During the Great Depression, bicycles were considered luxury items, and sales severely slumped. In response, Frank Schwinn built a sturdier and more affordable bicycle that resembled motorcycles his company had built in the 20s, intending to target a younger market. With the introduction of the “balloon tire” bicycle by Schwinn in 1933, a revolution in the bicycle industry began. Balloon tires used the same inner tubes as the hard-driving motorcycles of the era, and so durability became a reality, and, between 1933 and 1955, the classic lines of the cruiser bike with motorcycle-like features became well established.
Names such as Streamline, Hollywood, Excelsior, Aerocycle and Black Phantom characterized the designs. Such popular features as two-tone paint, mock gas tank, spring front fork, headlights and chrome were common, with Huffman, Schwinn, Shelby, Columbia, and Sears being the most popular manufacturers. Today’s resurgent interest in duplicating the look of these retro designs with modern components further confirms their timeless appeal.
The hefty durability of the old cruisers—called “curb slammers”—led to the eventual evolution of the first mountain bikes: a modified 1934 Schwinn Excelsior became one of the first of the mountain bike genre. Later, in 1994, Frank Schwinn was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Crested Butte Colorado with the simple and solemn statement: “They gave us our tires.”