Past the Lions Gate Bridge you turn the corner on sunswept Siwash Rock and are awestruck not only by the sight, but by the feeling. Freedom.
Drenched in sunlight, your loose-fitting button-up shirt or floral-print dress flaps in the wind. You adjust the Ray-Bans off your brow to deflect the glare of the sun that’s dropping into English Bay; your ride around the Seawall is slowly transforming from afternoon to dusk. A quick stop at Third Beach allows you to collect your thoughts, share refreshments, and dip your feet into the crisp ocean water that washes ashore. True vintage cruiser culture in the Pacific Northwest reflects these very moments—ones that at any age are hard to forget. Ah, the Zen of cruising.
“Cruising is the leisure—the relaxed side of cycling that’s just about riding a bike for enjoyment, not to prove anything, compete, or conquer,” says Danu Huber of the World Cycles on Commercial Street, a bicycle shop specializing in the sale, repair, and restoration of unique vintage bicycles, particularly classic Schwinn cruisers. “I think that’s what has attracted people to the scene for so many years. Wherever you go, you bring your joy with you.”
From meticulously restored retro rides to stripped-down choppers to new, off-the-shelf uprights, this “anything goes” community prides itself on its inclusiveness and free-wheeling feel. “The misconception is that cruising is not real biking. The truth is that if you buy a racing bike, then you have to worry about conforming to the form of the bike and what it stands for,” Huber says, pointedly making the case for cruising as more of a mindset than a mode of transportation.
In a city desperately racing to catch up with its own rapidly changing vision of itself, the cruiser community in Vancouver represents a culture that has already arrived. Cruiser scene stalwart Rod Kirkham kicked off what was arguably the first cruiser ride of the contemporary Vancouver scene in 1986 with his seminal “Rod’s Birthday” ride. Today, they take many forms, with groups ranging from 10 to 20 to 200 riders strong. These monthly cruiser rides, and the intermittent bike swaps in between, provide regular anchors for a wide range of casual enthusiasts, dedicated collectors, and driven restorationists.
An easygoing and happy group, the cruiser scenesters are markedly unpretentious about their passion for riding. They see the cruisers, as our forefathers did, not as toys for kids or the poor man’s car, but as a positive political statement that is often lost in the militancy of anti-car culture today. With a deep appreciation for the elegance of finely formed steel and art deco design, they find calm in the simplicity of a weekend ride with friends or an afternoon hacking through a repair, covered in grease and oil.
“It’s like guys and vintage cars. They thought it was cool and then you just start doing it and then more people start doing it. That’s really how this all started,” Kirkham says, explaining the growth in vintage cruiser popularity from the upstairs office of the Ride On Again bike shop on Broadway. Whereas in the Roaring Twenties, bikes were evolving consumers onto motorcycles and into car culture, the resource, environmental, and public health pressures of the 21st century are now seeing us devolve back into these tried and true transportation forms we once loved and coveted.
Whether it’s a ride through the University Endowment Lands, along the Hornby bike lane, or up to the Cambie for a pint with the other hardcore cruiser kids, sporting a vintage Schwinn on a summer day somehow captures the offbeat, laid-back Vancouver vibe that can easily be forgotten in today’s accelerated age. As our two purveyors of Vancouver cruising might say, “It’s cool, let’s ride.”
Photos: Allan Drake.