The Cruiser Culture

There was the bicycle. And then there was the ten-speed racing bicycle. And then bikes with more than ten speeds. Then frames made of lighter and stronger alloys, and thinner wheels, and handlebars that minimized wind resistance ….

And then there was the reaction, of people who didn’t want to spend a thousand dollars on a bike, never mind ten thousand — people who wanted a softer ride, who were doing it for the fun of the experience, not for the challenge of seeing how quickly they could get it over with.

Photo courtesy of Venice Beach Bicycles

The cruiser bike is a reaction, or at least a hesitation. It is a rediscovery of the pleasures of a big ol’ bicycle, with pretty colors and useful accessories, and of riding with others rather than in a self-privileging contest against them. And maybe the cruiser bike has also become a statement, a bellwether — a warning shot, if you will: a quiet but clear announcement that not everyone is on the same page.

It can be very stimulating to have the fastest bike, the coolest car, the latest lingo, the most approved attitude — to be so enviable, so woke, so on top of everything. But then there are those who can’t, or don’t want to, join in the rat-race. There are going to be people — a lot of people, possibly comprising a majority — who, at some point, will lose their enthusiasm for trying to prove that they and their friends are just so much better than everyone else. It is certainly less fun when leading turns into a struggle to keep up. Life does have its law-of-the-jungle competitions, but those who see life as only that, and nothing more, are apt to overlook the enormous power of the social force.

The cruiser bike is, I say, a bellwether. With or soon after its revival, we began to see awareness of smartphone addiction; we saw the rise of the Slow Food movement; we saw people deciding to unplug and live off the grid. There were iconic, defining moments, such as the cellphone that interrupted the New York Philharmonic; there were previously unimaginable signs of hostility toward Facebook. The election of Donald Trump was, quite possibly, not a speed bump on the road to what once seemed certain, but rather a symbol of a new era. In the odd way that historians have of marking the turn of a century according to a major event, that election may someday be seen as the real end of the 20th century — the “American Century” — and of its faith in progress. It may be, not that Trump himself achieves a historic change, but rather that (paradoxically) his election heralds a growing public interest in returning to an older sense of public purpose and private character.

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