Cruisin'

Cruisin'

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Kim Thielman-Ibes

“Whoa Black Betty, bam-a-lam, whoa Black Betty, bam-a-lam…” There I was, singing off-key in a funky blues-rock beat, a hole in the clouds above and the sun shining through full-bore—yes, even the gods themselves spotted a wee bit of fun coming their way. I had a smile on my face the size of a moonpie. My fingers wrapped around the black-and-pink leather grips, eager to get this cruiser flying into the wind—if just to see its long leather streamers go horizontal and tickle my forearms. I set my buns down on the cushy leather seat, swatted the kickstand back with my right foot, rang the bell once for luck, and without a glance back, struck out for my test-ride down the alley off Willson Avenue.

We were all grinning like ten-year-olds—my husband Greg; Tom, our main man at Chalet Sports; and me. With Greg hanging onto the ape-hanger handle bars of his metallic green Electra cruiser (fondly known as Rat Fink), I rode beautiful Betty—sleek she was not, but smooth on the chuckholes and just a whole lotta fun. Her curvaceous black metal frame sported pink-flamed details, whitewall balloon tires, and a pair of dice for valve caps. As Greg and I wheeled up the alley, Tom watched after us much like my parents used to when I was a kid.

Riding a cruiser is more than just pedaling a bike; it’s entering into the twilight zone state of mind, a return to idyllic days when the most important thing in life was seeing how long you could push curfew and stay outside playing with your friends. Whenever I talk with my hardcore mountain biking buddies about cruisin’ they immediately regress into a childlike state of natural bliss. And who wouldn’t, with bike names like Tiki, Ram Rod, or Rockabilly Boogy, sporting cool paint jobs in bright metallic green, orange, and pink, replete with flames, pinstripes, or a bevy of roses gracing their frames. More than the names, it’s the pure comfort of the ride—what better way to swing down for a morning double-tall latte at the Leaf and Bean, or a late evening cold one at Aleworks?

Cruisers are back, and even though they’re a lot lighter than their 1950 and 1960 counterparts, they retain the strong styling and comfort of their earlier version—from the coaster breaks, wide-bottom seats, and full-wrap chrome fenders, to their simple single- and three-speed gearing. These new retro cruisers are available from Schwinn (maker of the original cruiser), Trek, Bianchi, Giant, Pacific Cycle, and of course my favorite—Electra. You can pick them up just about anywhere, from Wal-Mart to Chalet Sports, without putting too much of a dent in that already-overworked, sport-drained Bozeman wallet—many are well under $300. Of course, there’s always the thought of poking around for the vintage cruiser in your parents’ and grandparents’ garage (or barn).

No matter where you get your cruiser, cruisin’s not about going fast. It’s about going for an afternoon joyride on a swoopy, cushioned, larger-than-life hunk of gleaming, dolled-up (or punked-out) metal, poised over a couple of whitewall balloon tires, with a dopey grin on your face and a goofy song in your head—whether it’s real or something you’ve made up. So start singing and get cruisin’.

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