Westwordcontributors Britt Chester and Josiah Hesse each represent the opposite ends of that spectrum. See Chester's take in "Cruiser bikes rule: They will save the world and make your butt look good"; here's Hesse's:
In 1971, the Coca Cola company launched its legendary "Buy the World a Coke" campaign. The song and the TV ad were a multicultural message of peace and hope that tried to connect with the burgeoning counter-culture movement. But the commercial was really just a hollow attempt to encapsulate 1960s youth rebellion and condense it down to an idiotic song in order sell a fattening sugar drink
To any serious bicyclist in 2012, this is exactly the way to view cruiser bikes.
I don't use the phrase "serious bicyclist" to be elitist; I don't think that people whose primary transportation is a two-wheeled, engine-less collection of steel are any "better" than those who only drive a car. But I will say there's a difference. A big difference. And when someone completely ignorant of bicycle customs and culture hops on their cartoonish SUV of a cycle and begins zig-zagging across roads and sidewalks, someone needs to speak up and tell them to go the fuck home.
Not only are the type of people who ride cruisers (or, even worse, participate in the orgy of devolved meat-heads known as The Denver Cruiser Ride) some of the most unenlightened bunch of Philistines that our city has ever been forced to contend with, but they are dangerous on the road. I don't know how many of them I've seen riding down sidewalks, against traffic, or swaying through lanes as they punch out text messages on their smartphones, cutting off cars and other -- more responsible -- cyclists.
Beyond cultural debasement, cruiser bikes are heavy and impractical. Over the last century, bicycles have experienced amazing leaps in engineering, allowing a rider to effortlessly fly up a hill at top speeds, the bike dynamics targeting his or her muscle groups with calculated measure, increasing efficiency and decreasing chance of injury.
And then here comes this group of ass-jacks riding bikes designed at a time when the hand-held calculator was mind-blowing technology, drunkenly gaggling their way down the middle lane, iPod blaring, pretending they're Winnie Cooper as they cause three-car pileups in their wake and delay traffic for people who actually have places to go.
On the other hand, you will never hear someone whose only form of transportation is a bicycle say, "Lets go for a bike ride!" Just as you haven't heard someone say, "Lets go for a car ride!" since Woodrow Wilson was president. Most bicyclists don't do this for fun, they do it to actually get places. Not to say that biking isn't fun. There's no shame in catching an organic high from riding down a trail, enjoying the warm sun and the dopamine rush of exercise. But this is the equivalent of enjoying a road trip across country versus being stuck in rush-hour traffic.
You'll notice that cruiser bikes are almost always absent from the roads during the winter months. Not once when I've ridden my bike down Colfax Avenue during a blizzard, my tires slipping across the ice as I blink away the snowflakes and try to keep track of the headlights whizzing by, have I ever see Winnie Cooper roll past me in her giant beast of a vintage two-wheeler.
(Readers Note: I do not want my two Winnie Cooper references to suggest that cruiser people are predominantly women. Men are equally susceptible to their primeval charms. Even more importantly, I hope that my WC reference does not imply any negative criticism of The Wonder Years, as that show kicked ass.)
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Just as the "Buy the World a Coke" campaign cheapened youth rebellion of the '60s, the cruiser bike industry is trying to capitalize on the rising popularity of bicycle-as-urban-transport lifestyle. But those who choose to do away with the financial and physical abuse of driving a car in favor of bicycles are doing it for reasons farther reaching than looking like a cartoon Snookie on her way to her next spray-tan session.