Dutch Bikes vs. Beach Cruisers (Not As Similar As You’d Think…)

Published Categorized as Bicycles, Bike questions & beginner guides

Key points:

  • Dutch bikes are best for general urban use, but still pleasant for simply cruising.
  • True to their name, beach cruisers are fun on slow and flat rides, but they’re impractical and unresponsive.
  • Both are heavy. Dutch bikes are even heavier at 45-55 lbs fully equipped, but that weight brings tremendous utility.

Dutch bikes and beach cruisers both offer comfy, upright posture that’s hard not to like.

But believe it or not, that’s where the similarities end. In fact, the first time I rode a legit, imported Dutch bicycle, I was struck by how thoroughly different it felt.

Dutch bicycles are more versatile than cruisers, although both kinds are comfortable, smooth-rolling, and quite heavy. Dutch bikes have more robust components and responsive handling, so they’re ideal for all-weather urban riding (like commuting and errands). Cruisers are suited to mellow riding in dry weather.

Still not sure which is right for you? Let’s break down both styles in terms of riding experience, parts and components, and overall usefulness.

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Riding posture

Dutch bikes use swept-back handlebars to create an upright riding position.

That’s the ticket! (Photo: http://www.workcycles.com/home-products/handmade-city-bicycles/workcycles-opafiets)

The torso is more or less vertical, akin to walking. This keeps your back and neck comfortable and makes it easy to see your surroundings. It’s not optimal for headwinds or intense climbs, but it’s still easy to learn forward for more power and better aerodynamics.

The feet are slightly in front of the saddle, so there’s just enough of a hip angle to incorporate your glutes while pedaling. However, that hip angle is nowhere near so sharp that regular clothing feels constraining, like on a road bike.

(This is one reason to buy a traditional city bike rather than jacking the handlebars up sky-high on a hybrid or MTB. The latter have a steeper seat tube angle, which works well with low/medium bars but creates too open of a hip angle with higher bars. Drastically modifying their riding position can cause funny-feeling posture and peculiar handling.)

Most cruisers use even taller handlebars with a longer reach to create a slightly reclined riding position.

Beach cruiser bicycles offer a fun, relaxing ride and smooth and straight terrain

The torso tilts back slightly, like in an office chair. It’s remarkably comfortable and puts you in a laid-back frame of mind, but the lack of weight over your hands can make steering feel extremely unresponsive.

Usually, the feet are far in front of the saddle. This mimics the position of a cruiser motorcycle (more on that below) and is indeed comfortable for short rides. But the lack of weight over your feet means far less power, and next to no use of your glutes. Standing up to sprint feels extremely awkward so it’s hard to deal with the surprises in terrain or traffic.

Saddles

Both styles use fairly wide saddles, usually with springs, to support upright posture.

A saddle like the venerable Brooks B-67 is a typical choice for Dutch bikes.

A terrific, buy-it-for-life option for upright riding.

But cruiser saddles tend to be even wider and shallower, since your backside bears virtually 100% of your weight. Most also rise slightly in the back, to keep you from pushing yourself off while pedaling in that foot-forward position.

A wide beach cruiser saddle provides cushioning and support for relaxed riding posture

Components

Dutch bikes’ components are made to withstand year-round daily use and outdoor storage, and still require next to no daily maintenance.

They have weather-proof features like hub brakes, internally-geared hubs, a full chain case, and wrap-around fenders to keep you cleaner. Battery-free dynamo-powered lighting is typical, and even required by law in some countries. Most accommodate every type of rack under the sun—including front and/or rear child seats.

Beach cruisers are intended for low-key rides in nice weather, so they use cheaper, simpler, and less robust components.

Rim and/or coaster brakes are the norm. If they have more than one speed, it’s usually with an entry-level derailleur. Beach cruisers with disc brakes and hub gears are available but rare, since that stuff is overkill for their intended purpose. Most can accept a standard rear rack (or surfboard carrier!) but cargo attachments are limited otherwise.

Climbing hills

Climbing isn’t fun on either style, but it’s less agonizing on Dutch bikes due to wider gearing and more efficient posture.

First, most cruisers have just one speed. Dutch city bikes are readily available with 7-8 speeds through an internally-geared hub. That provides at least a couple “easy” gears to inch your way uphill, while still clipping along when it flattens out.

To be clear, you can commute on a single-speed. I’ve done so extensively. However, it requires a lot of harder pedaling, and occasionally standing up, both of which are easier when you’re leaning slightly forward.

And that leads to point two: cruiser posture is too relaxed for powerful pedaling. With your torso slightly reclined and feet way out front, it’s hard to put your weight into the pedals. Even multi-speed cruisers—yes, they do exist—struggle with this inefficiency.

Dutch bikes position you more vertically, so you can even lean forward for extra power when a short climb calls for it. This is a big deal for quick efforts, like an overpass.

Again, neither kind is tailored to climbs. But, in my experience, it’s miserable on a cruiser versus merely slow on a Dutch bike!

Size & weight

Both styles are heavy, period. Dutch bikes weigh even more, but that weight brings useful accessories and cargo capacity that beach cruisers lack.

Here are some representative examples:

  • A stripped-down beach cruiser like the Electra Cruiser 7D weighs around 33 lbs, with no accessories at all.
  • A traditional, moto-style cruiser like the Electra Straight 8 weighs about 38 lbs.
  • A Dutch-inspired city bike like the Norco Scene weighs around 32 lbs, with no accessories at all.
  • A traditional Dutch bike like the WorkCycles Secret Service weighs about 48 lbs, including extensive accessories. (They’re not really sold without accessories, since that would defeat the purpose of practical transportation!)

Most modern cruisers are aluminum, but most authentic Dutch bikes have an overbuilt steel frame. That provides a lifetime of service even with heavy cargo—including passengers!

Note that both are very long in the wheelbase. That makes them stable but also makes them hard to carry up stairs or in tight quarters. Think twice about either unless you can store them at ground level.

Where did these styles come from?

The differences between cruisers and Dutch bikes aren’t arbitrary, as if a marketing department concocted them at a conference table one day.

In fact, when you look at their origins, their differences make perfect sense.

Dutch bikes are a refined version of an older English utility bike style. In the 20th century, they caught on throughout Europe and even around the globe, thanks to a utilitarian design that suited European city life and British colonial transportation needs equally well.

In fact, you’ll still see similar bikes in many parts of the world, from the back alleys of Hong Kong to the streets of India.

Cruisers share none of that history. It seems they emerged in the 1930s, when Schwinn released a pedal-powered alternative to cruiser motorcycles, mirroring their aesthetics right down to a fake gas tank. This, of course, was targeted at children.

These historical tidbits tell us what to expect today.

From the get-go, Dutch bikes and their English predecessors were everyday transportation, for people and goods, over short to medium distances. We’d expect sturdiness (though no more than necessary), generous rack and cargo allowances, maximal weather resistance, and ease of riding in everyday clothing.

Cruisers originated as novelties, which leads us to expect a more specific aesthetic with ornamental flair, little weather resistance, less accommodating cargo options, and a preponderance of inexpensive models.

Exceptions exist and some features have converged, but most of those generalizations hold true to this day.

By Erik Bassett

Erik Bassett is the founder and editor of Two Wheels Better. He draws on three decades of cycling and scooter experience to help you find the right ride, incorporate it into daily life, and safely enjoy the journey.