The Ultimate Guide To Cruiser Bikes

The Definitive Guide To Cruiser Bikes

These days, much of the attention in terms of bikes falls to the BMX, mountain bike, and road bike varieties.

It’s fairly easy to see why, as these types serve a large number of niches and riding styles.

But what about the bikes for those who simply want to just...bike?

Cruiser bikes are exactly what the name suggests. While they can’t handle the rigors of off-roading, stunts, or countless miles of pavement, cruiser bikes are perfect for those who just need a way to ride around in comfort, whether it’s for fun, or or an errand or two.

These bikes are experiencing a resurgence in popularity the last few years, as more people are realizing the benefits they have to offer in regards to simplicity, price, and comfort.

At this point, every true bike enthusiast should own a cruiser bike, or really anyone who is looking for a fun, easy, plush ride.

This guide explain everything you need to know about cruiser bikes, including their advantages and limitations, who they are ideal for, the different types that now exist, and more.

But first, let’s define what a cruiser bike really is.

What Is A Cruiser Bike?

Sometimes referred to as a beach cruiser, a cruiser bike is combines several key features together in order to create a stable, easy to ride bike that is perfect for casual riding at low to moderate speeds.

These features most often include a large steel frame with simple styling, wide set balloon tires, curved handlebars that encourage an upright seating posture, coaster brakes, and single-speed drivetrain for pedaling. 

There are a few variances depending on the sub genre, but this is the most general definition.

Another common trait you’ll see with cruiser bikes is their ability to be customized and upgraded. This can include accessories like fenders, lights, saddle bags, luggage racks, and more.

While other types of bikes are made to undertake much more intensive riding, cruiser bikes are for, well, cruising. They don’t require you to be in any kind of riding mode or position, but rather allow you to just sit straight up on a comfortable seat, and casualty pedal along as you make your way around to wherever you’re going.

Two cruiser bikes on a boardwalk

Everything about these bikes is laid back. It’s no wonder why they are popular in beach towns, and have actually earned the name “beach cruiser” in the process. It’s not uncommon to see these bikes out on beachside boardwalks across the country on any given day.

They certainly have their limitations, but nobody in their right mind would try to use a cruiser bike for anything but casual riding around the neighborhood or town. They capture the essence of biking, which is to merely sit back and enjoy.

This is why every rider needs to have one in their collection. Cruiser bikes remind you of what biking should be, and are more of a gateway to the original bikes from centuries ago. Fortunately, modern engineering and technology have made them much more enjoyable.

A Short History Of Cruiser Bikes

Cruiser bikes actually have a very extensive history, and can be traced back as the inspirations behind mountain bikes and even BMX bikes as well.

The roots of the cruiser bikes that we know today formed during the time period shortly after the Great Depression. During this time, bicycle sales had taken a sharp decline due to the economic climate, and became sort of a luxury product.

Schwinn took this as an opportunity to market affordable bikes to the youth market.

The original American cruiser was the Schwinn B10E, which was designed to look like a motorcycle, and even had a motorbike-influenced body complete with faux gas tank.

A few years later, the Aero Bike was debuted, which contained a more streamlined frame, balloon tires from Europe, and even a battery-powered headlight.

Sales jumped for the next decade, and these bikes became much more widespread, especially as other manufactures designed cruiser bikes that catered to young kids.

More adult-oriented versions were widely used for bike couriering and paperboys due to their stability and ability to handle big loads.

During the 1950s and 60s, the cruiser market began to decline, mainly due to the popularity of imported bikes, and especially the more lightweight, faster road bikes that were becoming popular as well.

Muscle and lowrider bikes began to borrow the cruiser design, leading to a further decline.

By the 1970s, cruisers were only popular around beach towns, mainly as an economical form of transportation for surfers and beach bums.

It was during this time that the beach aspect became much more associated with cruisers.

Woman riding vintage bike with other cyclist in the background

By the late 1970s, cruisers were being used by riders in mountain towns who desired a more durable bike to ride down ski trails on during the offseason. The tweaks and customizations of these cruisers eventually gave way to mountain bikes as we now know them.

The 1980s and 90s saw a massive resurgence of cruiser bikes, for a variety of reasons. Their comfortable ride and lower prices appealed to those who wanted a bike for casual use, but didn’t want to pay for a road or mountain bike. Thus, cruisers became the alternative choice.

During this time, several bike manufacturers began to put out their own cruiser models, many of them paying homage to the vibes of the west coast. Even companies such as Harley-Davidson got in on the action, commissioning a cruiser bike that looked like one of their motorcycles.

By the end of this period, ever major bike manufacturer now had at least one cruiser model in their lineup, with some adding an entire line as a specialty.

These bikes all retain the original hallmarks of cruiser bikes, including the frame design, wide, rounded handlebars, simple drivetrains, and wide, balloon tires.

This progression and resurgence of popularity has led to many different types and sub genres of cruiser bikes, along with a wide range of customization options for both added comfort and stylistic flair.

Cruiser bikes are now a major bike type these days, and represent a large portion of bike sales each year, mostly due to their affordability, simplicity, comfort, and throwback design.

Types Of Cruiser Bikes

Evolution and progression within the cruiser bike world has led to the development of 5 specific types that are now widely available, each with their own differences.

Classic/Beach

The original cruiser bike, classic cruisers have all the core features that have been around for decades, and not much more. This means a somewhat heavy frame around 50 pounds, with a unisex design on the top tube.

Woman sitting on a fence next to white beach cruiser bike

26-inch and 29-inch tires are common, and the tires will be the standard balloon style that is wide enough for added stability, and with enough cushioning to handle small bumps in the road or sidewalk.

A chain guard covers the top half of the chain, which powers a single-speed drivetrain. The saddle sits low, and offers wide coverage, and perhaps even some springs for added shock absorption.

The cruiser’s handlebars are tall and wrap around on each side towards the rider, so they can steer without having to bend forwards, which helps ensure an upright position when riding.

Fenders are a common feature as well, keeping the rider clean and dry when riding over puddles in their path.

Since these are beach cruisers, there’s a good chance there will be a beach-oriented design theme with the paint and graphics as well, but this isn’t always a guarantee. Headlights and reflectors may be included too, or can be easily added on later.

Stretch

Like the name implies, stretch cruiser bikes are an elongated form of the original style. With stretch cruisers, the frame can often be twice as long, and usually sitting a little lower to the ground as well.

Yellowish stretch cruiser bike on a driveway

The longer frame length allows the rider to sit further back, and be in an even more comfortable position. Although not as precise with the steering, stretch cruiser bikes are great for long, casual rides on flatter roads and sidewalks, where very few obstacles will be in the way.

Part of the appeal with stretch cruisers also resides with the looks factor. Some riders just prefers the more unique style they offer, and more more laid back vibe they give off. It’s not uncommon to see stretch cruisers with multiple accessories and customizations.

Low Rider

Low rider cruiser bikes are mostly centered around being more showy than functional. These bikes, as you may have guessed, sit very low to the ground, and allow the rider to sit very low as well, and often reclined backwards to an extent.

Some of the more common features of low riders include white wall tires that are also smaller than 26 inches, over-spoked wheels, large banana seats, springer front forks, and accentuated fenders on the front and back.

These cruiser bikes were first popularized on the west coast as a sort of tribute to low rider cars.

While low riders were first the result of custom modifications, you can now choose from a wide assortment of low rider cruiser bike lines, with some companies specializing in just low riders.

Black low rider cruiser bike

Although functionality is often sacrificed for style with low rider bikes, they can still be suitable for casual riding in most cases, and there actually clubs that meet up for rides on them.

Chopper

Another cruiser bike inspired by something other than a bike, chopper cruiser bikes are very reminiscent of chopper style motorcycles. They incorporate a lot of the same features that low rider bikes have, and combine them with chopper motorcycle features.

This includes long front ends that protrude far out from the handlebars, while the handlebars themselves are mounted higher to resemble the “ape hanger” design often found with chopper motorcycles.

Black chopper cruiser bike

Wheels can be different sizes from one another, and the banana seat will usually sit high off the frame, with the drivetrain sitting forward from the saddle more than a regular cruiser.

Choppers are definitely more about style than function, but they can actually be more comfortable to ride than our low rider cruiser bikes. Still, they are mainly for enthusiasts of this particular niche, and are meant for show and shorter rides above all else.

Multi-Speed

Multi-speed cruiser bikes can actually exist with any type, but they are most often contained within the classic/beach cruiser category. Multi-speed cruisers give the rider a few extra options in terms of gears, making the bike more versatile in its use.

Most multi-speed cruiser bikes are available in 3-speed versions. They use a rear cassette and derailleur for changing speeds, that’s operated by a shifter mounted on the handlebars.

Some low rider and chopper cruiser bikes will have a gear shift mounted on the top tube of the frame instead.

Woman holding black multi speed cruiser bike

Multi-speed cruiser bikes are ideal for riders who still want the comfort and casual feel of a cruiser, but need to have some different speed options when making their way along inclines, or through parts of their town that have varying features.

This makes the bike a better form of transportation in general.

How Are Cruiser Bikes Different From Other Bikes?

Cruiser bikes do share some similarities with other kinds of bikes, and have also served as the inspiration behind them. There are still plenty of differences to point out between their closest counterparts, however.

Cruiser Bike VS. Comfort Bike

Comfort bikes are a sort of outflow from cruiser bikes, and retain some aspects of hybrid and mountain bikes as well. Overall, as the name says, they are designed for comfort.

This often means a slightly longer frame that allows the pedals to sit ahead of the rider more, so they can still get full extension with each pedal, but still be able to put their feet on the ground while seated.

Suspension seatposts are common as well, along with the springs and and a wider seat coverage than you'd’ find on the average cruiser.

Comfort bikes often have a front suspension fork to absorb any shock on the front end too. These bikes usually have more than one gear too.

White comfort bike on a beach

Cruiser bikes may not be as comfortable or versatile as comfort bikes, but their overall simplicity and stability is a big reason why many still prefer them instead. Less to mess with, less to go wrong. That’s a good enough trade-off to most.

Cruiser Bike VS. Mountain Bike

Cruiser bikes have several differences with mountain bikes, despite being the forefathers of them. While a cruiser bike is meant for slower casual riding and coasting, mountain bikes are the exact opposite.

Rather than being designed for comfort, they are made to take on tough off-road conditions.

This means they have a more aggressive stance, and have a number of features to help with maneuverability and speeds.

This includes a short stem, flat handlebars, multiple gears, and two hand brakes.

The frame places the rider in a forward leaning positions as well.

White mountain bike on a trail

Mountain bike tires have knobby tread for better grip on the dirt, a stark difference from the smooth tread on a cruiser bike. The seat is much smaller, and the pedals often have built-in clips to attach to shoes, or cages around them.

You can definitely get from point A to point B on a mountain bike if need be, but a cruiser is going to be much more relaxed and comfortable.

Anatomy Of A Cruiser Bike

Cruiser bikes share all of the same basic anatomy found with other types of bike, but with some stark differences.

Frame

The frame of a cruiser is not hard to distinguish from others. They usually have sweeping curves on the edges, and an extra tube in between the top and bottom for better support.

Steel is the most utilized frame material, which does make the bike heavier, but also increases its stability.

Wheels/Tires/Rims

The wheels of a cruiser bike are fairly standard, with several spokes to help give the rims lots of support, and to prevent them from bending. Most rims aren't made for brake pads, as these bikes almost always use coaster brakes instead (more on that in a minute.)

Two different sized wheels of a cruiser bike

The tires of a cruiser bike are one of the biggest hallmarks. Their width and thickness gives the bike a certain measure of shock absorption, and help keep the ride more plush. The tread on the tires lacks any knobs, but does have a typical design that deflects water away should you encounter it.

While they may not seem like it, cruiser bike tires are pretty tough, and can withstand much of the sharp hazards that may come your way, while giving the bike a little bit of ruggedness when riding on sand, or some rougher concrete portions.

Handlebars

The handlebars are one of the main factors that gives a cruiser bike its relaxed overall feel. They are attached to an extended stem that comes up from the frame, and then forwards a few inches. The handlebars themselves are curved inwards, often creating a sort of half circle.

This is drastically different from other handlebar shapes found on road, mountain, and BMX bikes, which all use mostly straight handlebars.

The design of a cruiser bike’s handlebars allow the rider to steer from a relaxed position with the hands, rather than leaning forwards and sort of hovering over the front end.

This helps keep the back more comfortable, while also keeping the rider more upright, which is perfect for casual, leisurely riding. You do have less precision than you would with other bikes, but that shouldn't be needed on a cruiser.

Saddle

The saddle, or seat, is another drastic difference from other bikes. Comfort is the primary goal with a cruiser bike saddle, as you'll be spending most of your time on it.

Leather saddle of a black cruiser bike

With other bikes, you have the tendency to stand up while pedaling for long periods, which results in a lessened emphasis on saddle coverage, and more emphasis on saving weight.

Not so with a cruiser bike. Weight isn’t an issue, but comfort is. The saddle is very wide, and very cushioned, and will often have springs underneath the rear end as well.

This helps make your ride easier on your bottom. Some saddles may have additional padding, or a gel layer for even more comfort and cushioning.

Brakes

The brakes on your average cruiser bike are as simple as it gets. While you may be familiar with the hand brakes found on BMX, road, and mountain bikes, a cruiser typically opts for what’s known as a coaster brake.

If you road bikes as a child, it’s likely your bike used these. Coaster brakes are operated simply by slamming the pedal backwards, which immediately locks the back wheel up. This helps keep the cruiser bike as simple as possible.

There are some models that have a hand brake instead, or even two. These are most often used with multi-gear cruiser bikes, as a coaster brake is not an option due to the drivetrain.

Speaking of that...

Drivetrain

The other simple aspect of a cruiser bike. Traditional cruiser bikes have just one gear, so your drivetrain is just one crank wheel, and a rear cassette hub, and that’s it. This gives the cruiser its no-frills feel, and definitely adds to the casual riding aspect.

Cruiser bikes are for cruising, so you don’t really need more than one ger in most cases. However, there are multi-gear models, which usually offer 3 gears instead of 1.

Drivetrain and pedals of a cruiser bike upclose

These are for cruiser bike riders who need a little more versatility in its performance, especially if they have lots of inclines where they ride, or if they use the bike as a more serious form of transportation.

As we highlighted previously, this means the bike will have hand brakes as well.

Pedals

A cruiser bike pedals are nothing special, as they are usually just hard plastic platform pedals. You may see some metal models from time to time, but plastic is the most popular.

Fenders

Fenders are frequently included with cruiser bikes at this point, but there are some more basic models that lack them. Fenders are fitted directly over the tires to catch any mud or water that would otherwise fly up in your face, or get all over your back.

The fenders are positioned very closely above the tires, and attached to either the fork, or the rear chain stays. Fenders curved perfectly along with the tire, and usually cover about half of it.

If your bike lacks fenders, it is very easy to install them onto the bike yourself. Some riders who are more style-conscious may remove the included fenders and add their own instead.

Accessories

Accessories are one of the funnest parts of a cruiser bike. You have a lot of options, and can really give your bike some added personality, as well as some added functionality.

Headlights are common accessory. While the cruiser bikes of old usually came with headlights already built-in, there’s a good chance y9u may have to add your own.

There are lots of bullet-style headlights available that you can install on the handlebar in a matter of minutes. These tend to be battery operated, but you may find solar lights, or pedal-powered options if you’re more savvy.

Different colored cruiser bikes with accessories

Saddlebags are another popular add-on. These can be installed just below the saddle, and used to store smaller items.

If that’s not enough, you can add a rear luggage rack if the bike is lacking one. This installs onto the rear chain stay, and gives you a wider surface to haul bigger loads.

If you want the more traditional look, you can opt for the front basket instead. These can be found with and without closing lids.If you're frequently using the bike around a lot of pedestrians or other riders, a handlebar-mounted horn may be a good idea.

For those that want to add a little more comfort and style, a suspension seatpost can be installed, or a banana seat, or both. Handlebar grips are easy to swap out too.

Difference Between Men's And Women's Cruiser Bikes

A common question about any type of bike is how men’s and women’s versions differ, and it’s easy to understand why. With cruiser bikes. There really isn’t much difference aside from the frame design and size.

Men’s cruiser bikes will have slightly larger frames for the most part, and have a top tube that either runs straight across, or curves up slightly. The coloring and graphics may be a little more masculine as well. Handlebars sizes tend to be larger too.

Women’s cruiser bikes are a littler smaller than men’s, and have a top tube that curves downwards. The frames may also be a little skinnier, and have more of a curved look.

The bike’s aesthetics will usually be more feminine, and the saddle design may have a slightly different shape as well.

Is A Cruiser Bike Better If It's Multi-Speed?

If you’re used to mountain and road bikes, the idea of a single speed bike may seem a little strange to you, or make you feel like you won’t be near as efficient with your pedaling.

For the most part, you’re right.

Here’s the thing though: these are cruiser bikes, not performance bikes. They are made to get around easily, and without worrying about hitting fast speeds, or accelerating up hills and around turns.

Woman holding teal cruiser bike with a basket

Cruiser bikes are made to be pedaled in between periods of coasting, without being too hard to get going from a stop, but with enough speed to keep you moving along easily.

This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy a multi-speed cruiser bike though. In fact, in many cases, it may even make your ride more fun.

Multi-speed cruiser bikes are most often 3 speeds, and don’t go over 7.

These extra few gears can make a huge difference if you do actually need to gain some extra speed, or conquer a steep hill from time to time. They give the bike some added versatility, and can make longer rides easier if you do them frequently.

If you’re just needing a bike to kind of coast around on every now and the, a single-speed is just fine. If you need to get a little more out of your bike, be it for small commutes, or a lack of flat uneventful terrain, a multi-speed is your best bet.

Coaster Brakes VS. Hand Brakes

Just as the case is with gears, there is some debate as to whether coaster brakes or hand brakes are the best for a cruiser bike. We think it’s a matter of needs and preference, but both types do offer some of their own advantages.

Advantages Of Each

Coaster brakes are the brakes you’ll most often see on a cruiser bike. We’ve been over this a little, but let’s go in-depth a little more.

Coaster brakes are incredibly simple, and don’t have any moving parts to worry about. To use the, all you do is push backwards on the pedals, rather than the forward pedaling motion.

This locks the chain up and causes the rear wheel to slow or stop, depending on how much pressure you use.

Many are experienced with this style of braking, as their early childhood BMX bikes probably used this method.

If you’ve never used them before, it can take a little getting used to. You may need a readjustment period even if you did use them as a kid.

A coaster brake setup offers the main advantage of being very simple.

Cruiser bike breaks

These brakes don’t have any pads to worry about changing, brake lines that need to be tightened or replaced, or whatever else could go wrong.

This eliminates a large portion of maintenance from your worries, along with having to be on the lookout for any future brake failures.

Hand brakes are a little more complicated, but they do offer a much better sense of braking that is a lot more controlled as well. Plus, you don’t have to worry about having your feet in the right position to make a sudden brake in a moment’s notice.

Using hand brakes lets you coast easier as well. You can keep your knee and legs more relaxed as you weave your way around, lightly pressing on the brake lever as needed for some added control.

Hand brakes are probably considered safer, and more effective too. If you have a multi-speed cruiser bike, you don’t really have a choice, hand brakes have to be used instead.

Verdict

For the sake of tradition, we’ll go with the coaster brakes. There’s just something about the need to push the pedal backwards when slowing that gives the cruiser bike its more authentic, throwback feel.

Yes, hand brakes may be easier in some situations, but knowing that you’ll never have to worry about having to change brake pads, or get your lines tuned up, and anything else that goes along with nad brakes just seems to fit the spirit an easy-riding intentions of a cruiser.

Still, if you end up with a cruiser with hand brakes, don’t feel bad, they are totally fine, and are better in some cases.

Top Cruiser Bike Brands

There are a lot of different manufacturers putting out cruiser bikes these days, but there are 5 in particular that have either been around since the start, or have proven themselves to be at the top of the heap in terms of quality.

Schwinn

Schwinn is perhaps America’s most well-known bike company, and they’ve done plenty to advance bike technology and innovation in numerous ways, and not just with cruisers.

Schwinn cruiser bike by the brick wall

They’ve seen all the different ebbs and flows in bike trends over time, and they’ve played their own role in helping practically invent both BMX and modern cruiser bikes.

As you read earlier, Schwinn put out the first few popular cruiser bikes in the U.S., so it’s natural to include them in a top manufacturers list.

The company is still going strong with cruisers today, as they have several different models that cater to a variety of needs and budgets.

Huffy

Huffy isn’t too far behind Schwinn in terms of being an influential manufacturer that had a huge impact in all of the various bike trends throughout U.S. history.

What originally was a sewing company in Dayton, Ohio eventually became a bike maker during the post-WWII period. In 1949, Huffy made the first bike with training wheels, helping catapult them into the upper echelons of bike manufacturers.

Black Huffy cruiser bike on a sidewalk

They followed this creation with several other innovations, including the notorious RadioBike, that had an electron tube radio within the frame tank.

Huffy was also one of the first to put out chopper cruiser bikes, and later added the banana seat to their lineup, alongside other cruiser bike experiments and innovations.

Today, Huffy still has an expansive line of cruiser bikes at a very affordable price point. They have no qualms with continuing to add fun extra features and accessories to help improve the riding experience, especially with their kid’s lineup of bikes.

Sun

Sun Bicycles is headquartered in Miami, Florida, which seems appropriate for a beach cruiser manufacturer. The company was formed in 1971 during the time when cruisers were mostly designated to beach as other bikes grow in popularity.

This allowed Sun to really focus on their craft, and create a lineup of cruisers that were perfect for riding around the city, and certainly alongside the beaches. The company places a big emphasis on the looks of their bikes, as well as their functionality.

White SUN cruiser bike

Sun makes some higher-end cruiser bikes for those that want to get a little more performance and comfort from their bike. They also make everything from recumbent bikes to unicycles, but still maintain their focus on cruisers.

Their varied lineup of models gives riders plenty of choices that can best suit their own personal riding needs and environments.

Sixthreezero

Located in Hermosa Beach, California, SixThreeZero defines what a west coast inspired cruiser bike should be all about. The company was founded in 2005, making them a relative newcomer on the scene, but they know what they are doing.

SixThreeZero places an emphasis on creating cruiser bikes that are ideal for beach life, and offer plenty of functionality to match their stunning looks. They strive to keep things simple in all aspects, including both components and aesthetics.

Pink sixthreezero cruiser bike

The company only makes cruiser bikes, so it’s obvious where their dedication resides. SixThreeZero currently has a somewhat small lineup of bikes, but each one is made extremely well.

Raleigh

Raleigh is one of the world’s oldest bike makers, with a storied history that goes back all the way to the 1800s. The company is based in the UK, and has been responsible for many of the bike trends that have occurred worldwide over the last century.

Their main bikes being put out in the 1930s closely resemble the cruiser bikes of today, but were not referred to as cruiser back then. These bikes have influenced the common “city bikes” that you see throughout Europe today.

In the 1960s, Raleigh put out a bike known as the Chopper, which became a huge hit and had a big impact on the lowrider and chopper cruiser bikes in existence currently.

Silver Raleigh cruiser bike

Although not technically a traditional cruiser, the Chopper still retained many features, and reimagined them into a motorcycle-style design.

Today, Raleigh maintains a small lineup of cruisers that are among the most popular both in the U.S. and abroad.

Conclusion

If you didn't know much about cruiser bikes before, now you do. We hope you’ve gained a better understanding of these simple and fun bikes, and all the great uses they contain.

As long as they are used for their intended purpose, cruiser bikes can offer some of the most entertaining riding experience you’ll ever have.

If you’re looking to purchase a new cruiser bike, be sure to check out our buying guide for an overview of our favorite cruiser bikes currently available, for both men and women.

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