Everyone has their own cycling style.
Some of us want to hit jumps, feel our adrenaline pump, or commute to work in an eco-friendly and healthy manner. Some of us just want to cruise and enjoy the ride so we can listen to music and have a moment to ourselves.
It’s time to have the long-awaited discussion: mountain bike vs cruiser, which one do you pick?
We’re going to boil down the pros and cons of each, and discuss what makes them so unique for different tasks and riding styles to help you make the decision between the two.
What is a Cruiser
Cruiser bikes are meant for, well, cruising! At a leisurely pace, that is.
If you’re going to use a cruiser bike, then you’re going to travel on lightly beaten paths without a lot of rigidness to them, in the city, by the boardwalk, and you’re not shopping for speed.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of a cruiser and see if it matches what you need in a bicycle.
- Smooth Cruising: It wouldn’t really be a cruiser if you couldn’t do this, right? The ride on one of these bikes is undoubtedly smooth and feels fantastic on the right surfaces, so if you want a compromise-free street cruising bike, then this is it for you. Virtually no bumps and no issues, although be warned when mounting the curb, because there are no shocks in most cruiser bikes.
- Price Difference: Cruisers are generally less expensive. Yeah, you can find cruisers and budget-friendly mountain bikes with nearly identical price points, but there’s also a huge jump in quality there. The cost of a budget-friendly mountain bike is also the same cost of a high-end cruiser bicycle, so you just have to pick your poison depending on what you want.
- Back Brakes: Back brakes are powerful. You remember that Huffy you had when you were a kid, right? Back brakes work like a charm, but they are harder on your tires, so there’s some give and take there. As long as you’re not skidding to see how long the marks can be, you’re not going to burn through your tires. Being reliable and user-friendly for new or inexperienced bike bicycles owners, these are one of the best benefits to using a cruiser.
- Easy Assembly: Cruisers don’t have a ridiculous amount of parts. Nearly all of them use back brakes, like we mentioned before, meaning there’s no need for brake cables or anything of the sort. This eliminates a lot of the assembly time for you, and helps with that price difference as well. Back brakes are extremely reliable as well, so if you’re concerned about traffic and pedestrians being an issue, you can stop on a dime.
- Lack of Mobility: Cruisers are designed for pavement, the planks of a boardwalk, and beaten dirt paths, although you will encounter some slipping in those areas. Overall, you want to stick to sidewalks and roads to the best of your ability, because a cruiser in the mountains isn’t going to bode well. There are no shifters or speeds, it’s just whatever you’re able to output.
- Wider Turning Angle: The tires aren’t the issue here, but the indirect control to them is. Because cruiser handlebars are designed in a curved way, your hands are close to your mid-section, but they’re a little more difficult to turn on a dime like mountain bike handlebars. This results in wider turning angles because you’re moving your arms in a different, wider motion when you turn them.
- Lacking Features: Overall, cruisers are very straightforward bikes. This can be a good thing if it’s what you’re looking for, but you’re not going to find the same level of features that you would expect from mountain bikes. This is what contributes to that quicker assembly, but that’s some time saved on a one-time basis in exchange for less utility. I heavily lean towards mountain bikes, but cruiser bikes have their place as well. You just have to know how you want to ride.
How Does it Compare to a Mountain Bike?
That depends… What are you looking for?
What is it about cycling that really gets your gear moving, that makes it a fun and valuable experience for you?
For some of us, it’s simply sight-seeing and riding along the boardwalk while listening to music, just enjoying the movement and the motion.
For others, we want to quite literally bridge the gap between point A and point B in the woods, over a stretch of area that has a sick jump.
We want adrenaline in as high a dose as possible. Mountain biking is an experience that I would say is polar opposite to cruising, and that’s okay. But how do the two stack up against each other?
They’re both bicycle types, so they must share some things in common, right? You’re right, but it’s very little compared to other bicycle types. Let’s review the similarities between them so you can know where you stand when it comes to getting your next bicycle.
- Both Good for Trails: Can’t go on the sidewalk because it’s being paved, or the road is blocked ahead? As long as you have a flat path, your cruiser will be okay in the dirt. Obviously, this is where mountain bikes reign supreme, so there’s no real issue here either. Most people don’t know that cruisers can handle their own on dirt paths, but you do have to be wary about the weather. Muddy or wet ground isn’t going to be kind to your cruiser in the slightest, so plan your trip accordingly.
- Easy Riding: Mountain bikes are designed to be easy to ride. Well, the experience is meant to be easy-going thanks to the shocks, but it does take a little bit of time to get used to. On the other hand, cruisers have a low skill ceiling, and while they don’t have the best shocks, they’re also very easy to ride. Two different biking worlds, unified by their ease of use. The modern design of both cruiser bicycles and mountain bikes is truly something that makes the experience excellent for both types of riders.
- Tire Sizes: Mountain bikes have notoriously large tires, as they should. While the tires themselves are different, the tire sizes (26” and whatnot) are actually pressure similar. Cruisers have larger wheels because the point is that you should be able to get a good amount of momentum going, and just ride on that. Once you get going, it’s easier to keep going.
We can celebrate the similarities, but the differences? Not so much. These are the main ways that mountain bikes and cruisers are vastly different and will feel extremely opposite of one another.
- Switches: You can’t just switch speeds in the middle of riding a cruiser. It’s all about momentum, getting out of it what you put into it, and letting gravity have some pull (that’s a little science joke… nevermind). You’ll be riding the downhill peaks and pushing hard on the uphill sections. Will this result in more of a workout than you were planning on with a cruiser bike? Yeah, but that’s not really how to optimize a workout, it’s just more stress on what should be an easy and relaxing ride.
- Turning: This will come down to personal preference. It feels smoother to hard turn a cruise bike, but it doesn’t give you the reaction speed of a mountain bike. Then again, you don’t really need the reaction speed of a mountain bike when you’re on a cruiser. Not for turning, at least. That’s where we could talk about the differences in brakes and how back brakes make a difference, so you can still stop short and turning isn’t really an issue.
- Frames: Bike frames are pretty basic, until you look at the way that features impact the frames and their shapes. Mountain bikes have their seats at level with the handlebars (or just below), while cruisers will have their seats much further below the handlebar level, even on men’s models versus women’s models. The frames are built differently, but that doesn’t mean they’re heavier. Through a quick analysis, we were able to find mountain bikes and cruisers with less than a 10% weight different, higher or lower. The thing is, cruisers don’t have shocks and brake cables and all that jazz, so the frames themselves might be heavier, but the overall bicycle weight doesn’t change all that much.
When Should I Consider a Cruiser Over a Mountain Bike?
Mountain biking is an entirely different world from cruising.
With cruisers, it’s all about leisurely activity and not often about commuting. Keep in mind that there are different kinds of mountain bikes, so they will apply to different things.
Ask yourself these questions if you want to determine whether or not a cruiser is the right fit for you.
Am I going to commute to work? Even in city scenarios, mountain bikes tend to do better for commuting than cruisers do. That is, if you pick a cross-country mountain bike or something like that. You don’t want a fat bike (much thicker tires) or anything that looks like it belongs off-road, but these hybrid mountain bikes that you might be seeing out and about are viable for getting to and coming home from work. Not only that, but their lightweight designs make it easy to bring them indoors, and the lack of frame bulk means you won’t fill up the entire elevator if you have to bring it up to your office.
When do I plan on using this? Cruiser bikes are for the after work strolls, the weekend rides down to the boardwalk or the park. They’re not something that you’re going to use because you missed the bus (not unless you absolutely have to), and they’re not going into the hills so that you and your friends can shred some trails. If you enjoy biking recreationally, cruisers may be better suited to what you’re looking for.
Is exercise my goal? Mountain bikes are designed for high-octane, adrenaline-fueled fun, which tends to help you break a sweat and burn thousands of calories in an afternoon (I’m serious; look it up). However, cruisers aren’t exactly the most strenuous time you’ll ever have on a bicycle. You’ll still burn calories and have a bit of a sweat, but keep in mind that if you begin cruise riding everywhere, you won’t see significant weight loss or mass leg muscle gain. Some, but not much.
Do I want to do this as a group activity? One of the best things in the entire world, regarding mountain biking, is the ability to go with a ton of your friends and spend a night in a tent, shredding trails all day long. Again, I’m a bit biased here because I do just that, and as often as I can. You can have a fun time cruising with friends as well, but due to road constraints and congestion in downtown areas, it will be difficult to find a proper place to ride.
It’s All About Your Riding Style
Cruiser bikes are definitely better for timid terrain, sidewalks, and paved roads, while your mountain bike will help you have high-octane fun on the dirty and dusty trails of your favorite nature spots.
They have some striking similarities, but overall, they appeal to two different cycling styles. While mountain bikes can go on the street, they generally don’t perform quite as well as cruisers do on pavement.