The Cyclone Coaster's bi-annual vintage bike swap meet outside the Pike Restaurant and Bar. Photo: Jason Ruiz
It’s been nearly 50 years since the Cyclone Racer roller coaster thrilled its last riders with steep drops, sharp turns and perilous views of the Long Beach waterfront. However, a relic of it still exists in the streets of the city, but not in the way one would expect. Once a month, the Cyclone Coaster bike group snakes its way through the city’s streets, though at a much more relaxed pace, as vintage bike enthusiasts coast their way from Portfolio Coffee House to Parker’s Lighthouse.
What has now morphed into something of an international attraction, the Cyclone Coaster—it's named derived from the coaster-style brakes on the bikes—has grown from just a few friends gathering for a ride through Long Beach to several hundred bike enthusiasts flooding the city every first Sunday of the month.
The group was formed by Bernard Serrano and Frank Drews, who 10 years ago thought it would be a good idea to ride their vintage bikes through Long Beach, and reached out to friends to join them. Serrano said those early rides would top out with riders totaling in the low teens, but now the group has about 200 regular riders and recently set an all-time high in participation with 286.
Anyone with a bike is welcome to ride, Serrano said, be it a rusty old vintage one, a restored classic, a lowrider or one from the city’s bike share program. If you can pedal it, the Cyclone Coaster will have you.
“Some bike clubs are only stretch bikes, some are only low riders, some are only 80s bikes or whatever, but everyone is on a neutral ground when they come to Cyclone Coaster,” Serrano said. “We don’t want any presidents, or dues, it’s all about having fun and talking and grabbing a bike and go. It’s all about having fun.”
On Sunday the fun began in the parking lot of the Pike Restaurant and Bar, the location of the group’s bi-annual swap meet. Clusters of people hovered over what looked like a bicycle graveyard with piled up fenders, frames, forks and chain guards strewn on tables. Rows of rusted bikes, some decades older than those selling them, lined the lot with price tags ranging from the low hundreds of dollars, and some reaching into the thousands.
“It’s rusty gold,” said Tony “T-Bone” Clavero, a bike enthusiast who's been riding with the group for about eight years. “To the correct guy that’s restoring a bike and is missing a certain piece or part, it’s something that’s invaluable.”
Clavero runs a bike shop out of his garage in Torrance where he holds some 20-25 bikes of his own. Like many who attend the monthly ride with the Cyclone Coaster, Clavero can remember his first bike—a 52 Schwinn Hornet—and like the slogan on the back of his shop’s shirts, he believes that bikes are “only original once” and prefers to keep his with a fine patina shine.
The opposite can be said about Bobbie Frazier, president of the Long Beach chapter of the Real Rydaz. Frazier’s group is dedicated to preserving the culture of lowriding and also pushing a green agenda by encouraging people to bike instead of drive.
“I’m not really into the whole rusty look,” Frazier said. “As you can see I like custom and bling and fun and attention.”
Frazier’s clan and their pedal-scraping lowered bikes are attention grabbers even if they didn’t have mounted stereos blasting oldies as they ride the streets. Their style is flashy with gold rims, chopper style handlebars and glossy paint jobs, something that stands in stark contrast to the idea behind the Cyclone Coaster’s dedication to vintage. But it’s that diversity that brings Frazier and his club out every first Sunday.
“I like the camaraderie and the brotherhood,” Frazier said. “We’re like what you call bike family and we support each other and believe in a good handshake, a good hug and ‘hey, can we help you fix that bike?’”
The ride is truly a family affair. While most people who ride with the group are Baby Boomers or Generation Xers, some of which see vintage bikes as a way to relive their own childhoods, many of them have children who they bring on the rides and some have already taken up a love of vintage.
Fernando Lopez runs Felix’s Bicycle Shop in Gardena but is a regular at the Coaster rides. Through a translator he admitted that a lot of his business originates from the group and those in search of repair or customization of their cycles.
His two sons Pablo and Fernando Jr. ride along with the group and look forward to the end point at the lighthouse where they get a chance to run down the hill. But 11-year-old Pablo sees it as much more than an opportunity to play and already has designs on taking over the shop from his dad.
Whether vintage bike culture can transcend the generations that grew up with these bikes when they were originals and not rare finds on eBay or garage sales will have to be determined by the children who are exposed to their parent’s hobbies. Drews said that it could come down to just that, getting them interested in something so they know that it’s an option.
“Like anything, if you don’t share it nobody’s going to know,” Drews said.
The Coaster recently celebrated its anniversary in August and with its ever-growing roster of participants, it’s a hard thing to miss if you live in Belmont Shore or happen to be driving on Second Street when they cruise by. Drews said that it’s often a mixed bag of reactions, mostly curiosity and amazement that the biggest vintage bike ride in the country (according to the group) exists right in their backyard.
Both Drews and Serrano are amazed at the popularity that their little group has garnered over the last decade. What started out as a group of friends cruising the streets and meeting for lunch has now turned into an international destination for vintage bike lovers, some coming from as far as Italy and France to join the Coaster.
They can’t project what a 20-year anniversary will look like because neither imagined the group having a 10-year anniversary. Serrano says they take things day-by-day and try to retain the relaxed vibe that was the foundation of the group’s formation. They’ll continue to print shirts and host events but are adamant on not calling it a club.
There will continue to be hosted events and they’ll continue to print Coaster t-shirts but there will never be a president or dues to be paid. The only agenda going forward is the continued appreciation of bicycles new and old. But Serrano said if you hang around long enough, you may catch the vintage bug.
“When we formed it we formed it as a group, not a club,” Serrano said. “Everyone is welcome to come to our events, you can bring whatever bicycle you want but I’m sure that eventually you’re going to want an old one when you start seeing everyone riding next to you on an old bike.”