Balloon tires, wide comfortable saddles, cool paint jobs-what's not to like about contemporary cruiser bikes that have become popular get-around-Bend vehicles during the warm months. Given the fact that most of our fair city is relatively flat, it's ideally suited for cruising. Except, that is, if you happen to live on Awbrey Butte and face pushing your bike uphill to get home, or you live way out in sagebrush country and riding to and from town might prove overly taxing astride a forty-pound bike.
Cruiser rider is supposed to be neither taxing nor about pushing. It's supposed to be about going slow, checking out the scene and being social. Which brings me to the roots of social fat tire riding in Bend.
Cruiser and fat tire bike riding in general got its start in Bend in the late 1970s. That's when now Sunnyside Sports co-owner Gary Bonacker, Bend Bulletin photographer Don Ipock and local teenage stud athlete Tim Boyle added gears and handbrakes to old single-speed fat tire newsboy bikes and began making off-road forays on them. Thus was the local mountain bike scene born.
At the same time, a group of recreational road cyclists led by Chicago transplant Ted Eugenis started scouring junk shops and garage sales in search of old single-speed fat tire bikes.
Eugenis and his friends preached the gospel of keeping old bikes stock, i.e. coaster brakes and one speed. He reckoned that a one-speed, coaster brake, fat tire stock bike would work for the occasional off-road ride and be great for around town trolls in search of coffee, beer and food.
Eugenis' idea ended up gaining more immediate currency than the mountain bike idea and soon there were a dozens of locals riding old Schwinns, Roadmasters and Huffys.
As the summer of 1979 unfolded, the burgeoning cruiser crowd would gather from time to time to ride en mass to a bar. Eventually, this led to plans for a major bar-to-bar cruise.
One hot July Saturday night the big ride took place. Over a dozen cruiser riders gathered in Mirror Pond Park and peddled two blocks to their first stop at the D and D on Bond Street.
After libations at the D and D, they walked their bikes across the street to the now long gone Smoke Shop. From the Smoke Shop, it was a ride of some four blocks to the M and J Tavern on Greenwood.
Arriving at the M and J, a decision was made to honor the motorcycling tradition of parking bikes in a neat row with their front tires pointing in the same sideways direction. Bikes and front wheels aligned, the cruiser riders strolled into stares of disbelief from the bar's regulars. A few regulars cleared some space at the bar to allow the cyclists to belly up just as the bartender excused himself to take a look at the bikes lined up out front.
On returning to his post behind the bar, the bartender leaned asked the cruiser riders in a concerned: "You folks aren't here for trouble are you?" "Nah, "came a snappy reply," just for a beer and to see if you happen to have a spare tire pump laying around."
That night riding home several cruisers hatched a drunken plan to ride the 100-mile Sunnyside Century just to prove that it could be done. Come September, I was the only cruiser to show up completing the ride on a forty-plus pound Schwinn Typhoon. It took me 7 hours and 28 minutes, or a dazzling 13.7 miles per hour. All I recall is the torture of climbing the Sparks Lake grade in the blazing sun and later then riding in a dreamlike trance the final miles before passing out on the grass in Mirror Pond Park at ride's end.
As the early eighties, local mountain bike explorer sans peer, Dennis Heater, got into cruiser bikes and started the annual Cruiser Crawl. The Crawl incorporated skill events (a bike toss/slalom/2 x 4 riding) with a police escorted group ride through downtown Bend to a gathering place where prizes were awarded for the best vintage bikes, the best decorated bikes and the heaviest bikes.
As the eighties rolled on, the Cruise Crawl went the way of a lot of old Bend traditions and died. It's an event worth reviving.