The glaring difference between the two is the length of the frame—the stretch cruiser bike has a longer frame.

Select the Right Bike Size

Rider height and inseam measurements will determine the right size for the cruiser frame and wheels. Most cruiser bikes with standard 26-inch wheels can accommodate riders who are 5 feet to 6 feet, 2 inches in height. If you’re slightly smaller, stick with 24-inch wheels.

Frames measuring 18 inches to 21 inches are usually suitable for adults, especially those who are 5 to 6 feet in height. If you’re 4 to 5 feet tall, a 15-inch frame is a better option for you.

Conclusion

After reading our guide, we hope you’ve grown to appreciate this classic-style bicycle. Overall, beach cruisers bikes are fun and efficient. They make perfect sense to you if you have no plans of riding on dirt roads or only want to make 30-minute rides around the beach or your neighborhood.