The new beach cruisers come in designer colors. The coaster brakes and comfy seats make them popular for ‘CEOs to surfers.’ Photos by Tim Stepien
By Paula Detwiller
Delray Beach native Terri Lambert loves her pink beach-cruiser bicycle with the wicker basket and floral-design bell on the handlebars. But don’t be misled: This is not a little girl’s bike, and Lambert is not a little girl. She’s a grown-up who happens to have a passion for beach cruisers.
“It’s a way of life,” Lambert says. “And I’m getting another one. I ordered a Lilly Pulitzer limited edition. Go to the website and check it out.” Sure enough, Lilly Pulitzer’s online catalog shows an adult bicycle in “very limited quantities” with a turquoise and black seashell-print frame, a pink saddle, and pink-rimmed whitewall tires.
Designer color schemes represent the latest trend in beach cruisers, those uncomplicated bicycles that have been part of Florida’s beach culture for decades. Modeled after the classic one-speed Schwinn cruiser bike introduced in the 1930s, beach cruisers are currently enjoying a surge in popularity, especially in coastal communities.
“Seventy percent of my rental bikes are cruisers, because that’s what people want,” says Albert Richwagen, co-owner of Richwagen’s Bike and Sport in Delray Beach. The allure: a comfortable, carefree ride. With wide tires, no hand brakes or gears to worry about, and a cushy seat, cruiser bikes are the signature of a casual, laid-back lifestyle. They’re also perfect for an aging population.
“Adults will come in and say, ‘I want to buy a mountain bike,’ ” says Richwagen. “I tell them, ‘Your head may say let’s go mountain biking, but your butt will say no, let’s not.’ I put them on a cruiser bike, and they’re off and having fun. You can ride a cruiser all day long, anywhere.”
Not just for paperboys
Richwagen, who literally grew up in the bike shop his father opened 50 years ago, has witnessed all of the trends. He says cruiser bikes sold well in the early days, thanks in part to the surfer movie Gidget. Then came Sting-Ray bikes with banana seats and ape-hanger handlebars; 10-speed racing bikes with skinny tires, narrow seats and hand brakes; mountain bikes with beefy frames and fat, nubby tires; and then the “hybrids,” offering comfortable upright seating with a less bumpy roll.
Through the years, Richwagen says, the one-speed cruiser bike with its classic cantilevered frame could always be spotted in Florida beach communities. But an innovative design change eight years ago gave the beach cruiser wider appeal — and, like the redesign of the classic Volkswagen Beetle, Baby Boomers sat up and took notice.
California-based Electra Bicycle Co. shifted the seat back and the pedals forward on its “Townie” bicycle introduced in 2003, allowing full foot placement on the ground while sitting on the saddle, and full extension of the legs while riding. The company’s “flat foot technology,” since adopted by other manufacturers, made cruiser bikes feel safer and even more stress-free.
“I’ve seen steady growth of beach cruiser sales in recent years,” Richwagen says. “It used to be only guys rode bikes. Now women want them, too.” He points to his shop’s row of candy-colored “personality bikes” adorned with decals of hearts, peacocks, cherries, and polka dots.
For the guys, there are bikes with hot-rod paint jobs and tattoo imagery: skeletons, flames, racing stripes.
There’s even a hobbyist club called FreakBike Nation, with an active West Palm Beach chapter. “These guys take beach cruisers and chop ’em up, then add long forks, shark fins, 4-inch tires, you name it,” says Richwagen. “The more outlandish, the better.”
Beach cruiser bikes, like the ones seen near Delray Beach’s Hurricane Lounge, are modern interpretations of the classic Schwinn one-speed bike.
Cruisin’ to the pub
Another local group, organized by pink-cruiser-owner Lambert and her friend Bo Eaton, does a beach cruiser pub-crawl through Delray Beach about once a month.
“We start at Boston’s on the Beach,” explains Lambert’s niece, Kerri Hussey, “and we work our way west along Atlantic Avenue, hitting Deck 84, Hurricane, Falcon House, Tryst and the Bull Bar.”
Like the bikes themselves, this rolling barhop has grown in popularity, with the latest outing attracting more than 40 riders.
“From CEOs to surfers, that’s who riding these
bikes,” Eaton says.
Where to buy
702 Lucerne Ave.
The Electric Experience
1047 E. Atlantic Ave.
Bike & Sport
Cruiser Bike Sales, Service, Rentals
298 NE Sixth Ave.
3150 N. Federal Highway