Photo of restored beach cruiser bicycles.

Restoring Two Old Beach Cruisers

In the fall of 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wilmington & Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.  Having grown up in Wilmington, I grew up through a lot of hurricanes.  We lost a number of trees over the years in our yard.  Some dogwoods, pine trees, and an old oak tree.  Luckily no major damage to our house or yard, but with Hurricane Florence, a very large branch landed on my parents' shed in the back yard, completely destroying it.  Luckily there weren't many valuable items in the shed at that point.  We got a large portion of it cleaned up, but a few items were left unprotected out in the elements.  Life happened and it took another year and a half before we helped my parents finally clean everything up in the winter of 2020.  We never had a garage growing up, but that shed housed our lawn mower, gas cans, oil cans and other equipment, and had that distinct smell we've recreated in our Dad's Garage Candle - motor oil, gasoline, and everything else you just can't bear to throw away.

Photo of Rusty Bicycles

Two items that we did find were two beach cruiser bikes that my dad and my sister had used in the 1970's, 80's and 90's - a Schwinn and an Earth Cruiser.  Being left unused in the shed for many years, and the outside for a year and a half really took a toll.  Rust on the frame and handlebars, rotten tires, mold and mildew and more.  But as we had moved to Virginia Beach a year and a half earlier with a road bike for my wife and a mountain bike for myself, we could use a couple of beach cruisers to roam around the neighborhood and bike to a few local restaurants and shops.

Photo of a rusty beach cruiser bike

So I loaded the bikes up in my car and took them back to Virginia.  After looking over a lot of YouTube videos, I tackled the job of restoring the bikes myself.  As they are both single speed bikes with coaster brakes, there weren't many complicated parts for me to mess up.  The process was fairly straightforward, but takes patience, time, and a bit of elbow grease.

  1. Take the tires and wheels off.  You'll need a couple of wrenches and a screwdriver.
  2. Take off the seat
  3. Remove the handlebars and grips
  4. Remove the bike pedals
  5. Remove the bike crank

Photo of a rusty bike tire

I think that covers stripping the bike down.  Once the bike is disassembled, you'll need to clean off the rust, and replace any parts that are broken.  I used a combination of a stiff brush for the large parts, and soaking in vinegar overnight for small parts. The plastic pedals on my sister's bike were so brittle that they cracked and broke and disintegrated as I was removing them.  A list of items I had to replace are below.

  • New ball bearings for both bikes (and bike lube for the bearings).  While they seemed to be in good condition before I began work, I figured I might as well replace them if I was going strip the bikes down completely.The bikes had been used by the ocean, so it was nice to replace them in case there had been any sand incursion or corrosion.  I replaced the bearings for the crank, the wheels, and the front stem.
  • New pedals for the teal bike.  The old plastic pedals were so brittle that they cracked and disintegrated as I tried to remove them from the bike.
  • New grips for both bikes.  The old foam grips were torn and worn out.  Also, instead of stripping off all the rust on the handlebars of the teal bike, I decided to buy a full foam cover.  It was cheap, installed quickly and looks good.
  • New seat for the blue bike. The old one was torn open and waterlogged.
  • New chains to replace the old rusted chains.
  • A can of spray paint for each bike, and a spraypaint clearcoat.  This is not a professional paint job by any means, but it has  worked great with minimal rusting or wear for three years now.  And I can just touch up any areas as needed.
  • A can of metal spray paint for the wheels on the blue bike.  The teal bike wheels are aluminum and rust-proof, whereas the blue bike wheels are steel.  I couldn't get off all the rust, so I decided to cover up what I couldn't get.  It hasn't held up as well as the frame paint, but it still looks a lot better than it did.
  • New tires and inner tubes.

All in the cost of new parts was around $250, or $125 per bike.  Much easier on the wallet than buying new bikes.  After the bike was stripped, I taped any parts I didn't want painted, took the bikes outside on a tarp and spray painted them.  Taping the frame was tedious and took a lot of time, and I sprayed multiple light coats to prevent pooling or dripping.  Luckily the paint dries fairly quickly.  After multiple coats, the bikes started to look like new, and I sprayed on multiple coats of the clearcoat to protect the bikes a bit.

Photo of restored beach cruiser bikes

The assembly process was similar to stripping, just in reverse, and the videos above go over much of what I did.  The bikes turned out great for someone who has only changed tires and chains before, and have been riding great.  I did make the mistake of installing the front fork backwards on the blue bike, and it took me a day to figure out why turning the bike felt so weird.  Luckily that was a quick fix.  My dad used to take me on rides in a big plastic child carrier seat on the back of the blue beach cruiser.  My kids were too old for that on these bikes and they have their own, but it's nice to recycle these old bikes into working condition to ride around the neighborhood to take in all the scents and sights.  The scent of magnolia from growing up has been replaced by the smell of pine and salt marsh, but hopefully the memories of cruising around will be just as fun for my kids and we can pass these bikes on to them one day.


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