A Cruiser is Not a Mule
… And Other Thoughts on Bike Commuting.
When I got my Electra Cruiser, I definitely got it with the intention of using it as my commuter bike. Perhaps the name itself should have suggested to me that these bikes were not exactly designed for work – hauling groceries, carrying books, sporting panniers… the word ‘cruise’ itself suggests little of those activities. But I got my Electra Cruiser because I was looking for …
- an attractive everyday bike
- a bike with a step through frame for easy mounting and dismounting while wearing skirts and dresses (which make up a large portion of my wardrobe)
- a bike with upright seating
- a bike with a comfortable seat for little to no bum pain
- a bike that wouldn’t brake the bank
While my husband tried to talk me into sportier or more ergonomic bike than the easy laid-back models I had in mind, I’m glad he finally conceded and even searched Craigslist relentlessly until he found my ‘Mojito’. He purchased this bike for me while I was still in Germany and so I had no idea what to expect until coming home and meeting my new ride. I thought I’d put together a brief review on the pros and cons of a cruiser for anyone searching for a commuter bike with the same criteria as listed above…
Aesthetics - this may not be something you care about, but I had been seduced by the plethora of gorgeous bikes dotting the streets of Munich and by much of the bicycle eye candy floating on the interwebs, so a gorgeous bike it had to be. In this department, I would score my cruiser pretty high up. There are a few sleeker Dutch bikes that make my heart flutter even more, but overall, the pretty green color with the floral embellishments; the matching embellished seat; the gorgeous curved frame; and the beautiful symmetry of the large wheels create a very pleasing effect in my book. And apparently not just in my book, as confirmed by the many compliments ‘Mojito’ receives when we go out.
Ergonomics – my cruiser is a single speed bike with coaster brakes (you pedal backwards). I had feared that it would be strange to not have brake access at my hands and that the big lumbering single speed bike might be beautiful but not so practical for hills or longer rides. My worst fear was that I would get home after having pestered my husband for an entire year to find me a gorgeous replacement bike for my mountain bike only to find myself secretly wanting to hop on said mountain bike for the ease of handling. But that was not the case. Although the mountain bike with its multiple gear options and sportier design sounds like it might handle better, it being a pretty low end bike results in the opposite. I was surprised to see how much easier I was riding up hills and covering town in this new bike. Read: Quality in manufacturing goes a long way – a better built and designed single speed cruiser turns out to be much zippier than a three speed cheap mountain bike. The Electra Cruiser lines also offer bikes with three speed internal hub gears, should you want a bit more power and control.
Practicality - In terms of being the kind of everyday ride I was looking for, this bike certainly fits the bill. I needed something that would allow me to wear the same things I would sans bike and that wouldn’t require me to alter my style and wardrobe choices. The upright seating, the step through frame, and the big comfortable seat makes me think that I’m riding the Cadillac of bikes – roomy, comfortable, and sturdy. It handles bumps and potholes easily and I can step on and off without any compromising contortions or leg raises in my dresses or skirts.
Loadability – (ok, not really a word, but it should be). When it comes to cons, this is the main thing that someone looking to own a cruiser as a commuter bike should take into account. Original vintage cruisers from the 50s or 60s were actually made with function in mind, so they would be fitted with a rear rack that would support your cargo, such as this vintage Schwinn cruiser below:
It appears that modern cruisers are made as ‘Fashion’ bicycles and thus with less of a carting agenda in mind. While Electra does make rear racks for their cruisers, they are not part of the standard design which favors the clean look of the ‘bare’ rear tire showing off the bike’s curves:
I took my cruiser to the local bike shop and had the owner check it out. He agreed that it would be possible to outfit the bike with a rear rack but noted that it would require an extender piece to attach the rear rack to the seat post and that it would involve a custom job requiring some extra expenses.
Electra’s custom rear racks made for their cruisers are available online and can be added to cruisers that are from the year 2006 or newer and have 26″ wheels. As you can see, they have an extra long attachment piece that would go below the seat hooking unto the seat post:
If you’re like me, and are used to just rigging up bike parts from existing bikes in your storage, the cruiser throws a wrench in those plans. I had planned on moving the rear rack of an older bike unto my cruiser but due to its incompatibility in size, I would have to either purchase the extension pieces or a specially made Electra cruiser rack.
For now, I use a combination of my front basket and a backpack or messenger bag for carrying my belongings. I feel safer with my laptop tucked safely in my bag and my remaining items sitting in my basket. The basket itself is nothing short of wonderful: it sits snugly in place without moving even when hitting potholes and uneven pavement, unclips easily when arriving at my destination for conveniently toting my things inside, and it can hold up to 11 lbs (which is similar to approximately a gallon of milk and some change). It is this Electra detachable wicker basket, which I’m awarding with five gold stars:
Overall, the pros outweigh the cons in my book and I would whole heartedly recommend an Electra cruiser bike to anyone looking for a comfortable and stylish daily ride. But if you’re looking for something to tote your belongings and with which to shop or run errands, be aware of the somewhat more complicated route to outfitting your cruiser with carrying accessories. Its unique frame and size requires specialty accessories and custom fitted racks, which may end up running up your spending a bit more. But then again, if you’re in the market for a stylish ride, you’ve probably already decided against getting a packing mule to cart your load. My cruiser may not carry as much, but it sure looks nicer and it smells prettier too. S.