Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cruisers, low-riders and choppers

The bicycle has become the most fashionable way of getting around town. With summer here, there's little excuse not to get on two wheels and take in Warsaw. The Veturilo urban bike hire scheme has proved wildly popular - there's a marked increase in bicycle sales (new and used), and being on two human-powered wheels is increasing seen as healthy, ecological and trendy.

Mainstream hipsterism has settled on the fixie as mount of choice; minimalism, lightness of weight, commitment - swiftness, instinct and fluidity at the expense of comfort. Fixed gear, single speed, one (or in extreme cases no) brake, a light frame designed for the track. I've written about these over the past four years.

Today, we witness a new cycle culture taking root in Warsaw - that of the beach cruiser. This is the antithesis of the fixie. Based on 1930s,'40s and '50s American designs, beach cruisers are slow, heavy, laid-back, comfortable rides, with big fat tyres (up to 3 inches/75mm separating rim from road), sprung mattress saddles. The aesthetic comes from motorcycles of the era; these bikes being more for show than for go.

Earlier this season I noticed a new bike shop (PlumBike, ul. Puławska 67/69), which sells nothing but retro-style beach cruisers, painted your way. A quick Google of Warsaw bike shops suggests there are other shops that sell this (and other non-mainstream) category of bicycle.

Below: here are some beach cruisers out in force in Park Skaryszewski. Unlike snooty Łazienki, there's no bike ban here, just proof that cyclists and pedestrians can mingle happily (as long as the former take it easy and don't treat the latter as moving slalom poles).

Although the ladies tended to be more conventionally mounted (on equally hip Amsterdamki - lady-framed roadsters from Holland), the chaps are riding some gorgeous machinery.

Below: Yes - that white one. Hard to ignore! It's so Gothic, it looks like Toruń Cathedral on wheels. Super-long wheelbase necessitated by the low-set back saddle position, long, swept-back handlbars whitewall tyres on huge rims - a work of art (but don't try getting more than 20km/h out of it). Click to enlarge - it's worth admiring all the details.

The cruisers take to the wide paths of Skaryszak, mixing it slow'n'easy with pedestrians. These are members of Warsaw Bratz, a group of cyclists who revel in all manifestations of cruiser style.

As the cruisers headed off in the direction of the National Stadium, I wondered whether my five bicycles are indeed enough, and whether something beach-cruisery wouldn't make for fine summer time leisurely riding... (Some interesting designs here!)

After a few minutes thought, I dispel the notion. To use a bike like this the way it was intended, one needs to live in the city centre, not on the fringes. Pumping swiftly up and down Puławska all the way from Jeziorki and back, I need a bike that's fast and focused. Cruisers look gorgeous, but they need dedicated cycle tracks and a leisure destination at the end of the ride.

Update, Sunday 7 July: Here's another one! This beautiful example of a stretch cruiser was snapped on Most Siekierkowski bridge. Note how far back the rider sits - the lower riding position means lower air resistance. At 30kmh, 80% of a rider's effort goes into overcoming air resistance on an upright bike.

A wide, well-paved boulevard, connected to cycle paths at the Stegny and Gocław ends; on a sunny Sunday evening, a cyclists' mecca. Show and go!

This time three years ago:
Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

This time five years ago:
Bike ride to Święty Krzyż


Przemek Maliszewski said...

I understand the notion of history-and-style-based opinion of the "proper" envirnoment for a cruiser, however I cannot agree with it almost completely based on what I see in reality. And the reality is that we can ride our cruisers almost everywhere, almost in any envornment. There are many kinds of cruisers and choppers and many styles within the kinds, with custom modifications and owner-rebuilds and interpretations, and yes, some of them are low riding "gothic cathedrals", but the prevailing kind is a chopper/cruiser bicycle, build around the newest and commuter friendly technologies (suspension, internal gearing, lighting and braking systems). Many of them, if not the most, are designed to provide the user not only with a leisure ride, but also a healthy ride at that too (the rider position, the ergonomics of legs work, the wide saddle which is the most healthy of all that we can see in fixies or MTB and such). I myself own a cruiser. With the Nexus 8i I can ride this bike to work (25km on way), I can take it to the woods, and to the beach. I can climb a pretty steep hills too, and ride 35km/h with ease with a smile on my face and my bottom riding lower than my neck ;) I think your opinion is almost well formed albeit a bit harmful. The thing is, people DO NOT need MTBs in cities like Warsaw, SF excluded :) The cruiser is not so much for show too, I mean, it is not create for the show-off in mind. It is born out of love for the bike. It is customized byt the owner to embodiment (sort of :) the style its rider prefers, the aesthetics they like and to manifest the unity existing between themselves and their rides. Even the fixies owners customize their rides. The popular opinion about the cruiser is that it's heavy, awkward and not made for anything else but shining on the downtown pavements. IMHO, it should all change. Regards, Przemek Maliszewski

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Przemek -

Many thanks for your well-considered comment. Indeed, my one and only experience riding a beach cruiser dates back 35 years (summer of 1978) in Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles. In those days (before mountain bikes), these bikes with single-speed gearing, torpedo brakes and under-inflated tyres were not the acme of sophistication, so your point about technology moving forward is noted.

Mountain bikes in Warsaw... Out here on the perimeter, where there are still many unasphalted road, and where the Las Kabacki beckons, fat gnarly tyres and a modicum of suspension are welcome.

Customising bikes is a wonderful thing. I hope to see far more imaginative one-offs built or modified to reflect its owner's personality. Showing off with a car is a bit silly and old-school wiocha. But to draw admiring glances with a unique work of art on two human-powered wheels - it reflects the spirit of our age.

More about my bikes here.