Vintage Bicycle Cruisin’ in Long Beach
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 16:05
With summer just around the corner, hibernating Californians can hardly resist the allure of the warm summer sun. Hibernating Californians are those who stay indoors during the harsh Southern California winters. They pile on layers of clothing, discontinue outdoor activities and wear hats and scarves when temperatures reach a treacherous 50 degrees. The hibernating folks are awakened by the warm rays that penetrate their skin and slightly toast their outer layer. The sun prompts them to dust off their surfboards, skateboards and best of all, their bicycles.
Impromptu bike rides to the beach, a neighborhood park, a local bar or a restaurant occur regularly in the summer months in Long Beach, Calif. The lively beach town has become one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the nation due to city efforts and resident enthusiasm toward bicycles. The city has increased the number of bicycle lanes, created sharrows and installed more than 400 bicycle racks throughout the city.
Beach cruiser, mountain, BMX , racing and low-rider bicycles can all be seen on the streets in Long Beach. There are even unicycle riders and couples who enjoy tandem biking.
In 2006, Long Beach residents Bernard Serrano and Frank Drew started a vintage bicycle club and named themselves the Cyclone Coasters. The name is a combination of the old Pike roller coaster, Cyclone Races, and the coaster brakes on a bicycle. That day in September they picked up a few of their friends and rode around Long Beach on their vintage bikes. The club now has about 200 participants during the monthly rides around Long Beach.
Riders of all ages come from surrounding cities to tour the city on their bikes. Serrano said most of the participants in the Cyclone Coaster ride are from other cities and not from Long Beach. Last month, a man drove six hours from Modesto, Calif. to ride with the club.
Most of the riders mount their vintage bicycles when the club meets on the first Sunday of every month. Riders with new bicycles are still encouraged to participate, but Serrano said that many of them convert to vintage after the ride.
“Most of the people with new bikes will end up buying a vintage bike after they ride with us,” said Serrano.
Serrano’s bicycles, clothing and apartment are reminiscent of the 1930s through 1950s. He wears vintage clothing and hats when he rides his old bikes around Long Beach. Heads snap to take a second look and fingers jab the air and point when Serrano cruises by atop his 1936 Schwinn Cycleplane. Donning a full tweed suit and pipe in mouth, spectators stare as they attempt to figure out if he has been transported from another century.
“It’s a lifestyle; I like to dress the part,” he said. “My apartment is 1930s décor and I can drop my bicycle in the living room and it matches the room.”
Serrano owns about 127 bicycles. Most of them are vintage and only two are inoperable.
When asked about his favorite bike, the vintage bike lover chuckled as he explained that his favorite is the most rusted and junky-looking bike he owns. He said when he rides the “rust bucket,” he doesn’t have to worry about theft because it looks worthless. The rusty bicycle is a 1936 Elgin Falcon worth about $1,000. Serrano says he loves vintage bicycles because they are like pieces of art.
“I won’t drop $5,000 on a painting, but I will on a bike,” said Serrano.
The most valuable bicycle in his collection is a 1937 Silverking Wingbar, worth $5,000.
The monthly Cyclone Coaster bicycle rides draw vintage bicycle aficionados and serious collectors. Serrano said that one month three riders showed up with rare Elgin Bluebirds, valued at $15,000 to $20,000 each. The streamlined Elgin Bluebirds were produced by Sears Roebuck and Co. in 1935 through 1936 and were sold for about $35. During that time, the average price of a bicycle was $10 to $25.4
Schwinn bicycles dominate the vintage bicycle market because they were, and still are, mass produced. One of the most popular Schwinn bicycles is the Schwinn Phantom. It was introduced in 1949, manufactured for 10 years and was available in black, green or red.
Vintage beach cruisers are common in Long Beach, but faster road bikes from the 1960s through the 1980s have also gained popularity. The Bicycle Stand in Long Beach is a new boutique shop that carries refurbished vintage road bikes, new city and commuter bikes and specializes in vintage restoration.